The Yas Marina Circuit (Arabic: حلبة مرسى ياس) is believed to be the most expensive circuit in history, having been constructed for Formula One on a man-made island at a reputed cost of $1 billion. Needless to say, it lacks nothing in terms of facilities, yet in its original form failed to capture the imagination of the drivers and fans, with overtaking in particular proving particularly difficult.
A reconfiguration in 2021 sought to improve the situation by eliminating some of the more stop-start sections and providing a more flowing layout. While designers were limited by the available space, the revamp has included the insertion of a sweeping banked corner at its southern end.
Aside from Formula One, the circuit has also hosted the short-lived FIA GT1 World Series, rounds of GP2 Asia and the full GP2 Series and overseas rounds of the V8 Supercar Championships, while 2012 saw the creation of a 12 Hour race for GT and sports cars.
The project was born as Formula One began searching for new venues in states with chequebooks that could match Bernie Ecclestone's increasingly hefty financial demands. After the success of the Bahrain Cicuit, the authorities in Abu Dhabi were keen to raise their profile and identified land on the newly-constructed Yas Island for the circuit.
After two years of intensive planning and construction involving 14,000 staff and 35 million construction man-hours, the new facility opened its doors to the world. Featuring a marina area it had something to rival Monte Carlo and, at its centre, was the futuristic Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi Hotel which the circuit actually passes underneath. With the Formula One Grand Prix being a dusk race, the hotel forms glistening centrepiece, with its unique LED lighting system ensuring a colourful backdrop to the racing as dusk gives way to darkness.
To ensure visibility during the night races, the circuit was constructed with a permanent lighting system provided by Musco Lighting, similar to that also installed at the Losail Circuit in Qatar. Yas Marina Circuit is the largest permanent sports venue lighting project in the world; previously that title was held by Losail.
Another world first is that all of the grandstands, including the massive hairpin seating area, are covered to protect spectators from the desert sun, while the state-of-the-art pit building boasts 40 air-conditioned garages, so teams have few complaints. Another unique feature is the pit lane exit, which passes underneath the circuit by means of a tunnel, thanks to the limited space on the outside of Turn One.
Racing at the Hermann Tilke-designed facility has been mixed – passing has proved difficult, despite the long straights. The majority of the corners are medium or slow speed, making this a very technical track at which obtaining a good car balance is difficult.
In reaction to this, new plans were announced to amend the circuit for the 2021 Grand Prix, with works taking place from the middle of the year in order to ready the circuit for the season finale. Major restructuring of the track took place in three areas – the North Hairpin, South Marina and around the Hotel section - with the aim of opening up the track and creating new overtaking opportunities.
Mrk1 Consultants was brought in to design and oversee the updates, which see the chicane eliminated ahead of the north hairpin, which has also been brought forwards to create greater run off. The most significant alteration comes with the removal of Turns 11-14 to be replaced by a single long curved which will feature shallow banking. Turns 17, 18, 19 and 20 are also eased with slight re-profiling, to create a smoother flow over the end of the lap. The changes bring the lap length down to 3.281 miles (5.281 km).