The first ever Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be held in 2009 as the last race of the season.
But what has become of the plans for the Yas Island circuit to be a hybrid street and permanent track? And how has it suddenly landed the most coveted slot on the calendar?
Street circuit, road track or both?
Original plans for Yas Island described a hybrid track that included a permanent road course and ‘street circuit’ around a Marina. Such a thing has been seen in F1 before, such as at the Adelaide circuit, which included streets and a short purpose-built loop, and the Singapore Grand Prix track used this year will be similar.
The plans for Abu Dhabi, capital city of the United Arab Emirates, have apparently been changed as the organisers face the challenge of getting the track ready on time. But it’s not clear yet whether the final circuit will be a full permanent road course or a street track. According to Dieter Rencken in this week’s Autosport Journal (sub. req.):
Rumours have it that plans for a half-street/half-permanent circuit – like Singapore, in fact – have been dropped, and that it will be a full street circuit, or even vice-versa.
The race is still 17 months away, but the fact that they’re still not sure whether the track will be an open course with run-off areas or hemmed in by building and street furniture hints at how much work needs to be done by Philippe Gurdjian and his team.
How has it landed the best slot on the calendar?
When the provisional 2009 F1 calendar was published this week the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was expected to be in October. However it instead appears in the middle of November and – more intriguingly – is now the final date on the calendar.
The season finale is a prized slot for if the championship goes down to the final race it increases the publicity around the event enormously. Eyebrows were raised in 2004 when Interlagos was suddenly promoted to the season finale – despite the 2003 race almost descending to farce when a stream of rain water caused by poor circuit drainage eliminated several drivers from the race.
With the last race of the season potentially being the most-watched F1 race worldwide the risks of staging it at a new and unproven F1 venue are great. Yet Abu Dhabi has landed this honour for the first time since 1985, when the inaugural Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide was the last race of the season.
The 2,500-hectare site on man-made Yas Island, with its man-made hills, is an expensive project, and grabbing the final slot on the calendar surely increases its chances of bringing in valuable tourist cash. Bernie Ecclestone arranged a deal for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to run at the track from 2009-2015, but the final calendar but it has to be ratified by the FIA.
How has Yas Island landed the most sought-after spot the calendar? One suggestion is that because October is especially hot in Abu Dhabi the race was put back to November. The chairman of Abu Dhabi Motor Sport Management Khaldoon Al Mubarak hinted at this explanation when he responded to the provisional calendar:
This is another important milestone for the 2009 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. There has been a great deal of speculation about the timing of our race and we are delighted with the provisional date of 15 November 2009 as this is the last race of the season and potentially the championship decider. This timing also ensures that visitors to the Emirate will be able to enjoy some of the best weather Abu Dhabi has to offer.
But would holding it earlier in the season not also have been a potential solution, without making it the last race of the year?
Or does it have something to do with the UAE’s FIA representative Mohammad Bin Sulayem being a staunch supporter of Max Mosley? When the news of the scandal surrounding Mosley’s involvement in a sadomasochistic sex orgy broke Sulayem defended Mosley in the strongest terms, calling it a “terrorist attack on his personal life.”
Sulayem also boasted he secured 41 of the 103 votes in favour of Mosley at the FIA Senate meeting earlier this month that allowed Mosley to remain FIA President. Had 25 of those votes gone the other way, Mosley would have lost.
“Do ut des”, as a Roman might have said.