The Hot Lap: Abu Dhabi Yas Marina
Even with nothing to prove, no pressure to perform and with no championship on the line, the tension in the cockpit of my Formula Yas 3000 single-seater is palpable.
There is no race engineer barking in my ear, no race strategy to stick to and no complicated hybrid drivetrain to manage. The only things I need to worry about are three pedals at my feet and a steering wheel and three buttons in front of me — one for the electrics, one to fire-up the motor, and the other to select neutral.
Still, the sweat is pouring off my forehead, and not because the ambient temperature hovers around the high 30s.
I am about to head out on to the Abu Dhabi Yas Marina’s South Circuit, a supremely technical 12-turn, 2.3km lace of tarmac, in a car designed for all-out speed rather than gentle introductions. Due to the full-time schedule of the racetrack, track days are normally limited to this smaller section of the full circuit, which is okay because it is probably the most the fun part.
The series of turns before the Yas Viceroy Hotel are taken flat-out, and it takes an enormous amount of self-control accelerate and trust that the car is going to stick to the track.
And fun (as well as fear) is most definitely le mot juste, given the capabilities of this car. The race-worthy engine of the Formula Yas 3000 was developed specifically for the circuit by high performance Formula 1 engineer, Cosworth. At 700kg, it weighs about the same as an F1 car and is powered by a three-litre V6 engine. It develops 250 horsepower — around one third that of an F1 car’s hybrid drivetrain — and will hit 100kph from standing in a little over three seconds. Clearly it’s a machine that commands respect from those new to open-wheel racing, hence the thorough briefing before heading to the track. Our instructor has been clear in his warnings to drive well within our limits should we wish to survive the 30-minute track session unscathed.
He was not exaggerating. Acceleration in the Yas 3000 is brutal, and as I move out of the pits and thunder down to Turn 1 (Turn 11 for the F1 boys) in a burst of raw exhaust bark and noise, the car begins to loosen up. The steering — heavy in the pits and made even more so by the sticky racing slicks — becomes light, precise and immediate.
The grip from the slicks is incredible too, and ploughing through bends at ludicrous speeds takes some getting used to.
The series of turns before the Yas Viceroy Hotel are taken flat-out, and it takes an enormous amount of self-control to keep your right foot pinned to the throttle and trust that the car is going to stick to the track.
I’ve already told myself to not look at the digital dash as I don’t need the distraction. My attention is better directed at the next braking or turning point; the next apex, and exit point.
Stringing together a perfect lap is something no driver ever feels they’ve mastered. While confidence builds with every lap, there are little flaws that herald the limits of your helmsmanship. A missed braking point, too much speed into a bend, a clipped curb, a little understeer from the front end — they all add up to extra time and stretch out the gap between your car and the instructor’s ahead.
Quite how Lewis Hamilton and his colleagues manage this kind of focus — under extreme pressure for hours on end in faster and more complicated cars — is beyond me. Just 30 minutes behind the wheel was enough to highlight just how exceptional these top-line racers really are.
To win a chance to drive the Yas Marina circuit in a Formula Yas 3000, enter here