Formula 1 history travels fast. Even back in 2000, the idea of having a grand prix in the middle of the desert was the stuff of science fiction. In 2004, Bahrain hosted the first grand prix in the Gulf. Now we’re already at the 10th one in Abu Dhabi, with the futuristic Yas Marina circuit a powerful symbol of how Formula 1 has changed and will continue to change into the future. Some well-known features of the space-age track include the famous coloured corners and ultra-modern lighting – which follows the evolution of the race from sundown to full night – as well as the swanky yachts anchored just metres from the cars, like a Middle Eastern Monaco. Abu Dhabi represents the extremes of luxury and modernity, making the impossible possible – with a marina created from scratch in the middle of the desert.
Today, as well as being an artificial oasis, Abu Dhabi is one of the long-term fixtures in Formula 1. The Emiratis are passionate about cars and motorsport, which is a business that has turned the Middle East into one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious automotive markets. This year, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix won’t decide any championships – Hamilton and Mercedes have already wrapped both of those up – but as has been the case before, it will take Formula 1 into the future. Especially with regard to next season, as once more there will be two days of testing after the race that preview 2019.
And that’s why the annual trip to Abu Dhabi always takes us to the future. By Sunday night the championship will be officially over, and the positions fixed for posterity: adrenaline will give way to party mode. But that doesn’t mean that everyone will be heading to the airport on Monday. Instead, that day will be spent mostly by the pool before heading back to the circuit on Tuesday. The cars will be the same ones raced throughout 2018 but the tyres will be new: with the compounds that have already been fixed and homologated for 2019.
For Pirelli’s ninth season of its current Formula 1 era, the Italian firm will continue in the same direction seen recently: increasingly softer compounds but with more stability throughout the whole tyre concept. The trend also remains towards Formula 1 cars that are ever-faster, with the tyres playing a key part in this philosophy. The result has been fastest laps that have been lowered by up to eight seconds (in the case of Silverstone). The key factor behind this was the move to 25 per cent wider tyres in 2017, with a consequently larger contact patch that provided more grip and therefore speed through corners. Now that the sizes aren’t changing, it’s going to be the compounds themselves that provide the extra performance.