• Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preview

Back to the track

Chris Medland October 31, 2013
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No rest for the wicked; straight off the back of Sebastian Vettel's title party it's on to Abu Dhabi for the 17th round of the world championship. Although we have a drivers' champion, there are plenty more battles and permutations up and down the field that will still play out and ultimately we've still got three grands prix where the teams and drivers can go out and do what they do best: race. And in this Pirelli era, Yas Marina has the potential to deliver spectacularly. Anyone remember 12 months ago?

In Form

While Romain Grosjean certainly hasn't fallen out of form after a stunning drive from 17th to the podium in India, there was an impressive performance from Sergio Perez at the Buddh International Circuit. Perez drove a controlled race having started on the medium tyre but was aggressive when he needed to be and took his opportunity well to pass both Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton in one move on the long back straight to take fifth place. Beating Hamilton - the man he replaced at McLaren - will have been sweet for Perez, and as he himself said after the race it was an impressive performance under pressure as his seat is yet to be confirmed. The drive proved he deserves a place among the front-runners if McLaren gives him a competitive car.

Out of Form

It was a tough weekend for Caterham in India, with both cars failing to finish a race for the first time this season, while both Marussias saw the chequered flag. The timing of the result couldn't really have been worse, with Marussia holding onto 10th place in the constructors' championship and races quickly running out for Caterham to respond. Marussia appears to have closed up on Caterham again in terms of performance - having been outqualified by Max Chilton in Japan it was Jules Bianchi doing so in India - and it faces a very tall order to regain that coveted 10th spot. Form alone won't be enough to do it, and the team is now relying on luck.

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One to watch

It's not an unorthodox tip, but Lewis Hamilton is mighty around the Yas Marina circuit. Last year he qualified on pole position by over 0.3s and even had the buffer to abandon his final run having secured pole, while he was on course for victory in the race when a fuel pressure problem caused him to retire from the lead. A year previously, Hamilton won the race having been a close second to the dominant Red Bull in qualifying, and he admitted ahead of last year's race that "it's a track where you can really push the car, which is what I most enjoy." With a Mercedes that has been quick over one lap this season, Hamilton should get to enjoy himself a lot on Saturday at least.

Talking Points

Record breaker
Vettel became the youngest quadruple world champion in India as he continues to break records on an almost fortnightly basis. He's also now taken six wins in a row for the first time in his career - in fact, taking five in Japan was his new personal best - and will have his sights set on winning the final three races too. That would mean nine consecutive victories and would see him equal the record currently held by Alberto Ascari, although Vettel might be content with beating Michael Schumacher's best run of seven straight victories.

Ross Brawn's future
While speculation over Ross Brawn's role at Mercedes has been rife all year, it appears we're very close to an announcement which is expected to see him leaving the team at the end of the season. Brawn was always set to hand over to Paddy Lowe at some stage, but his recent noises hinted that he wanted to remain at the team longer than he himself expected at the start of the year. However, Mercedes looks set to let him go, and while the first question will surround his next destination, the second will be whether the team is making a mistake or not.

Driver market
Well, it was hardly all going to be sorted in the week since India, was it? Eric Boullier has shown the hand at Lotus, with Nico Hulkenberg in alongside Romain Grosjean if the team gets its funding from Quantum Motorsports. If not, then Pastor Maldonado will be the man to partner Grosjean. Either way, it appears Maldonado is on his way out at Williams and that Felipe Massa is heading there with some sponsorship as his replacement. Other than Lotus, Maldonado and his PDVSA funding will be an attractive proposition to Sauber and Force India too.

Newey's next challenge
Adrian Newey was present in India having missed the Korea and Japan double-header, and one of the questions that kept on cropping up was regarding his next challenge. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Newey appeared to be tiring of the restrictions in Formula One and - even though he was keen to stress he was looking forward to the immediate challenge of the 2014 regulations - he seems keen on a new venture in the not-too-distant future. The Americas Cup was one potential move which kept cropping up, but the main message was that Red Bull would appear to be his last team in F1.

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Trivia

  • The circuit was built at an estimated cost of £800million ($1.286bn)
  • A sophisticated lighting system is in place around the Yas Marina to allow the race to start at sundown and continue into the night. Light fixtures with vertical controllable beams remove shadow and glare at driver level
  • Yas Marina is the only circuit on the F1 calendar with a pit lane tunnel, where the drivers rejoin the track by passing underneath it
  • The Yas Marina Circuit is situated on Yas Island - a man-made island to the east of Abu Dhabi itself

Fast Facts

  • The fastest corner is the sweeping left at turn two, taken at 260 km/h and putting the drivers 4G of lateral load
  • Drivers make 68 gear changes during every lap of the Yas Marina circuit
  • Approximately 55% of the track is spent at full throttle, with average speeds of 190kph
  • Cars consume on average 2.5kg of fuel per lap

Circuit

Abu Dhabi is one of the most architecturally impressive circuits on the calendar, but in its first three years the racing was pretty sterile before a dramatic race in 2012. The track itself offers plenty of technical challenges for the drivers with off-camber corners and heavy braking zones, but lacks any stand-out corners for viewers watching at home. The DRS zone has been extended this year to try to encourage more overtaking, but it will still be as artificial as the lighting that lines the circuit's perimeter. Although its place on the F1 calendar is in no doubt, a repeat of last year's thrilling race is needed to further increase popularity among the fans.

Driver Steward

Martin Donnelly is the FIA's driver steward this weekend. He started his F1 career with a one-off race at Arrows in 1989 before getting a full drive at Lotus in 1990. However, he had his career cut short after a huge crash at the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix when his car disintegrated and Donnelly was left in the the track strapped only to his seat. His injuries were horrific, but he fought back to health, even having a test in a Formula 3000 car.

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Weather

Unsurprisingly, the weather in Abu Dhabi is going to be constant, and constantly hot. Sandstorms can sometimes be an issue in the region but less so at this time of year. The forecast is for temperatures in the mid-30s throughout the day and only dropping to high-20s once darkness falls. The bigger challenge for the teams though is that track temperatures will drop more dramatically without the fierce heat of the sun on it and that will affect the tyres.

Betting

Unless you have a lot of money to stake, backing Sebastian Vettel at 4/11 is not going to give you much of a return. Mark Webber is 7/2 second favourite but it's a sign of his recent impressive form that Romain Grosjean is best of the rest at 14/1. Lewis Hamilton is a tempting 18/1 having been so strong here in the past, while Kimi Raikkonen is a good bet at 15/8 to finish on the podium at the scene of his 2012 victory. The Force India pair are good value at 2/1 for points, but picking between them could be the harder call!

ESPN prediction

This was the scene of a Red Bull reliability issue last year when Vettel didn't have enough fuel in for qualifying and had to start from the back. With Webber suffering from misfortune in India, we're going to tip Vettel's run of wins to come to an end and Lewis Hamilton to pick up the pieces, taking his second victory of the season.
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