posted on 01/11/2012: 866 views
A storm is brewing in the blue skies over Abu Dhabi. But while on Monday the air darkened with swirling particles of sand, today it will crackle with a sense of anticipation not seen in the capital for at least 12 months.
On Wednesday a low, monotonous rumbling brought a cavalcade of trucks into the city before dumping their contents beside the usually idyllic Yas Marina. Mechanics, technicians and roadies set about the arduous task of reassembling a travelling circus that had only been packed away in Greater Noida, India, on Sunday night.
By this afternoon the often eerily quiet Yas Island will be a wall of sound as Formula One racing makes a triumphant return to the UAE.
Last year the weekend was commended as much for went on away from the track as on it. A very entertaining race was almost lost in the clamour to praise the activities on offer around the main event.
But then it needed to wow in more ways than one in 2011 because in purely sporting terms, the race was run. Sebastian Vettel had the drivers' title sewn up long before leaving India for the UAE, and you could sense it.
Everywhere you looked, teams were winding down for the off-season and while the likes of Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso made the right noises about a fight for second place in the championship, deep down you knew their thoughts had already drifted to 2012.
This year is different.
This year there are multiple sub-plots to keep even the most indifferent observer on the edge of their seat. For a start the championship is still up for grabs. Vettel again leads, having put together an amazing run of four straight victories exactly when it was needed, but Alonso is right on his heels and has vowed not to give up the fight.
With two races to go, the Spaniard needs to rediscover the form that saw him take victories in Sepang, Valencia and Hockenheim, but there won't be many better places for him to do just that. The UAE has a deep love affair with Ferrari and there would not be many more popular results on these shores than a one-two for Alonso and his long-suffering team-mate Felipe Massa.
The Brazilian has had to endure another season of speculation over his future, and that has not completely gone away even though he has signed on for another 12 months with the Italian marque. What it would mean to the 31-year-old to secure only his second podium of the season here.
Of course the championship would not be completely dead and buried if Vettel were to win in the capital, but it would be a terminal blow. It would also mark the passing of a legacy from one great, German driver to another.
On the weekend that Michael Schumacher makes his third and final appearance at the Yas Marina Circuit, his young pretender could be about to become the first driver to win five races in a row since he won seven in 2004. Vettel still has a long way to go to emulate his countryman, but his form over the past six weeks or so has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Victory in two of the next three races would see him become the sport's youngest triple champion after legends like Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio. At just 25 years old, his potential to dominate the sport is simply frightening, and perhaps even more potent than Schumacher's.
Of course no one was giving too much away as the great and the good of the pit lane descended on Ferrari World last night, but the smiles on their faces said it all. If you're heading down to Yas Marina this weekend, expect some thunder. – Sport 360°
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