Twenty down, one to go. After spending the last two months flying to far flung corners of the world, this weekend F1 makes the relatively short trip to Yas Marina for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. It’s been a long season – this is the first time since 1963 that F1 has raced in December – but the end is now in sight.
Depending on what is – or what isn’t – at stake, the Yas Marina Circuit can either be a relaxing venue at which to end the season or, with the lights on and the grandstands full, a tense cauldron for the finale. This year is one of the former. It doesn’t mean that the race won’t be spectacular – if the Brazilian Grand Prix two weeks ago proved anything, it’s that teams and drivers are prepared to push the envelope more when the stakes are low.
The Yas Marina Circuit should be good for that. Built on a low-lying man-made island, it features several very long straights but, just to complicate that, a final sector completely at odds with the two that go before it. It takes the concept of racing around a harbour to extremes, with the final third of the lap weaving in and out of the yacht basins, and under the magnificent Yas Hotel.
Yas is built for leisure, with various theme parks, malls and hotel complexes dotted around the island. Most of the paddock stay in close proximity to the track, which means that the last race of the year, rather like the first, involves a pleasant late morning stroll to work rather than a minibus. Given that the island is close to the airport, it’s quite possible that many people working at the track this weekend have never been into downtown Abu Dhabi in the decade the race has been here.
The track has provided more than enough excitement and given our Team some great moments: three victories for Sebastian Vettel and three pole positions most prominently – but so much more than that. Everyone remembers how well the Team performed in 2010, but the springboard for that success was a strong end to 2009, culminating in a 1-2 finish at Yas Marina for Seb and Mark Webber, to send us into the off-season with exactly the right mindset. 2010 was, of course, a nail-biter with both drivers in contention for the Drivers’ Championship, and Seb taking it with victory from pole position – the only time he topped the table all year. He won again in 2013, and in doing so equalled the record of seven-in-a-row shared by Michael Schumacher and Alberto Ascari, before eventually resetting the benchmark at nine.
While Seb had been on pole in 2010 and 2011, that 2013 race was the last of Mark’s 13 poles for the Team. He finished second, giving us another 1-2 finish in Abu Dhabi. Max added another trophy with third place last year, though it’s shaded by Seb’s third place in 2012. He made up 21 places, having started in the pitlane, and went through three nosecones on his way to the podium. It was crucial as his title scrap with Fernando Alonso went right down to the wire. Nothing quite so momentous at stake this weekend – though it would be nice to end the season on a high.