Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preview - prepare for a storming 09 finale 29 Oct 2009
Jenson Button and Brawn GP may have clinched both world championships in Brazil, but the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix promises to be an absolute sizzler of a weekend. Work began on the exciting new Yas Marina track back in February 2007 and has continued since then with dramatic intensity as a workforce of 14,000 invested 35 million man hours shifting 1.6 million cubic metres of earthwork, laying 720,000 square metres of asphalt and pouring 225,000 cubic metres of concrete.
The result is a spectacular anti-clockwise circuit whose numerous unique features include a pit-lane exit which crosses under the circuit; part of the track passing under the Yas Hotel, whose illuminated, colour-changing gridshell will gleam across the Yas Island skyline as dusk falls; and the replacement of traditional run-off areas with widespread use of Tecpro barriers. The latter in particular makes this a genuine street circuit like Monaco, on which mistakes will be heavily punished.
I think it's good, said F1 driver-come-TV commentator Martin Brundle after giving passenger rides there recently in a two-seater Minardi. What is refreshing is that it is not a car park with delineated kerbs. You can still whack the barriers there. At Suzuka, if you make a mistake then you pay the price. Likewise, in Abu Dhabi if you make a mistake you will be in the wall.
Champion constructor Ross Brawn explained how his team will approach the weekend. With the challenge of a new circuit, we are able to use data provided by the FIA to create a circuit map which can be used in our simulator at the factory. We went through this process for the new street circuits in Valencia and Singapore last year so it is a process that the team is familiar with. Knowing the circuit when they arrive helps the drivers to get into a rhythm quickly during the first practice sessions and allows us to check gear ratios and compare set-up items. We can also use the simulator to understand tyre behaviour. From this we get an understanding of the car balance and that allows us to determine our start set-up for the weekend."
World champion Jenson Button is raring to go and said: "It's a fantastic feeling to be going into the final race having achieved my ambition of winning the drivers' championship and with the team having wrapped up the constructors' championship in Brazil. We want to finish the season in style with a great result but we can be a little more relaxed in our approach to the weekend!
I had a short break in the Gulf region after the Bahrain Grand Prix and went to have a look at the Yas Marina Circuit. Even back then, when the construction work was still underway, the facilities looked outstanding and the organisers have done a great job in creating a spectacular venue. It's always fun to try a new race track, particularly one which looks as unique as Yas Marina with the unusual pit-lane exit and the day/night race. I'm sure Abu Dhabi is going to host an exciting weekend and a great finale to the 2009 Formula One season."
Outgoing champion Lewis Hamilton is equally enthusiastic.
Weve had a fantastic second half of the season, and it would be perfect to end the year with a win, he said. 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 on to long straights, where KERS will be very advantageous.
Seeing as its 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.
Brazilian Grand Prix victor Mark Webber, however, has plans to scupper the British drivers aspirations, as does Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel.
"I'm expecting us to be pretty strong in Abu Dhabi," Webber said. "We've been pretty strong since Singapore, so there's no reason to suggest that we can't be fighting towards the sharp end again. As usual, qualifying will be very important and then we'll see how the race goes from there. We're looking to finish off on a high for the team."
Elsewhere, there will be an end-of-term feeling as several relationships draw to their close. Kimi Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella will be having their last races for Ferrari and Fernando Alonso his last for Renault. BMW will be having their last race in Formula One, as Saubers future remains uncertain. It will be the last Grand Prix with only 20 starters, as the three new teams prepare to swell the grids for 2010. And at Toyota, where Jarno Trulli may be having his last race with the team, the impressive rookie Kamui Kobayashi prepares for his second as ongoing stand-in for the injured Timo Glock.
Bridgestone will be bringing their medium and soft compound rubber to the exciting day-night race, for which the schedule has been modified. Fridays practice sessions will run from 1300 to 1430 hours local time (four hours ahead of GMT) and then 1700 to 1830; Saturdays final practice session will be from 1400 to 1500, with qualifying from 1700 to 1800; and the race will start at 1700 on Sunday.