It’s race day at Yas Marina Circuit, the last day of the 2009 Formula 1 season and everyone is preparing to race for the final time before a long lay off over the winter.
The next time F1 cars will be driven in anger is late November, when the young driver test takes place in Jerez. After that no-one will turn a wheel until February. Formula 1 will drop into a deep sleep as far as the public are concerned, although behind the scenes a lot will still be going on, much of it being discussed and planned right now.
For some mechanics and engineers it will be their last race as the teams are forced to downsize over the winter. Teams now bringing 70 people to races will have to say goodbye to 25 of them. For teams like Force India and Brawn, reaching the agreed limit for 2010 of 45 people on site will be easy as they are more or less there already. For McLaren, Ferrari and Toyota it will be much harder. The big teams are asking the smaller ones to cut them some slack nest season and fudge a few roles so they can get down to the number gradually.
Many insiders regret that F1 has gone too far in reducing testing. This season has highlighted the need to have some testing, so that young drivers can be blooded, so that teams in trouble can test out development parts and make progress more quickly. Of course they want to stay away from the idea of test teams, but there are some small things they could do to make life better.
Take the young driver situation, for example. Sebastian Vettel was blooded by BMW who gave him plenty of outings on Fridays in the days when teams were allowed to run young drivers during free practice. Vettel consequently arrived well prepared when a race seat opened up.
Contrast that with Romain Grosjean and Jaime Alguersuari. Both a talented drivers, but neither of them is ready for the harsh reality of racing in F1 that they have encountered this season. In Grosjean’s case it could destroy his career, Alguersuari is at the Toro Rosso driving academy where learning is allowed, so he may be okay, but F1 cannot continue to devour and destroy promising talent. Drivers are nurtured for years and then their careers curtailed unnecessarily.
So there is a move from some team bosses to run young drivers on Fridays again and that has to be welcomed.
On a business level a lot is being done here in Abu Dhabi. Mercedes has its entire board here, as does Brawn GP. The Abu Dhabi investment people have been very active and there was some suggestion that a deal might be announced regarding Aabar, which owns 9% of Mercedes, taking a controlling interest in Brawn. The deal is on and it will set Brawn up as a top team for the foreseeable future.
David Richards is here. He is looking at doing a deal with an existing team, not to take over as team principal and come to races, but to restructure the team along the lines of the new resource restriction agreement and manage the long term strategy. He would be excellent at that and Renault would appear to me to be in need of that kind of help. Perhaps a deal will be done there, but don’t expect Richards to then appear on the pit wall.
Ron Dennis is here in the paddock for the first time since the start of the year. He is raising money for his road car project and working with his partners Mansour Ojjeh and Mumtakalat to buy out Mercedes’ shares in the team. But finding a price is difficult. And the galling thing for McLaren is that once they pay the money to Mercedes it will then go straight to Brawn to but the controlling interest and make them an even more formidable competitor.
Abu Dhabi has done F1 proud with this track, but it is no white elephant like Shanghai or Istanbul. This track with its stunning hotels and restaurants and marina is set to become a social and entertainment hub for Abu Dhabi, so will have an even more dynamic existence day to day than it is enjoying with the F1 in town. As Yas Island is only 20 mins drive from downtown Abu Dhabi and an hour from Dubai, this is a place that people will come on Saturday night, for dinner, entertainment and fun. It’s very well conceived.
From Abu Dhabi’s point of view it sends out an important message and one which is much stronger than just buying a football team like Manchester City and then throwing money at buying players. The point they have made with this place is that they can get things done. This is a place which means business and for that reason is better integrated with F1 than any of the recent new venues. For that reason I see it lasting on the calendar for much longer than the others.