ABU DHABI // The Yas Marina Circuit was "technically interesting" for drivers and one of the best on the grand prix calendar for spectators, according to David Coulthard. But the former Formula One driver warned overtaking opportunities would be at a premium on the track, which will host the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 1.
Coulthard was speaking in the capital after driving the 5.5km circuit in a two-seater Formula One car and filming a report for the BBC. "With [the former grand prix driver] Martin Brundle, we were driving around together working out where you could overtake and whether it would be a good circuit to race," he said. "I don't think there will be lots of overtaking, but I don't think there is in general [in Formula One].
"I think this circuit will throw up a big challenge. It will be very dusty offline and there's not huge run-off areas. That's one thing the circuit organisers really need to do - clean the track ahead [of the grand prix]." The twisty marina sections of the circuit would not offer many chances for overtaking, Coulthard said, but he believed the faster sections, including the 1.2km straight - the longest in F1 on the current calendar - would see drivers jostling for places.
The 38-year-old Scot, whose CV includes 13 grand prix wins and more points than any other British driver, said the marina section reminded him of the tracks at Monaco or Valencia. "The other part is like a Bahrain-style circuit," he said. "Having driven it, it flows quite well. A lot of new ones don't flow - they're awkward." The modest size of run-off areas in front of grandstands was a major benefit to spectators, Coulthard said, as it meant they were much closer to the action.
"There is a real intimacy between the spectators and the drivers because they've been able to use the latest technology for the crash barriers," he said. "Instead of having 50m run-off areas, you have run-off areas under the grandstands, so the spectators will be almost sitting on top of the cars. "The circuit will really enable you to be as close to F1 cars as you can be at a modern circuit. "It would be very difficult for a modern circuit to replicate Monaco with an armco on the track. You need a bit of run off."
The Yas Marina Hotel, under which the drivers would pass, particularly impressed Coulthard. "Seeing the hotel lit up at night and to see this amazing architecture - I didn't know whether to go around the corner or to look at the hotel," he said. The overall facilities at the circuit were very impressive, he added, insisting he was not just saying this to be "politically correct". Formula One's move into parts of the world such as the Middle East with little history of circuit motor racing was necessary, Coulthard said, even if this meant some tracks with long hosted grands prix were no longer used.
"I don't see [the move away from some old circuits] as sad. You should respect the history of the sport and the foundations it was built on and not turn your back on that," he said. "But you can integrate modern tracks and modern countries into the history of the sport. The sport needs to grow and [provide] the return for investors." Coulthard said even if there was little knowledge of Formula One in the country, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would tap into the enthusiasm for motorsports that up to now has been channelled into other areas.
"They are hugely motivated by cars," he said. "Drag racing is one of the biggest forms of motorsport and I am sure F1 will be a big success and will put Abu Dhabi on the international map." firstname.lastname@example.org