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F1: 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preview

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Max Verstappen Formula One 2023 Champion

The 2023 Formula One season is coming to a close, and there’s no better way to end it all than with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The showdown in the Arabian Gulf has served as the perfect way to bring the curtain down in recent years, but this time around, excitement is somewhat lower than it has been. That’s because Max Verstappen has ruled over the sport with an iron fist this year. 

The Flying Dutchman has romped to a third straight world title in 2023 and he has done so in dominant fashion. He has won all but three races and he holds a whopping 276-point lead in the championship. to put that into perspective, he has racked up more than twice the amount of points than second-placed man, teammate Sergio Perez. In the recent inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, it looked as though Super Max may very well end up on the losing side for once, especially when Charles Leclerc passed him for the lead before the first round of pitstops. 

But as always seems to be the case, the Red Bull man benefitted from a late safety car, allowing him to close the gap on the leading Monagasque man and ultimately secure the victory. Whether that changes in Abu Dhabi remains to be seen, but one thing that is for certain is that the champ will certainly be a heavy favourite for a record-extending 19th victory of the campaign.

The Circuit

Let’s talk about the Yas Marina Circuit where the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is held. The track occupies a man-made island, constructed by the government of Abu Dhabi for the sole reason of hosting this race, and it is not for the faint of heart. It’s a challenging mix of long straights, hairpin turns, and high-speed chicanes, and the drivers will need to be at their very best to maintain high levels of concentration throughout the race. The smallest error can result in catastrophe, just as we saw in the 2021 season when Williams’ Nicholas Latifi slammed his car into the wall to bring out a late season-altering safety car.

Historic Races

When it comes to historic races, the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was one of the most memorable. Coming into the race, four drivers were still in contention for the championship, namely championship leader Fernando Alonso, second place Mark Webber, his teammate Sebastian Vettel and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. In the end, it was Vettel who benefited from poor strategic decisions from the two favourites opening the door for him to claim his maiden title and become the youngest champion in Formula One history. 

The aforementioned Hamilton picked up his second world title here in 2014 when he outlasted teammate Nico Rosberg, before the German got his revenge two years later, holding off some late shenanigans from his teammate to secure the second place he needed to take the crown. However, the race that forever lives on in infamy is the 2021 instalment of the event. 

That year, Hamilton and Verstappen entered the race level on points and ready for a winner-takes-all clash. It looked as though the British GOAT would do enough to secure the victory, overtaking his younger rival into the first corner and storming toward the chequered flag. However, the Latifi crash brought out the safety car and allowed Verstappen to box for fresh tyres. Then, a controversial decision from race director Michael Masi – a decision that would result in him signing a non-disclosure agreement and losing his job – allowed Super Max to close up to the back of Hamilton and pass the race leader on the final lap to secure his first title.

Perennial Winners

When we talk about previous winners at Yas Marina, we can’t ignore Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes driver has won five times here, more than any other driver. He will be looking to end the season on a high by adding another win to his collection, ending a barren spell of two years without a victory, the longest drought of his stellar career. However, Red Bull’s Verstappen won’t give up without a fight. The Dutch driver has had yet another sensational season and if his dominant 2023 wasn’t enough, he has won in Abu Dhabi in each of the last three seasons. 

Charles Leclerc looked like he might have secured his first and Ferrari’s second victory of the season in Las Vegas before ultimately succumbing to the relentless pressure of Verstappen. He will be looking to end the year on a high as will his teammate Carlos Sainz, who picked the only victory by a non-Red Bull driver this season with his win in Singapore. Sergio Perez is another man who will be looking to impress with his seat at Red Bull supposedly up for grabs.

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Formula One Has Taken Data Analytics to New Heights Thanks to AI

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Formula One Racing

Formula One has always been a sport that blends machine and human performance. While the drivers get the glory, behind the scenes, a team of tech whizzes and engineers crunch the data, which informs everything from driving strategy to car design. 

F1 teams are now so dependent on data that Christian Horner, the CEO of Red Bull Racing, said that data is in the team’s lifeblood. Red Bull uses data to rate drivers, and it’s a big reason why their cars have been so successful in recent years. 

F1 Cars Are Decked Out In 300+ Sensors

A Formula One car lives and dies by its aerodynamics. Scientists are constantly trying to figure out the best design based on how the airflow interacts with the car as it moves around the track. This scientific field is known as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and is a key aspect of F1.

F1 cars are equipped with 300+ sensors, which can send 3 GB of race data. The sensors collect data throughout the race and even in practice sessions. 

CFD, combined with data analysis, has transformed F1 races. Fans almost universally wanted more wheel-to-wheel racing where drivers are almost touching each other on every corner and constantly overtaking one another.

F1 engineers realized that the current car designs were preventing this close wheel-to-wheel racing. The modern cars were creating turbulence behind their careers, which was acting as a barrier and preventing rival drivers from closing the distance.

The F1 came together with the governing body, the FIA, and leveraged a huge pile of data provided by Amazon Web Services to figure out what adaptions needed to be made to the cars. Ultimately, teams were able to reduce turbulence by altering the underbody of the car and creating a ground effect where the air sucks the car down towards the track.

Computational fluid dynamics is a very specialized field that requires a team of high-flying and highly paid-scientists to conduct the simulations. Also, no matter how good the scientists are, they need access to large amounts of data and computing power.

However, computational fluid dynamics has become a critical part of Formula One racing. It’s used extensively in the design process of new cars and to analyze the performance of new add-ons to existing vehicles. CFD can also quickly identify problems and help teams get back in the race by making the necessary adaptations.

Simulations and Virtual Racing Radically Enhance Driving Skill

AI-powered simulations have become the Holy Grail for Formula One teams. F1 teams now run billions of simulations on races to identify all the potential variables and come up with solutions on how to interact with them during the event. 

The simulations are only possible thanks to the incredible data they have access to from Oracle, Amazon, and Dell. Simulations have taken a lot of guesswork out of racing. Teams now have an accurate idea of how everything from the track condition to crashes to pit stops to the weather will impact their driver and to what extent. They can even accurately predict, for example, how likely a crash is on a certain corner.

Simulations have also decreased the price of testing, which can be blown extremely quickly in Formula One. Instead of spending hours and hours on the track, simulations are used to test new designs and assess just how well the car will handle the intensity of an F1 race. Engineers can quickly identify issues before they’re discovered on the track. 

All this high-tech data has only recently been used to its full potential, thanks to AI. F1 teams are constantly tweaking things from race to race. The only way to crunch the data and come up with usable insights is through AI-powered models, which can run millions of simulations in the blink of an eye.

The AI-powered models and simulations aren’t just for engineers. They’re an incredible training tool for drivers who can race around the track over and over again without risk of injury, ruining very expensive cars, or placing their bodies under stress. Drivers study the AI-generated insights and incorporate them into their racing strategy. Drivers have a clear strategy on how to navigate certain aspects of the race, from straights to corners to pit stops, all thanks to hours spent on simulations.

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The F1 Rumor Mill Is Swirling About Max Verstappen

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Max Verstappen reportedly threatened to leave Red Bull following his win in Saudi Arabia on March 9. Christian Horner, the head of the Red Bull team, said there is a possibility that Verstappen will leave the team after rifts have emerged. 

Red Bull doesn’t have the ability to stop the Dutch driver from leaving. The reigning champion is under contract until 2028, but Red Bull said they wouldn’t force anyone who doesn’t want to be a part of the team to stay. They don’t want to use the contract to keep Verstappen hostage. If anyone wants to leave Red Bull, they’re free to do so at any time.

Horner Says He’s Mended Relationship With Verstappen

Horner claims he’s still close with Verstappen and that it won’t impact the Red Bull’s performance this year. He believes the team is operating smoothly, and there’s no in-fighting or distractions. Horner said, “I’m aware of all that noise, but it hasn’t distracted the team from the job, and we are one team now.”

Red Bull has been copping it from all sides recently. Horner was involved in a scandal relating to an affair with a colleague at Red Bull, which has been dismissed, but his reported text messages are still floating around the internet.  

Marko and Horner in a Battle for Control of Red Bull

Post a bizarre sequence of events , Red Bull’s director of motorsport, Helmut Marko came out and said he was being investigated and may be suspended after giving press inside scoops about the Horner investigation. Verstappen immediately backed the Austrian former driver and said he’d leave if Marko was booted from the team.

After going public, Marko had a top-secret meeting with Oliver Mintzlaff, Red Bull’s chief executive, and the potential suspension was dropped. However, there’s definitely a power struggle going on at Red Bull, with Horner in one corner and Verstappen and Marko in the other. 

Then Jos Verstappen threw his two cents in and came after Horner. He declared that Horner should step down following the scandal. 

After coming under fire from Jos Verstappen, Horner couldn’t help but make a thinly veiled attack on his son. The team leader said that no one is more important than the team and Red Bull’s success is based on the work of many people. The comments sound ridiculous, considering that Verstappen may be the most talented driver F1 has ever seen, and if he leaves, so does Red Bull’s position as the competition leader.

Horner wants everyone to forget about the scandal and move on. However, we’ll see if Verstappen and his father will play ball. There are also two wings within Red Bull that are butting heads. On one side, you have the Thais, who have majority ownership of the parent company and are firmly behind Horner. Then, on the Austrian side, the company directors are in favor of Verstappen and Marko. 

It remains to be seen who will come out on top in this jockeying for position. However, don’t believe Horner for a second that the issue is put to bed and that he’s on great terms with Max Verstappen. If Verstappen’s father believes Horner should be shown the door, then Max probably shares that opinion as well. Max even came out in defense of his father following the comments about Horner. Max said his father wasn’t a liar and refused to condemn the comments.

Oliver Bearman Shines in Saudi Arabia

Another story dominating the headlines is the emergence of Ferrari’s Oliver Bearman. In his very first F1 race in Saudi Arabia, he finished seventh and looked like a seasoned pro out on the track. The Brit even impressed Lewis Hamilton. The seven-time Formula One champion said, “He did such a phenomenal job, and it just showed he’s a really bright future star.” Although Bearman isn’t expected to feature again this season, he’s certainly turned plenty of heads in his bid for a 2025 seat.

Even though things aren’t so rosy off the track for Red Bull, Verstappen continues to dominate. The Dutch phenomenon again looks untouchable this season. The championship already looks over as other drivers can’t come close to him. His only challenge comes from his teammate Sergio Perez and maybe Charles Leclerc, but they have just a glimmer of hope. The only question this Formula One season is how many races Verstappen will win!

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Verstappen and Russell Advocate for Driver Safety in Call for Car Changes

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Max Verstappen - Driver for Red Bull Racing - Formula 1

George Russell and Max Verstappen are demanding F1 cars be raised to protect drivers’ safety. Currently, Formula One cars have a front ride height of 30 to 35 millimeters and a rear ride height of 75 to 80 millimeters. Russell said the impact drivers feel when cars hit bumps is a risk to drivers’ health. He called the current F1 car heights “unsustainable.”

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen spoke to the governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), after winning the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix. He advised the FIA that the low car heights were causing distress to drivers’ spines which face compression when cars hit bumps at high speeds.

The Dutch driver cited impacts being too high as he demanded that the F1 alter the drive heights and add the changes to the new regulations set to debut in 2026.

However, he’s worried that the FIA won’t do anything about car heights in the latest rule changes, scheduled to be finalized in June. Verstappen said, “We still run very low but I don’t think the 2026 car is going to be any different.”

Is this the First Time We’ve Seen F1 Car Height Issues?

We first started hearing drivers complaining about car heights in 2022, when rule changes reinstated Venturi underfloors. The underfloors create a ground effect, generating increased downforce and grip. The result is the car and driver are pulled down to the track.

Venturi underfloors feature a special inverted wing design that creates a low-pressure area under the car. The downforce is created by expanding the airflow as it goes rearward. To optimally create downforce, F1 cars must be very low to the ground and feature stiff suspension.

The downforce increases as F1 cars reach maximum speed down straights, literally pulling the car closer and closer to the track. During these phases of the race, drivers can feel serious discomfort in their spines. Russell considers it “unsustainable to keep running the cars like this” and is one of many drivers airing that concern with F1.

F1 Cars Are Millimeters from the Ground

As F1 cars pick up speed, they get lower and lower. Russell explained that the difference in height between the start and end of a straight: the length of an AA battery at the beginning decreases to just the size of a chickpea by the end. Even a minuscule bump sends a shockwave through a driver’s body, setting their teeth rattling, and having a strong compression effect on their backs. 

F1 brought in the rule changes because it believed that overtaking maneuvers would become more frequent due to the increased downforce. The idea was that the pack of drivers would be closer by controlling aerodynamic wake.

Mercedes’ technical director James Allison was never convinced about the theory of controlling aerodynamic wake. He believes that the car heights should be increased as it won’t impact races. A slight boost to ride heights and body roll won’t suddenly make F1 races uncompetitive; drivers will still be able to follow each other, and there’ll be regular overtaking maneuvers.

Allison said, “I don’t think it’s sensible to have cars that hug the ground in the way these cars hug it, and I think the idea that you get good racing by controlling wakes while ignoring tires (is flawed).”

Allison believes ground-effect floors have their place in F1 racing and can make races more exciting. However, the current designs that rely on an ultra-low rear ride height are placing the drivers in unnecessary danger without adding too much to the racing. Allison is adamant that the current ground-effect floors should be redesigned and have no place in the new rules in 2026.

Drivers Feel the Strain

The FIA has apparently become obsessed with the idea of wake management, to the detriment of other aspects of racing, like tires. Drivers are looking for a more balanced approach and are not against ground-effect floors. 

At the moment, the FIA hasn’t publicly commented on the issue. We’ll have to wait to see if they take the drivers’ criticism onboard and lift the car heights. However, it seems to have its heart set on maximizing ground effects with ultra-low car heights. 

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