Dubai: Over the past 10 years, we have witnessed the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix evolve from an upstart new race on the block to a cornerstone race that has cemented its place as the grand finale — and only day-night race — of the F1 season.
Amid much fanfare — and a lot of hard work — the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix helped usher in a new era for the sport when the engines roared for the first time even as the final coats of paint were drying in the November sunshine.
Fast forward 10 years and we have plenty of memorable moments to look back on, from delight to heartbreak, with many twists and turns along the way.
2009 — The first race
While the race itself was not the most spectacular race, the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a game-changer for the UAE. It was vision realised and — amid fly-bys, fireworks and A-list rock and pop concerts — gave millions of viewers around the world a glimpse of the capital. Thousands flocked to the UAE for what was then the biggest sporting event ever to be held in the nation.
2010 — A title tussle
In an incredibly tight season, four drivers were still in contention for the Drivers’ Championship by the time the finale arrived in the UAE: Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Come race day, Red Bull’s Vettel, who had not led the championship all season, powered to the front of the pack and, with a little help from backmarker Vitaly Petrov holding up Alonso and Webber, the German snatched the most unlikely of titles.
2011 — Deflated Vettel
Vettel had dominated the entire season, notching up 11 wins and he was looking good for 12 at Yas Marina as the German champion had qualified on pole position. Calamity struck as he suffered a blown tyre after the first corner saw him spin out of the race for the only retirement he made all season. Hamilton won the race.
2012 — Raikkonen rocks
After two years out of the sport, Kimi Raikkonen returned with Lotus for 2012 and he impressed with a string of impressive results. However, coming into Abu Dhabi — the 18th of 20 races this year — he had yet to win a race as Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari had been hogging the top spot on the podium all season. The Finnish ‘Ice Man’ seized his opportunity when Hamilton retired and even told silenced his interfering pit crew over the radio with the famous message: “Yes, yes, yes. I know what I’m doing.”
2014 — Rosberg comes up short
A short-lived quirk was introduced in the 2014 campaign, with double points on offer in the season-ender in Abu Dhabi. By the time the drivers came to town, Nico Rosberg trailed Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by 42 points which meat victory for Rosberg and ninth or lower for Hamilton would give the German the crown. Rosberg took pole but Hamilton blew past him and the German’s car developed technical issues as he trundled home 14th as Hamilton roared into the distance with the win and the championship.
2016 — Redemption for Rosberg
The 2016 season saw ‘teammates’ Rosberg and Hamilton become embroiled in a sometimes unsavoury title fight as the championship lead went back and forth between the two. It all came down to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where Hamilton needed to win and hope Rosberg finished fourth or lower if he was to take the championship. However, while did his part by winning, Rosberg clung on to second spot despite pressure from Vettel to take the title.
If that wasn’t much of an upset, what came next was seismic. Rosberg announced his retirement from F1 to focus on his family — meaning his last ever competitive drive was in the UAE capital.
2017 — Bottas saves best to last
Despite having never won a race going into the 2017 season, Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas, who had taken the seat of the retired 2016 champion Rosberg at Mercedes, notch up victories in Russia and Austria before spoiling Hamilton’s Abu Dhabi drivers’ title-winning party by holding off his teammate for his third win of the season as Mercedes notched their fourth consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship.
With tickets for this year’s race selling out in record time, the signs are that the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix’s popularity will only grow over the next 10 years.