Twilight Saga: Five facts about the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix


ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 29: (EDITORS NOTE: A star filter was used for this image.) Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing drives during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 29, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images). Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has been a part of the Formula One calendar since 2009, a relatively short time period compared to many of the other locations frequented by the sport, and all seven races have taken place at the Yas Marina Circuit, a track that was created by Hermann Tilke on a man-made island.

Held during the twilight hours, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a visual spectacle, making it both thrilling for the fan to watch, as well as for the drivers to race. The inaugural event was the first F1 night race under the floodlights.

A unique feature of the Yas Marina circuit is the pitlane. The exit crosses underneath the track, which means that parts of the pit are actually located underground.

Red Bull Racing are the most successful team to compete at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with six podium finishes and the most pole positions to go with their three victories.

Despite there only having been a handful of grand prix to take place in the UAE capital since its introduction to the calendar seven years ago, we have still seen some action packed races in that short timeframe, with hopefully more to come in the future if it remains as the season finale.

Here are a few interesting moments and facts regarding the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:

A star in the making…

Though there have so far been no F1 drivers hailing from Abu Dhabi or indeed the United Arab Emirates, the region is working hard to produce one, with a solid infrastructure in place including the Daman Speed Academy, available to develop potential stars.

Rashid Al Dhaheri is one of the UAE’s main hopes for the future, and whilst at eight-years-old he still has a fair way to go yet, he is beginning to win recognition in karting on the international stage.

Nicknamed “Little Alonso” after the Spanish double world champion, Al Dhaheri was recently victorious in the IAME X30 UAE Kart Championship, where he won all three races, despite being the youngest competitor in the Series, which included young drivers from the UAE, South Africa, Oman, Kuwait, Egypt, France and the UK.

The eight-year-old, who races with his hero’s number 14 upon his kart, was also crowned top rookie in the 2016 Parolin Championkart Academy Series, that took place in Italy back in June.

Rashid has shown great skill and confidence when competing against older and more experienced drivers, and has proven his resilience in testing conditions, so his future looks bright.

Having stood outside the Scuderia Ferrari garage watching them at work during the 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for three days straight, the Italian squad saw his fascination and invited him in for a closer look. Since that point there has only been one goal for the UAE national – to become a F1 driver!

Watch out for his name in years to come!

Fantastic Four…

In 2010, four drivers were in contention to be crowned world champion at the Yas Marina Circuit, making the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix a title deciding race in just its second year in existence.

Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, and Lewis Hamilton were all in with a chance of taking the title ahead of the race that year, and the German, who had not led the championship all season, made life a bit easier for himself by qualifying on pole, in what was a scintillating lap to take the top spot on Saturday.

Vettel, who sat third in the drivers’ standings, assuredly led off the line with Hamilton, who also started from the front row, following close behind. Jenson Button had meanwhile got a fantastic start from fourth, and passed Alonso, the championship leader by eight points at this stage, to move one place up the order, with the Spaniard then having to contend with pressure being applied from Webber, second in the drivers’ championship, who was also eager to get by.

The Spaniard held the Australian off however, before the safety car was deployed when Michael Schumacher and Vitantonio Liuzzi collided at Turn Six. It stayed out for four laps, after which Vettel began to pull away.

The two McLaren-Mercedes boys responded, whilst Alonso made sure to keep ahead of the second Red Bull of Webber.

The Australian began to struggle for pace on lap eight however, and after a near miss with the barrier at Turn nineteen, Webber pitted for a fresh set of rubber, and the harder compound of tyre.

It was a risky strategy from the Milton Keynes based squad and one that did not go to plan, as Webber re-emerged from the pits in sixteenth place and amidst traffic, where he struggled to get passed the Scuderia Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari.

In an attempt to try to counter-act Red Bulls move, Ferrari immediately responded by pitting driver Felipe Massa, but they too were flummoxed by their own call, when instead of coming out ahead of Webber and allowing the Brazilian to hold him up as was planned, Massa instead came out behind the Australian.

Clearly seeing Webber as their biggest threat for the title, Ferrari brought Alonso in on lap fifteen to switch to the harder compound of tyre. The Spaniard di indeed come out just ahead of Webber, but in reacting as they had, Ferrari had played straight into the hands of Red Bull and perhaps their favoured driver of Vettel.

Now with a twenty-eight second lead out front, the German had carved out a big enough lead to take what was in essence a free pit-stop, allowing him to go in and still come out ahead of those drivers had already made their pit stops.

When he was eventually pitted on lap twenty-four, Vettel returned to the track behind Button, who was yet to make his stop, but crucially ahead of Hamilton who had been in the lap before.

Now battling down the order in eleventh and twelfth, Alonso maintained his lead over Webber, but the pair came unstuck when they were unable to pass the Renault of Vitaly Petrov. All the time meanwhile, Vettel was posting fastest laps and cruising to what now looked like certain championship glory.

Robert Kubica had worked his way into second place after doing a long stint before making his final pit stop, and once the Pole went into the pits, Hamilton and Button were once again able to start charging down Vettel.

Hamilton almost caught the German, but ran out of time as Vettel crossed the line to take victory and his first of four world championships.

Alonso came home in seventh, ahead of Webber, but not high enough up the order to challenge Vettel. Instead of concentrating on their own race, Ferrari had tried to stave off others and in doing so had underestimated a more damaging challenge from the German.

It was a fittingly dramatic end to a closely contested season.

Vettel nation…

Sebastian Vettel is the driver to have taken most victories in Abu Dhabi so far, with three wins from the seven races contested, ahead of Lewis Hamilton who currently has two.

All three were achieved whilst the German was driving for former team Red Bull Racing however, and I am not sure I would put money on him doing the same this year!

As well as his trio of victories, Vettel has also achieved four podium finishes, making him the most successful driver at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Put it on the front row…

Only two of the seven events so far have been won by the man on pole, including last year when Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team driver Nico Rosberg took victory, but whilst starting from the top spot is certainly not crucial, a front row start is definitely key.

Only one race has been won by a driver further down the order – that being Kimi Raikkonen who lined up fourth on the grid in 2012, when driving for the Lotus F1 Team.

In the Finn’s comeback year, having taken two years out to compete in the world rally championship, he took the chequered flag to seal a popular win, and his first since returning to the F1 paddock. Not before having a rant at his engineers over team radio during the race however, and saying the now infamous words: “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing!”.

An end of season classic…

The 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was an exciting, incident packed race, that nobody could have been expecting.

Lewis Hamilton had looked for all intents and purposes like he was on for a dominant victory, having led the race from pole, with only Kimi Raikkonen posing any problems to his game plan.

Lapping around half a second per lap faster than the Finn, the Brit looked to be in control until on lap twenty, his McLaren suddenly stopped on track, a fuel pump failure ending his race prematurely.

Raikkonen inherited the lead, and was comfortably ahead of Alonso in second whilst Sebastian Vettel, who had started from the pitlane due to a qualifying infringement, was steadily making his way back through the pack.

A collision with Bruno Senna, that saw the German sustain damage to his front wing, did little to stop his progress and when the safety car was deployed for an incident which saw Nico Rosberg get launched over the top of the HRT of Narain Karthikeyan, it certainly helped Vettel close up his gap to the rest of the field.

A moment of distraction as he shouted over team radio about the slow pace of Daniel Ricciardo behind the safety car, saw the German collide with a trackside marker board, adding to the earlier front wing damage, forcing him to pit to deal with the destruction but allowing Vettel the luxury of putting on a set of fresh tyres.

The new rubber allowed him to soar through the field, and that coupled with other driver incidents happening ahead of him, saw Vettel reach seventh place before anyone else had pitted.

As the leaders peeled into the pits one by one, the German was elevated to second place behind Raikkonen, with Lotus feeling that he may try to stay out till the end on that set of tyres. They were wrong however, and Vettel came in on lap thirty-seven for some fresh rubber, which saw him drop down the order to fourth, about fifteen seconds adrift of the leaders.

It looked like the German once again had plenty to do, but a well-timed incident involving Sergio Perez, Romain Grosjean and team-mate Mark Webber brought out another safety car, wiping out Vettel’s time deficit to the front runners.

The race got back underway with just thirteen laps remaining, but Raikkonen managed to carve out a solid lead from second placed Alonso, whilst Vettel made a charge on Jenson Button. The Brit did well to hold the German’s advances off for a good length of time before his much older tyres could do no more and the Red Bull sailed by.

Up ahead meanwhile Fernando Alonso had begun to make in-roads into Raikkonen’s lead, bringing the gap down to within one second, the Finn just held on however to take the chequered flag ahead of the Spaniard by eight tenths of a second.

A first win back in F1 for Raikkonen and a brilliant, if somewhat luck-filled, drive from the pitlane to a podium for Vettel.

2016 Race weekend

Going into the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and final race of the season this weekend, Rosberg is so close he can almost feel the trophy in his hands, as he arrives in the UAE capital with a twelve-point lead over title rival and team-mate Hamilton.

The Brit must win to stand any chance of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, but also needs the German to slip up or be hampered by another driver if he is realistically going to be in with a shot at taking the championship crown, as Rosberg only need finish third or higher, should the Brit win on Sunday, to take the honours.

Hamilton will need to complete another strong weekend in Abu Dhabi, mistakes are not an option, the Brit knows this and has already confirmed he will fight to the end no matter how unlikely him achieving the ultimate become.

Red Bull have now sealed second place in the constructor’s standings ahead of Ferrari but will no doubt still be looking to finish on a high. As will the Italian manufacturer who have endured a pretty woeful season by their own high standards.

The Sahara Force India F1 Team look likely to get the better of Williams Martini Racing and secure fourth spot, with a solid platform of twenty-seven points now splitting the two squads heading into the final race of the season.

Twelve points is the difference between McLaren and Toro Rosso who are fighting it out for sixth place in the constructor’s championship, and a good race for either could make all the difference on Sunday.

Equally, Manor Racing MRT have one last chance to finish ahead of the Sauber F1 Team by scoring some points in Abu Dhabi. Having held the advantage for the majority of the season, the Banbury based squad were dealt a cruel blow last time out when Felipe Nasr came home in ninth and secured the Swiss squad two points, their first of the season.

Either Hamilton or Rosberg will be crowned champion come Sunday evening – who do you think it will be?