Saturday, November 3, 2012

Abu Dhabi GP: Fast Facts, Circuit Info, Starting Grid, and Problems for Vettel

Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi/Getty Images

The 18th round of the 2012 Formula One World Championship makes a short hop from India to the Yas Marina Circuit (YMC) in Abu Dhabi this weekend. It is F1’s only day/night race and has been a great success in its previous three runnings. The Formula One paddock at YMC has enjoyed a good reputation both for its compact arrangement and convivial atmosphere but also with the quality of its garage and circuit facilities. This has been instrumental in it becoming a venue for the the young drivers test which will take place in the days following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

YMC has three very different sectors as you can see below. A series of high speed turns dominate from the start leading to a hairpin turn at Turn 7 which exits into a the longest straightaway on the circuit which is the beginning of sector two and the middle section of the lap. There are two long straights separated by a heavy braking zone into a slow-speed chicane. The end and third part of the lap is around the harbour and has been deliberately designed to mimic Monaco. Much like that circuit, it is mostly slow speed and highly technical with many turns both left and right.

Yas Marina Circuit does require a little bit of everything from the cars and drivers. It has the second longest straight in Formula One so top speed is a priority. Heavy braking is required; there is a varied selection of cornering speeds so good traction is needed with high down-force which suggests a wide array of set-up options than the last three races as it does not place a premium on high-speed cornering.

The finishing order at the Indian Grand Prix last week ensures the Driver's Championship cannot be won at YMC this year- but Red Bull will go into the race with an excellent chance of taking the Constructor's Championship.

Yas Marina Circuit:
Yas Marina Circuit at Abu Dhabi/FIA

Circuit Data:

Length of lap: 3.541 miles
Total number of race laps: 55
Total race distance: 189.738 miles
Pit-lane speed limits: 37.282 in practice / 62.137 during practice and the race
Tires: Pirelli’s medium and soft compound tires will be used at this circuit.

The only changes to the Circuit since 2011 are higher curbs similar to those on the apex turns eight and nine. They have been installed on the apexes of turns five, six, 12, 13, 14, 18 and 19.

YMC is the only scheduled twilight race on the Formula One calendar with the race starting in the sunshine and finishing under artificial lights. The main effect this has on racing are declining temperatures as the race progresses which present an unusual variable for tire management. When the lights are turned on, YMC becomes the largest lit permanent sports venue in the world. Unlike other venues where lighting is switched on or off as required, during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the lights are on from the start of the later session to the finish in order to ensure a consistent level of illumination for the drivers.

Yas Marina features a run-off area unique among F1 circuits- it extends under a permanent spectator viewing area. Cars approaching Turn 8 that do not navigate the corner successfully, will find themselves on the escape road that extends under the West Grandstand. The Yas Viceroy Hotel, under which the track passes, is difficult to miss. It's distinctive illumination is the product of 5,389 pivoting LED panels. All in all, this circuit is truly gorgeous!


Driver/Team Facts:

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel’s victory in India last week was his fourth in a row. He has previously managed that feat between the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2010 and the Malaysian Grand Prix of 2011. Of the current field of drivers, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, and Michael Schumacher have all had similar achievements or better. Alberto Ascari also managed nine straight wins during the 1952/1953 season. Vettel has also led 205 consecutive Grands Prix laps from Lap 23 in Singapore, through the Japanese, Korean and Indian Grands Prix. He is exactly 100 laps behind Ascari’s all-time record.

Fourth and fifth in India saw McLaren score points for the 55th consecutive race, equaling the record held by Ferrari. McLarens run started at the 2010 Austrailian Grand Prix. A top-ten finish at Yas Marina Circuit will set a new benchmark.

While the Driver's Championship will not be decided this weekend, it is likely the Constructor's Championship will be. Red Bull currently leads Ferrari by 91 points and McLaren by 101. They need to leave Abu Dhabi with a lead of 86 points (87 if McLaren wins the race) to be confirmed as the champions. There are many possible outcomes in order for this to happen, the minimum of which is Red Bull would need a first/eighth or a second/third finish.

Qualifying:

This morning’s qualifying was almost as exciting as an F1 race itself. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren, for now) dominated the morning practice qualifying first in Q1 and Q3, where it matters the most. His spate of bad luck seems to be improving and he took pole after posting a 1:40.603s run in Q3 with little opposition from the usual suspects, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Webber did run just 0.348 seconds slower than Hamilton to secure a starting place next to Hamilton on the front row. This was as close to Hamilton as anyone got this morning. Vettel, third on the starting grid, was plagued with brake issues during practice and, after managing to set his third place time of 1:41.073, was ordered to stop his car on track. "I don’t why I was asked to stop. I think probably some problem. It shouldn’t be something major." replied Vettel when asked about this mornings qualifying. "Race pace should be good tomorrow. As we know it’s a long race here and there’s a lot of things that can happen, so looking forward to tomorrow."

This circuit clearly suits Hamilton's style and set-up and he claims very few modification to his McLaren from his last time out in India. "Very excited, very excited. It’s the first time for a long time to be ahead of the Red Bulls, and not to be seeing the tail of them at the start of the race but I know it’s going to be, as always, very, very tough in the race because they’ve got great race pace," He responded when asked about tomorrows GP. "But we are strong enough to fight them, the team’s done a fantastic job all weekend. The car’s felt beautiful all weekend."

Mark Webber gave credit where it was due: " Well, first of all credit to Lewis, he’s obviously got a quick car this weekend and he bumped us off the front row, that’s the first time in a while, maybe since six or eight weeks ago when we had a good run, so now they’ve done a good job today." But, he was quick to add, "I think it was a pretty smooth qualifying session for both Seb and I and we did what we could. I think it went well but as you say we’ve got a little bit of a fire going which we need to tidy up and the quality of the team is exceptional, we know what we need to improve on, to help our championships along. Obviously Seb’s still involved in the Driver's [title] and the Constructor's is still important to us, so we’ll focus on tomorrow’s race." I would not count out either of the Red Bulls as they clearly smell victory on the horizon.

Williams’ Pastor Maldonado made a surprise trip to fourth on the grid placing himself ahead of Fernando Alonso who must surely be disappointed. Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button (McLaren) came in to round out the third row. The only true contender against Vettel in the standings and sitting on the fourth row in seventh is Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. He just could not keep pace with the top tier today. Ferrari has been having trouble with rear down-force most of the season and it is clear this has not been remedied. Next to Alonso sits Nico Rosberg and rounding out the top ten grid spots are Felipe Massa (Ferrari) and Romain Grosjean for Lotus.


The rest of the grid spots in order are:

11. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India)
12. Sergio Perez (Sauber)
13. Paul Di Resta (Force India)
14. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes)
15. Bruno Senna (Williams)
16. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber)
17. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso)
18. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso)
19. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham)
20. Charles Pic (Marussia)
21. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham)
22. Timo Glock (Marussia)
23. Pedro de La Rosa (HRT F1)
24. Narain Karthikeyan (HRT F1)


[update]

It has now been confirmed by Christian Horner (Red Bull Team Principal), “During the slow down lap following the final run of Q3, Renault instructed to immediately stop Sebastian’s car on the circuit due to an issue with the fuel system. After speaking with the stewards, who accepted the situation of force majeure for technical reasons for the car to be stopped, unfortunately, for reasons yet to be fully understood, 850ml of the required one litre was pumped out of the car following post race checks. As a result, the FIA has excluded Sebastian from qualifying and we will withdraw the car from Parc Ferme in order to investigate further. Therefore Sebastian will start from the pit lane for tomorrow’s race. We will need to make the most of Mark’s strong front-row grid position and Sebastian will have a busy evening ahead of him.”

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