x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

How to master the Yas Marina circuit

The title could be won or lost at six stages but the second half of the track suits Red Bull.

The title-deciding race could be won or lost at six stages today but the second half of the track suits Red Bull

1)  Turn 1. The course begins with a fast left-hander, and this corner will be key at the start of the race. Most of the teams seem to be getting the hang of their starts of late, with Red Bull-Renault drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber having shown some real improvement in that department after some slow getaways in the summer.

The drivers on the left side of the grid may be at a marginal disadvantage because of not being on the racing line, which usually has less grip. But I do not expect them to have as much of a disadvantage as at other races as it does not look particularly dusty on the Yas Marina track.

But the cars on the right side at the front - Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Webber - will all be optimistic about getting away well from that side of the grid.

2)  Turns 2-3. This is a really fast left and right section. The Red Bulls have been very quick through there as it shows off their excellent aerodynamic capabilities. Their mechanics must take a lot of credit.

Alonso has also looked very committed in his Ferrari in this section, as have the McLaren-Mercedes cars, but they may be in danger of pushing too hard.

Alonso's Ferrari is looking like it is on its limit through there. While that can work for one lap in qualifying, as we saw with Alonso's excellent run to third place, in a race you cannot drive like that because of the likely tyre wear.

3)  Long straight leading to Turn 8. Lewis Hamilton and McLaren-Mercedes have looked really quick on the straightaways. Their new rear-wing design is clearly working well and is giving them really good straight-line speed.

That will be important for any overtaking opportunities that may come during the race, with the hard braking into Turn 8, where they drop from 316kph to 81kph, likely to offer the best chance for drivers in the hunt to make up places.

Jenson Button, Hamilton's teammate, also showed good speed after initially recovering from a "massive vibration", and the McLarens were the cars to have in qualifying down that straight and then the next one, too.

4)  Turns 11, 12 and 13. This stretch offers a chance to really make up some time by riding through the kerbs over the chicane and making the car bounce in the process.

The Red Bulls are going over them well and I have also been impressed with the Mercedes GP drivers, particularly Michael Schumacher, who looks to have a smooth style that works well on this section.

The McLarens of Hamilton and Button are going in quick, but I think they are losing exit speed for the next corner as a result of pushing too hard.

Indeed, this was where Hamilton survived a huge scare during the second qualifying session when he out-braked himself during a flying lap.

5)  Turns 16 and 17. The double right-hander really tests a car's grip and the Red Bulls just look so smooth through here, almost like they are on rails.

Vettel and Webber can push hard and seemingly their cars will do whatever they want them to do. That's one reason they were the fastest in the final sector during practice and qualifying.

Vettel, in particular, was two-10ths of a second quicker through sector three than Hamilton.

The second half of the track, effectively from Turn 12, in my eyes, really suits the Red Bull package, which has been good all season on technical circuits.

That has made up for their lack of horsepower with the Renault engine.

6)  Turns 18-19. The McLarens and the Ferraris are on edge through these series of short straights and turns through the Yas Hotel complex. They do not have the same grip as the Red Bulls so the drivers are having to push that little bit extra to try and make up for this. This can lead to mistakes, as we saw in practice when Button ran wide in his McLaren here. In the race, consistency is vital and it will be important to find a line that works and reduces the chance of mistakes. Although for today's race, this may possibly mean being marginally slower.

Johnny Herbert is a former F1 driver who won three races. His column is written with the assistance of staff writer Graham Caygill.