x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Traffic jams on track? Not this year at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Even though the championship is not on the line, Gary Meenaghan finds, drivers are confident there will be no lack of passing at Yas Marina Circuit this weekend.

Cars now have an adjustable rear wing that can be opened to increase speed.
Cars now have an adjustable rear wing that can be opened to increase speed.

F1's new regulations have been revolutionary, leading to increased overtaking and more exciting races throughout the season. Even though the championship is not on the line, Gary Meenaghan finds, drivers are confident there will be no lack of passing at Yas Marina Circuit this weekend.

If it's not broke, don't fix it.

That could have easily been the mantra of most Formula One fans following last season. The 2010 campaign was one of the most dramatic in recent years, with four drivers arriving in Abu Dhabi for the last race with a chance to finish the year as champion. Yet before the ticker tape celebrating Sebastian Vettel's first title had been swept away, the sport's governing body was implementing regulation changes.

Bridgestone tyres were replaced with Pirelli's quick-degrading compounds, an adjustable rear wing was introduced and the Kinetic energy recovery systems (Kers) made a return, allowing drivers to find an added burst of acceleration when necessary. The result has seen fast, action-packed racing, even though the world championship was decided with four races remaining.

Most drivers are of the opinion the drivers' title being wrapped up will not negatively affect the quality of racing this weekend. Heikki Kovalainen, the Team Lotus driver, said "it could actually make it more interesting".

The Finn added: "If Vettel finds himself under threat, now he can really go wheel to wheel and take a few risks. If he disappears from pole, it won't make any difference, but if McLaren or Ferrari are challenging him, it could make the race more exciting."

The new regulations have been revolutionary, helping to produce some of the sport's most memorable races. Regardless of Vettel's role in proceedings, Yas Marina Circuit will undoubtedly see increased overtaking throughout the 24-car field.

Last year's race was criticised after Fernando Alonso found his Ferrari stuck behind the slower Renault of Vitaly Petrov and unable to pass. It ultimately cost him the world championship, but Kovalainen is confident it will not happen this year.

Jenson Button, who under the new rules has enjoyed a series of fine performances - none more so than in Canada - said something needed to change for Yas to offer a spectacle.

"I hope we have some overtaking because last year was very difficult," The McLaren-Mercedes driver said. "Certainly Fernando lost the world championship because it was so difficult to overtake, so I think we needed [the new regulations] there."

Richard Cregan, the chief executive at Yas, told The National in April that officials were considering altering the track to make it easier to overtake. However, after witnessing the impact of the new rules, it was a few months later deemed unnecessary. "That's why we held back on the changes in the end, because we tried to compensate for the technical rules," Cregan said.

"If you see the amount of overtaking this season, tracks that are not usually used to overtaking are seeing a lot, so Abu Dhabi should get its fair share of exciting manoeuvres without the need for any track changes."

Cregan said the quick wearing Pirelli tyres have had the biggest impact on the sport, with teams forced to think more strategically in terms of pit stops.

"The Pirelli tyres have made a tremendous difference because of the compounds," he said. "For our race, in terms of stops, you're looking at two stops at least - probably more now that Vettel's won the championship because there will be an all-out battle to win the next few positions. If there's a chance of a driver finishing third or fourth, we can expect to see a situation where the gloves come off. We're in for some very exciting racing."

While Abu Dhabi has been the scene of much drama in its two years of hosting a grand prix, the Hermann Tilke-designed track has yet to produce a memorable contest on a Sunday. Cregan, however, is confident this year will be different.

"In terms of the action on track, with the new tyres I think our track temperature will make it interesting," he said. "The combination of our straight and tight, twisty corners will add to it. It's not Imola, which is a fast track and neither is it Monaco, which is slow: ours was designed to be different and we will see that on race weekend."

As well as the Formula One grand prix, the sport's feeder series GP2 will also hold a one-off event called the GP2 Final, which will provide teams with a chance to test young drivers on a track where they have comparable data to F1. Following the race weekend, the teams will return to Yas two days later for a three-day Young Driver Testing programme. Last year's programme resulted in four rookies joining the F1 fraternity.

"If you want to get championships you have to hit the ground running; Red Bull have shown that the past two season," Cregan said. "Teams will be concentrating on next year, which could be won or lost on the testing they'll do during the race.

"As well as that, it's that silly season where drivers are meant to be changing teams. Traditionally, a lot of contracts are concluded between drivers and teams in Abu Dhabi, and that all adds to the excitement."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae


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