Huge optimism and end of term fever will grip the Formula One paddock this weekend as the global circus races into the unknown on the futuristic Yas Marina circuit in Sunday’s inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
After seeing the 2009 World Championship settled in Brazil ten days ago, the leading teams and drivers all believe they can relax and take a more aggressive approach to winning the season-ending race on a Gulf island.
Traditional power-houses Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes are both confident of performing well on the newly-built harbour-side track as are champions Brawn and their season-long rivals Red Bull.
That means a fierce scrap between outgoing champion Briton Lewis Hamilton and his compatriot newly-crowned champion Jenson Button is in prospect.
Former champion Finn Kimi Raikkonen, Australian Mark Webber and his Red Bull team-mate German Sebastian Vettel and Button’s Brawn partner Brazilian Rubens Barrichello are also likely to be at the forefront of the action.
Brawn team boss Ross Brawn, fresh from a week of celebrations, budget worries and endless speculation over the future of his team after their fairytale success in winning both the drivers and constructors titles in their first season, said he is determined to do well in Abu Dhabi.
But he may find he is still engulfed in the media frenzy that has swirled around his talks with Button for a new contract, starting next season.
Brawn has made it clear he wishes to keep the 29-year-old Englishman on board, but has to find a compromise between his salary demands and the team’s ongoing budget.
”Jenson’s obviously a great driver and for those teams without their full compliment of drivers he has got to be a target,” said Brawn.
”We want Jenson to stay in the team and I think we will find a solution. He has a contract with us, but of course that contract is not the salary of a world champion and not the salary of a team that is now in a much stronger position than it was ten months ago.
”We are working with Jenson to find a balance between what we can afford and what he feels is fair for his status and what he can contribute in the future. You are never 100 percent, but I would say we are 99 percent.”
While Button seeks to secure his future as a world champion with Brawn, Ferrari’s former title-holder Raikkonen wants to bid farewell to the Italian team with a win.
The 2007 world champion will be replaced at Maranello next season by two-times champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso, now of Renault.
”The race in Abu Dhabi will be my last Grand Prix with Ferrari and as usual I will give it everything to gain the best possible result,” said Raikkonen.
”We’ll try to conclude this difficult year with a good result, hoping that it will be enough to gain the third place in the Constructors’ Championship.
”McLaren took over in Brazil so we know it will be difficult, because the competition is very strong. It’s time for me to say goodbye to the guys at Ferrari after three years together.”
Asked about Sunday’s sunlight to darkness race, he said: ”It looks like the organisers have done some great work — the circuit seems to me very interesting and challenging and it is going to be a special challenge to start in sunlight and finish racing in the dark under floodlights.”
Webber was also bullish about the track and his prospects. He knows he will finish fourth in the title race. ”It looks great and I am sure we are going to go well there,” he said. ”Bring it on.”
Hamilton was in much the same mood and as a lover of street tracks said he relished the prospect of a battle in the dusk race.
”We have had a terrific second half of the season and it would be good to go out with a win,” he said. — AFP