Since Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit made its debut on the Formula 1 calendar in 2009, it has hosted the final race of the season each year except three – including every season since 2014. That means it has already seen its fair share of championship deciders in its relatively short existence.
Its first was in 2010 and notable as the only time in Formula 1 history that four drivers have gone into the final race with the chance to be crowned champion. Sebastian Vettel became the youngest-ever title winner as Fernando Alonso discovered how difficult overtaking can be when he got stuck behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov for most of the race.
Then of course there was the dramatic final-lap decider in 2021, when another young Red Bull driver – Max Verstappen – claimed his first title. In 2022, Verstappen already has his second world title wrapped up before getting to Yas Marina, but the glistening state-of-the-art facility always provides an impressive spectacle regardless of whether the championship is at stake – with races beginning at dusk and finishing under floodlights. Efforts have also been made recently to help make sure the race delivers exciting action to match, thanks to a number of track changes designed to enhance the spectator experience.
From its opening, the Yas Marina circuit has been made up of three distinct sectors. The first features some relatively quick corners, in particular the sweeping Turns 2 and 3. The middle sector has always been dominated by two long straights, which have provided the best overtaking opportunities into heavy braking zones. The final sector was always considered to be almost like a street circuit in nature, with a series of tighter corners as the track winds its way past the marina and underneath the W Hotel.
For the 2021 race, a number of significant modifications to the layout were introduced, with the aim of offering improved overtaking opportunities. Changes were made in every sector, with the chicane that formed Turns 5 and 6 removed altogether to give drivers the chance to follow closer together onto the back straight. At the end of the second straight, one long banked bend was created in place of the fiddly Turns 11 to 14. And near the end of the lap, several corners were reprofiled to make them faster and more flowing.
In their first F1 race, the new-look Turn 5 and Turn 9 both played a part in the dramatic conclusion to the 2021 season. This year, a race where slightly less is at stake might provide a more accurate test of whether the changes have succeeded. Thanks to its use as a testing venue (which is the case this year as well) it's a track that the drivers know well and enjoy getting the most out of.
For many years an overlooked neighbour of Dubai, Abu Dhabi has finally gained its own prominence – thanks in no small part to the publicity generated by the grand prix.
But it’s not just that: there’s also been a huge amount of investment in local infrastructure that makes Abu Dhabi a tourist destination in its own right these days. Ferrari World was inaugurated at around the same time as the Yas Marina circuit: a theme park dedicated to all things Ferrari, where you can experience the same acceleration as a Formula 1 driver feels off the grid thanks to a special rollercoaster ride.
Much more recently, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was opened: a sister organisation to the celebrated art museum in Paris, which has to be seen to be believed.
Most people come to Abu Dhabi just to soak up some winter sun and enjoy the sandy beaches and water sports at a time when Europe is shivering. One popular resort is Saadiyat Island, close to the Yas Marina circuit: a place where even Formula 1’s top stars such as Toto Wolff have been known to go on a post-season holiday.
Closer to the city, Abu Dhabi’s corniche also contains a string of luxury hotels and restaurants: the Emirates Palace Hotel is one of the most sumptuous in the world. And there’s also a plethora of shopping malls for those who enjoy retail therapy.
But there’s a fascinating secret to Abu Dhabi. You don't have to travel far to reach the desert, and this provides a contrasting playground to the sparkling coast. You can go on dune buggy safaris and even camp out in a Bedouin tent: the possibilities are limitless. The desolate beauty of the desert is something that everyone has to experience at least once.
The grand prix may be fun, but who needs horsepower when you can have camel power instead?
A race to remember
Sometimes, the raw...