Abu Dhabi preview - magnificent seven for super Seb? 01 Nov 2013
Will the donuts that the irrepressible Sebastian Vettel couldnt resist doing during his celebrations in India last Sunday come back to haunt him this weekend? The mechanical strain put on his car may be a small concern to his Red Bull engineers as the F1 circus heads to Abu Dhabi for the 17th race of the season, but as far as the man himself is concerned, this race will be all about going for victory number 11 in 2013, and his seventh in a row.
The odds, of course, favour that, as the RB9 remains the class of the field. But Vettel will have to fend off the challenge of team mate Mark Webber as the Australian veteran looks for a final flourish before his F1 racing career draws to its close.
Abu Dhabi is one of the highlights of the racing calendar, the new quadruple world champion says. Starting at dusk and finishing in the dark makes it pretty impressive. I have special memories of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after winning the first race here in 2009 and then repeating the victory in 2010 to win my first world championship, that was an event I will never forget.
The Yas Marina circuit is impressive: 5.5 kilometres, 55 laps counter-clockwise with large run-off areas and a pit lane that leads through a tunnel to the other side of the straight. A few key points of the track for me are; Turn 1 because it is very difficult to see and is very fast. The last corners, (Turns 20 and 21) must be regarded as one, because you have to exit perfectly from the first to catch the last corner correctly. The trick here is to get on the throttle as early as possible in order to build up enough speed for the subsequent straight.
When Mercedes admit, as Nico Rosberg did in India, that they went to that race aiming to best of the rest, you know how dominant Red Bull really are. But now that the main titles have both been mathematically decided the focus will also turn to the battle for runner-up slot in the constructors stakes between Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus. Mercedes are currently leading the race for second, with 313 points to Ferraris 309, and Lotus remain within striking distance with 285.
Abu Dhabi is a fun weekend that I always enjoy, Lewis Hamilton says. With three races left we are pushing and there is a lot that our team can achieve in the period. Its all about consistency now and making sure that both Nico and I score good points so that we can keep the other teams behind us. Were up for the challenge.
We are going to fight to the end to regain second position, Ferraris Fernando Alonso says, and to finish our season on a positive note.
At Lotus meanwhile, Romain Grosjean - a podium finisher in the last three races - says, Now that Seb has won the world championship, perhaps he will give one of us a chance to win! The Frenchman is overdue for such success, and his recent run of form would make him a very popular winner were the cards to fall in his favour.
McLaren are relatively safe in fifth place, and Jenson Button comes here with his tail up despite a disappointing final result in India.
The whole team ought to feel encouraged by our pace there, he says. Our overall speed and consistency were the strongest they have been all season, and the team delivered on all fronts to ensure that strategically and logistically we lost nothing to our rivals. Well certainly be taking that momentum into this race.
As this is a twilight race that starts in daylight and ends under floodlights, the track temperature eventually drops by 15 degrees, from around 45 degrees Celsius at the start to 30 degrees at the end which is much closer to the ambient temperature. This is the opposite of what happens at most hot races that are held in the early afternoon.
Rather like Suzuka, the first part of the Yas Marina Circuit essentially consists of a continuous series of bends, which subject the car to lateral acceleration forces of 4g. The tyres then have to deliver optimal performance down a long straight, with the cars on full throttle for around 15 seconds, which equates to a loading of approximately 800 kilograms pushing down on all four wheels.
Traction is the key aspect to a strong performance here, as there are not so many high-speed corners. To help the drivers maximise this, the engineers tend to set up the cars with quite a soft rear end, but this can lead to increased rear tyre wear. If the set-up is too stiff at the back the opposite problem can occur: excessive wheelspin, which also takes life out of the tyres.
Pirelli have brought the same white-marked medium compound and yellow-marked soft compound tyres that were used in India last weekend, but the temperature range they will experience will be very different.
The way that the track temperature falls rather than rises in Abu Dhabi obviously has an effect on both wear and degradation, explains motorsport director Paul Hembery, meaning that teams are able to do longer runs even on the softer compound later in the race. There are some important implications for strategy here, which means that its often possible to try something different in Abu Dhabi than you would in other places, which might well pay off at the end of the race.
As a company, Abu Dhabi is a circuit that we know very well because its where we did some testing before we started in Formula One. Its also where the Formula One teams got to sample our tyres for the first time, back at the end of 2010. When it comes to the actual venue, Yas Marina is one of the most modern and spectacular circuits of the year with a number of different technical challenges that test most aspects of a tyres overall performance.
Tyre wear and degradation isnt especially high here: last year, when we also nominated the medium and soft, most drivers just stopped once. As the compounds are generally softer this year wed expect two stops this time, although its quite possible that some teams might try just one. We will have to wait for the Friday running until we have a clearer picture of the lap time difference between the two compounds but overall wed anticipate race pace among the frontrunners to be reasonably closely balanced, and its always under these circumstances that having the right strategy can really make a significant difference.
Although theres quite a high degree of track evolution, and conditions in free practice arent always representative of the race, the work done during the Friday and Saturday sessions will be instrumental in shaping each teams understanding of which strategies are both possible and advantageous on Sunday.
Few changes have been made to the Yas Marina Circuit since last year, the only exception being some speed bumps - similar to those used around the first chicane at Monza - which have been installed two metres from the track edge around the outside of Turns 8 and 11. Like last year, the circuit features two DRS zones which are situated on the two long back straights. The first zone has its detection point 40m before Turn 7, with activation 390m after the corner. The second zones detection point is 50m after Turn 9 with activation at the apex of Turn 10.
As you might expect, the weather is expected to be warm, dry and sunny all weekend, with temperatures over 34 degrees predicted for Saturday and Sunday. The race will run over 55 laps of the 5.554-kilometre (3.451 mile) circuit, or 305.355 kilometres (189.738 miles). It starts at 1700 hours local time, which is four hours ahead of GMT.
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