Fernando, what are your first impressions of the new circuit in Abu Dhabi?
It looks like it will be quite a demanding circuit for the drivers as there are over twenty corners in the lap and some of them look very challenging. However, when you are looking at a map it’s difficult to really understand a circuit and it’s only when you get there and walk the circuit that you start to feel what it is really like.
How do you normally prepare for a new circuit?
We look at a lot of simulation data and I work very closely with the team to understand the demands of the track much more than I would do for a track that I already know. We will probably spend five times longer preparing for a new venue and the circuit walk becomes very important for me and the engineers.
Which corners have caught your attention?
I think turns 11, 12 and 13 look interesting. I remember when we first saw the map of the circuit it reminded me of the difficult turn ten chicane in Singapore. It looks like turns eight and 11 will be the two big braking zones and for sure there will be opportunities to overtake there.
How long does it take you to learn a new track?
It doesn’t take long because we jump in the car knowing the circuit perfectly in our mind as we have studied the map. After three or four laps you realise the lines and the braking points so I would say five laps is enough to know the track pretty well. But it’s true that every lap you feel more confident and you learn more about the track and how to get the most from it. The final laps of the race are usually your best laps as you know the track so well by then.
The engineer’s perspective with Alan Permane
Alan, tell us about the team’s technical preparations for a new circuit…
We usually begin our preparations about two months ahead of the race, which is when we receive a detailed map showing the layout and characteristics of the circuit. This gives us an idea of the set-up we will need in terms of the downforce levels and the demands on the brakes and the engine. We then feed the circuit map into our computers to create a virtual circuit where we can run simulations with a computer model of our car. This allows us to evaluate many different set-up options which can be easily changed to help us work out a good base set-up.
Once we have arrived at the circuit and run the car in free practice, we will send the real circuit data back to the factory, which can be used to run more accurate simulations. The logged data from Friday practice can also be used on our chassis dynamics rig to explore the ride characteristics of the circuit and can reveal improvements to the damping or perhaps to the spring rates. Any suggestions from the factory for improving the set-up of the car usually come through by the end of Friday so that we can try them on Saturday morning ahead of qualifying.
What are your first impressions of the Abu Dhabi circuit?
There are a couple of reasonably long straights, but it does look like it will be quite stop-start a bit like the street circuit in Valencia. In terms of downforce, it will be on the higher side, although we won’t run maximum downforce settings because of the long straights where straight-line speed will be important.
There are a lot of right-angled corners, but it’s difficult to predict the impact this will have on car set-up as it depends on the layout of the curbs. That’s one thing we will examine during our track walk. What we do know already is that the drivers will want a car that is biased towards traction as the circuit doesn’t have high-speed changes of direction, which would require a stiffer car set-up. So to aid good traction from the low-speed corners we will aim to give the drivers a softer rear end.
In terms of braking, our simulations have shown it to be similar to Valencia and Melbourne so it’s by no means an easy circuit on the brakes, but it’s not as tough as Monza.
Which parts of the track look challenging to you?
I agree with Fernando that turns 11, 12 and 13 will be interesting and certainly worth a lot of lap-time. Drivers always enjoy the high-speed corners, but most of the gains can be found in these low-speed corners where you spend the most time. So, with this in mind, turns five, six and seven will also be a section of the lap where the car needs to work well so we can maximise the gains in lap-time.