"Brazil brought yet another exciting race with a great contest between Nico and Lewis and it was fantastic to set a new record for one-two finishes. In doing so, the team has surpassed a benchmark that I remember being set by McLaren during my first season in Formula One and one which I never thought we would see broken. That is still sinking in and is testament to what has been achieved by the team this year. In terms of the battle for the Drivers’ Championship, it was a race which once again demonstrated how evenly matched our drivers have been all year and underlines the fact that either of them would be a worthy World Champion. Unusually for Interlagos, rain did not play a role in the weekend. What we did see, however, was the impact of a revised tyre selection. It was positive to see that, despite concerns during running on Friday, the tyres performed well in the race and added to the spectacle with a three stop race, which is a credit to the job Pirelli have done this season. We now look ahead to Abu Dhabi, which has been the scene of a number of exciting title showdowns in recent years – none with such intense focus as this season with double points on the table. We will be running the weekend exactly as we would normally do with the absolute aim of giving both drivers an equal and fair shot at the title. Nothing is more important in our minds and in our preparations as we approach this race. Yas Marina is an impressive facility, with the track itself containing a large quantity of corners and requiring high skill levels from the drivers to put together a fast lap. We can expect a significant following both at the circuit and around the world for such a dramatic conclusion to the season, so we hope to put on a good show."
Yas Marina Circuit - The Inside Line
The Yas Marina circuit contains very little high speed content. Aside from Turns One to Four, the majority of the 21 corner lap comprises low-speed corners and straights. One surprising result of the track layout is the lack of overtaking, as demonstrated particularly prominently during the title-deciding race in 2010. Although there is an extremely long straight between Turns Seven and Eight, speed onto and along that straight is entirely dependent on being able to stay close to the car in front through the preceding low-speed, low grip grandstand section. The 2014 breed of cars have proven to be easier to follow than their predecessors, with overtaking more prevalent that seen in recent years. However, making a pass will still be far from an easy task around this particular circuit.
The past two seasons have seen the medium and soft tyre allocated for Abu Dhabi, with 2012 / 2013 proving to be predominantly one / two stop races respectively. This time around, however, the soft and supersoft have been nominated – an aggressive choice given that the previous years’ race saw the option tyre complete just a handful of laps before being replaced by primes for the following two stints. Although the 2014 compounds are, as a guide, around half a step harder than their predecessors, this season could well see a three stop race in Abu Dhabi. As demonstrated in Brazil, this can lead to differing strategy calls, multiple changes of position and the potential for plenty of entertaining battles throughout the field.
Abu Dhabi lies towards the upper end of the scale in terms of fuel consumption. However, there have yet to be notable dramas at any circuit from a fuel perspective – and there have been a number where this should be more of a factor than at the Yas Marina. The drivers have coped impressively well with restrictions on fuel usage this season so, while theoretically a consideration, this is not a pressing concern.
This is one of a growing number of races which take place going into dusk, resulting in significant variations in track temperature between sessions across the weekend. Whereas, at a more regular event, ambient and track temperatures may fluctuate by between five and ten degrees, the shift in Abu Dhabi is far greater. This can affect track performance by over half a second per lap which, while not of concern, is a factor which must be accounted for in an appropriate manner to ensure that a team does not lose its way on setup. An overheating problem in P1, for example, will not be as prominent during P2. Over-compensating for this would therefore risk taking the wrong path in terms of balance. Teams will have Singapore and Bahrain in particular to draw from in terms of prior experience of this phenomenon, however it is certainly a noteworthy consideration.
By the final race, every team will see a number of elements of their cars reaching the end of their life cycle. This is the nature of a season, with parts designed to last just long enough to complete the calendar but very little beyond. Of course, every effort will be made to ensure the best possible spec is installed in the car so as to reduce the reliability risk. However, as the multiple red flag periods in Brazil demonstrated, everything is running right on the limit. Unknown failures become increasingly commonplace at this stage and more of the same can be expected in Abu Dhabi. This makes it difficult to get into the usual rhythm of a race weekend, with running time frequently disrupted.
In the final throes of a long season, fatigue has well and truly set in for everybody involved in the sport. Add to this the pressure of a World Championship title decider – both internally from team stakeholders and externally from the media – and the scrutiny on each and every move of the team intensifies. Of course, dealing with pressure is part and parcel of working in Formula One and something every team member is accustomed to. But in the pressure cooker of Abu Dhabi, the heat really is on.
The Next Chapter
Barring any major upsets, the Constructors’ Championship positions are now more or less settled throughout the field. Teams will therefore now be shifting their focus very much towards 2015 in their approach to Abu Dhabi. While each team will, of course, still put every ounce of effort into the race weekend, it would not be a surprise to see Friday running dominated by preparations for next season. New parts may well appear on certain cars, while a priority for others may be on finding the best baseline setup from which to work during the two day test which follows the Grand Prix weekend itself. As the final chance to gather on track data before the winter break, the extended Abu Dhabi trip as a whole could prove a key tool in providing a platform for performance in 2015.