2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preview

By on Tuesday, November 8, 2011

(By Ali Unal) The 5.554km Yas Marina Circuit will host the penultimate round of 2011 Formula 1 season, with both championships already having been decided. The 55-lap Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will start under twilight and end in the night, ensuring the very element of each Formula 1 race: spectacle. Other than this lighting festival and the I-can’t-believe-rooms-are-on-top-of-tarmac hotel complex, the circuit itself has one of the most boring Tilke layouts ever built. After the infamous 2010 race, where Alonso’s title hopes diminished after he got stuck behind Petrov’s much slower Renault, circuit officials had accepted to make some changes on the circuit in order to favour overtaking, but they decided to postpone it now that we have our own overtaking tools in the name of DRS and Pirelli tyres. There you have it: if two DRS zones and medium-soft compounds do not create the race we hope for, I don’t know what will.

Yas Marina has, according to official F1 site, the longest straight on the F1 calender with cars reaching a top speed of 320km/h. According to Mercedes, ‘The Yas Marina Circuit features six corners below 100 kph - only Monaco, Singapore and Valencia have more. The circuit also features four straights where the cars exceed 285 kph - the same number as in Monza. With an estimated 3740 gear changes, the race features some 20 per cent more than the season average.’ Up until T8, the track consists of high-speed sections and direction changes. When cars reach at T11, a start-stop layout like in Monaco and Sinpagore takes over, which isn’t a great challenge for the drivers. Other than the great Webber-Button fight in 2009 and the infamous Alonso-Petrov “duel”, the Yas Marina circuit hasn’t produced a great on-track spectacle.

Now that both championships have been decided, teams will use every session as a test venue for 2012 cars, all of which are now in their advanced design phase. After the FIA made it clear in India that there will be stricter limitations on engine mapping next year on top of the ban on exhaust driven diffusers (a.k.a. EBD), the subject took an interesting turn. Ross Brawn had expressed his concerns that there might have been some loopholes in the ruling that would encourage teams to take on different views on what is allowed in using the exhaust gases. The FIA’s clarification came just after Brawn’s comment. Some of teams even criticized the rule “change” or clarification on the grounds that they are well advanced on their designs, thus such a late change would have an adverse effects on their fuel tank designs as EBDs and exhaust gas facilitation require a good deal of fuel consumption calculations.

“Most of F1's teams will have signed off their fuel tank sizes about a month ago. So, if they had done that in the belief that they were going to be blowing exhaust gases regularly, then they are going to find out that their fuel tank is too big now for what is going to be needed in 2012,” wrote Jonathan Noble in his Autosport column. He continued: “Renault boss Eric Boullier was one of several team bosses (McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh was another) unhappy about the off-throttle ban, claiming the FIA's rule decision has already hurt their 2012 car designs: ‘You have to take a decision now on car concepts and it is already too late,’ he said. ‘Some teams like ours have already started producing concepts of the car, so the concept has been finalised weeks ago. We need to stop changing the regulations all the time.’”

At the beginning of the season, Renault were proud to announce that they were able to use 15% more fuel in races courtesy of the blown diffuser. Fuel has such an impact both on lap time and diffuser usage that teams now will have to find new ways to feed the diffuser, if any, and try to find balance between lap time lost and lap time gained for each kilo of fuel they carry.

One race to watch in Abu Dhabi takes place in the midfield. Toro Rosso, Force India, Renault and Sauber should, in theory, be fairly close. Renault has enough points to remain 5th, but 6th is at stake for three teams. Force India will want to stop Toro Rosso as they seemed be the fastest midfielder for the last three races, while Sauber has slipped behind. Williams is no match for any of them and Team Lotus is just racing on their own in the back pack. Given that STR’s and FI’s driver choices are not set in stone yet, those drivers are supposed to be on top of their game, which will make the race a little more exciting than it promises to be.

The last but not the least point to make for this race is the big meeting to be held in Abu Dhabi. FOTA was formed in 2008 in order to negotiate the new Concorde Agreement with the FIA and FOM (Formula One Management). After a period of mutual threats, positioning and politics, the parties had finally reached an agreement that every one of them saw fit. That agreement is now close to its end. By December 31, 2012, the Concorde Agreement will not be in force, which will mean teams, FOM (as CVC) and the FIA will have to sign a new agreement. Not only that, there has been some speculation as well about the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) on the grounds that some teams might have found a loophole, hence spending more money and using more resources than they are bound to by the agreement. Christian Horner and Stefano Domenicali stated categorically that FOTA will be useless if an agreement won’t be reached on this matter.

It’s a turning point for teams. Bernie Ecclestone, as canny as always, is probably waiting for them in silence to be torn apart and to hunt them one at a time. He keeps saying that F1 doesn’t need a new Concorde Agreement but teams are trying to hold the group together in order to be strong in negotiations for the new agreement. Luca di Montezemolo has, perhaps inevitably, thrown his usual threats just before FOTA’s Abu Dhabi meeting. Brawn reiterated the importance of FOTA and suggested that the issues directly relating to the performance of cars should not be the main focus of FOTA. He said FOTA should focus on other aspects of the sport, leaving the performance issues to teams themselves. It will be disappointing, and disruptive for F1, if an agreement is unable to be reached.

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