The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit is probably my least favourite track on the Formula 1 calendar. Apart from probably the first four corners, there are no interesting points on the track from a racer’s point of view. On top of that, the concept behind the Grand Prix is something I oppose massively: the day to night transition, the marina, Ferrari World and of course the Yas hotel – it’s all shiny and gorgeous, all to create the impression that the city is just as magical as the Grand Prix would be if the track would have been interesting in any way.
The tragedy of the circuit is: the track could be so much better if the smallest of changes would be applied. In this article, I will propose ten changes that would make the track better in my opinion. All of these changes can be implemented relatively easily, as most of them require nothing more than replacing some highly unnatural grass with tarmac.
After the great turns 1 through 4 comes the combination of turns 5 and 7: the slowest part of the track. The ‘slow turn followed by a long straight followed by a slow turn’ concept has proven time and time again that it doesn’t really encourage overtaking – just ask Fernando Alonso. The usual solution in Formula 1 for this problem is to have a very long DRS-zone, which indeed increases the amount of overtakes, but usually most of them are as interesting as Kimi Räikkönen saying he doesn’t know. So turns 5-7 need to be replaced by something a bit faster to encourage overtaking into turn 8.
The simplest solution is to leave turn 5 intact and create a left-hand corner 5* that opens onto the straight. Not only will this be more challenging for the drivers, this should increase the number of overtakes into turn 8.
What we can also do is move corner 5 closer to turn 4, so turn 6* can have a larger radius, which makes the corner sequence faster (and thus more exciting) than the previous idea.
Another possibility is to make turn 5* and 6* into a fast, double apex left-hander (essentially Suzuka’s Spoon curve). The problem though with this and the previous idea is that the grandstand that wraps around turn 7 will need to be rebuild.
These corners are designed to be the main overtaking spot on the track. And to be honest, for that purpose this corner is not that bad, because we have seen drivers take alternative lines through turns 8 and 9 (the ‘undercut’). To improve this however, it would be favourable to make both corners a bit more shallow:
Unfortunately there is not more space to play with, because corners 20 and 21 are in the way and can’t be moved.
These four corners are probably the worst part of the track: if two cars go side-by-side into turn 11, there is almost certainly going to be contact. The only overtake I can remember, with two cars going side-by-side that didn’t involve contact, is Sebastian Vettel on Jenson Button last year. But in most cases, one of the cars has to leave the track to avoid contact. The best example of how atrocious this corner is, is the Perez/Grosjean incident from last year’s race.
But worst of all is that there is so much room to play with: there is a grass field on the inside of these corners that can easily be used for improving the track, yet the designers chose to ignore it completely.
The first solution is very simple: just connect turns 11 and 13. It’s probably the easiest of changes as it requires not a whole lot more than removing and re-applying the blue asphalt-tungsten mix. It would make the entry a bit more shallow, which might result in less overtaking – a criteria modern circuits usually take into the equation.
To ensure overtaking will still be possible, turn 11 can just be left the way it is, but then turn 12 is ignored and the entire sequence turns 12-14 is replaced by a fast left-hander, turn 12*. The only (minor) issue with this is that there is very little run-off at the exit of turn 12*. It does however encourage drivers not to make mistakes there, else they would end up in the barriers (the sort of discipline modern circuits lack).
In my opinion, even a Tilke trademarked hairpin would be better than the combination of corners currently featured in the track. It would however remove the challenge from turns 15-17, which is unfortunate.
Hence it would be favourable to make turn 12* and 15 into a quick chicane. Again, it can be dangerous if a car understeers through turn 12* and hits the barrier on the inside of turn 15, but it would certainly make for a thrilling corner.
There is a big grandstand to the right of the track at turn 11, and the thing I enjoy most about watching Formula 1 is seeing the drivers make a quick change of direction at high speed. So I would like to make turn 11 into a high-speed, small radius turn (essentially turn 6 at the Hungaroring). And to follow that up, there is no more room to make a nice, sweeping corner, so there will have to be a slow turn 12*. This is probably my favourite solution, but I’m afraid the majority of people attending the race just want to see cars overtaking each other (for the same reason, I never get why people would rather sit at Monza’s first corner than Ascari).
Unfortunately, because of the marina and the hotel, turns 16-19 are pretty much fixed. I don’t like this section of small-radius turns, which have been described as a “car park”. If you would ask me, I would demolish the Yas hotel and use the debris to create artificial elevation change, but of course the organizers would never let this happen. This leaves us with turns 20 and 21.
To be honest, the final two turns are not that bad. If I could change it, I would maybe open up turn 20, so drivers can carry more speed through there, which would make the braking zone for turn 21 more challenging.
Do you have some more ideas on how to improve the Yas Marina Circuit? You can leave them in the comments’ section.