• Abu Dhabi Grand Prix preview

Arabian nights

ESPNF1 Staff
November 10, 2011
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Last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a fairly dull and lifeless affair, only made interesting by the climax of a thrilling championship battle. But imagine if Fernando Alonso had been given a DRS advantage to get past Vitlay Petrov, or Sebastian Vettel had been forced to fend off McLarens while his tyres fell apart ... it could have been a classic. Sadly there's no thrilling championship climax this year, but the key ingredients of Pirelli tyres, DRS and KERS should be enough to squeeze an interesting race out of the Yas Marina circuit.

On Form

Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button have come in for a lot of well-deserved praise in recent races, but that's made it easy to overlook Fernando Alonso's efforts in the Ferrari. In a car that is clearly not as quick as the McLarens and Red Bulls he has finished just one position behind the in-form Button at the last three races, with a second place in Japan, a fifth place in Korea and a third place in India. Because Alonso is so highly regarded it's easy to look at his season as a bit of a flop, but compared to his team-mate he has been in a completely different league. Felipe Massa has failed to finish higher than fifth this season, whereas Alonso has only finished lower than fifth on three occasions. Enough said.

Out of form

Renault has scored just six points from the last six races, while closest rivals Force India have scored 25 points. Renault's fifth place in the constructors' championship should be safe, but the lack of points is still a concern for the Enstone-based team. The car is undoubtedly top ten material but driver errors, poor setup choices and a fair bit of bad luck has conspired against the team achieving its full potential. Team boss Eric Boullier has called on his men to score points this weekend, but technical director James Allison has already warned that the R31 will not be well suited to the Yas Marina circuit.

Adrian Sutil scored two points in India but is still fighting for his seat © Getty Images
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One to watch

Adrian Sutil's position at Force India still isn't secure for 2012 despite a strong season in which he stands a good chance of finishing in the top ten in the drivers' standings. With that uncertainty in mind, he will be keen to use the final two races as a shop window for his talent and we should see the very best from him. His car will be well suited to the final two sectors of the Yas Marina circuit so another top ten finish is likely this weekend.

Talking points

Overtaking in Abu Dhabi
Two independent DRS zones should turn Yas Marina into the exciting circuit its organisers had always hoped it would be. The zones, which will have separate detection points, will run along the long straights between turns seven and eight and turns nine and 11. Given the amount of close battles on that section of the circuit last year they should work a treat.

Massa v Hamilton round 7?
Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton might be sick of talking about each other, but you can't crash into the same car six times in a season and not expect it to become a story. They've both insisted they don't have a specific problem with the other, but events both on and off the track suggest otherwise. For whatever reason both have shunned the other's peace offering (Hamilton in Japan and Massa on the grid in India) and their teams have admitted that there is little they can do to patch things up between them. The best way to cool the feud would be for them not to clash (in any way) at the final two races, but that was also true in India...

The future of the RRA
The future of the Resource Restriction Agreement (F1's way of cutting costs) is still in doubt after news that a scheduled meeting this weekend has been postponed indefinitely. Amid speculation that Red Bull has exceeded the RRA this year and that Mercedes could be set to do the same in 2012, there have been genuine fears that the Formula One Teams Association could collapse if it fails to agree on a way to fairly and transparently control costs. Add to that some pretty serious questions about how technical partnerships between teams are influencing performance and whether costly in-season testing should resume, and it's clear that FOTA is sitting on some pretty volatile fault lines at the moment. The one thing standing in FOTA's favour, however, is that the teams are better off united than divided when it comes to negotiating a better deal from the next Concorde Agreement - which should remain the overriding objective for all of them.

There are still plenty of seats up for grabs next year, including at Toro Rosso © Getty Images
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Mid-field driver market
Although the seats at the top four teams all have the same names on them next year, positions at Renault, Force India, Toro Rosso and Williams are still up fpr grabs. At Renault the big question is whether Robert Kubica will be fit enough to return, but a decision still appears to be some way off. Even if he doesn't return there is still a three-way fight between Vitaly Petrov, Bruno Senna and Romain Grosjean. At the Indian GP, Vijay Mallya said he expected to make a decision on his drivers before this weekend, but, at the time of writing, we are no closer to knowing whether Nico Hulkenberg will replace either Paul di Resta (unlikely) or Adrian Sutil (more likely). It's a similar story at Toro Rosso with Daniel Ricciardo waiting in the wings to replace either Sebastien Buemi or Jaime Alguersuari or, possibly, neither. And then there's Williams, which recently confessed to talking to 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen, but has also expressed an interest in Ferrari protégé Jules Bianchi. All will be revealed in time, but expect speculation to step up a gear in Abu Dhabi.

Trivia

  • A sophisticated lighting system is in place around the Yas Marina to allow the race to start at sundown and continue into the night. Light fixtures with vertical controllable beams remove shadow and glare at driver level
  • Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and its name translates literally as 'father of the gazelle'. Its modern wealth is founded on oil, construction and financial services, although Abu Dhabi was settled in the third millennium BC by nomads and fishermen
  • Yas Marina is the only circuit on the F1 calendar with a pit lane tunnel, where the drivers rejoin the track by passing underneath it
  • There has only been one safety car period in the two years of racing at Yas Marina, when the Mercedes SLS was deployed to allow the marshals to clear up a first lap accident between Michael Schumacher and Tonio Liuzzi

Fast facts

  • Sebastian Vettel holds the lap record with a time of 1.40.279, set during the first year of competition at the circuit in 2009
  • The circuit is 5.554 km and is the sixth longest F1 has visited this year
  • The fastest corner is the sweeping left at turn two, taken at 260 km/h and putting the drivers under a pressure of 4G
  • Drivers make 68 gear changes during every lap of the Yas Marina circuit

Circuit

Abu Dhabi is one of the most architecturally impressive circuits on the calendar, but in its first two years the racing has been a little sterile. A lack of overtaking is the main issue but there's a good chance that problem will be solved with the use of DRS, KERS and Pirelli tyres this year. The track itself offers plenty of technical challenges for the drivers with off-camber corners and heavy braking zones, but lacks any stand-out corners for viewers watching at home. Although its place on the F1 calendar is in no doubt, the quality of this year's racing could make or break the circuit in the eyes of the fans.

FIA driver steward

Veteran of 146 grands prix, Derek Warwick makes his fourth appearance as an FIA driver steward at this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, having previously fulfilled this role at the Spanish and Hungarian Grands Prix last year and at this year's Turkish GP.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

Unsurprisingly for a race in the desert, the chances of precipitation over all three days is very low. In the day temperatures could reach 30C, but will be a little lower during the race as the sun goes down. The conditions should keep Pirelli's medium and soft tyre compounds well within their operating windows and make for two or three stop strategies.

Betting

Sebastian Vettel is again the favourite at 8/11 with Jenson Button his nearest competitor at 4/1. Lewis Hamilton is just behind at 9/2 while Mark Webber is 6/1. Fernando Alonso has longer than usual odds at 15/2 while the disappointment of Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa's season is summed up by his odds of 100/1.

ESPN prediction

There's no hiding from the fact that Sebastian Vettel has won the last two races this season as well as the last two races at this circuit in 2009 and 2010, making him the overwhelming favourite. What's more, there is no reason why the track layout shouldn't suit the Red Bulls and Vettel has already proved that he has plenty of motivation left to win races this season.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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