Celebrating ten years of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

A year-by-year look at the Yas Marina Circuit race

Celebrating ten years of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

There’s no doubt about it, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the premier sporting spectacle of the UAE’s calendar. Every year, thousands upon thousands of people come to the capital to witness an incredible long weekend of on-track racing action, see the music world’s biggest names performing live and get a taste of the city’s unrivalled food and nightlife scene.

Since 2009 Yas Island, and the wider city, has come alive in November for what is now established as the final fixture in the Formula 1 racing calendar, and the circuit has become known as the ultimate venue to sign off the season in style. As the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix celebrates its tenth birthday, we look back at the highlights from 2009 to 2017.

The first time the Hermann Tilke-designed Yas Marina Circuit was used for a competitive F1 race was a momentous occasion. Going into the race, British driver Jenson Button had already sealed the drivers’ championship. It was also the first time a race had begun in the evening – starting at 5pm and finishing under the circuit’s floodlights.

It wasn’t a great start to life in Abu Dhabi for Lewis Hamilton, who started the day in pole position but had to retire thanks to a brake failure. Instead, German Sebastian Vettel, of the Red Bull team,  won the race, cementing second place in the driver’s championship. His teammate mark Webber was second and Brawn’s Jenson Button finished second.

Away from the track, megastar Beyonce was the first person to perform at the after-race Yasalam concerts, with Jamiroquai, Kings of Leon and Aerosmith also on the  bill.

The second F1 weekend in Abu Dhabi saw three musical performances – this time from Kanye West, Linkin Park and Prince, who closed the Yasalam concerts after the race. The American’s performance is still talked about as one of the all-time great gigs in the capital.

On the track things were also full of drama. For the second year running, Sebastian Vettel won the race – ahead of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. The win also mean Vettel won the drivers’ championship, and at just 23 years and 134 days old, became the youngest person to ever do so. Going into the race, Ferarri’s Fernando Alonso was leading the table but his seventh place finish meant he ended the season as runner up to Vettel.

The race’s third year was the first that saw someone other than Sebastian Vettel win, in fact, the German didn’t make it to the podium after having to retire in the first lap after getting a puncture.  Instead, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton finished in first for the first time. Alsonso came second and Jenson Button again came in third.

Another musical legend performed after the race. Former Beatle Paul McCartney’s set was filled with big hits and singalongs that kept the crowd enthralled. Britney Spears was the first performer for the weekend, with a rocky double bill of Incubus and The Cult sandwiched in between.

Another female pop star took to the stage in 2012, when Kylie Minogue came to Abu Dhabi. As was becoming traditional, the Saturday night took a rockier turn, with US band Nickleback getting the crowd going. Hip-hop star Eminem finished the weekend with a barnstorming show.

There was another new winner of the F1 race itself, with Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus finishing first, ahead of Fernando Alonso, who was second this year and Sebastian Vettel who made a return to the podium. It was Raikkonen’s first win of the season (and first since 2009). Lewis Hamilton, who won in 2011, led for the entire race until he was forced to retire half way through after his car lost fuel pressure.

It was a Red Bull one-two on the podium this year, with Sebastian Vettel landing his third Abu Dhabi win and his teammate Mark Webber finishing just over 30 seconds behind him. Nico Rosberg was third, making his first appearance on the podium at Yas Marina Circuit. The previous year’s winner Kimi Raikkonen was barred form qualifying and made to start the race in 22nd place after his car failed a pre-race test. After the race, Webber and Vettel performed doughnuts during the cool down lap – but escaped any punishment.

The sunset over Abu Dhabi always makes for incredible footage for the watching TV cameras, but this year they captured something extra – there was a partial solar eclipse as the sun went down.

The Yasalam concerts saw the introduction of an Arabic bill of musicians on Thursday night. Among the names performing were Egyptian Amr Diab, Lebaense singer Elissa and the UAE’s Hussain Al Jassmi. It got a bit more urban on the Friday night with Jay-Z, Muse brought their stadium-filling prog rock on Saturday and veterans Depeche Mode closed the weekend.

Going into the final race of the F1 season, both Mercedes drivers – Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – were in with a chance of winning the title. The first two practice sessions saw Hamilton come first, while Rosberg won the third session. That trend continued into qualifying and Rosberg started the race in pole. By the end of the race, however, the German driver was back in 14th place. Hamilton won, meaning he also landed the championship. He was joined on the podium by two Williams drivers, Brazilian Felipe Massa and Finland’s Valtteri Bottas.

Music for the weekend was again kicked off with an Arabic line-up. This year, Tamer Hosny, Crole Samaha, Fayez Al Saeed and Mohammed Assaf performed. The following night, Yasalam’s first ever headline DJ took to the stage. Trance legend Armin van Buuren went down a storm. Pharrell Williams, fresh form the success of monster hit Happy, played on Saturday, while legends The Who played to all generations on the Sunday.

The weekend started with Algeria’s Cheb Khaled, Lebanon’s Fares Karam and the UAE’s Aryam on the Yasalam stage. The following night saw Spanish pop star Enrique Iglesias on fine form, while the Brits took over Saturday and Sunday, with Florence and the Machine and Blur providing mass singalongs and plenty of pogoing.

Yas Marina Circuit again saw a battle between the two Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, but unlike 2014, Hamilton already had the drivers’ championship sewn up and their team had already been named constructors’ champions. Rosberg wasn’t about to be overshadowed, however, and used the final race to get one over on his teammate, finishing in first place, ahead of Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari.

The drivers’ championship was again decided at Yas Marina Circuit this year. Going into the race, 2015 winner Nico Rosberg had a 12-point lead over Lewis Hamilton and despite Hamilton winning the race, the German’s second place finish was enough for him to secure his first championship. Sebastian Vettel finished in third. A week after the race, Rosberg shocked the motorsport world by announcing his retirement.

Performing at the Yasalam concerts this year were pop star Pitbull, British DJ duo The Chemical Brothers, smooth soul man Lionel Richie and Barbadian megastar Rihanna. The eclectic mix of legends and current superstars proved again that the du Arena’s concert series was unlike any other in the world.

The ninth Abu Dhabi Grand Prix saw Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas win at Yas Marina Circuit for the first time, ahead of his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. Bottas started the race in pole and stayed there until the chequered flag, earning wholesome praise from Hamilton, who won the driver’s championship. Sebastian Vettel finished third.

This year also saw the first Formula 1 eSports event being held alongside the real-life action. It was won by Brit Brandon Leigh.
The weekend’s music was again an eclectic line-up of big names. Thursday kicked off the proceedings with Scottish producer and DJ Calvin Harris. Hip-hop star J.Cole performed to the cool kids on Saturday, while British roots rockers Mumford & Sons raised the roof on Saturday. Pop veteran Pink closed the weekend in style with a thrilling performance.

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