The 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship draws to a close this weekend, as the Yas Marina Circuit plays host to the final race of the year: the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The track, designed by Hermann Tilke, is dominated by a 1.2km-long straight between turns five and six, forming one of the longest acceleration stretches on the Formula One calendar. Recent renovations, including widening the hairpin at turn seven and eliminating the chicane on approach, along with a single sweeping banked turn replacing a series of 90-degree bends at the end of the second back straight, aim to increase overtaking opportunities and add to the event's excitement.
The FW43B will start its final Grand Prix in the late afternoon Abu Dhabi sunshine, before the race heads into twilight conditions and the flag falls on the 2021 season beneath the circuit's floodlights. Sunday will also mark George Russell's 59th and final Grand Prix with the team following a three-year tenure as a Williams Racing driver, with the team wishing him all the very best for the future.
On Friday, Jack Aitken, the team's Reserve Driver, will take to the track alongside Nicholas Latifi during the first Free Practice session, with George returning to the car for FP2. The session marks a remarkable return to fitness for Jack having recovered from multiple injuries suffered in an accident during the Spa 24 Hours event in July.
Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance: The final event of the 2021 season sees us return to Abu Dhabi. The Yas Marina Circuit has become the traditional season finale and this year will host one of the most exciting climaxes to the season that we have seen in sometime. The circuit layout has been modified considerably since last year with fewer corners and a more flowing beginning and end to the double straight section. Combined with changes to the penultimate corner, the circuit is now significantly quicker, and the ease of overtaking may also be improved. The modified areas inevitably have a newer and smoother surface, which will have a small effect on tyre behaviour.
We know much of the circuit well and we are keen to explore the new corner complexes and to understand how they change the demands on the drivers and the car setup. Jack Aitken will drive George's car in FP1 this weekend and his experience and knowledge from the simulator will be a very useful compliment to Nicholas in the sister car. It will be a valuable assessment of both the general improvements made to the FW43B as well as the changes to this circuit.
Pirelli have brought their softest compound this week, which they have done for the last few years here. The performance will be a bit tricky in the warmer conditions of FP1, but by the evening, they will be working well.
This season has been intense and at times difficult, however, we have had some very enjoyable times and have made the most of several opportunities. If we can maintain eighth place in the Championship, then this will be a fair reward for the skill and dedication of everyone in Grove and at the track. Over the last few difficult seasons, nobody has dropped their commitment nor lost their racing instinct and, no matter what the final result is, we can be proud of what we have achieved this year.
At the centre of much of what we have achieved over the last few years has been George. This weekend is his final race for the team. His enthusiasm, dedication and tremendous skill - as well as the occasional well-founded criticism - has been a major inspiration to the team throughout the bad times and the good times. We thank him for everything that he has brought to the team, wish him well for his future with Mercedes, and we hope that we have been able to give him some valuable experience and ideas that will serve him well in the future.
George Russell: We head to Abu Dhabi for the final race of the season and what is sure to be a weekend full of mixed emotions as my journey with Williams comes to an end. It has been an incredible three years with the team, with many highs but also some lows, but I am determined to go out in the best possible fashion and help the team secure eighth place in the Constructors' Championship. It would be a fitting reward for all the hard work and efforts from everyone at Grove over the past few years as we've battled back from our difficulties when I first joined the team. I am sure there will be plenty of feelings and emotions after the Grand Prix on Sunday but until then, my full focus is on the track and putting together a strong weekend.
I always enjoy racing at Yas Marina and have happy memories from winning the FIA Formula 2 title there in 2018. I'm also looking forward to tackling the revised layout, which I think will help to create an improved spectacle, and hopefully be beneficial to our car's performance across the event.
Nicholas Latifi: There are always mixed feelings going into the final race of the year, but I'm excited to get out on track at Yas Marina Circuit. It will be interesting to see how the changes to the track impact the racing there, but it's good to see circuits looking to make improvements and I think it will provide a more exciting show for the fans.
Our main goal this weekend will be to secure eighth place in the Constructers' Championship. The whole team has worked incredibly hard throughout the year; it would be great to be rewarded with that result and finish off our season on a high.
Jack Aitken: It's a pretty special experience every time I get to drive the Williams car and it's great to be back with the boys and girls trackside again. The team has seen some good results in 2021 and I've been working in the simulator throughout the year to keep abreast of the FW43B's development, so that's given me a good idea of the characteristics to expect whilst out on track. Yas Marina is long circuit, and although it's not that complicated, it still has its challenges; sector three especially can lose you a lot of time. Overall, I'm really looking forward to being back out on track and getting down to work.