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Yas Marina: Respect where it's due

Maurice Hamilton October 31, 2012
Don't be fooled, it's not as easy as it looks © Press Association
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The straight at Yas Marina is one of the longest in F1 but it doesn't seem that way when you're doing 187mph. If fact, you hardly notice it all as turbulence tries to lift the crash helmet off your head and all you're thinking about is the violence which you know is coming up soon. Very soon.

Any second now, in fact. Like - Right! Now! Jeeez! He's either forgotten to brake or they the bloody things have failed! Serves me right for getting into a 10-year-old former Tyrrell and...

Bang!

Martin Brundle hits the pedal. Very hard indeed. Breath is expelled by the force of your body rammed into a harness you could have sworn was impossibly tight. Your chin is on your chest and the helmet, previously sliding up your nose, feels like a 10-ton weight whacked behind your ears. They said the braking would be something else. It is. But they didn't tell you about what comes next.

The chance to regain orientation and vertical composure is invaded immediately by impossible lateral forces as we go left, immediately right and left again. The body is assaulted by sudden sideways movement, first one way and then the other, but you are not prepared for the sheer brutality as rock-hard suspension meets unyielding kerbs to add yet another dimension to the unending punishment.

Wallop! Wallop! Wallop! Whack! Your crash helmet is smashed into the head rest once more to accompany the rising scream from a Cosworth V10 which is roughly massaging kidneys and shoulder blades. Now the helmet is pulling north once more.

All of the above takes a tenth of the time you've spent reading it. Watch it on the TV and it looks - normal. Car arrives in corner; brief cloud of brake-pad dust; driver turns in; car bumps kerb; nose wing vibrates; helmet wobbles a bit; driver powers out. Easy.

Not if you're unaccustomed to this and crammed into a tiny cockpit with the driver somewhere between your legs, his elbows bashing your feet. That's how I knew Brundle was working hard. During the previous few laps, Martin had been running in tandem with David Coulthard as they created shots for a camera car; passing, repassing and having fun. But not going particularly quickly.

Earlier, as they sat in their cars side-by-side in the garage, Brundle had ended discussion about the planned moves by jerking his right thumb rearward and saying: "And when we've finished that, DC, I'm staying out for a few laps to give ol' Maurie here a bit of a go." I should have realised from DC's chuckle just what was coming.

We were hooked up by radio and, as DC and the camera car disappeared into the pits, the last words I recall Martin saying were: "Right. Pull your feet as far back as you can. I need some room. Let's go!" That's when the world went into crazy fast-forward. Boy, did it ever.

It is very difficult to get across just how physically draining this is even when you're sitting there, hanging on and doing nothing. I'm reasonable fit (for an oldie!) but I looked a right Charlie when a mechanic felt the need to offer a steadying hand as I had what might best be described as a form of speed wobble while returning two feet to the ground.

Okay, being Abu Dhabi, the ambient temperature and humidity were high. But I looked like a 60-year-old who'd driven 90 laps. Or, more like, a 90-year-old who'd driven 60. That's the thing that hits you - in every sense of the expression. We had completed just a few minutes at speed and the punishment had been extreme. How on earth, you wonder, do drivers keep that up for an hour and a half? And, into the bargain, maintain total concentration while doing this with cars all around.

Even the slow cars are generating staggering amounts of grip © Sutton Images
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I mentioned this to Martin and he smiled as one would for an ageing relative who asks if you're going to be bold and have a bottle or two of light ale in the pub on a Saturday evening and stay out after 10pm. "The two-seater is big and heavy; it's like driving a sports car," he said. "The track is dusty (this was prior to the first Grand Prix in 2009) and we were lapping, I'd guess, as much as 14 or 15 seconds slower than the F1 guys will manage."

Fourteen or 15 seconds! That's a life time. He had to be kidding.

He wasn't. In fact, he was absolutely spot on. A couple of weeks later, I stood by the fence and watched with a profound sense of respect and proportion as the drivers tackled the corners as a matter of routine. For lap after lap.

Fourteen bloody seconds! People may tell you that Yas Marina circuit is a bit dull and scarcely a challenge. Not from where I was sitting. No way.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1 in the build-up to each Grand Prix.

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Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live