Will Abu Dhabi finally give a race worth watching?

2011 Abu Dhabi GP preview

Start, Abu Dhabi, 2009

Lewis Hamilton leads at the start of the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Neither of the previous Abu Dhabi races provided the excitement to match the spectacle of the ultra-modern venue.

With no alterations to the track this year, it’s down to the much-vaunted 2011 rules changes to buck the trend of tedious races at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Will they make a difference – and can anyone keep Sebastian Vettel from his 12th win of the year?

“A very, very popular event”

That got a lot of things right and at least one thing spectacularly wrong when they built the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi two years ago.

The architecture is ambitious and exciting, and helps make this a desirable event for the money men, as Renault’s Eric Boullier explains:

“Abu Dhabi is a very, very popular event and racing spectacle. To give you an example: we are absolutely jammed to the rafters in terms of the number of guests we have, and the interest we have received.

“It arrived on the calendar back in 2009 and since then it has acted as an extremely important race for the annual F1 circus. It brings motorsport to the United Arab Emirates in a big way.”

As you’d expect for a modern circuit, its safety standards are impeccable. These were put to test in a big way during the first round of the GT1 world championship in 2010.

Sebastien Buemi’s cousin Natasha Gachnang, driving a Ford GT, experienced every racing driver’s worst nightmare: brake failure at maximum speed heading towards turn eight. In her attempt to slam the brakes on as hard as possible she inadvertently caught the accelerator, and hurtled into the barriers with the front wheels locked and rear wheels still spinning.

This had the makings of a truly appalling accident. Gachnang’s life was saved thanks to the large run-off area and TecPro barrier, which contained the car’s deceleration at between 20-40g. She survived with only a broken leg.

The worst track in F1?

Yas Marina circuit information

Yas Marina, 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Lap length 5.554km (3.451 miles)
Distance 55 laps (305.5km/189.8 miles)
Lap record* 1’40.279 (Sebastian Vettel, 2009)
Fastest lap 1’39.394 (Sebastian Vettel, 2010)
Tyres Medium and Soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Yas Marina track data in full

But while the facilities may be first-rate, there is one significant flaw with the Yas Marina circuit: it is an irredeemably awful track, perhaps the worst in F1.

Slow corner after slow corner with straights too long and wide to give any impression of speed. It’s broken up by chicanes which hinder overtaking and is too long for traffic to have much effect on the leaders.

“It?s not one of the most challenging venues of the season,” admits Mark Webber, “with every real corner being second and third gear.”

The hotel the track passes under may look spectacular, but the two races held at this circuit previously have been anything but.

There were rumours the circuit owners would address the track’s many manifest flaws before this year’s race. Sadly, that has not happened. Once a track is built and its infrastructure is in place, further renovations are costly, as Silverstone architects Populous explained in an article for F1 Fanatic last year.

The chief executive of the Yas Marina circuit, Richard Cregan, decided they would wait and see if the 2011 regulations changes improved the racing at the circuit before deciding on any alterations.

Last year provided a graphic illustration of the difficulty of overtaking at the circuit as Fernando Alonso spent 40 laps stuck behind Vitaly Petrov, losing the championship in the process. Despite being quicker, at no time was the Ferrari driver able to get close enough to even try to make a pass.

But would it really have been a more satisfactory outcome to see Alonso press the DRS button on his steering wheel and fly past the Renault on the straight?

Vettel eyes 12th win of 2011

Vitaly Petrov, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Abu Dhabi, 2010

Alonso gets stuck behind Petrov in last year's race

As was the case at the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix two years ago, both championships have already been decided. So will this race see a continuation of Sebastian Vettel’s dominance?

He is the only driver to have won here, though Lewis Hamilton has also gone well here in the past. The McLaren driver took pole position and led before retiring in the inaugural race, and finished runner-up to Vettel last year.

Once again, the question facing Hamilton going into this weekend is whether he can stay out of trouble and away from Felipe Massa.

The most significant action from a championship point of view is among the midfield teams. Toro Rosso appear to have single-handedly saved Renault from losing fifth in the championship by keeping Force India and Sauber from catching them. The latter pair are fighting a rearguard action to keep Toro Rosso behind.

Sauber’s efforts in this are not being helped by Kamui Kobayashi enduring a seven-race streak out of the points. He needs to bounce back at the circuit where he scored his first points finish two years ago.

Another unusual feature of the race is its late evening start, with darkness falling throughout the race: “The challenge doesn?t really come from the changing light, but the track temperature drops significantly when the sun sets,” says Kobayashi. “This makes it quite difficult to adapt during the race.”

Novel it may be, but it’s made little difference to races here in the past – just another example of how this Grand Prix is an exercise in style over substance.

Who do you expect to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix? Can anyone keep Vettel from victory? Have your say in the comments.

2011 driver form

Q avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 1.29 1.53 1 4 17/17 Form guide
Mark Webber 3.88 3.44 2 5 16/17 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 3.65 3.93 1 8 15/17 Form guide
Jenson Button 4.65 3.07 1 6 15/17 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 4.53 3.5 1 7 16/17 Form guide
Felipe Massa 5.71 6.57 5 11 14/17 Form guide
Michael Schumacher 10.47 7.83 4 17 12/17 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 7.65 7.8 5 12 15/17 Form guide
Nick Heidfeld 13.36 8.5 3 12 8/11 Form guide
Vitaly Petrov 10.12 10.57 3 17 14/17 Form guide
Rubens Barrichello 14.47 13.29 9 17 14/17 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 13.88 14.67 10 18 12/17 Form guide
Adrian Sutil 11.94 10.27 6 15 15/17 Form guide
Paul di Resta 11.82 11.38 6 18 16/17 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 13.59 10.69 5 16 13/17 Form guide
Sergio Perez 14 11.64 7 17 11/15 Form guide
Sebastien Buemi 14.71 11.15 8 15 13/17 Form guide
Jaime Alguersuari 14.35 11.64 7 21 14/17 Form guide
Heikki Kovalainen 18.18 15.75 13 19 12/17 Form guide
Jarno Trulli 19.31 16.67 13 20 12/16 Form guide
Narain Karthikeyan 23.13 20 17 24 7/8 Form guide
Vitantonio Liuzzi 22.47 19.73 13 23 11/15 Form guide
Timo Glock 20.71 17.75 15 21 12/17 Form guide
Jerome D’Ambrosio 21.94 18.07 14 22 15/17 Form guide
Pedro de la Rosa 17 12 12 12 1/1 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 22.89 19.14 18 22 7/9 Form guide
Karun Chandhok 20 20 20 20 1/1 Form guide
Bruno Senna 11.67 13 9 16 6/6 Form guide

2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Images ?? Yas Marina Circuit, Renault/LAT

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98 comments on Will Abu Dhabi finally give a race worth watching?

  1. Fixy (@fixy) said on 8th November 2011, 15:14

    @keithcollantine did you really have to bring those bad memories of Fernando and Vitaly back? :P
    Last year the race was boring, but I couldn’t notice as I was focussed on Alonso trying to pass Petrov. Those moments were so tense I couldn’t care of anything going on in the rest of the track.
    Obviously the track, apart from the surroundings which are great, is not ideal for a good motorsport race. Alonso would’ve passed Petrov (despite him having a great race) in any other track.
    I’m hopeful of this year’s race though, let’s see what it brings.

  2. RBAlonso (@rbalonso) said on 8th November 2011, 16:13

    I think the track could do with modifications but the main problem with the track is the element of surprise, or huge lack of it. The event hypes you into thinking you’re looking into a defining moment of the sport (last year aside lol) and then the track gives noah’s arc type performance with very little overtaking possibilities. If the tyres die every 5 laps here then we could have an absolute classic, but I think that is unlikely in the extreme.

  3. OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 8th November 2011, 16:13

    I don’t know if I can make it clear without a map photo, but probably a way to improve the track could be to follow the Susuka “eight” layout, after the hotel they could connect that section with the main straight (running on the other way) and then when the track is going to crossover again they could create a 130R-like fast left turn. That would give some thrill ihaving at least one really demanding corner

  4. Mads (@mads) said on 8th November 2011, 16:34

    It is sad isn’t it.
    They the biggest check one could ever imagine. A flat dessert and a blank sheet of paper.
    It seems like they designed a track layout and then an hour before deadline they realised that the cars would be going too fast into certain corners for the amount of run-off so they just threw in a few chicanes on the paper.

    They had the money to design the most amazing facility on the calender, but they didn’t bother to make sure that there were sufficient run-off for the cars to actually turn at speeds above 5km/h.

    I appreciate that the spectators want to be close to the track, but that is why they have a blank sheet of paper.
    They can come up with any shape they want. Why not design a circuit with actual corners instead of horribly long straights glued together with slow and too tight chicanes.

  5. petebaldwin (@petebaldwin) said on 8th November 2011, 16:49

    There will be overtaking with DRS but it will all be done on the straight. Most likely, it’ll be over and done before the end of the straight and it’ll simply function as allowing faster cars past. There will still be no real overtaking as the track doesn’t allow it.

    The track is very dull and the only way for it to improve in the future is for various changes in order to allow overtaking.

  6. damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 8th November 2011, 16:51

    I actually thought the 2009 race was pretty entertaining. It was a shame to lose Hamilton, but there was plenty of overtaking and battling. The scrap between Webber and Button at the end had my heart pounding and it was a brilliant way to finish the year.

    But I won’t deny the track is pretty average. They had a clean slate to work with, but decided to fill it with fiddly chicanes and 90 degree, street circuit-esque corners. The first few corners are actually quite interesting, but the rest of the track seems to be about showing off spectacular architecture and expensive yachts rather than showing off Formula 1. It basically makes a mockery of Formula 1 and treats it like a show – which to an extent, it is – but fails to take into account the fact that people aren’t going to want to tune in to watch a sunset and glowing hotel every year. No-one looks forward to it any more.

    I can’t see anyone but Vettel winning it for the third year in a row this weekend. The track doesn’t lend itself to overtaking, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem with the DRS this weekend. However, with Vettel in his Red Bull, in the form that he’s in, it seems highly unlikely that we’ll see anyone within a second of him after 3 racing laps on Sunday.

    That said, I’d be all too happy to be proven wrong.

  7. djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 8th November 2011, 17:01

    Even if Fred had DRS last year, he would not have been able to get past Petrov. He was bouncing off the limiter. Petrov was simply faster in a straight line.

    • StefMeister said on 8th November 2011, 18:28

      Exactly, Thats something people often ignore.

      Alonso been stuck behind Petrov was purely down to Renault having a very efficient F-Duct, going for a low downforce setup & gearing the car for maximum top end speed. Both Petrov & Kubica were the fastest in the speed traps most of the weekend.

      Plus don’t forget that Ferrari simply made an error with Alonso’s pit strategy, Petrov ended up with the best pit strategy.

      Petrov then drove well enough to hold Alonso behind in the corners & under braking (Where Renault’s setup wasn’t ideal) & was able to easily build a gap down the straghts with his top speed.

    • celeste (@celeste) said on 8th November 2011, 22:34

      FRED? lol Flistone?

  8. Dave_F1 said on 8th November 2011, 18:21

    Will this years race be any better?

    No because DRS will just make passing easy, dull & unexciting!

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 8th November 2011, 19:15

      Not necessarily. It’s been pretty even this year as to how it’s affected race action.

      • Dave_F1 said on 8th November 2011, 19:58

        No it hasn’t, Every DRS pass I have seen on both the world-feed & BBC incar feed has been far too easy, dull & none of them have been exciting to watch.

        All the best overtaking has been well outside the DRS zones which just proves how ridiculous DRS is!

        I hope F1 ditches the stupid system & it never gets used anywhere again!

  9. taurus (@taurus) said on 8th November 2011, 18:56

    I needs chopping in half, something like this


    Laptimes somewhere near 1.15.ish.

    And some gravel traps!!!

    • Johnny b goode said on 9th November 2011, 10:52

      Yes! I know cars can fly through gravel at high speed, but absolutely no reason why they can’t have it at the low speed corners, and the chicanes (which is pretty much every corner on the circuit anyway) :P

      I hate how easy it is to just cut a chicane if you make a mistake.

    • bag0 (@bag0) said on 9th November 2011, 13:35

      Actually I think that is a very good layout, but the problem is, some moneybags could not see the action from their yachts.

      At the current layout they have this very combination of corners after the 2nd straight, just to slow the cars down, and show them to the top dogs. //as the track goes around the marina//

  10. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 8th November 2011, 19:11

    I do think it’s sensible for them to hold off with any proposed changes until they can evaluate the race after the 2011 rules have had an outing. The only bit of this circuit that stands out is turns 3 to 7, that’s the long sweeping corner before the chicane that leads into their hairpin.

    I do think we could see another winner here, the circuit doesn’t particularly suit the RB7 (though, that was meant to be the case with Spa and Monza!). This one could be won from the pits.

    • StefMeister said on 8th November 2011, 20:04

      “I do think it’s sensible for them to hold off with any proposed changes until they can evaluate the race after the 2011 rules have had an outing.”

      To me that comment highlights the biggest flaw with DRS especially. Because people within F1 apparently see DRS as a success they don’t seem to want to try & do anything to actually solve the heart of the problem be it car or circuit design.

      Don’t forget DRS was originally only brought in as a temporary fix before the 2014 regulation changes came in with the planned return of ground effects. However that planned switch to ground effects has now been dropped with DRS been retained as a more permanent measure.

      • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 9th November 2011, 10:48

        Cynically one could think that it does exactly what it was intended to do by some: take some of the symptoms away so F1 can go on as it has without many changes in aerodynamics and track layout :-)

  11. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 8th November 2011, 20:00


    But I’ve been proved wrong before!

  12. verstappen (@verstappen) said on 8th November 2011, 20:12

    Now, what to hope?
    Do I prefer short term entertainment over structural long term solutions?

    What’s clear from all the comments, is that we are stuck with this one. So, I hope they will adjust the circuit, either by Populous, Prisoner Monkeys or someone passing by with a pen in his hand…

    But maybe that’s just denial at my side, maybe we’re also stuck for the next ten years with DRS. Oh my, then I’m gonna be grumpy father, explaining to my son that everything used to be better.

    …got…to…think…positive… …arrrgh…

  13. Previously, in the good old days when you had no limitations on development, you often saw a team with a good car but a dog of an engine, and another team with an absolute dog of a car, but a great engine. Boy, did we have some racing in those days! Now, if one team ekes out a little advantage on car, but engines are all limited to 18000 rpm… so little to differentiate between 2 cars there. End result, is you have Red Bull stomping to victory in most of the races, and behind them nothing is happening. At least in ’04 when Ferrari was stomping away, there was action in midfield. Williams had the formidable BMW powering them.

    We have come down to measures like DRS for overtaking. Seriously, any one who thinks DRS solves the problem, is delusional. Problem is that the cars are too similar, thereby giving no competitive edge to anyone, and the result of which is little overtaking action. DRS is a stop-gap at best. Rules need to modified to allow cars to differentiate more than they do now. Development over the year will also go along in ensuring more competition. It sucks for smaller teams because of lack of resources, but something’s got to give. You wouldn’t sand bag winners like in WTCC. Doesn’t do much to enhance image of the sport.

    Oh yes, i don’t find any race boring. People who complain about boring F1 races should try watching golf for a bit. It is not easy to dominate. Now easy when McLaren did it, or Ferrari in ’04 and not now when Red Bull is doing so. I enjoy watching the best doing what they do best on a given day.

    Funnily enough, i see a lot of British publications complain about boring races when German drivers are winning (first Schumacher and now Vettel). Didn’t see them complain much when Macca do the winning.

  14. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 9th November 2011, 3:15

    With two DRS zone,second place to grab & Hamilton & Massa out there,I won’t bet against a good race,even if that’s not possible just bring Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) he will proved the entertainment.

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