Breathless. That's the best word to describe the Formula 1 paddock in Abu Dhabi - and not merely as a result of the mad transatlantic dash across the world from Sao Paulo to the United Arab Emirates for this most geographically incompatible of double-headers.
Here, there is a world championship to be decided, with an unprecedented four drivers in with a shout of being crowned on Sunday afternoon. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is all about four men - Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton - the other 20 drivers are mere supporting turns, incidental players on the grand stage.
The unique circumstances of this weekend's race ensure that, despite the vast distances between the two prongs of this double-header, the F1 circus is producing enough adrenaline to get it through the final few days of the 2010. This excitement is shared by the watching world and can only be good news for Abu Dhabi, which went to great lengths to secure the world championship finale last year only to be rewarded with a dead rubber after Jenson Button charged to the title in Brazil.
The circuit itself was welcomed warmly by those who attended last year, but was felt to be a little antiseptic by much of the watching world, which was unimpressed with seven-star hotels and a flashy pit-exit tunnel. Located on Yas Island, a $36 billion development close to the centre of Abu Dhabi, this is the very antithesis of the organic, rough-and-ready Interlagos that hosted F1 just a few days ago.
The best way to describe the location is to imagine what would happen if Hermann Tilke were given infinite resources to terraform a patch of Mars for a new track. The track sprouts forth from the flat, inhospitable desert, with only some shiny roads and the attention-grabbing Ferrari World accompanying it. It's an alien environment for a whole different kind of racetrack, with the desert sun bleaching your vision to the point where everything looks like some elevated plane of reality.
That is all well and good. But for those who don't have the privilege of being here, the Yas Marina circuit needs to work harder to wend its way into the affections of those who really matter in F1 - the fans. That's what makes the promise of a great title-decider so vital to the track, which come Monday might have a history to be proud of by joining the elite list of venues for the most memorable denouements in the world championship's six decades.
All eyes are on how Vettel will handle this weekend © Sutton
Things have started quietly. There has been no repeat of the broadside that Webber unleashed in the direction of his own team a week ago. Instead, the focus is firmly on Vettel and the 'will he, won't he' drama of whether he will let Webber past if required (and, for all the pantomime and verbal ducking and diving, he will - the interesting thing will be how he chooses to do it).
"What happens on Sunday, if the situation - to answer your question - if the situation occurs, then I think we know that we're driving for the team," said Vettel this afternoon. "We have had some occasions this year where we got close and it didn't look too good. So I think the main target is not to repeat that and the rest we will see."
A glorious insight into Red Bull's 'don't drive into each other like idiots again' strategy there. Clear as mud, although buried in there somewhere is a strong hint that he will play the team game if needs must.
Far more interesting is what might happen if Alonso drops out of the race. If everything runs to form, that would leave the two Red Bulls running first and second in a winner takes all shoot-out, with the added frisson of knowing that, if the pair mutually-annihilate, the title will be Alonso's...or could even go to Hamilton, who is a 100/1 shot for the title with many bookies.
But that won't happen, will it? It would be like making a crucial pass for the point you need at the last corner of the last race after your title rival has already seemingly taken the crown.
But then again...
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