F1 Winter Break
Insiders guide: how to do well in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Posted By: James Allen  |  30 Oct 2013   |  2:31 pm GMT  |  53 comments

This weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has many points of interest, despite the 2013 drivers’ and constructors’ championships already having been decided. There is a tight battle for second, third and fourth places in the constructors’ race between Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus, which is worth a significant amount of money to the teams involved. Force India and Sauber are also fighting for sixth position.

Race Strategy has always been crucial to the outcome of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Last year’s race was a fascinating one from a strategy point of view as Sebastian Vettel had to start from the pit lane after a fuel irregularity in qualifying but good strategy around the two safety car periods helped him to reach the podium, while Lotus got the race victory with Kimi Raikkonen, who went from fourth to second at the start and then managed the race, despite the two safety cars.

The 2010 race here was another, which highlighted how critical Race Strategy really is and how a bad strategy call can cost a world championship. Following a strategic blunder by the Ferrari team, Fernando Alonso came out of a pit stop behind a slower car, which he could not then overtake. It cost him the world championship.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is Formula 1’s only day/night race. The race begins at 17-00hrs local time, in the dusk and ends in darkness, with floodlights illuminating the track. The temperatures drop during the race and this has a bearing on tyre performance and thus race strategy.

Yas Marina is another Herman Tilke designed circuit with two long straights and some tight turns which take the track underneath the landmark Yas Hotel and around the marina. The Yas Marina Circuit features six corners below 100 kph – only Monaco, Singapore and Valencia have more.

Track characteristics

Yas Marina – 5.554 kilometres. Race distance – 55 laps = 305.355 kilometres. 21 corners in total. Average speed 197km/h. A marina based circuit hosting its fifth F1 Grand Prix.

Aerodynamic setup – Med/High downforce. Top speed 320km/h (with DRS open) 307km/h without.

Full throttle – 60% of the lap time (ave/high). Total fuel needed for race distance – 151.25 kilos (ave/high). Fuel consumption – 2.75 kg per lap (ave/high)

Brake wear- medium. Number of braking events – 12, Time spent braking – 16% of the lap.

Total time needed for a pit stop: 21.2 seconds

Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.4 seconds (ave/high)

Form Guide

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is round 17 of 19 in the 2013 FIA F1 World Championship.

Sebastian Vettel has already clinched the drivers’ world championship and Red Bull have won the Constructors’ Championship for a fourth straight season.

As far as Yas Marina Circuit is concerned, Vettel won the inaugural 2009 event and the 2010 edition for Red Bull, but this is a track where Lewis Hamilton has always been very fast; he won in 2011 and was leading from pole position in 2009 when forced to retire and also has a podium from 2010. Kimi Raikkonen won in style for Lotus last season. Fernando Alonso has had two podium finishes there for Ferrari. Jenson Button has been on the podium three times.

In its four-year history, Red Bull and McLaren have generally been the form teams at Yas Marina Circuit. Mercedes’ best result is a 4th place finish in 2010.

Weather Forecast

The forecast for the weekend is stable with temperatures in the low 30 degrees C. But as this is a dusk/night race it’s worth noting that the night time temperature is set to fall to 19 degrees C.

Likely tyre performance and other considerations

Pirelli tyre choice for Abu Dhabi: Soft (yellow markings) and Medium (white markings). This combination was used in India last week, with mixed results as the soft tyre blistered on a number of cars and Pirelli issued guidance on maximum usage for both compounds, which Force India and Lotus ignored.

This is the same combination of tyres that Pirelli brought last season to Yas Marina and after last weekend’s experience in India the tyre performance will be closely monitored in the practice sessions. In India the difference in performance over one lap between soft and medium compound tyres was between 1 second and 1.3 seconds.

Abu Dhabi is unique in that the race starts at dusk and ends in the dark, so the track temperature falls as the race goes on and the teams have to factor this in. For teams looking to do longer runs at the end of the race, the temperature drop helps, so teams are encouraged to try some bold strategies to win.

There are few high speed corners, but a number of low speed corners so wheelspin on corner exit is the thing to watch out for.

The track tends to be covered in sand at the start of the weekend and again each morning, but the improvement is significant and once plenty of rubber goes down the lap times tumble.

It is therefore very important to get the timing right in qualifying so you are on the track at the end of the session, when it is at its fastest.

Number and likely timing of pit stops

Last season, most teams did a one-stop strategy as the tyre wear and degradation were not particularly high. But with the 2013 soft tyre being something of a question mark, it’s likely that two stops will turn out to be the better strategy this year. Friday’s practice sessions will be vital for working that out.

In 2011 all three podium finishers did a similar strategy, of running two stops with a longish middle stint on soft tyres of around 24 laps before a short final stint on the mediums. But there were some other variations and alternative strategies tried, showing the importance of strategy in this race, when the tyres are on the edge. This did not happen last year, but compounds are softer this year.

Although the overtaking situation at Yas Marina has been helped a lot by the introduction of adjustable DRS rear wings and two DRS zones on the circuit, the strategists for the top teams will nevertheless be watching out for the gap to the midfield cars in the first stint, to make sure that their driver does not come out of the first stop and lose time behind a slow moving midfield car, which might be running a longer first stint on new soft or medium tyres. So they will want to build a gap of well over 20 seconds before stopping.

Chance of a Safety Car

There have been four races at Yas Marina Circuit, the 2009 and 2011 races did not feature a safety car, while the second one in 2010 featured five laps under the safety car after a crash at the start of the race.

However the 2012 edition featured two safety cars and these proved game changers for Sebastian Vettel, who was coming through the field after starting from the pit lane. The timing of the safety cars is crucial, particularly if they fall in the pit stop windows.

Recent start performance

Starts are a critical part of the race and strategy can be badly compromised by a poor start, as Mark Webber found in India, while good starts can make strategists change their plans in the hope of a good result.

As far as 2013 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season on aggregate as follows. [Please note that where a driver has been eliminated on first lap this has been noted and removed from the sample as it skews the table. So this is intended as a guide of trends, rather than a definitive list.]


+27 Maldonado

+25 Van der Garde*****

+22 Perez

+19 Sutil***

+18 Massa

+16 Di Resta

+15 Gutierrez

+10 Alonso

+8 Button

+5 Hulkenberg**

+3 Vettel

+3 Pic

+2 Chilton


-3 Bianchi******

-4 Ricciardo

-5 Bottas
-5 Raikkonen

-6 Grosjean
-9 Rosberg

-10 Hamilton

-19 Webber*

-23 Vergne ****

*Webber dropped from second to seventh after a clutch problem in Australia
** Hulkenberg did not start in Australia *** Sutil suffered puncture from contact with Massa in Bahrain ****Vergne retired following collision. *****Van der Garde and Maldonado made contact in Monaco. ******Bianchi started from pit lane in Monaco after stalling *******Raikkonen crashed into Perez at the first corner at Monza ********Massa spun at hairpin in Korea *********Sutil had collision in Korea ********** Hamilton suffered puncture from contact with Vettel in Japan,

Pit Stop League Table

Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and there have been some amazing performances; we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two seconds this year.

The league table below shows order of the pit crews based on their best total time in the pit lane in the recent Indian Grand Prix

1. Ferrari 23.332s
2. Red Bull 23.459s
3. McLaren 23.517s
4. Mercedes 23.546s
5. Lotus 23.648s
6. Force India 23.662s
7. Sauber 24.096s
8. Toro Rosso 24.232s
9. Marussia 24.445s
10. Williams 25.530s
11. Caterham 26.970s

The UBS Strategy Briefing is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams and from Pirelli.

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Hamilton was 3rd when he retired in 2009.


Nope, Hamilton retired from the lead in Abu Dhabi 2009.


Nope, he had just pitted and been undercut by Vettel & Webber when he suffered right rear brake failure from 3rd.


You're both wrong!

Hamilton was in second before he retired at the Abu Dhabi GP of 2009.

He came out of the pits ahead of Webber but was behind Vettel after the German driver had made his pitstop.

Although it should be mentioned that Hamilton retired with right-rear brake failure just a couple of laps after Vettel's pitstop and for a while before that there had been radio communications between McLaren and Hamilton, discussing the problem with the rear brakes.

Therefore it seems likely that the brake problem compromised Hamilton's race for a number of laps and one has to wonder whether that is how Vettel got the jump on him via the pits.

But what really matters is how unlucky Hamilton was in that race, in a race weekend where he got Pole Position by over sixth-tenths of a second ahead of the two Red Bulls!

By way of comparison, teammate Kovaleinen didn't even make it out out of Q2. Hamilton's Q2 time was an incredible 1.3 seconds faster than Heikki's!


True, he'd definitely been passed by Vettel when he finally retired, but the only reason Vettel caught him was because Hamilton was suffering gearbox problems before his retirement.


"Following a strategic blunder by the Ferrari team, Fernando Alonso came out of a pit stop behind a slower car, which he could not then overtake."

That's one of the Great Myth's Of Formula One. It wasn't a strategy blunder, he stopped when he had to due to the state of his tyres.



he stopped to cover Weber who stopped earlier



Eight people (inclusive of James' report) have told you that you're wrong. EIGHT.

After the Brazilian GP, Webber was second in the WDC, behind Alonso and ahead of Vettel. Hence Alonso/Ferrari primary focus was Webber, rather than Vettel.

Hence Ferrari had to react to Webber's pitstop by pitting Alonso on lap 15. Alonso's times were fine (look up the data) his tyres (as someone else has said, the hardy Bridgstones) were not ruined at all. That is pure and utter invention on your part, of course designed to defend your default position which is the most ridiculous and laughable pro-Vettel bias.

And of course, the race was affected by the collision between Liuzzi and Schumacher on lap 1, which altered the race/tyre strategy of...oh, amongst others...Petrov and Rosberg, the two drivers who in the end Alonso needed to overtake for the WDC.

As "The Bard" said to you on another article, you need to watch the races before you try to comment. You're repeatedly making yourself look stupid.


It must be a source of immense frustration for you that reality is not determined by counting peoples opinions. For instance, the speed of light will not be 100 meters/second even if everyone says it is. Alonso pitted on lap 16 of the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP because he was TWO SECONDS SLOWER than the leaders on lap 15 of it. This is what is known as a "fact" and it is not subject to being voted on.

In other news, the highest mountain on Earth remains Everest and the gravitational constant remains 6.67×10−11 N.


Alonso pitted at the end of lap 15 - the lap counter changes just before the start of the pitlane. Hence his measurable time is lap 15, the centre of your ridiculous two second claim. And as I keep saying, lap 15 was his inlap and he also had a small incident which cost him time, a few corners before the pitlane.

You can verify all the above with:


Particularly 4:20 to 4:30

"Alonso pitted on lap 16 of the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP because he was TWO SECONDS SLOWER than the leaders on lap 15 of it."

Again you don't understand F1. He made a pitstop at the end of lap 15 because that was what had been agreed with his team during the previous lap or so. His in-lap was therefore slower. He didn't pit "because he was two seconds slower," rather he, "agreed to come in at the end of lap 15, hence that lap time was slower."

And I note how now you don't even follow up the claims of your own argument, namely:

"If you look at his lap times in the preceding laps..."

Well, I have and outlined the details (lap times) of that claim of yours above. Predictably, you've not responded to that at all!

Once again, look for yourself...


As for "facts." I think many of us on here routinely see you invent your own "facts" to "support" (it actually ends up doing the entire opposite) your ridiculous pro-Vettel bias.


Not frustration at all, but that doesn't make you right.

Lap 15 was Alonso's in lap, and as such it's laughable to compare it to a clean racing lap. Every single driver who pitted for any reason throughout the whole grand prix has a similar drop-off, as indicated by the gradient on their in-lap time on the race history graph linked above. So either (i) You're right, Alonso's tyres were shot, he had to come in, and every single pitstop for the rest of the race followed the exact same pattern regardless of strategy; or (ii) You're wrong. Wonder which it is...

Not to mention in spite of your FEARSOME CAPS Alonso only lost 1.1 second to Vettel on his in-lap, not the 2 seconds you repeatedly quote.

Also, you clearly don't know what a fact is.


Alas, he is a Seb fan who clearly hates Alonso. Like most die hard Seb fans, actually.



I fear you are wasting your time, but worth a try anyway 🙂


What? Ferrari stoped him trying to cover Mark Webber, otherwise he would have done the same strategy Lewis and Seb followed. Those Bridgestone could last the whole race.


It was a strategy blunder; the boxed him way before he was due in to cover Mark Webber. It was a clear case of reading the race wrong and Chris Dyer took sole responsibility for it.

Not sure why you mentioned his tyres as F1 was still using Bridgestones in 2010 and they lasted for days. If you rewatch the race you'll note that his pace was fine before the stop and even when they took his tyres off, they were great too.


As I say, he was two seconds off the leaders pace. That's why he came in for fresh boots, not as part of some strategic move.


"As I say, he was two seconds off the leaders pace."

Look above.

Your ridiculous devotion to Vettel (for reasons we can only speculate) is akin to a religious fundamentalist.

Even confronted with the data which clearly and irrefutably shows your argument to be factually wrong, I strongly suspect you'll be repeating your "Alonso's tyres were shot, he was losing two seconds a lap to the leaders," nonsense, many more times.

It's incredibly odd behaviour and only serves to entirely destroy the credibility of your posts.


The tyres were going through a phase where they lost some pace (similar to graining).

It was a strategic move, they even said it during the race and after. Chris Dyer's call too as Alonso was expected to stay out for some time.


Untrue - he was covering off webbers eatly stop. It was clearly a strategic blunder by the ferrari pit wall. Chris dyer took the fall in the end.


Nope, his pace was fine. They simply focused on Webber and not the guys ahead. They even said after the race that the pitstop was just a response to RB.


He was two seconds off the front-runners pace. That's not "fine".



"He was two seconds off the front-runners pace."

Where was Alonso two seconds off?


As detailed above, Alonso GAINED a second on Vettel, laps 10-15. He only lost two seconds on lap 15, his IN-LAP for his pitstop. And on a lap where he also had a small "moment" a few corners before the pits, which also contributed to the lost time.

This is no doubt where your "two second" nonsense comes from. One wonders whether you've completely misunderstand timing data or whether you've deliberately misrepresented it - either way doesn't look good for you.


The tyres were going through a graining esque phase which had been seen at many grand prixs. After those laps their pace was fine and most drivers ran a long stint. It was a mistake to bring Alonso in, Chris Dyer admitted it and that it was his decision alone to bring in Alonso as he wanted to cover Webber.


Yeah, well sort of. If I recall, all of the leading pack's tyres were completely shot. Ferrari reacted to it and pitted Alonso, Red Bull followed suit with Webber and Ferrari also brought Massa in too.

Afterwards - somewhat miraculously - the tyres on the other front runners (Vettel, Hamilton and Kubica) recovered, and they were able to build enough of a gap to come out ahead of Rosberg and Petrov, unlike Alonso and Webber (whilst Massa was stuck even further back behind Alguersuari).

In hindsight it _was_ a strategic blunder - but at the time it was taken it was clearly the right thing to do, which is why I find it unfair when Ferrari are slammed for it.


He stopped because Ferrari felt that they had to cover off Webber, who had already stopped and was lapping quickly. But they both ended up stuck behind Petrov.


Alonso stopped to cover Mark Webber who was the closest rival to Alonso at that time. The thinking was that everyone will do 2 stops but some of them did only 1 stop race.

If it was due to the state of tyres then his time before doing the pitstop would have been a bit unusual which was not the case and also then Ferrari never would have fired there chief strategist.


No, he didn't. If you look at his lap times in the preceding laps it's obvious Alonso's tyres were shot. His stop had nothing to do with Webbers. And speaking of Webber, HIS stop was also due to his tyres being shot and not part of some cunning plan to snooker Ferrari.


" If you look at his lap times in the preceding laps it’s obvious Alonso’s tyres were shot."

That is exactly what YOU need to do. So, here you are:


The lap times clearly show that in the five laps prior to his pitstop (lap 15) Alonso had an overall GAIN on Vettel of one second. The deficit in seconds to leader Vettel was:

Lap 10 - 7.643

Lap 11 - 7.363

Lap 12 - 7.134

Lap 13 - 6.422

Lap 14 - 6.565

But as NINE people have told you, Alonso was primarily racing Webber.

"And speaking of Webber, HIS stop was also due to his tyres being shot."

Webber used had more runs in qualifying on his tyres! Hence he had to pit early. Then as a result, Alonso WHO WAS RACING WDC 2ND PLACE WEBBER, HAD TO REACT TO WEBBER'S PITSTOPS.

One thing about F1 is that the lap times of modern day GPs are recorded for posterity. So when you write "if you look at Alonso's lap times" that's exactly what we can do!


They weren't shot, they were going through a phase which they tended to do that year. Once you were out of it the pace would pick up, hence why there were so few pit stops in races before 2010.


They were graining Steve. Rewatch the race and see everyone's tires went through the phase. Some worked through it, others stopped...


Second place in the WDC is still in contention also, and Raikkonen would love to pip his future teammate Alonso.


Hmm just a nitpick, wasn't Vettel already leading by the time Hamilton had to retire in Abu Dhabi 2009?

In any case, those two have locked out the front row here every year except 2012 - the form drivers they most certainly are.


Get a seat in the Red Bull ?


Oh its this weekend? I thought there was a two week break.


With tyre choices Soft and Medium, yet again we will have Lotus trying to do one stopper or late second stop, where as others will be scrambling for grip at later stages of GP.

I just hope Lotus doesn't screw up strategy for Kimi yet again! They have done it umpteen times this year already.


Lol... I guess this weekend we can pretend that the championship hasn't been concluded and that, 3 teams are still fighting for the title.

Looking at it this way, we have an enticing fight to look forward too with Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus all looking strong at the moment and so it could go either way.

Now am not sure whether there has been some political maneuvering going on behind the scenes but the re-introduction of the fragile soft tyre seems to be giving the upper hand to the teams that preferred the original 2013 tyres namely Lotus, Ferrari and Force India.

So yes, I expect a strong performance from those 3 teams and maybe more disobedience of Pirelli's instructions.

Meanwhile, I had forgotten about the temperature drop at Abu-Dhabi. This is very crucial during qualifying as we find most drivers are unable to improve their Q2 times in Q3 so it's all to play for.

As for 2012, that was by far the best race at Abu-Dhabi, maybe the organizers can once again throw the world champion at the back of the grid just for the fun of it.


Am hopeful some driver can upset Red Bull's momentum somehow, somewhere.

I still find it difficult to believe Vettel can equal Schumi 13 wins in a season >>> Hello, there's only one Kaiser.


Some Abu-Dhabi stats:

i) Red Bull 2 wins, Mclaren 1 win, Lotus 1 win

ii) Only two drivers have been on pole Vettel and Lewis. However, the two times Lewis has been on pole, he has had a DNF and so this means only Vettel has won from pole.

iii) With the exception of Kimi in 2012, the other winners haven't come from lower than P2.

iv) Vettel is the only pilot to have won at both middle east tracks i.e. Abu-Dhabi and Bahrain.


Surprised that there's not much on Hamilton's retirement James!

Anyway, I have a feeling that this one MIGHT just fail to go Vettel's way.


OT, James I have just listened to the India podstast and I disagree with one of your points - F1 is so completely different from football.

If you have a dominating team or player in footbal or tennis, there still is a straightforward fight with the opponents, in close contact.

In motorsport it's very different as in case of a dominating team you are very likely to see one driver run away and disappear into the distance, no close fight.

I think F1 is disadvantaged in this sense and there's obviously nothing you can do about it until you have all the teams on the same level performance-wise.

Great podcast, however, and I agree with every other point:)

Cheers, Bart


"If you have a dominating team or player in footbal or tennis, there still is a straightforward fight with the opponents, in close contact."

Did you watch the Man United second string demolish Norwich this past weekend in the league cup?


what I was trying to say is that in football you have 22 players on the pitch, they pass the ball, score, tackle. Even if it's a straightforward 7-0 you can still enjoy it, see the beauty if the tactics, the superiority of one side, the players in physical contact for 90 min.

Now, in F1 it is different. If one car wins with a 30 sec gap, then it's less thrilling, the driver just drives away and it's game over. Don't get me wrong as I am an F1 fan and still enjoy the races, but frankly, what overtaks and

close battles are what most people turn on their tvs to see.

You can probably enjoy Barcelona's domination much more than Red Bull's. For me, football and F1 as far as spectacle is concerned, are different sports.


"I think F1 is disadvantaged in this sense and there’s obviously nothing you can do about it until you have all the teams on the same level performance-wise."

It's never happened and will never happen, so how is it a disadvantage?


In football you have 22 guys on the pitch for 90 minutes, in F1 22 cars on 5 km track with big gaps (if one team is dominating), much less physical contact and visible fight. That's my point


A significant upgrade despatched from Maranello should be arriving in the paddock as we speak.

This could well be a memorable victory for Alonso: lapping everyone right up to p2 [Kimi or Vettel}

James Allison will receive the team trophy.

or am I just dreaming....


James, can you confirm that Lotus are fielding the same pitwall personnel as last time out?


Why aren't all past F1 races available to watch in iTunes or something? Would really love to watch the 2010 race after reading this article.


I suspect it has something to do with $$$$$.


James, you have a factual error in the piece. Hamilton was P2 when he retired in 2009. Both he and Vettel had done their first stops. Vettel had jumped him in the first round of pitstops by running a longer first stint.


Full TV coverage for vettel during qualifying, as usual. When it come to raceday, he will be appear on tv screen only on the first lap, when he pitted, and when he reached finishing line...and of course when he receive abu dabbi trophy.

Fight for second place will be spectacular this sunday.


How to do well in the 2013 Abu Dhabi GP? Having one of Newey's incredible Red Bulls would give the biggest advantage to any driver!



The 2010 race .....Fernando Alonso came out of a pit stop behind a slower car, which he could not then overtake. It cost him the world championship.


The world championship is decided over the course of a year with upto 20 races.

Vettel won the 2010 Championship because he was faster than his rivals over a full year.

(everyone has good and bad weekends, but in a championship -like a football league- you do not win by being lucky or your rival being unlucky on one weekend!!

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