x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Armchair Grand Prix on Yas Island

A virtual version of the Yas Marina Circuit has been made available over the internet for F1 fans to test their skill.

The Yas Yacht Club at the marina will be completed before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes place.
The Yas Yacht Club at the marina will be completed before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes place.

ABU DHABI // From now on, it will not be only the Jenson Buttons and Lewis Hamiltons of this world who will get the chance to race around the Yas Marina Circuit.

But while the professional Formula One drivers will be subjected to temperatures of around 55°C inside the cockpit, and violent gravitational forces up to 4G, the rest of us can now complete the circuit without leaving our armchairs. The organisers of November's Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management (ADMM), yesterday launched an online virtual driving experience around the circuit, which in reality is still under construction.

Richard Cregan, the chief executive of ADMM, said that while the highlights included the track snaking through the distinctive Yas Hotel, the game brought out the challenges of one small feature in particular - one that may catch out a number of drivers on the real race day. "The big thing is when you drive underneath the hotel. Now you can actually experience it. But the chicane into the north grandstand is a very high-speed entry and downhill, so there is quite a large elevation change. You have to be very heavy on the brakes.

"Most drivers look at that and say that is the tricky part of the circuit. But the great thing is we have managed to combine fast corners and slow corners. We have it all." Mr Cregan, the former head of the Toyota F1 team, pointed out another challenge at the end of the main straight, where drivers doing speeds of up to 300kph have to slow down very sharply. "At the end of the main straight, we have a run-off area under the grandstand, and then a left and right turn, which are very tricky."

While computer-generated sections of the circuit had already been created for publicity purposes, this is the first time anyone has been able to see a full lap on Yas Island. A computer-generated lap that appeared on the video-sharing site YouTube earlier this year claimed to show the Yas Marina Circuit, but failed to show the Yas Hotel and instead of banners for the sponsor, Etihad Airways, mistakenly featured those for the rival Emirates Airline.

Mr Cregan said that while the immediate aim of the US-produced game was to "give the general public an idea of our circuit and put themselves in the driving seat", drivers too would be able to benefit from the technology. "The big thing for any driver, with a new circuit, is to look at the layout in terms of the amount of corners, technical aspects, gear ratios." He said most of the 10 F1 teams had requested technical data from ADMM so they could create their own computer simulations . Practice will be even more crucial for Abu Dhabi, as it is one of only four circuits, out of 17, where the cars travel anti-clockwise. That means the drivers will be subjected to G-forces from unfamiliar directions, making training all the more important. For now, while construction on the site enters its final months, the simulations are the closest anyone, including Mr Cregan, will get to completing a full lap of the circuit. "I have been secretly testing over the last few weeks," he confessed. "Suffice to say, I don't think any of the drivers need to be worried." rhughes@thenational.ae

As a non-driver, I think it is fair to say that this is about as close as I will ever get to competing in Formula One. And, judging by three of my first four attempts to complete a lap of the Yas Marina Circuit online, that is probably a good thing. Those attempts ended in irreparable damage to my virtual F1 car, and, on one occasion, a collision with a wall running alongside the marina. Even though I was driving at roughly a quarter of the 300kph that Massa, Hamilton and others will reach in November, tackling the circuit is a considerable challenge. A sharp left-hand turn at the end of the start-finish straight will immediately throw 20 drivers into a bottleneck, but is nowhere near as tight a turn as near the north grandstand chicane, where you are tempted to put the foot on the gas on a quick descent only to face having to swerve quickly. The 1.3km-long straight, on which drivers will reach speeds of up to 300kph, is terrifying even for an armchair driver. As you pick up speed, you are confronted by a sharp turn, which, if missed, will see you (as it did me) fly under one of the grandstands. Luckily for me, my embarrassment was seen by only a few people in the office, rather than the 10,000 who will be in the grandstand on November 1. Soon afterwards, the first view of the Yas Hotel appears not that you have the time to sit and stare at it. After looping around the marina, while not getting too clear a view of the superyachts docked there, you drive slowly underneath the hotel slowly enough to see people enjoying their dinner perhaps. Here's hoping the professional drivers don't get distracted like me and miss the next turn, slamming into the marina wall. With a lap time of four minutes, 50 seconds - roughly three times what you can expect even the slowest professional drivers to take - there is little chance of me standing on the podium any time soon. rhughes@thenational.ae

Keep up to date on all the latest information from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix