This weekend, Formula One heads out on track at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, one of the newer events, but already established as one of the most glamorous.
Yas Marina was host to Kimi Raikkonen's first win in F1 since his return to the sport, and remarkably the 2012 race saw the podium filled with the current top three drivers in the championship, albeit in reverse order.
The circuit is especially interesting because it is driven late in the evening, posing an interesting challenge to teams as track temperatures can drop rapidly during each session, and most importantly the race. The most important thing to manage here are the tyres as thermal degradation is likely to be higher early on in the race, allowing longer stints or softer tyres in the second part. To spice things up even further, Pirelli have once again brought an aggressive set of tyres, namely the soft and the medium compounds, identical to those raced last weekend at the Indian Grand Prix.
Traction is the key aspect to a strong performance at Yas Marina, as there are not so many high-speed corners. To help the drivers gain maximum traction, 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.
Turn 1 The first corner is medium speed – taken at around 130km/h – leading into the high speed Turns 2 + 3; both of which should be flat out in qualifying and only giving the drivers something to think about when they are on heavy fuel loads.
Turn 2 A defining corner for setup. You need sufficient front wing to eradicate high-speed understeer here, which defines how much front wing is used overall as the remaining corners around the track can all use less than that required for this corner.
Turn 7 A second gear corner taken at around 70km/h, strong engine pickup is vital out of Turn 7 for a good entry onto the circuits’ longest straight. The engine braking needs to be particularly effective for rear stability on entrance, but equally the response needs to be completely correct as the hairpin exit leads onto the long back straight. Any hesitation will compromise the entry to the straight and therefore the overall lap time.
Turns 8 – 9 Arriving at the end of one of the longest straights in Formula 1 – with maximum speeds of around 320km/h – heavy braking down to second gear and around 80kph is required for Turns 8 – 9. The kerbs are used aggressively through this combination, so a soft car is beneficial.
Approaching Turn 11 Another long straight with top speeds in excess of 300km/h leads into a second heavy braking zone for Turn 11. The Turn 11 – 13 sequence requires good change of direction from the car.
Turns 11 – 21 The final sector is all very low-speed with a lot of second gear corners; reminiscent of a street course. Seeing the cars dive under the brightly lit Yas hotel is one of the greatest spectacles of the year. Turn 21 is a good example of a typical corner in this section. The average speed is low; just 160km/h so the engines will be set up to give good driveability whilst being responsive for the short bursts of power between turns. Rear stability is the key here since tenths of a second can be won if the car is ‘nailed’ to the track in the slow speed turns.
Rear Wing The more recent circuits – Suzuka, Korea and India – have required a high-medium downforce level. While the Yas Marina continues this trend, it also factors in a need to maintain good speed on the long straights while maximising grip in the low-speed final sector.
Front Wing Turn 2 is the crucial corner for determining how much front wing is used. More front wing is required here than for any other corner, so you need sufficient front wing to prevent excessive understeer at Turn 2 without causing too much detriment elsewhere.
Suspension The kerbs are more pronounced than seen at some other tracks, in particular Turns 8,9 and through the last sector. A soft car which rides the kerbs well helps here, but it’s a trade off between having a soft car which will ride over the kerbs and one which is stiff enough for the driver to have a sharp change of direction which is necessary for the chicanes – 8-9 and 11-13.
Brakes There are reasonable braking demands, especially into Turns 5, 8, 11 which have quite high speed approaches to the low speed corners. Temperatures will need to be monitored as will wear; these are not likely to be an issue, but more attention is paid to them here than at other tracks.
Engine Yas Marina is considered a mid-range power track, although the power sensitivity is lessened by the high concentration of low to medium speed bends in the back part of the circuit round the Marina. The day to night schedule makes ambient conditions vary significantly and grip levels, tyre warm up and air pressure will change. The engine needs to respond to this new set of parameters, so careful engine management and flexibility is crucial.
The external factors of the track need careful consideration. Similar to India, the concentration of dust or grit in the atmosphere means we need to monitor the air filters and clean where necessary to avoid blockages. This is especially important when you take the high ambient temperatures into account. During the day we can see the ambient temperature rise to well over 30°C so cooling is critical.
Another important factor to consider is the fuel consumption, which is one of the highest of the year per lap. The circuit is by nature very demanding on the consumption, particularly the stop-start of the final sector. The consumption rate is increased further by the sea level altitude, but an aspect we need to monitor is the changing temperatures between sessions. During the day when the temperatures are higher the fuel consumption is lower, but during the night sessions it increases. This nuance will be factored in for the race to avoid finishing with too much or too little fuel.
Tyres The tyres for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft: the same nomination that was made for India last weekend. The temperature range that the tyres will experience this weekend though is very different, as unlike most other races track temperature falls as the grand prix goes on in Abu Dhabi, rather than rises.
Circuit length: 5.554 km
Race laps: 56
Race distance: 305.355 km
Lap record: 1:40.279 (VET, ‘09)
Number of corners: 21
Maximum speed (no DRS): 315 km/h
Minimum speed: 65 km/h
FIA corners below 100 km/h: 6
FIA corners above 250 km/h: 5
Average lap speed (qualifying): 194 km/h
Distance from pole to apex of T1: 300 m
Braking events: 11 (4 heavy)
Pit-lane length under speed-limit control: 360m
Pit-lane time at 80 km/h: 16.2s
Full throttle per lap (% lap distance): 69%
Full throttle per lap (% lap time): 55% - 58%
Longest period at full throttle: 14.1s
Average gear changes per race lap: 68 (3740/race)
Braking energy: medium