This is the tenth year of Formula One at the Yas Marina Circuit. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has become a staple of the F1 end-of-season run in – and we’ve had some mighty interesting evenings at F1’s only twilight race.
The inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was held on November 1st, 2009 – but our first taster of the all-new Yas Marina Circuit came seven months earlier, when the recently retired (but, technically, still our reserve driver) David Coulthard took to the skies above (but not very far above) the circuit in the Red Bull Air Race two-seater aerobatic plane. World Champion Hannes Arch very generously flew the Extra EA300 upside-down so David could get a good look at the work in progress.
At the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2009, we scored our fourth one-two of the season, with Sebastian coming home just ahead of Mark.
The RB5 had been slightly off the pace at the start of the year, lacking the highly-contentious double-diffuser. Once that was shoehorned into the design, the car was the class of the field in the second half of the season, and a one-two victory at Yas gave us the perfect springboard going into the winter.
Victory in 2009 was a pleasant way to end what had been an excellent breakthrough season – but 2010 was an altogether more serious affair. Once again Abu Dhabi hosted the season finale, though with the added wrinkle of being back-to-back with the Brazilian Grand Prix. We’d secured our first title at Interlagos, winning the Constructors’ Championship. That made the 12,000km dash around the world rather more pleasant – but perhaps not for the drivers, both of whom were still in the running for the Drivers’ title.
Arriving in Abu Dhabi, four drivers were still in the hunt. Fernando Alonso led the championship for Ferrari with 246 points, Mark was second on 238, Seb third with 231 and Lewis Hamilton fourth on 222 for McLaren. The permutations were endless – but having two cars in the mix gave the Team more of a tactical advantage than the mathematics alone suggested.
In the final analysis, Sebastian won his first title with the perfect race weekend: winning from pole position to take the lead of the championship for the first and only time in the season – but what helped propel him to the pinnacle was Mark and Alonso stalking each other, with early tactical pitstops and later inability to pass midfield runners.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was the penultimate race in 2011, slotting in between the new Indian Grand Prix and the season finale in Brazil. The team arrived at Yas in very relaxed mood, having secured both titles a month earlier in the Far East. The RB7 was one of the most dominant cars in the history of F1 and, in Abu Dhabi, duly took its 17th pole position at what was the 18th race of the year. It all went rather downhill after that. Seb made a good start from pole, only to pick up a mystifying left-rear puncture at the first corner and slide off for his first retirement of the season. Mark took the fastest lap of the race but could only finish fourth – the first time we hadn’t left Yas with a trophy.
In 2012 it was Sebastian’s turn to set fastest lap, on his way to third place. In the context of the season, the result was huge. The race was now back-to-back with India, and the previous weekend at the Buddh International Circuit, victory had seen Seb move 13 points clear of Fernando Alonso in a titanic Drivers’ Championship battle. Not for the first time in the season, the see-saw swung the other way at Yas, with Sebastian having to start from the back when his qualifying time was thrown out, the car having been under-fuelled. The RB8 didn’t have the dominance of its predecessor but it had enough performance to scythe through the field, after the team elected to pull it from parc ferme and tweak it to give Vettel an ultra-low drag overtaking setup.
Vettel’s progress was rapid though, at times erratic. On lap two he lost an end-plate overtaking Bruno Senna’s Williams. He properly destroyed the front wing a few laps later by running through a marker board behind the Safety Car, taking evasive action to avoid a weaving Daniel Ricciardo. Having climbed to 11th, changing noseboxes put him back where he started – but a battling middle stint bought him through the pack again. Third at the flag, and only losing three points to Alonso, felt like a victory.
2013 was another golden year for the Team, and we arrived in Abu Dhabi for race 17 of 19 with both titles already secured. The RB9 locked-out the front row, with Mark on pole ahead of Seb, though their positions were reversed on lap one, with Seb getting a better start and leading into the first corner, and holding that lead to the flag in another one-two finish.
It was a milestone for both drivers. For Mark it was a thirteenth and final F1 pole position, all of which were taken with the Team. For Sebastian, it was his seventh consecutive victory, equalling the record shared by Alberto Ascari and Michael Schumacher. He would eventually finish the season with nine in a row.
Both drivers had a donut session on the in-lap – but they weren’t our first donuts of the week in the United Arab Emirates. To celebrate winning the Constructors’ Championship the previous week in India, David Coulthard took the RB7 for a spin on the helipad of the Burj Al Arab in nearby Dubai, a small matter of 60 storeys above the ground.
Vettel’s victory was our last taste of silverware at Yas Marina. A year later, he and Daniel Ricciardo lined up at the back of the field, after an experimental front wing used in qualifying was deemed illegal and their times deleted. It led to Daniel having a starring role in the race however, starting dead last in the pitlane, and climbing to P4 at the flag. In a season where he took his debut F1 victory and two more wins, the race at Yas Marina was still a highlight: Daniel loves to overtake and got plenty of practice. It was also the first time he recorded a fastest lap in F1. This was also, of course, Sebastian’s final grand prix with the Team: Abu Dhabi had resumed its place as the host of the season finale, where it remains to this day.
In 2015, there wasn’t much to play for – unless you were one of our drivers: both Championships were long-since decided and, in a lacklustre year for our team, we were guaranteed fourth in the Constructors’ Championship – but Dany Kvyat and Daniel were only separated by ten points in the Drivers’ Championship and bragging rights were at stake. It was Dany who had the lead. He finished tenth and only added a point to his tally – but Daniel’s eight points for sixth weren’t enough to overhaul the Russian, who finished seventh to Daniel’s eighth in the Championship.
2016 saw Daniel and Max Verstappen finish fourth and fifth respectively, engaged in a private battle that, in all honesty, very few people were watching outside our garage, and last year Max carded another fifth-place finish, while Daniel was forced to retire from fourth with a hydraulics problem.
This year most of the big questions have already been answered. We’re finishing the season third in the Constructors’ Championship, and Daniel is finishing sixth in the Drivers’ Championship but is desperate to end his stint with the Team on a high. Max is currently one place ahead in fifth – though with potential to trade-up to third at the flag. There’s plenty to watch this weekend.