Organisers of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix are confident the championship will be decided at Yas Marina Circuit after completing modification to the capital's F1 track.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen leads championship rival Lewis Hamilton in the standings by 19 points with three rounds remaining before the 2021 season concludes in Abu Dhabi on December 12.
The race coincides with the UAE's 50th National Day celebrations.
“Obviously we are hoping for a championship decider as things are looking right now, with a very exciting championship battle going on between Verstappen and Hamilton,” Saif Al Noaimi, deputy CEO of Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management, revealed during a media briefing at Yas Central on Monday.
“We are really looking forward to that coming down to the wire here in Abu Dhabi.”
Al Noaimi spoke about the extensive changes to the 5.554-kilometre circuit over the summer months to increase the average speed and increase opportunities for drivers to overtake.
“We have been working on this project for quite some time and we are now very happy that we are at a point we can finally say we have completed all the work and the track is ready,” he said.
“The first section of the track modification is the north hairpin. We have changed the chicane and made that turn wider as part of the F1 configuration.
“The second part of the change is the south configuration, the entry into the Marina section. We have eliminated a bunch of 90-degree camber corners and instead have a single bank corner.
“We are happy to reveal it today that we are really excited to see cars going wheel-to-wheel in that corner.
“The south marina is now wide with different racing lines the drivers can take in to that corner. Therefore, we are optimistic that we will see some close wheel-to-wheel racing, and hopefully some overtaking.”
The third section of the changes is the hotel corner with the 90-degree turns that have been opened up to allow cars to move quicker and stay close to each other.
“The main objective of the changes in this section is to increase overtaking and to allow drivers to stay close to each other,” Al Noaimi said.
“It allows more wheel-to-wheel racing, with more lead changes and position changes on the track instead that happening on the pit lanes. That’s the objective and we feel very strongly that we have achieved it."
Explaining the track modifications further, Mark Hughes, managing director of Mrk1 Consulting, believes the enhancements will enhance spectator experience.
“A study was done to see how the track can be modified in a way that would allow for closer racing,” he said.
“Some of the corners that were here previously meant that the cars just couldn’t follow each other on certain parts of the track.
“What we have actually done on the north hairpin is move the breaking point closer to the grandstand. One of the extraordinary things about Formula One is how quickly they slow down and that’s now going to happen right in front of the grandstand.
“We are are hoping because of the width of the track now we are going to see a couple of cars side-by-side, and whoever is on the lead may have to think about their defensive position going into that corner."
Yas Marina Circuit spruced up
Hughes says the biggest change they have made is on the south hairpin. According to the F1 simulator, Hughes says, cars can now approach that corner at 300kmph and exit at a speed of around 240-250kmph.
“The hotel was always an unusual challenge back when the circuit was built in 2009, the cars were different and the design philosophy of the track was a little bit different," he added.
“Those corners were always a bit of a challenge. What we have done is change the radius of the corner so the cars are able to stay much closer together when they go through the corner. That really sets you up nicely in the end of the lap.”
Tickets for the event are now on sale and can be purchased via www.yasmarinacircuit.com.