Abu Dhabi preview - DRS to dial up electric Yas Marina 10 Nov 2011
Last year the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix saw Red Bulls Sebastian Vettel snatch the world championship crown from Ferraris Fernando Alonso and his own team mate Mark Webber, but the dearth of overtaking played a key role in the final outcome. This year both the drivers and constructors titles are long settled, but the use of DRS could make for a much more exciting race.
The spectacular anti-clockwise circuit has numerous unique features which include a pit-lane exit that crosses under the track; another part of it that passes directly under the Yas Hotel, whose illuminated, colour-changing grid shell will gleam across the Yas Island skyline as dusk falls; a long main straight; and the replacement of traditional run-off areas with widespread use of Tecpro barriers. It has the feel of a street circuit such as Monaco or Valencia.
The race came in for a bit of criticism last year because the cars found it very difficult to overtake, explained FIA race director Charlie Whiting. But there are two DRS zones this year, with two activation points, and they should make a significant difference in that respect. Everybody loves coming here to race: the facilities are absolutely first class - everythings top-notch and the timing of the event gives a nice mix between a night race and a day race.
The first DRS zone is positioned on the main straight between Turns Seven and Eight, with its detection point just prior to the Turn Seven hairpin. The second is on the straight that leads into the Turn 11/12/13 complex, with the detection point just after Turn Nine.
McLaren team mates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button both believe the track will suit their MP4-26s nicely, and the latter in particular is well placed to finish runner-up overall to the newly-recrowned Vettel.
Im very optimistic, Button says. We saw at the last Grand Prix that even though we didnt have the ultimate speed to catch and pass Sebastian, we made him work hard for the win. Tactically, McLaren ran a first-class race: I got all the right calls from the pit wall and the pit crew did a fantastic job. The championship may not be at stake any more but were still aiming to win races and put on a tremendous show.
Its usually been quite difficult to overtake here, especially last year, but I think that DRS will change all that. The back straight is one of the longest in Formula One so I expect to see a lot of action there. It would be great to see the new rules turn this circuit into a place where overtaking is more common and more exciting.
Hamilton agrees. I think weve got every reason to be confident for Abu Dhabi. This circuit should really suit the characteristics of our car - we should be able to capitalise on the layout to maximise the benefit of DRS and KERS, both of which are very strong on our car.
Red Bull and Sebastian may have clinched both championships, but Im still determined to end the season on a winning high. Ive won two Grands Prix this year, and Id love to double that by the end of the year! It would also be a great reward for everybody at McLaren.
Needless to say, Vettel hopes to add yet another victory to his tally, which would see him equal the record of fellow world champion Damon Hill and put him joint 11th in the all-time winners list.
The track in Abu Dhabi is special, the double champion says. The race starts at dusk and finishes at night, which means we have to drive with special helmet visors because of the different light conditions. The other factor is that we drive anti-clockwise. The tracks a bit like Singapore from the speed, but the asphalt is smoother. There are two special features - one is the passage under the Yas Hotel, where else can you actually drive under your room! The second is the pit-lane exit. Its partly underground and it feels like youre coming out of an underground parking garage when you drive through it.
Webber made it very clear in India that he isnt looking for hand-outs from his team mate, but the Australian would dearly love to win a race this season, from the front.
Im really looking forward to getting to Abu Dhabi, he confirms. Although its not one of the most challenging venues of the season, with every real corner being second and third gear, its always a great spectacle. Its a twilight race, so it looks amazing on TV. Its another great opportunity for the team to get a very good result as the season comes to a close. The sun is always shining and the conditions are always beautiful, so thats something to look forward to.
While Ferrari are also likely to be very competitive and Alonso would love to expunge the bad memories he has of being trapped all race behind Vitaly Petrov last year, interest will also focus on the fight between Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber for sixth overall. Williams Pastor Maldonado starts the weekend on the back foot as he will drop ten places on the grid for using his ninth engine of the season at Yas Marina.
Further back Canadian Rob Wickens gets his first official run as a Friday morning driver at Virgin in place of Jerome DAmbrosio.
Im thrilled to be given the opportunity to test with the team in a race weekend context and at a track like Abu Dhabi, the new World Series by Renault champion says. This year just keeps getting better and better and I cant thank Marussia enough for their continued support. The Vairano test was a good grounding for me but the opportunity to kick things up a gear in a Free Practice session is obviously the next big step in my career and I hope my feedback will have a positive benefit on the teams performance.
2011 World Series by Renault runner-up Jean-Eric Vergne will also enjoy a Friday run - hell be in the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi during the morning session.
Pirelli will be bringing their medium and soft compound rubber to the twilight race, for which the usual schedule has been modified. Fridays practice sessions will run from 1300 hours local time to 1430 and then 1700 to 1830; Saturdays final session will be from 1400 to 1500, with qualifying from 1700 to 1800; and the race will start at 1700 on Sunday. All times are four hours ahead of GMT. The teams will also be given two extra sets of an experimental soft compound tyre for use on Friday only.
The weather should be reasonably settled with partial cloud and an ambient temperature of 28 degrees Celsius expected on each day, though there may be some showers on Friday. The race will run over 55 laps of the 5.554 kilometre (3.451 mile) circuit, or 305.355 kilometres (189.747 miles).
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