The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will bring down the curtains on an eventful year in Formula One racing. Verstappen and Red Bull may have won already, but more thrills await F1 enthusiasts as there’s a lot more at stake in the 20th and final race of the season at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Abu Dhabi awaits more F1 thrills
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
Formula One racing is never short of drama. Max Verstappen may have won the driver’s title and Red Bull the constructor’s championship, yet sparks will fly in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday (November 20). There are plenty of subplots that make the season-ending race exhilarating.
The Yas Marina Circuit has a special place in Verstappen’s heart. It was the scene of his first title triumph, albeit in a chaotic finish last year. Lewis Hamilton must still be seething since he had sewed up the 2021 race before Nicholas Latifi’s crash set in motion a bizarre series of events that helped Verstappen win his first title.
Verstappan seeks a record in Abu Dhabi
If that was fortuitous, Verstappen left nothing to chance this year. The Dutch driver lorded over F1 tracks, winning 14 of the 19 races. That brought him on par with Michael Schumacher (2004) and Sebastian Vettel (2013) of Germany. Abu Dhabi offers Verstappen an opportunity to own the record.
The 25-year-old secured his second title in Japan last month and will chase a record-extending 15th win of the season as the Yas. His lingering animosity with Sergio Perez has also raised the stakes, with his Red Bull teammate battling Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for the runner-up slot in the driver’s championship.
Perez, Leclerc race for second spot
The Red Bull drivers’ rift was evident last week after the Dutch F1 champion refused to allow teammate Perez to finish in sixth place in Sao Paolo. F1 watchers say Verstappen’s decision to ignore a team order was payback for Perez’s qualifying crash in Monaco and then winning the race in May. The snub in Brazil cost Perez two points in the standings, and he and Leclerc head to Abu Dhabi tied for second, making Sunday’s race more exciting.
The driver rivalry certainly had no impact on Red Bull since Verstappen’s victory in the United States Grand Prix in October had sealed the constructor’s title, ending Mercedes’s eight-year winning streak. At 719 points, they have an unbeatable lead.
Mercedes aim for a one-two at Yas Marina
The duel for the second spot is still alive, and Mercedes haven’t given up hope after George Russell beat Hamilton for a one-two in Brazil, the team’s first since Imola in 2020. A similar result in the UAE, coupled with the fastest lap, would help Mercedes (505) overtake Ferrari (524) to clinch the second spot, as only 19 points separate the two teams.
Mercedes, who have struggled throughout the season with a poorly performing car, will be buoyed by Russell’s maiden F1 win and Hamilton’s three second-place finishes. The Briton, looking for the elusive first win of the year, said the team’s improvement was “a great, great sign”.
“For a long, long period of time, we couldn’t really, truly understand what the problem was or how to fix it. And it was difficult because we kept trying and trying and trying, and every time something new came, we still had the problems we had. So this is really, really huge. We know where our North Star is, we know where we need to put all our efforts into this winter. I’m so proud of the team for all the incredible hard work,” Hamilton said.
Will Hamilton end his win-drought?
Winner of seven titles (a joint world record with Michael Schumacher), Hamilton has endured what must be the worst season of his career. After one of the most incredible rookie performances in F1 history in 2007, Hamilton went on to top the all-time pole positions list and leads in first-place finishes (103 each). For 15 years, the 37-year-old has won at least one race every season, and that record is under threat, as he is yet to finish atop the podium this year. A bitter pill to swallow for the Briton, who has been involved in every title fight since 2014.
But never count Hamilton out. ‘Still I Rise’ is imprinted on the back of the Briton’s helmet and tattooed across his shoulders. He will try to live up to those words and avoid the ignominy of a barren season. That isn’t easy.
Waiting in the wings is four-time champion Vettel, who wants to sign off his career on a winning note in his 299th and final start. After all, Abu Dhabi was the venue of his first title win in 2010, as he notched 53 victories, 57 poles and 69 podiums over 16 seasons. Only Hamilton, Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio have more titles, making Vettel one of the all-time greats.
Vettel’s drive into the sunset
Memories of wins at Yas Marina will surely lift his performance. “I am sure that this race will bring back plenty of happy memories from the last 15 years. I want to go out on a high,” Reuters quoted the 35-year-old.
A win for Vettel is unlikely since he has endured two tough seasons at Aston Martin. “These two years have been very challenging because I wasn’t familiar with running at the back of the field. It has been a new experience, tough at times,” he said.
What’s in store this year? Will there be a repeat of last year’s race? Rivals Verstappen and Hamilton are still eyeing wins, and a face-off is inevitable. The Red Bull driver rivalry, Mercedes’s hot pursuit of the runners-up slot for constructors, Hamilton’s brave bid to avert a winless year and Vettel’s swansong make for a thrilling season climax.
Hold on to your seats. This race will be a white-knuckle ride.
Lewis Hamilton targets sixth Abu Dhabi title
A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor
Dubai: Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton returns to Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where he lost the season-ending race and the F1 driver’s title last year. Since then, things haven’t gone well for the Briton, who is chasing his first win of the season at the Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday.
Hamilton lost the record-breaking eighth drivers’ title when Max Verstappen edged him to the chequered flag, giving the Dutchman his first crown. However, Hamilton has lost his winning edge this year for various reasons, including a complete overhaul to the Formula One cars. He is placed fifth on the standings ahead of the season finale. Though Hamilton finished second for the third consecutive time this season in Brazil, the Mercedes ace could not halt the rampaging Red Bull.
In the past, Hamilton had scored at least one win every season since his debut in 2007, when, driving for McLaren, he finished runners-up to Kimi Raikkonen by just one point. So the 37-year-old will be eager to preserve his impeccable record. But after 103 wins, five in Abu Dhabi, the Briton knows how to handle the pressure — by staying positive.
“I am very much here in the present,” he said ahead of the season finale. “I am not arriving here [Abu Dhabi] thinking of the past at all, not one bit. I am focused. I’m not sure if our car will work well here this weekend, but if there is a chance, we’ll go for it.
“For me, our success in Brazil, the one-two last Sunday, is all down to the huge effort of our team’s workforce in the UK,” said Hamilton. “They have been so determined all year.”
It will not be easy for Hamilton to win in Abu Dhabi for the sixth time amid the stiff battle between Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for second place for the driver’s title behind Verstappen. That will not stop the Briton, who will pull out all the stops to win. After three second-placed finishes in a row, Hamilton will fancy his chances.
Abu Dhabi is one of his favourite tracks: he’s won five at the Yas Marina. So keep an eye out for Hamilton.
Your guide to the world of Formula 1 racing
Compiled by Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
New to Formula One racing? Here’s a guide will to make sense of it.
Formula One Grand Prix is a series of races held at venues around the world. ‘Formula’ refers to a standardised set of rules that carmakers and drivers have to follow.
Formula One car
A Formula One car is an open-wheel, open-cockpit, single-seat racing car used for racing in competitions. Its engine is located behind the driver, and the car is equipped with two wings: one in the front and another at the rear.
Formula One cars now are made from carbon fibre and ultra-lightweight components. They are required to weigh a minimum of 798kgs without the driver and fuel in them.
The overall width of the car, excluding tyres, must not exceed 200cm with the wheels in the straight-ahead position. Bodywork width between the front and the rear wheel centre lines must not exceed 160cm. There is no specified maximum length, but all cars tend to be almost the same length.
The specifications are four-stroke, turbocharged 1.6-litre, 90 degrees V6 turbo engines. The maximum engine power rotational speed is 15,000 revolutions per minute (rpm).
The steering wheel of a modern FI car bears little resemblance to the ones used in a regular car. It’s more rectangular than round. An array of colour-coded buttons makes it look more like a PlayStation interface.
Some of the controls on the steering wheel are engine mapping, brake bias, differential settings, radio, traction control, pit lane speed limiter, rain light, hand clutch, and gearbox neutral button, the gear upshift and downshift levers are located at the back of the steering wheel.
Teams can design their steering wheel to suit their drivers, so each team’s steering wheel looks different. But they all feature the same components.
The fuel used by Formula One cars in 2022 containing 10 per cent bio-components. It is called ‘E10 fuel’ – ‘E’ standing for ethanol, while ‘10’ refers to its percentage in the mixture.
Formula One cars have been using smooth thread, slick tyres since 2009. In 2022, tyres are set at 18 inches. They have been designed to reduce the amount of overheat when tyres slide.
Speed and performance
All F1 cars can accelerate from 0 to 100 mph (160 kmph) and decelerate back to 0 in under 5 seconds. F1 cars have reached top speeds of above 300 kmph or 185 mph on an average.
Helmets: Helmets are compulsory. Strong and light, these are also fire resistant. The average weight of a helmet is around 1.2 kg. Interestingly, the helmets are all painted by hand
HANS: Head and Neck Support is to protect the driver’s vertebrae and collision of head to the steering wheel in the event of an accident. Built using carbon fibre material, it is attached to the seat belt.
Clothing: The multilayered suit is designed to protect drivers from fire during a crash. Nomex is the latest fibre material brand used to build suits for F1 drivers. The suit undergoes thermal testing; it is fire resistant and lightweight. The suit is worn by the pit crew also.
Pits and pit stops
Pit stops are essential for cars to change tyres and for making repairs, mechanical adjustments, or as a penalty. Drivers have to make at least one pit stop to change tyres because F1 tyres do not last the distance of one race.
Pits are located at the side of racing lanes, and they are assigned in the order of qualifying rankings of the team. A pit may have even up to 20 mechanics who prepare for all eventualities one lap before the car makes a pit stop.
Meet the legends of the FI tracks
Warming up for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Know the F1 terminology
Gulf News Report
These jargons are commonly used by teams and commentators. Know it and it help you stay abreast of motor racing.
Backmarker: Trailing drivers are often lapped by the leading drivers. The trailing drivers are referred to as backmarkers just as we refer to backbenchers in schools and colleges.
Blistering/Graining: Blistering is when the cold surface of the track causes pieces to blow out of the tyre surface because the inside of the tyre is warmer. Graining is just the opposite. It is a situation when the tyres are cold, and the hotter surface outside causes the rubber chunks to come off and stick to the tyre.
Box: Box is a reminder to the drivers coming from a controller in the pits that they have a pit stop coming during the lap or in the next lap. The word is derived from the German word ‘Boxenstopp’ which means a pit stop.
Dirty Air/Clean Air: Dirty air is the turbulent air left in the wake of the preceding car. The car coming in the wake of the leading car will experience a drag because of the dirty air. Clean air is the undisturbed air encountered by a car speeding all on its own. The air flows smoothly around the car’s streamlined surface but leaves dirty air in its wake.
DRS: Drag Reduction System (DRS) is allowed to be used in only marked zones on the track. Turbulent air behind the leading car can lead to a drag on the car following it closely, reducing the downforce. A flap on the car is then used to reduce the drag and increase the downforce, which can help the car in overtaking on a straight.
Flatspot: When a car driver locks his front brakes, the front tyres skid along the surface of the track rather than roll across it. This wears the tyres giving it a prominent flat spot. A flatspot on the wheels results in unscheduled pit stops spoiling the chances of the driver in the race.
Marbles: Tiny pieces of rubber that are shredded off the tyres while cornering are called marbles. They accumulate off the racing line, and driving on them can be dangerous as the car loses traction.
Oversteer/Understeer: When a car is cornering, and the rear wheels of the car lose grip and step out of line, the driver is said to have oversteered. On the other hand, if the front wheels lose grip and the car takes a shallower turn than the driver intended, the car has been understeered.
Pole-sitter: A pole-sitter is a driver who wins the pole position in the qualifying races. Pole sitters have an advantage if they get away from the pack and hold the lead into the first corner.
Power Unit: The engine of a modern-day F1 car has ‘power units’ rather than just engines as in the olden days. This unit consists of six components. The Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), the Turbo Charger (TC), the Motor Generator Unit — H (MGU-H), Motor Generator Unit — Kinetic (MGU-K), the Energy Store (ES) and the Control Electronics (CE) taken together is called the Power Unit. These components combine to give an F1 car just below 1,000bhp of power.
The journey of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
How technology made F1 faster and safer
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
Formula One racing is about fast cars. Machines that hurtle around a racetrack at incredible speeds, steered by highly skilled drivers. Technology is at the core of what makes these cars zip at amazing speeds.
When F1 became an international sport in the 1950s, there’s been a scramble to develop the fastest car. That brought together the best carmakers with the best engineering minds to put together high-performance cars in the hands of the best drivers in the world.
After seven decades, F1 is one of the fastest and safest sports in the world. And for that, they have the technology. The journey hasn’t been comfortable. Innovation and competition brought about changes. Some were banned since they were dangerous, and others simply because it robbed the spectators the skill of the drivers.
Back in the 1950s, the cars driven by Juan Manuel Fangio to five titles bore little resemblance to the ones that fetched seven championships for Lewis Hamilton. The best drivers cannot win with poorly-powered cars. So engineering is as integral as driving skill in Formula One racing.
Here’s a look at some most significant game-changers, with a little help from redbull.com.
In the early days of motorsport, the engine was always placed front and centre. At high speeds, this led to understeer (when the front tyres start slipping). Britain’s Cooper made a radical change in 1957 by placing the engine behind the driver but ahead of the rear axle. It provided for even weight distribution. In 1958, Britain’s Stirling Moss drove the Cooper to victory in the Argentine Grand Prix. Jack Brabham’s back-to-back championship wins in 1959 and 1960 convinced other carmakers to follow suit. By 1961, all manufacturers switched to the new standard layout.
F1 cars used to be built employing a traditional space-frame design (a rigid structure constructed from interlocking components in a geometric pattern). All that changed in 1962, when Lotus introduced the revolutionary aluminium sheet monocoque [single shell or hull], making the car virtually one large body panel. It helped distribute tension and compression across its surface. The design drastically reduced weight, improved acceleration, helped in top speeds and fuel efficiency.
Monocoque is a French term for a single shell (like an eggshell) or single hull. Also called structural skin, it’s a system where loads are supported by the external skin rather than an internal frame.
Active suspension was one of F1’s first electronic driving aids. The system ensured a constant ride height and maximised grip and aerodynamic efficiency. A synthetic spring linked to electronic monitors helped active suspension to manage the downforces and make amends for conditions. Data from major circuits was used to programme active suspension to predict the road conditions and adjust the suspension. Since it impacted F1 as a spectacle, the technology was banned in 1994.
Turbochargers and superchargers [forced induction engines] were banned between 1961-65 but was reintroduced in 1966 after a change in regulations. By 1986, normally aspirated engines had disappeared from the circuit as turbocharger unleashed enormous horsepower. With power, came instability and it was banned again in 1989. The shift to less powerful engines in 2014 allowed turbochargers to return to F1. Present-day cars use a hybrid version.
Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), introduced in 2009, allows cars to store energy lost during braking, and reuse it to provide a short acceleration.
How does it work? Here’s what BBC Top Gear say: Kinetic energy that you would lose to heat while braking is sent to a flywheel, which can capture 150-watt hours in around eight seconds of gentle braking. That’s the same amount of energy you’d need to charge 25 new iPhones. The recovered energy can be stored for about half an hour or used immediately, either as a supplement to the engine, or in one great big lump. The former will cut consumption by up to 25 per cent, and the latter will add 80hp instantly.
In the event of wheelspin (rotation of wheels without traction), traction control automatically reduced power to the wheels. It allows for near-perfect starts, controlled acceleration, and eliminates drift. Complaints that it reduced the driver’s skill and allegations of exploiting the loopholes led to a ban in 1994 before it was allowed again in 2001. Since 2008, traction control remained illegal.
Semi-automatic gears eliminate the need for a driver-controlled clutch. Introduced by Ferrari in 1989, it provides for faster gear changes, allowing the driver to keep the hands on the steering wheel. They also ushered in the era of the modern composite steering wheel with paddles, buttons, toggles, switches and screens which allow drivers to monitor and control every aspect of the car’s performance.
Halo safety device
The halo safety device has been in the news lately after it saved Romain Grosjean’s life on November 29, following a horrific crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix that saw his car split in half and engulfed in flames.
Introduced in 2018, halo protects drivers from large pieces of flying debris. It evoked a tepid response from drivers and their teams who found it ugly. Some were later convinced about the protection offered by this armour. After the Bahrain crash, there will be more backers for halo.
Since carmakers have to build halo into the chassis, it could impact aerodynamics and stress distribution. Which means more innovation and newer designs.
A brief history of Formula One racing
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
Formula One racing is not for the faint-hearted. The roar and scream of engines and the sound of screeching, squealing brakes fill the circuit as cars zip around the track at mindboggling speeds. It’s high octane action. That’s the world of motor sport, whose lineage can be traced to the races on public roads in Europe at the end of the 19th century.
The appellation “Grand Prix” was first used for 1901’s French Grand Prix at Le Mans. The European Grand Prix racing of the 1920s and 30s were the precursor to Formula One races.
British F1 engineering excellence
Formula One racing, when did it start? Which was the first race? That isn’t clear since there are several claimants. The 1947 Pau Grand Prix, won by Nello Pagani on Maserati 4CL, could arguably be considered the first Formula One race. It conformed to the standardised set of rules, referred to as Formula One, drawn up in 1946 by the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI), the predecessor of Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile's (FIA). It defines Formula One as a premier single-seater racing category in motorsport.
The bold and beautiful F1 cars
The formula based on engine capacity to level the playing field became effective in 1947, and was initially known variously as Formula A, Formula I, or Formula 1. But the races from 1946-1950 the races were not part of an organised calendar. The first race labelled “International Formula One” took place at the same venue, three years later. Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio, who went on to become an F1 legend, won the race in a Maserati.
The F1 World Championship was born in May 1950 when Silverstone hosted the British Grand Prix – the first sanctioned championship race for F1 cars. There were around 20 races, but only seven were considered for the drivers’ title. Italian teams of Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Maserati dominated the early years. Fangio racked up five World Championship titles (with five different manufacturers), a record which stood for 45 years until German Michael Schumacher won his sixth in 2003.
An era of British F1 engineering excellence started from 1958 through the 1960s as Teams Cooper, BRM, Brabham and Lotus won 11 world titles. Between Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees and Graham Hill, British drivers won nine Drivers' Championships. During that Lotus became the first team to carry advertising on their cars, and in 1958 a car with an engine mounted behind the driver won for the first time when Stirling Moss drove Cooper to victory in the Argentine Grand Prix.
Advent of turbo-powered cars
Formula One technology developed at a rapid pace in the 1970s and early 1980s, and raw horsepower was unleashed on the track with the advent of turbo-powered cars (Turbo engines were banned in 1989). The adrenaline-fuelled races gave rise to intense sporting rivalries and edge-of-the-seat action. McLaren’s technical superiority remained dominant, but its stars, Ayrton Senna of Brazil and Alain Prost of France, became fierce rivals often complaining bitterly of each other.
In the 1990s, innovation and competition to build fast cars drove technology to complex levels, but F1’s governing bodies moved to make racing safer, especially after the deaths of Senna and Austrian Roland Ratzenberger at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, in 1994. It helped, as no driver died on the track in the next 20 years.
Drivers from McLaren, Williams, Renault (formerly Benetton), and Ferrari won all the championships from 1984 to 2008. But Michael Schumacher and Ferrari took a stranglehold on the podium, winning five Driver’s title in a row from 2000, and six Constructor’s title from 1994. Schumacher retired in 2006 after 16 years of F1 races, setting many records: 91 Grand Prix wins (beaten by Lewis Hamilton this year), most wins in a season (13 out of 18), and most Drivers' Championships (seven, tied with Hamilton).
After Schumacher’s exit, F1 changed, rules changed, there were new technical regulations, but racing remained fierce. That set the stage for the swift rise of Red Bull Racing, spearheaded by Sebastian Vettel, who in 2010 became the youngest champion in F1 history. The German went on to win four titles.
F1 rules and engines changed once again in 2014 with the introduction of 1.6-litre turbocharged hybrid power units. That ushered in a sustained period of dominance by Mercedes AMG and Hamilton. With six world titles, the Briton has staked claimed to be considered the greatest driver of all time.
After a brief pause brought about by the global pandemic of COVID-19, F1 is back on track. Seven decades on, the Formula One saga continues, bringing together the best drivers and engineers in the world.