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Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: From dusk to darkness

THE Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is here and it brings with it the end of the 2019 Formula 1 season.

Race number 21 on the calendar is hosted at easily one of the most impressive venues that F1 visits. A gigantic complex that comprises the Ferrari World theme park, the Yas Hotel and the 5.5km-long Yas Marina circuit.

The race, unique for its transition from dusk to darkness, is run over 55 laps, for which the current lap record of 1:40:279, set in 2009, is held by Sebastian Vettel. Designed by Herman Tilke, the track is dominated by a 1.2km back straight interrupted by the slow-speed ‘chicane’ of turns seven and eight. This stretch of the circuit is of particular interest as it does induce several overtaking moves throughout the race.

Conceptualised in 2006, The Yas Marina circuit, situated just outside of Dubai, has never been one to produce big drama. But it’s had its fair share of striking moments since its 2009 introduction. It is here in 2010 that Sebastian Vettel won the first of his four championship titles. And where in 2012 on his way to victory Kimi Raikkonen famously quipped over team radio “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing.”

In 2016, Nico Rosberg too was crowned champion in Abu Dhabi and followed the biggest moment of his racing career with the even bigger bombshell of retirement.

Who will it suit? All indications, and the enormously long straight, suggest that Ferrari should be in a strong position. But the Italian team has fallen short on Sundays in the last few Grands Prix. And they have the cloud of the Vettel/Leclerc relationship hanging over them too. There’s no doubt that Vettel and Leclerc will tow the PR line this weekend where the press is concerned. But they’ll still try to one-up each other, as they should.

Mercedes, in particular Lewis Hamilton, has always done well in Abu Dhabi but it is Red Bull who may just spring a surprise. The performance of the Honda power unit in Brazil was eye-catching. Given the final sector of the lap is dominated by medium to slow-speed corners that call for good mechanical grip Red Bull could well be in an excellent position this weekend.

As far as we know Formula 1 will bid farewell to Nico Hulkenberg and Robert Kubica this weekend. Hulkenberg, to be replaced by Esteban Ocon in 2020, will leave F1 as its nearly man.

While no doubt a talented driver, Hulkenberg simply never delivered the outstanding performances that he was expected to. He’ll have one more opportunity, though it’s a far-fetched one, to score that elusive podium.

Kubica’s story is an unforgettable one. He burst onto the scene and immediately impressed with his speed. But for a nearly fatal rallying crash he would likely have ended up at a top team sooner rather than later. Unfortunately it never panned out for the Polish driver.

His comeback with Williams, though, is an incredible testament to his character, willpower, and determination. Ultimately though he was comprehensively outperformed by rookie teammate George Russell. But all is not lost, as Kubica may still be seen in the paddock as a test and development driver.

Though some Formula 1 journeys and the 2019 season may be coming to their conclusion there are 55 more laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix before signing off.

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