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Abu Dhabi GP: Preview - McLaren


Yas Marina is one of the most advanced racetracks in the world. Constructed on a man-made island on the eastern side of Abu Dhabi, the 5.554km/3.451-mile track has three unique features: a pitlane exit that passes underneath Turn One, air-conditioned pit garages and the largest permanent lighting system in the world.

The track has hosted the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix since 2009, during which time the race has always been run in twilight conditions. It starts in daylight at 17:00 (local) and ends after sunset, the night skies being lit up by spotlights that are more powerful than any in a conventional stadium.

The day-night nature of the race presents an interesting technical challenge for the teams because the track temperature drops by as much as 15 degrees when darkness falls. That has a big effect on the performance of the tyres, even though Pirelli takes its two softest compounds, the Soft (Prime) and the Supersoft (Option), to the race. The car balance shifts as the track cools and drivers have to improvise as the race progresses.

The track is one of only four circuits on the 2015 calendar that runs in an anti-clockwise direction and it's relatively slow, with an average speed of just 200km/h (124mph). Six of the 21 corners around the lap are taken at less than 100km/h (62mph), of which only Monaco and the Marina Bay circuit in Singapore have more, and there is only one high-speed corner: Turn Two, which is taken at 260km/h (162 mph).

As with many Hermann Tilke-designed tracks, the circuit has three distinct sectors. Sector one contains the fastest corners on the lap; sector two is made up of two long straights; sector three has more of a street circuit feel, with some tight corners. As a result, car set-up is a compromise between aerodynamic grip and straight-line speed.

McLaren has a good record in Abu Dhabi: it's one of only four teams to have won the race and it has taken two pole positions around Yas Marina. Both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button have finished on the podium on numerous occasions.

It's all about the race

Start time: 1700 (local) / 1300 (GMT)
Race distance: 51 laps (full world championship points awarded after 75 per cent distance/41 laps)
2014 winner: Lewis Hamilton 55 laps in 1h 39:02.619
2014 pole position: Nico Rosberg 1:40.480 198.988km/h (123.645mph)
2014 fastest lap: Daniel Ricciardo lap 50 1m44.496 191.341km/h (118.894mph)
Safety Car likelihood: Low. Statistically, there's a 40 per cent chance of a Safety Car and while there wasn't an SC period last year, there were three in the five years prior to that
Don't put the kettle on: On laps 12 or 32. Overtaking is difficult, so a lot of ground can be won and lost at the start. Once we get into the race, expect a two-stop strategy from most cars, which means pitting on or around laps 12 and 32
Weather forecast : Hot - we're in the desert after all. But this is a twilight race and temperatures drop as the race progresses

It's all about the track

First race: 2009
Circuit length: 5.554km (3.451 miles)
Run to Turn One: 300m (0.186 miles)
Longest straight: 1,200m (0.746 miles), on the approach to Turn Eight
Top speed: 325km/h (202mph) on the approach to Turn Eight
DRS zones: Two - on the approach to Turn Eight and again on the approach to Turn 11
Key corner: Turn Seven, the left-hand hairpin that precedes the longest straight on the circuit. The DRS detection zone is at corner entry, so it's important to remain close to the car in front while also getting good traction out of the corner
Pitlane length: 360 metres (0.224 miles)
Major changes for 2015: None

It's all about the car

Fuel consumption: 1.8kg per lap, which is on the medium-to-high side
Full throttle: 60 per cent
Brake wear: High. There are 13 braking events around the lap, the hardest of which is into Turn Eight, where forces peak at 5.09g
Gear changes: 68 per lap/3,740 per race

Fernando Alonso: "The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend represents many things for us at McLaren-Honda: the end of a challenging season and a significant learning curve; the opportunity to collect as much information as possible and continue our learning; and the start of the winter period where we are all focussed on working incredibly hard on next year's package, and seeing more progress and results from our efforts throughout this year.

"Yas Marina is always an exciting racetrack to drive on - it's one of those circuits that changes its character all the way through the lap, which makes it a lot of fun for the drivers. The spectacle of a twilight race, and feeling the atmosphere change as the light fades during the sessions over the course of the weekend is pretty incredible. Abu Dhabi is a fantastic place to end the season and we are hoping to take what we can from the weekend and enjoy it as much as possible.

"After a few difficult weekends, we will of course be pushing hard to finish the year on a positive note, but the whole team knows the work we have to do over the winter, and there's huge commitment from everyone already to start seeing results. Every session this weekend will be an opportunity to learn more and take that development into next year's car, so as usual we will continue fighting as hard as we can to the end."

Jenson Button: "It's great to be heading back to Yas Marina, not least because of the excitement and buzz that the fans bring and the incredible setting Abu Dhabi provides for a racing venue, but also because it is the end of a long and challenging year for the whole team. Although we've had some difficult weekends over the past few races, the mood back at MTC is still very upbeat, and everyone is already working hard for next year.

"It's testament to the strength of our team that we continue to come out fighting every race weekend, and Abu Dhabi will be exactly the same. Yas Marina is a tricky circuit with lots of different elements coming together: sweeping faster sections, two long back straights, and a slower-speed tight, twisty infield section at the end of the lap. It makes set-up a challenge and particularly for our package it's not well suited, but we're hopeful of a more positive performance there than we found at Interlagos.

"If we can push for some points in Abu Dhabi, it'll definitely be a boost for the team to end the season, and will reward all the efforts from every single member of the team over the past year. We already have our heads firmly on the development push over winter, so anything positive we can take from this weekend will help us start our next chapter together with even more energy. Our motivation is as strong as ever."

Eric Boullier, Racing director: "The last race of the season always offers an incredibly unique and exciting atmosphere. It's an opportunity to reflect on the season that has passed, enjoy the last racing weekend of the year, and turn our attention to the new chapter to come.

"Yas Marina is a hugely impressive facility and a superb venue to go racing at, and its twilight backdrop is a fitting way to end the season. We'll go there on the back of a challenging year, there's no doubt about that, but with the determination to finish the season on a high and provide the ever-enthusiastic fans with a fantastic weekend of racing.

"Although it is the last race of the season, our development has not stopped, and we are still bringing new parts and design elements to the car for the final grand prix. Our development is constant and we place huge importance on learning at every opportunity. All of our efforts this weekend will be beneficial to next year's car, and it's essential that we maximise the final sessions of the year, not only to end the season on a high, but to use the invaluable information we can glean from them and channel it into tangible progress over the winter period."It's important to thank each and every member of the McLaren-Honda team: those on the road, at the McLaren Technology Centre, in Sakura and in Milton Keynes, for their hard work, enthusiasm and dedication all year. Our energy and commitment will continue relentlessly over the winter, with our shared goal firmly in our minds: to win. Equally, thank you to our Partners, both longstanding and new, who understand our vision and the immense work going on behind the scenes to assure us of more positive results to come.

"Last but certainly not least, I'd like to express huge gratitude to our loyal fans, who have demonstrated unwavering support through challenging times, and share our optimism for a successful future ahead. We look forward to an exciting weekend against the stunning scenery of Yas Marina, and the start of an exciting next phase for McLaren-Honda."

Yasuhisa Arai, Honda R&D senior managing officer - chief officer of motorsport: "So much has happened since McLaren-Honda's new beginnings here in Abu Dhabi last year. We have come a long way since that first test, and although we have had a difficult and eventful season in 2015, the team is as united as ever.

"The amount of changes that have gone into both the car and the power units this year with such speed has been incredible. Both Woking and Sakura have been working tirelessly throughout the year, and together with the drivers, their bond has become stronger as the season progressed. I am thankful for all their hard work, and encouraged by their enthusiasm to improve further over the winter.

"Yas Marina Circuit is an entertaining event that is fitting for the final battle of the season. Our focus will be to end the season giving it our all, and to continue making improvements."

Tim Goss, technical director: "If we - the engineers - have one specific challenge in Abu Dhabi, it's predicting how the tyres will perform in the evening because we don't get much opportunity to experience those conditions during free practice.

"We set up the car in quite hot temperatures during the day, but qualifying and the race are at cooler temperatures during the evening, when the behaviour of the tyres is very different. The grip you get from them changes, as does the balance and the amount of degradation.

"As a result of these factors, we go about setting up the car differently in Abu Dhabi. The final free practice session, for example, is not that relevant to qualifying because it takes place in the heat of the day, so we look to free practice two for qualifying simulations because it happens a bit later in the day."


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