Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: New-look track unveiled for 2021 season finale

Redesign will encourage more overtaking and speed up the December race as Yas prepares to welcome back fans

Formula One's season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December will see the unveiling of significant changes to the Yas Island track.

Along with the return of spectators, four nights of high-octane concerts, and celebrations of the country’s golden jubilee National Day, there will a "significant configuration programme" designed to enhance the experience for drivers and fans.

Saif Al Noaimi, acting chief executive of Abu Dhabi Motor Sports, revealed the first alterations to the track since it was opened in 2009.

“We have been listening to the fans, drivers, the teams, the Formula One management and the FIA of the track change,” Al Noaimi said on Thursday.

“We have been working jointly with everyone concerned to come up with this design to create more overtaking opportunities, wheel-to-wheel racing, and enable drivers to follow each other closer in order to get into position to make overtaking moves.”

The changes will feature modifications to three parts of the circuit, incorporating 12 corners in total.

The first is the north hairpin, and Al Naomi added: “We are eliminating turns five and six, the chicane before the hairpin, and widening the entry to the north hairpin.

“The drivers are going to enter that corner at a faster speed on a wider entry that provides an opportunity for out-breaking. It also provides the opportunity to take different racing lines through that hairpin."

The zone two marina section at the end of the support pits is eliminating four corners.

“That is going to be a fast corner,” Al Noaimi continued. “It’s going to be banked with a wide entry with cars entering that corner at a higher rate of speed, higher apex speed, different racing lines and higher exit speed.”

The third part to be changed is the hotel section, currently numbered 17 to 20.

“We are allowing the cars to run faster through them and maintaining a flow so they are able to stay closer to each other," Al Noaimi added.

“The last thing about that section that’s exciting is what’s currently known as Turn 20 which is going to be a flat-out corner in F1. That’s the last corner before the entry to the pit lane.”

With Red Bull's Max Verstappen leading world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, Formula One is looking for a competitive end to the season at the inaugural Saudi Grand Prix on December 5, followed by Abu Dhabi a week later,

“So far it’s been playing out to be an exciting season,” said Al Noaimi.

“Both Max and Lewis are exchanging leads in the championship. We have seen some great wheel-to-wheel racing and some great overtaking. Red Bull and Mercedes seems to be performing differently on different tracks.

“We are still quite early on in the season but we hope that it will continue like this until the championship decider in Abu Dhabi."

The Emirati added: “We are really excited to have the fans back in the stands and across the venue.

“The event this year has opened for 30 per cent capacity, which is around 16,000 spectators. We are glad to welcome the fans back but we are implementing the best practices and government guidelines in terms of Covid-19 safety protocol."

This year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix coincides with the nation’s 50th National Day and comes soon after the inaugural Saudi Grand Prix.

“The Grand Prix in the Kingdom demonstrates the importance of motorsports to the region and importance of the region for Formula One,” Al Noaimi said.

“To have three Grand Prix races in the region [including Bahrain] here is a testament to how important this region this region is turning out to be for F1 and motorsports.

“In terms of having two races at the end of the season in the region is going to be another exciting thing, hopefully we would be looking forward to a championship decided in the region.”

Popular venue

Plans are in place to stage four nights of concerts after every racing session from Thursday to Sunday.

“It’s going to be high-calibre artists on each night,” Al Noaimi said. “The challenge this year is with the capacity within the Etihad Park, each fan will have to select one night to attend the concert.

“As we announce the artists over the next few weeks we will give priority to the existing ticket holders to select one of those nights before we open up to those who still haven’t purchased the tickets."

Ross Brawn, managing director of Formula One, said:  “As host of the Formula One season-finale, Yas Marina Circuit has established itself as one of the most popular venues for motorsport fans around the world to attend.

"We are fully supportive of the decision to make improvements to the track, with the aim of enhancing the overall motorsport experience across the board, including the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, for both competitors and spectators.

"Given its position as the final race in the Formula 1 season, it is always a special date on the calendar, and with this year’s event set to be the first on the new-look track and the last race before we enter the new era of F1 in 2022, there is added incentive to look forward to the spectacle.”