Why Ferrari could steal runner-up spot away from Mercedes in Abu Dhabi

Luke Murphy
Charles Leclerc goes side-by-side with George Russell as the Mercedes driver overtakes around the outside at Luffield.

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari and Mercedes' George Russell battle.

The Abu Dhabi GP is the final chance for any team to inflict any kind of dent in Red Bull’s stellar season and, with plenty still to play for, the incentive to knock the World Champions off P1 is even higher.

The top three in the Drivers’ Championship have been decided, and the Constructors’ Champions have been identified for a long time, but the contest for P2 between Mercedes and Ferrari will be settled at the Yas Marina Circuit.

With a few other scores to settle in the final race of the season, we take you through what the teams will have to tackle to finish their 2023 season with a flourish.

How has the circuit changed for 2023?

Having been introduced to the F1 world for the 2009 season, the Yas Marina Circuit has been one of the more critiqued additions to the schedule, particularly with the spotlight of often being the season finale.

From the unusual pit lane exit to the stalemate championship battles, the circuit has been a frequent topic of conversations regarding the quality of racing, and various parts of the track have been tweaked to try and address the occasional overtaking issues.

The latest iteration, brought in for 2021, appears to be their best solution.

Two of the intricate chicanes were removed and additional corners were reprofiled, which enabled smoother corners to be implemented in an attempt to keep speeds higher, and the racing closer.

Whilst the track has been left alone since then, the 2023 race will be another chance for F1 fans to gauge whether or not consistent improvements have been made to the venue that hosts the season finale.

What are the characteristics of the Yas Marina track?

The 5.3km anticlockwise circuit has 16 turns in its most recent configuration. Consisting mostly of low and medium-speed corners, the Yas Marina circuit also includes a few higher speed, sweeping corners to test the balance of Formula 1 cars.

After one of the shortest runs to Turn 1 on the calendar, the forgiving left-hander then feeds straight into a series of fast turns before the Turn 5 hairpin, which rewards perfect traction on exit.

Two long straights are prised apart by a tight chicane, which provides the first major overtaking opportunity of the lap. The second passing chance is immediately after the chicane, and often opens the door for a driver to repass the opposition.

The sweeping left-hander of Turn 9 promotes wheel-to-wheel racing, before the circuit transitions into the technical, single-file sector three, which is equipped with a few punishing walls that encourage patient throttle application.

The mixture of corners means that teams will run with relatively high levels of downforce, but will need to ensure that they aren’t sitting ducks on the long straights.

After the cold shock to the system with the Las Vegas night temperatures, normal service will resume in the Middle East, with air temperatures expected to be into the high-twenties, increasing the temperature management challenges facing the teams. Brakes take more than their fair share of punishment at Yas Marina.

As always, tyre management will be required, but the smooth Abu Dhabi track isn’t the most stressful on the calendar for tyres. The front-runners last season covered the race with one pit stop, and Pirelli will be bringing the softest available compounds for the event.

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Who is expected to do well at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?<.h3>

With the Abu Dhabi circuit now having a healthier mix of long straights, high-speed and low-speed corners in recent seasons, the ever-efficient Red Bull is well positioned to finish the season off in style, as they did in 2022.

The biggest battle in the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes versus Ferrari, will be a hotly-contested one in the season finale. With four points separating them, there are factors that could favour both teams.

The Grands Prix where Ferrari have generally had better qualifying results have been the rear-limited circuits (where there are lots of hard braking zones, slow, tight corners and hard acceleration zones). Abu Dhabi is another such track, and Ferrari may be able to get more performances from their cars in qualifying trim. Less painful tyre wear might also aid their bid for second place.

After their disappointing trip to Vegas, Mercedes are aiming to fend off a resurgent Ferrari team with a target of podium finishes in Abu Dhabi, which will require more of the downforce that they are able to generate from their car. The Yas Marina circuit hadn’t previously been earmarked as a venue for success for the German team, and their weekend hopes may come down to taming their often-unpredictable W14.

An enforced driver swap in FP1 will affect the preparation of both teams (Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton will make way for Robert Shwartzman and Frederik Vesti respectively), but both teams should be able to recover the lost time with their first team drivers.

After appearing to be a foregone conclusion a couple of races ago, the McLaren versus Aston Martin battle appears to have reignited after the team in green found their preferred car configurations and implemented some successful dice-rolling in Vegas.

The unconventional Nevada circuit was one that didn’t play to McLaren’s strengths. Oscar Piastri displayed an impressive turn of pace on Sunday after a disappointing qualifying, but his P10 result was bested by the strategically-assisted Aston Martin cars.

The Woking team should be back to better form at a more ‘traditional’ track and should have enough in hand to see off the very late resurgence from Aston Martin.

In the battle for P7 between Williams and AlphaTauri, the anticipated Vegas gains didn’t materialise for the Grove-based team, meaning their advantages stayed at seven points over the fighting Faenza team.

AlphaTauri’s gains towards the tail-end of the season may well be seen in Abu Dhabi, with the AT04 being praised for its mechanical grip, which stood out in a Mexican GP that hid its aerodynamic inefficiencies. A point or two could be claimed by either Ricciardo or Tsunoda at the Yas Marina circuit but, given the often-unchaotic nature of the event, it’s difficult to see them claiming the haul they would need (either P7 and P9, or an individual P6 result) to overcome Williams.

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