F1: Will Abu Dhabi Live Up to Expectations?


What Happens When Serious Money Buys Serious Comfort

1:32am EST — With the first two practices of the inaugural Abu Dhabi GP come and gone, preliminary conclusions can be made in a few categories: track facilities, driver satisfaction, and viewer excitement.  In general, both the Formula1 press and the teams seem quite satisfied with the facilities and hospitality offered at this brand-new track.  For example, the Twitter accounts of both the McLaren team and the BBC’s 5Live have been particularly effusive in their praise for the circuit and those in charge of its design, though perhaps 5Live and Autosport editor Jonathon Noble somewhat more so for the new and expansive press areas.  During the post-practice press conference, the team principals interviewed (Bob Bell for Renault, Mario Theissen for BMW-Sauber, Christian Horner for Red Bull, and Ross Brawn for Brawn GP) made a point to express thanks for the, as Theissen put it, “very good working conditions for the teams.”  Horner also mentioned the build-up to this race, saying, “The bar has been raised by the introduction of several venues, Singapore included, then we come here and Bernie (Ecclestone) has been winding us up for the past 18 months saying ‘wait until we get to Abu Dhabi.’ I mean it is just unbelievable what the country has done to build a venue such as this. It is quite mind-blowing really and the circuit looks a quality circuit as well, not just a pretty background.”

The drivers also seem pleased with the track and its configuration, with new world champion Jenson Button saying Friday, “when you look at the layout, it doesn’t seem that exciting but when you actually drive it, it’s fantastic.”  2008 champion Lewis Hamilton concurred, “It’s a really nice circuit to drive – there are a lot of technical corners, where braking stability is important. It’s a great track and I really enjoy driving it. The only bit I don’t like is the tunnel – but it’s a challenge!”  Kimi Raikkonen, however, was nonplussed by one of the more controversial features, “the pit-lane exit? In terms of its layout it’s quite similar to Interlagos, except there’s a wall instead of a guard rail.”

Finally, and in some ways, most importantly, the viewer excitement for the circuit.  Friday practices are particularly difficult to determine just how exciting the racing will be, if only because not all the teams or cars are on track at once, and practice tends to see moderately boring lapping.  Both practices were incident-free, though both did show that there are turns which might prompt mistakes, as drivers spun in Turns 6, 19, and 20, as well as some others.  These spins were not limited to rookies, as Kobayashi was the only one to spin, while champions Button, Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Raikkonen all spun, as did Heikki Kovalainen, Adrian Sutil, and Tonio Liuzzi.  Only the race will tell if this track is more interesting to watch than other Hermann Tilke-designed tracks, though Saturday’s qualifying will give viewers a hint.

Nearly halfway through the race weekend, it might be a bit too soon to tell how Abu Dhabi measures up to other Formula1 circuits, despite the obvious infatuation the teams and the press seem to already have for it, but it is a most beautiful circuit, and one that was well-thought-out by its designers.

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