One of the newer circuits in the GP calendar is that of Yas Marina island, at Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, which Iain Robertson would love to describe as an ‘oasis’, although, having been claimed from the sea, with the desert adjacent, it is really more a statement of engineering might from a country and State that has substantial wealth within its grasp and has learned how to make it work for a wider audience.
// Abu Dhabi
In the whole process of evolution, the natural science involved in crushing and compounding sea shells, wood and creatures of the deep, to pressurise them to the point of liquefying and then securing the precious fluids by means of subterranean storage, is one of nature’s most astonishing miracles. Yet, just as Texas has long enjoyed a burgeoning oil industry, so, too, has the Middle East and, of course, it is only territorial ‘ownership’, which has been fought over for more years than any of us wishes to contemplate, that can determine a specific land-owner’s imperial strength.
However, lounging around a palace can only be satisfying to a certain extent. Buying lots of expensive possessions, properties, yachts, jewellery and motorcars can become a little tedious after a while. Yomping over sand dunes and working birds of prey have their limits. However, racing cars. Racing cars in the desert. Building a circuit to meet international regulations and attract visitors. To host a Grand Prix, with all of its associated noise, spectacle, colour, sexiness and money. Now, that’s what makes the world go around.
Aldar Properties was behind the project. A company established in Abu Dhabi at the turn of the Millennium, Aldar was and remains a real estate developer, management and investment company. Working to a spirit of Hoyamal, which infers a promise to build a nation, Aldar would give purpose and meaning to the future of a traditional State in a fast-moving and modern world.
Building an island was the first task and the US$36billion project would occupy an area of 2,500 hectares, of which 1,700 would be used for development. However, to ensure a regular flow of tourists, the developments would have to be of such enormous attraction that they might feel encouraged to visit the man-made island, Yas Island, throughout the year and not just at Grand Prix time.
// The Playground
The facility would include a prestigious hotel, what else would you expect in the Middle East? It would need to motivate consumer spending. Shops were on the list. However, it would need to appeal to the child in every man. Creating a theme park was a master-stroke. Warner Bros was encouraged to dig deeply. A water park would be good and would encourage other water-based activities, including a marina to be set-up. No less than 300,000 square metres of reclaimed and re-engineered land would be turned into a monster mall of gargantuan proportions, air-conditioned and containing every imaginable, every merchantable item worthy of retail exposure, in one of the wealthiest nations of the world.
While fast cars are endemic to locations where fast money can be spent, the ultimate trip would be taken at Ferrari World.
Linked by rote to Formula One and by the immense numbers of models, many of them bespoke, that have been in demand in this part of the world, to open the ultimate playground would guarantee a burgeoning audience and many of them would indulge their flights of imagination on this ‘Fantasy Island’.
An amazing structure was created. Its 2,152,782 square feet of red roof would be visible from passing planes, guaranteed to spot the largest Ferrari logo emblazoned anywhere, tempting their occupants as they made approaches to Abu Dhabi International Airport. It might even be visible from low orbiting space craft. A huge elliptical and triangular construction, it would cover the greatest indoor amusement park in the world and it promised a lot. Its delivery was far from disappointing, even though it took two years to build and its official opening was blighted by circumstances. Yet, it is open for business.
It incorporates the world’s fastest roller-coaster ride, known as ‘Formula Rossa’, and it boasts a top speed of a remarkable 150mph. However, even that was insufficient. Thanks to a major investment in an hydraulic launch system that is not dissimilar to the mechanics on the deck of an aircraft carrier (which actually uses steam catapults), each ‘train’ of open-topped Ferraris would outgun even their Formula One alternatives, by reaching the maximum velocity in just 4.9 seconds from the get go. Fast cars. Fast money. Fast fun.
If there is anything sad about ‘Formula Rossa’ it is that the track, in a shape inspired by Monza circuit, is just 1.4 miles in length…oh well, the holiday fund would probably stretch to another three or four runs at least. It might not be the tallest, or the longest, but its bespectacled passengers will attest to the fact that it is, by far, the most exciting of its type and, if that did not fit with the Ferrari model, you can rest assured that the ‘Prancing Horse’ emblem would not appear anywhere close to Yas Island, apart from during race week.
// The Circuit
Designed by Hermann Tilke on Yas Island, which is about a half-hour drive from the centre of Abu Dhabi, it has managed to maintain a less controversial image than its Arabian sister at Bahrain. Unlike other Tilke-penned tracks, this one has received significantly greater accord from the drivers. In fact, even with its nocturnal illumination system, which is said not to be as glaring as that installed at Singapore, it is only the tunnel exit from the pit-lane that has been subjected to any negative criticism, which has to be something of a novelty in recent years.
Although its 21 changes of direction are said to have been inspired by the tortuous nature of Monaco, so much so that some competitors, teams and spectators have christened it ‘The Arabian Monaco’, it is a thoroughly modern facility, possessing first-class garage accommodation, suites of offices, retail areas, medical services and training rooms within its complex. Of course, it passes the Marina (that’s similar to Monaco). The track courses beneath a hotel, the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi (that’s similar to Monaco) but it lacks the elevation and close building proximity of the Monegasque venue, although it does wend around the sand dunes and provides a few notable features in its layout.
Naturally, sand blowing across the circuit is an unavoidable issue, although teams of workers keep the place as clean as they possibly can. The fear remains, though, that sand and racing engines have never been happy bed-fellows. ‘Rubbering-in’ the track surface is an omnipresent challenge that has not limited the enthusiasm that the vast majority of people have shown towards this venue.
// Lapping The Yas
Although the Yas circuit has only managed one major claim to fame, at the tail-end of the past three Grand Prix seasons held on it, deciding the Drivers’ Championship in 2010, with COTA and Brazil still to run and the various points elements expected to run down to the wire, it can harbour the joy of hosting yet another fantastic F1 race.
A typical 3.451 miles in length, its 55 dusk laps are sure to be action-packed. The circuit starts between the pit-lane on the right and a massive grandstand opposite, with a fast dash down to the ninety-degree left-hander of Turn One (below which the pit-lane exit tunnel runs), placing a demanding 2.2G on the driver’s necks. Although taken in third gear, at around 80mph, you can rest assured that end-plates and punctures will clash, if the drivers are not careful.
It is just a short straight to the 45-degree left-hander of Turn Two, which is negotiated at around 160mph and creates a massive 4.0G loading on the suspension and tyres. Any loose sand here is not going to be welcomed. A quick dab of the brakes is required for the gentle right-hander at Turn Three (3.5G), which becomes a whiff of a left-hand kink demanding little more than ‘thought-transference’ and full throttle for the approach to the complex at the North Stand.
It starts at Turn Five, with a fast left-right, into Turn Six and, while braking hard for the hairpin at Turn Seven, the DRS Detection Zone has already clicked into operation. Within 200 yards, the flap opens and full force can applied along the lengthiest section of the track. You can expect solid overtaking in this area, before reaching Turn Eight, a tight-left into Turn Nine, an almost as tight right-hander, before a fast exit onto the Support Stand straight, which is actually more of a gentle, never-ending radius, left-hander. Again the cars should reach their maximum speeds along this section, not least because it also signifies the second DRS Zone.
Turns 11, 12 and 13 demand judicious but heavy reliance on the kerbing for the fairly quick left-right-left chicane. After only the shortest of straights, it’s back onto the brakes for Turn 14, taken in third at around 70mph. A medium-downforce corner, a good exit speed is essential to prepare for Turns 15 and 16, which are effectively a double-apex right, into another ninety-degree right at Turn 17.
In truth, this section feels more like a Las Vegas car park than a racing circuit but the next ninety-left whisks the cars beneath the hotel, with its brilliantly illuminated ‘whale’ outline, directly into another slow-ish left at Turn 19. Although a downshift is necessary to negotiate the fast-right of Turn 20, it is not as severe as the right-hander at Turn 21 that returns us to the pit straight and another lap of the Yas.
The promise of a great race is on. That there is still so much to go for is what makes this year so enthralling. Enjoy Abu Dhabi but, above all, look out for a brilliant debut race in a fortnight’s time at Austin, Texas, USA.