‘Much more enjoyable’ - F1 drivers’ verdict on Abu Dhabi changes

Formula 1 drivers feel the modifications to the Yas Marina Circuit have made the track more “enjoyable” to drive but are wary that overtaking in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will still be difficult. 
‘Much more enjoyable’ - F1 drivers’ verdict on Abu Dhabi changes

Abu Dhabi’s F1 track has undergone an extensive overhaul in a bid to help deliver a better spectacle following regular complains about the circuit’s layout over the years. 

A number of sections have been revised, including a new wider hairpin at Turn 5 that has replaced the previous fiddly chicane. Turns 11-14 have also been replaced by a new faster, banked Turn 9, while the section that flows beneath the hotel has also been modified. 

What was previously Turns 17-20 have been opened up to increase speeds and create a more flowing final sector. Not only has the revamped 16-corner layout slashed lap times, it has also provided more enjoyment for the drivers. 

Lewis Hamilton’s fastest lap in second practice was already over 10 seconds quicker than last year’s pole position time, and the seven-time world champion gave the changes the thumbs up. 

“I like the track and the changes they have made to the track, it has made the track much more enjoyable and much more flowing,” Hamilton said.

“I tried following on my long run, I think it was Perez I was behind, I was trying to follow but it still wasn’t easy to follow. 

“But I think it will be better than what we’ve seen in the past. I think with two cars very much alike it might be a bit different.”

Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W12.
Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W12.
© xpbimages.com

Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas echoed Hamilton’s comments, saying: “It was nice to get a feel for the new track layout and it definitely feels a bit nicer than before. 

“The track has a bit more flow and some increased overtaking opportunities, and, also, set-up wise it’s a bit different, some new corners and some of them with a camber, so yeah, I enjoyed it.”

Bottas survived a brush with the barriers at Turn 14, which the Finn put down to getting used to the increased speeds in the final complex of corners. 

“That section is a bit faster now, but off-line it’s still quite dirty and dusty, so I think I went a bit too wide in the first part of the corner and it didn’t pay off,” he explained. "But luckily there was no damage and it was a nice drift.” 

Championship contender Max Verstappen also backed the changes, calling the new layout “more fun to drive.” 

“In general faster corners are more fun, especially also the last sector was always a bit tight off camber,” he added. “It’s still off camber but at least the radius is a bit more round, let's say. So I do think they are positive.” 

Lando Norris described the changes as “cool, fast” and “less stop-start all the time”, while McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo said he is a fan of the revised final sector. 

“It was probably a little bit more fun,” he said. “I like Turn 9, that’s quite a fast, big and bold type corner, so that’s pretty good. 

“Turn 5 is tricky but then the previous 5-6-7 was also kind of tricky. I actually prefer the new hotel section.” 

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) McLaren MCL35M.
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) McLaren MCL35M.
© xpbimages.com

However, Ricciardo thinks changes made to the penultimate corner have taken away some of its previous challenge. 

"I miss the old penultimate corner,” he added. “I think that used to be a real corner and now it’s easy flat. But all-in-all, more pros than cons.” 

After ending both Friday practice sessions inside the top six, Fernando Alonso believes the Yas Marina Circuit is now more fun to drive over a single lap. 

“I think the track’s a little bit more fun," the two-time champion said. "It remains to be seen on Sunday if that will produce more overtaking, but I think on a single lap it looks more fun. 

“It seems a good circuit layout for us with the modifications, so we are happy and we are ready to push tomorrow."

Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon was equally positive about the alterations after finishing the day second in the timesheets between the two Mercedes drivers. 

"It was very exciting to relearn the track,” he said. “I mean, Abu Dhabi is like a home of Formula 1 – we know the track so well, we test here a lot – and to revisit it like this has been interesting and I think it brings spice to it.

"Definitely, Turn 14 is a hell of a corner to take; you exit very close to the rail and I had quite a moment in FP1. Yes, so far it’s been good fun.”

‘Much more enjoyable’ - F1 drivers’ verdict on Abu Dhabi changes

Williams driver George Russell described the revised layout as “more fast and flowing and nicer to drive”, while Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel is a fan of the revamped Turn 9. 

"I think it’s good, I like it,” the four-time world champion said. “It makes the track a lot faster, so it’s exciting. 

“I think some of these strange corners have disappeared, and we have some new ones. Especially the banked one around Turn 9 is quite good fun. I’m still learning a little bit but it seems like good fun.”

However, some drivers doubt whether the changes will help improve Abu Dhabi’s overtaking problem. 

“I don’t know how much it has improved or how much it’s going to improve the racing,” conceded Red Bull's Sergio Perez. “I hope something, is nice to drive to be honest. 

“Question mark on whether or not is has improved the racing, I have my doubts.” 

Kimi Raikkonen, who ended FP2 in the Turn 14 barriers on his final Friday practice before hanging up his F1 helmet at the end of the season, questioned the need for the changes. 

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN), Alfa Romeo Racing
Kimi Raikkonen (FIN), Alfa Romeo Racing
© xpbimages.com

“I think they took one of the good overtaking opportunities away, in Turn 9,” said the Finn. 

“It’s good to make a change but it should have been for a much slower corner because when you go into a fast corner it’s very difficult to overtake.” 

“Sometimes you wonder what they were thinking when they make changes but it is what it is – it’s different.”

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz said overtaking will depend on whether drivers can follow close to their rivals going into the DRS zones. 

“I think it’s definitely going to help - how much is the difficult bit to say because it still felt very tricky to follow,” he explained. “Especially in Turn 1 and 2, which are the corners prior to the DRS zones. 

“But I think if we can manage to stay close through there then overtaking should definitely be a possibility.” 

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