Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Rewind the clock twelve months, and when the Grand Prix circus hit Abu Dhabi, a certain Sebastian Vettel was a distinct outsider in a five-way scrap for the 2010 championship crown.

But a dominant drive ensured that he came out on top to claim an emotional maiden championship crown to become the sport’s youngest ever World Champion.

Fast forward twelve months to this weekend. Vettel has been sublime this season and already has back-to-back titles wound up. And this has done nothing to change his approach…

The real question will be if anyone can mount a realistic challenge to his record-breaking season, so let’s get down to business and preview the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix…

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The Circuit

2011 FORMULA 1 ETIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIXYas Marina Circuit

Date: 13 November 2011 No. Laps 55
Lap Length: 5.554km Race Distance: 305.355km
Race Lap Record: 1:40.279 – Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing), 2009
Last Year’s Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)

One of a brace of new venues to hit the Formula 1 calendar in recent years, the Yas Marina circuit looked – on paper at least – to take Grand Prix racing to a glitzier and more glamorous level.

And much of that is true. It has amazing facilities and architecture – its multicoloured Yas Hotel is truly something – a novel pit exit, and a twilight setting to make the backdrop all the more stunning.

But in terms of wheel-to-wheel action, the Hermann Tilke designed circuit has been an abject failure. Two crucial areas have come under fire since it made its debut on the calendar in 2009: it poses no challenge to drivers, and it offers next to no overtaking opportunities.

The two races held here to-date – both won convincingly by Sebastian Vettel – have been absolute snooze-fests, and one can only hope that the new-for-2011 rules will help to improve the show.

 

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Yas Marina Talking Points

What are the three big talking points of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?

  • Can Massa and Hamilton keep away from each other? The ill-feeling between the pair got worse when they had their sixth on-track incident of the season at the last round in India, although this time it was Massa who was penalised for causing the contact. How much longer can the bad blood run between them? As the cynics may suggest, as long as the media is prepared to pour fuel on the fire…
  • Can Button continue his strong run? With Vettel having cantered to back-to-back championships, one of the interesting battles has been the fight for runner-up honours. Jenson Button has driven sensationally this year – better, we would argue than his championship-winning 2009 season – and his late-season form has truly been spectacular. He’s comfortably had the measure of team-mate Hamilton, and he looks well-placed to beat Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso to second place.
  • Can the new rules improve the racing? Yas Marina has yet to deliver anything remotely approaching an exciting race (in terms of wheel-to-wheel racing and overtaking), and circuit officials have made it clear that they’ll only consider changes to the circuit’s layout if the advent of KERS and DRS don’t improve the show.
So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
     
Geoff  
Geoff, Richard’s F1 reader, Australia

“A track of ‘all glitz and little substance’, Yas Marina has sadly failed to deliver since it debuted on the F1 calendar in 2009. Sure, there’s a big Ferrari-owned theme park, a space-age hotel over the track, and the grandstands are always full.

“It also has the novel pit exit that goes under Turn 1 and pops out at Turn 3, but it’s more like watching a Formula 1 racer leaving a public parking lot than invoking any real excitement.

“None of this makes up for a track layout that has done nothing to encourage overtaking. It has few real challenges and there’s far too much margin for error. And yet, when other championship categories race here, there seems to be more passing. Is the problem more to with F1 than the track?”

Henry 
Henry, Richard’s F1 reader, Ireland

“I’m getting really excited about this amazing scrap between Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber for sixth place. Sauber’s decision to abandon the development of its ‘blown exhaust’ (in anticipation of a mid-season ban that was rescinded) has backfired badly, and the team has slumped to eighth in the overall standings, having been overtaken by Force India, and later Toro Rosso.

“STR has been working furiously to develop its car, and it’s paid off with some great results in the second half of the season. With enough luck, they could even overtake Force India for sixth place! Not bad at all for a team that was targeting ninth in the Constructors’ Championship standings…”

Joseph
Joseph, Richard’s F1 Technical Correspondent

“And the German juggernaut rolls on. Vettel notches up yet another win in India. This weekend, the show moves to Abu Dhabi, can Vettel repeat his efforts from last year and come away with another win here?  Both McLarens were mighty strong here last year and would be looking good to topple Vettel at the first opportunity. Ferrari desperately need to end the season with a high, and Abu Dhabi would be a perfect place for them to get some exposure after a long poor season by their standards.

“At this point of the season, its often what is happening off the track that attracts more attention, especially as both championships titles have been decided. However, the race for the minor places are still red hot, with valuable dollars awaiting the midfield teams. Watch out for developmental parts coming onto cars!

“Abu Dhabi should be a circuit where we see a reasonable amount of passing, particularly in the DRS zone, I’m looking forward to seeing how the cars are set up for this weekend and what results this will yield.”

Matt 
Matt, Richard’s F1 IndyCar Correspondent

“Momentum is a powerful, yet underestimated force. Whenever the championship is taken out of play, the focus for many drivers with adequate machinery turns to building momentum, both towards ending the current season on a high and to carry any such momentum into the winter and then into the new season. Lewis Hamilton (who hasn’t won since Germany), Fernando Alonso (since Great Britain), Mark Webber (since Hungary 2010) could all use the psychological boost a victory brings. The problem is the supreme domination being shown by Sebastian Vettel, who couldn’t even be caught, let alone passed, in India a fortnight ago, and the incredible motivation level he maintains to suppress any momentum his rivals may be able to generate.

“Expect more of the same this weekend in Abu Dhabi, the scene where Vettel took his first Drivers’ Championship twelve months ago. A little further down the grid, expect plenty of attention to be on the Williams camp, as rumours of the enforced retirement of Rubens Barrichello and talk of Kimi Raikkonen rejoining the F1 fracas continue to spawn conversation and conjecture.”

   

 

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The Form Guide

Sebastian Vettel’s dominant win here a year ago has all but set the tone for how the following twelve months would pan out.

Certainly, the advantage of a superior car has helped his cause, but he’s also not put a foot wrong all year, while his main rivals have tripped up on too many occasions to mount a proper challenge against him.

Having now wrapped up a second championship crown, the German has not lifted his foot off the throttle, as his win a fortnight ago at India showed.

It’s quite obvious how much he enjoys repeated success. His 2011 season has been marked by a relentless pursuit of his goals: to win as many races as possible, secure as many poles and fastest laps along the way.

A win here and at the following Brazilian Grand Prix will see him draw level with Michael Schumacher’s all-time record for the number of wins in a season. It would be a brave person who does not bet on him claiming a hat-trick of wins at Yas Marina.

The battle between the candidates targeting the runner-up spot in the championship will again write itself another chapter this weekend, although Jenson Button is increasingly emerging as the favourite to take out the honour. The Briton is enjoying an excellent second half to his championship season, and has generally had the legs of his main rivals, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

The other major battle in the championship will be that between Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber in the fight for sixth in the Constructors’ championship standings. While Toro Rosso and Force India seemingly go from strength to strength every weekend, Sauber has struggled, not least of which being on account of Kamui Kobayashi’s long run of races without any points on the board. The Japanese driver will be hoping he can finish inside the top-ten at the very same venue where he claimed his first F1 points just two years ago.

[Images via Hannah Corbett, LAT, Sutton Images]

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