The modern Yas Marina circuit welcomes Formula 1 for the 17th round of the 2013 season this weekend.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix made its debut in 2009 with its unique 55 lap race. Drivers line up on the grid as the sun sets and take the checkered flag under starry skies. As F1’s only day to night race, floodlights are used to create a seamless transition.
Cars pass the glamorous Marina, drive by the huge Ferrari World theme park and pass under the beautiful Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel en route to the start/finish line.
Sebastian Vettel heads to Abu Dhabi as the only two-time winner of the race and a newly crowned quadruple world champion. He took victory in 2009 – the inaugural race – and 2010. The latter subsequently sealed him his first world title.
Lewis Hamilton has always performed strongly at the track and was robbed of victory in 2009 and 2012 due to mechanical failures. However he did win the race for McLaren in 2011 after a rare dose of bad luck pitched pole-sitter Vettel out of the race on lap one.
Kimi Raikkonen took advantage of Hamilton’s woes last year to take the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix victory – his first race win for Lotus and the 19th of his career. He had a storming start and inherited the lead from Hamilton on lap 20. Alonso finished in second, helping to take the title fight to the next round in Brazil, with championship leader Vettel recovering to third after starting from the pit lane.
The circuit isn’t usually renowned for hosting thrilling Formula 1 races, but the 2012 round was just that after a number of dramatic moments and – unusually – plenty of overtaking. Let’s hope for the same this weekend.
A lap of the 3.450mile circuit starts with a run down the medium length pit straight. Turn one is a 90 degree left-hander that is taken in third gear. It is a tight corner that can catch drivers out at the start of the race.
A short straight follows before the fast sixth gear left that is turn two. This flat out corner leads on to the long right-hander of turn three, taken in sixth gear and at 254kph. It is one of the trickiest corners on the circuit with its long radius that can cause tire graining. Unusually, the pit exit feeds in to the third corner as it goes under the circuit at turn one.
It is the only track on the 2013 calendar that includes a tunnel in the pit exit. With the track being anticlockwise and the pit lane being on the right of the pit straight, the tunnelled exit enables cars to re-join the track on the left. Drivers have to negotiate a tight downhill hairpin and a left-hand kink to exit the pit area.
Turn four is a barely-there corner that leads in to the second sector. The next three corners are tight and tricky with a big braking zone for the left-right chicane of turns five and six. It is a decent overtaking opportunity, particularly on the first lap, but the narrow track can cause contact – we saw this in 2010 with Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg and Vitantonio Luizzi.
Turn seven is a second gear, 70kph hairpin. Good traction is vital for a good exit, in order to propel cars down the long back straight. Cars reach 316kph on the run to turn eight and spend 1,000 meters on full-throttle. This is where the first DRS zone is positioned and its detection point is set just prior to the hairpin.
Turn eight is a slow second gear hairpin that leads immediately on to the right of turn nine. This is arguably the strongest overtaking place on the circuit due to the heavy braking zone and the DRS. The run-off area for the eighth corner actually runs under the large grandstand that is situated at the end of the straight.
The second DRS zone arrives just after the turn 10 kink, giving drivers a good burst of speed on the following straight. Turns 11 and 12 make up a challenging left-right chicane that is immediately followed by a third gear left-hander. The large braking zone for the chicane provides another strong overtaking opportunity.
After the 110kph left of turn 14, the drivers are given a slight break before the hugely challenging triple-apex right that makes up turns 15 to 17. The first is taken flat out before speed is gradually scrubbed off for the final apex.
The next left takes cars under the illuminated Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi Hotel with its unique design and changeable light panelling. Turn 19 is another left-hander that leads alongside the hotel and to the penultimate corner, a fast right.
The final corner is a third-gear right-hander that leads on to the pit straight. The pit entry is to the right and undercuts the last turn. That is a lap of the $1.3 billion Yas Marina Circuit.
Vettel will arrive in Abu Dhabi on a high after taking his fourth consecutive title. His Red Bull Racing team, who also took the constructor’s crown in India, will be free of pressure and keen to add more victories to their incredible tally.
After the quick turnaround from India, focus now turns to the battle for second in the constructor’s championship as Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus all duel for the runner-up title. The former have a good car underneath them, which was evident in India by Rosberg and Hamilton’s strong mid-race pace.
The big question now is this: how long can Vettel keep up his incredible winning streak?