The gloves are off: stunning new Abu Dhabi venue set to host epic F1 free-for-all.
The 2009 F1 World Championship may be a done deal, but next week’s inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the breathtaking new Yas Marina circuit is set to be every bit as significant as last week’s title-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix, as just about every driver on the grid has a point to prove, a score to settle, or an employer to impress going into 2010.
Even newly crowned world champion Jenson Button will be under pressure to deliver. The 29-year-old will have to demonstrate he has it in him to stand his ground alongside the likes of Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen when the predicted Ferrari-McLaren line-ups are confirmed for next year – not to mention justify his demands for a salary increase.
He will have to prove, by going all-out for the race win, that his performances in the second half of the season genuinely have been due to him racing conservatively and protecting his championship lead, and not, as some have suggested, because he struggled with what was no longer the best handling car.
Elsewhere Raikkonen, Alonso, Kubica – and Rosberg too for that matter – will be looking to give their respective teams one final hurrah before leaving for bigger and better things in 2010. Although you have to wonder whether Kubica’s switch to Renault really is going to elevate him up the grid in 2010.
On the flipside of the coin Heikki Kovalainen, Nick Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli, and rookies Romain Grosjean and Kazuki Nakajima, will be desperately looking to keep their existing employers happy and hang onto their race seats next year.
Kovalainen in particular seems to be working against the grain with the rumours that Raikkonen on Rosberg will line up alongside Hamilton at McLaren – and he may find refuge at his former Renault team.
As for the new circuit the drivers will be going into the unknown. Abu Dhabi, which features an underground pit lane, will be Formula One racing’s first twilight Grand Prix, with the race starting around dusk at 1700 hours local time and finishing in the dark under floodlights.
Ex-F1 star turned pundit David Coulthard is one of the few members in the F1 community to have driven the new Yas Marina Circuit.
“Having had the opportunity to drive the circuit, what struck me is that it’s a two-stage track,” Coulthard told the official F1 Website, who got behind the wheel of a two-seater Grand Prix car at a recent media day. “The first half of the lap until corner nine is typical of the new type of track.
“There’s the fast section at the beginning from Turn One to the Turn Four tight hairpin with the grandstand literally overhead, giving great viewing for the spectators. The 1.2 kilometre back straight should give an opportunity for some slipstreaming and overtaking.
“The back section of the circuit has a real street circuit feel to it, where you come along the section that takes you to the hotel and then passes underneath it, via a series of 90 degree right-handers and left-handers before opening out to the end of the lap and a medium speed corner on to the start-finish straight.”
Coulthard described the unusual pit lane – actually a tunnel under the circuit – as ‘particularly challenging’ for the drivers as they enter and exit the pits and was similarly impressed with the high standard of the new venue’s infrastructure.
“There are great facilities and air-conditioned garages which will make working conditions in the heat a little bit easier and also having an evening race will obviously take some of the heat out of what can be a very hot venue,” he added.
“I think the twilight aspect of the race will be more of a visual treat for the spectators and the TV audience, but I think for the drivers it will be absolutely fine, as there is enough overhead lighting to make it blend seamlessly from day into night, no problem,” commented Coulthard.
What they drivers say:
LEWIS HAMILTON: “We’ve had a fantastic second half of the season, and it would be perfect to end the year with a win – it would send us into the winter fully motivated and pumped up for the 2010 season. All the signs point to Abu Dhabi being another strong track for us – there are plenty of slow corners leading onto long straights, where KERS will be very advantageous.
“Seeing as it’s likely to be the last race for KERS, it would be fantastic to send it off with a perfect result – that would be a very fitting farewell for all the engineers who have worked so hard to make the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes system the best in the business.”
ROBERT KUBICA: “I have not been to the Abu Dhabi circuit so far. As we do not have a simulator I only know the track from the Internet and from a couple of presentations. The track looks very interesting. The facilities and the buildings around the circuit especially seem to be outstanding. However, before having done the first laps on the track with a Formula One car, it is really difficult to judge the circuit itself. But of course I know this situation from the past.
In 2008 both Valencia and Singapore were new on the calendar. Fortunately I consider myself a driver who does not need a lot of track time to be on a good pace straight away. I guess that a lot of cars will be out on the track on Friday in order to understand the track and to learn as much as possible. I am really looking forward to going there. It will be my last race for this team, but I hope very much to see them on the grid again next year.”
NICK HEIDFELD: “I’m very pleased to be getting another taste of summer and will be flying out to Abu Dhabi a few days early with my family. I’m really excited about the new circuit. Everyone who’s been there already has described it as an incredible place. I think it’s always great to discover a new track. I haven’t found the lack of a simulator to be a disadvantage at other new circuits, and this way it’s even more exciting when you drive out of the garage for the first time.
“This will be a very special race for all of us in the team. So far I haven’t really had that feeling of saying goodbye. But that will change in Abu Dhabi for sure, and will probably be quite intense. I very much hope that the team is given a place on the grid for 2010 soon.”
HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: “I had a very strong race in Brazil and I’m determined to rack up a points finish in Abu Dhabi to make sure we hold on to third position in the constructors’ championship. From what I’ve seen of the track, it looks pretty good – it’s got a couple of fast corners at the start of the lap, but then there’s a real low-speed, technical section towards the end.
“It still looks like it will be a tough track for overtaking, but the facilities look amazing – totally world-class – and I think the idea of a dusk race is very good for our sport. Singapore has set the standard very high with its night race, but Abu Dhabi looks like it will set new standards in Formula 1. I can’t wait to get out there.”
Technical Insight with BMW Sauber’s Willy Rampf: “I always find it exciting to compete at a new venue. The circuit in Abu Dhabi has a whole series of predominantly slow and medium-speed corners, but also two very long straights. Since the track is also very wide, we can probably look forward to a lot of overtaking moves.
“Of course, we have carried out the usual simulations, but one significant unknown is how the tyres will respond on the new asphalt. We will only discover the answer to this question during the course of the weekend. The ambient temperatures are sure to play a major role. Although the race is not scheduled to start until 5.00 pm, we can still expect the outside air temperature to be well over 30 degrees Celsius.
“Brazil was the first race in which we’ve been able to fully exploit the potential of the car since the extensive package of modifications were introduced in Singapore, and we’re also expecting to have a strong race in Abu Dhabi. We’ll be pulling out all the stops to finish the season on a positive note.”