After a decisive Indian Grand Prix, Formula One makes the short trip to the United Arab Emirates. The destination this week is the Yas Marina Circuit, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the 17th round of the 2013 FIA Formula One World Championship.
F-1’s only day/night race presents an interesting challenge to teams and drivers alike, with each sector asking a different set of questions. Sector one features high-speed cornering, then, after the hairpin the two long back straights make for a high-speed, heavy-braking section demanding good traction out of the corners.
Finally, Yas turns into a street circuit with a twisty, low-speed final sector, skirting the perimeter of the yacht basin and diving under the Yas Viceroy hotel. The demands of each sector are far from complimentary, making the best compromise on set-up even more difficult to locate than is usually the case.
Tire wear may be less of a factor than was the case in India. While Pirelli is bringing the same pairing of medium and soft compounds to Yas, this circuit in the past has shown itself to induce less wear than Buddh International.
The race does, however, introduce the quirk of a swiftly falling temperature gradient. The rapid transition from day to night in the Gulf state means the race may finish with track temperatures 15°C lower than those experienced in the early laps.
Despite both championships being mathematically decided last week, the final three races of the season are far from dead rubbers. The battle for second place in the Constructors’ Championship is intense: thanks to a double-points finish in India, Mercedes moved marginally ahead of Ferrari, while Lotus also made ground. Meanwhile, at the back Marussia and Caterham are scrapping over the all-important tenth spot. There’s much at stake this weekend.
• Qualifying in pole position at Yas Marina has been a poisoned chalice. The driver in P1 has failed to finish three out of the four Abu Dhabi Grands Prix. In the inaugural race, Lewis Hamilton retired with a brake problem, and again in 2012 after losing fuel pressure. He went further than Sebastian Vettel who led away from pole in 2011 only to suffer a first corner puncture.
• Kimi Räikkönen’s victory from fourth at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the only occasion on which the race has been won from behind the front row. Vettel won from second place in 2009 and from pole in 2010. Hamilton won from second in 2011.
• Räikkönen’s victory was the first of his return to F-1 after a two-year sabbatical. It was the 19th F-1 win of his career and the first victory for the Enstone-based team since Fernando Alonso’s win at Fuji in the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix. It was also the first victory for the Lotus name since Ayrton Senna triumphed in 1987 on the streets of Detroit.
• Räikkönen’s previous grand prix victory came on 30th August 2009 at the Belgian Grand Prix, making his interval between victories 1163 days. That’s less than half the interval of record-holder Riccardo Patrese who went 2403 days between wins at the 1983 South African Grand Prix and 1990 San Marino Grand Prix.
• When he collects the Drivers’ Championship Trophy at the FIA Gala Prize-Giving in December, Sebastian Vettel will draw level with Alain Prost as a four-times World Champion. He now has only Juan Manuel Fangio (five) and Michael Schumacher (seven) in front of him. Like Fangio and Schumacher he will have the distinction of four consecutive championships — though neither of the latter pair managed the feat with their first four titles.
• By virtue of a fourth place for Jenson Button, McLaren set a new record for consecutive races in the points at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. It was their 56th consecutive score, beating the record previously set by Ferrari. The run, which started at the 2010 Australian Grand Prix, eventually extended to 64 races, halting when Sergio Pérez and Jenson Button finished 11th and 12th at the 2013 Canadian Grand Prix. Ferrari can take the record back this weekend: they pulled level in India thanks to Felipe Massa’s fourth place, having started their latest run at the 2010 German Grand Prix.
• Last year McLaren, Lotus, Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Sauber and Caterham stayed in Abu Dhabi after the Grand Prix to conduct the Young Drivers’ test. From the 14 drivers that took part, Esteban Gutiérrez and Giedo van der Garde advanced to F-1 race seats for 2013.
• Marussia race driver Max Chilton also made his debut in Abu Dhabi – though he appeared in the first free practice session of the race weekend rather than the test (in which the Anglo-Russian team were not participating).