Written by Maria Fashchevskaya, Edited by Sean McKean
Many circumstances influence the drivers both mentally and physically in a race. Apart from the G-forces and the track layout, the weather conditions and tyre degradation have a huge role in a well-managed race finish. All of those combined were crucial factors in making the Qatar Grand Prix a physically challenging race. However, with drivers fainting at the medical centre or retiring due to the difficult conditions, is it plausible to hold a Grand Prix in Qatar at this time of the year?
Under the heat of more than 30 degrees Celsius and high humidity at the Losail Circuit, 20 drivers needed to compete in an eventful sprint weekend. Apart from the climbing temperatures, there was no wind on race day and a humidity of around 75%. The conditions increased massively throughout the weekend, reaching its peak on race day.
The Losail Circuit in Qatar is known for its high-speed corners. Going on the track at speeds of nearly 200 miles an hour (more than 300 km/h) for around two hours lets the drivers experience a physical challenge like no other, as Russell and Norris were seen lifting their visors on the straights to get some air in.
The race was made more challenging after the introduction of the three mandatory pit stops, not extending a tyre age of 18 laps.
"I think the three-stop made it a lot harder physically. You could push a lot more. Even the last stint, you could pretty much push flat-out,” McLaren driver Lando Norris said afterwards. That meant the drivers could push flat-out in each stint, making it 57 qualifying laps, as some drivers called it.
After the latest Qatar Grand Prix, some drivers reported the race to be one of the toughest Grand Prix in their careers, even more hot and humid than the famous Singapore Grand Prix. Many drivers fainted at the medical centre after the race, as McLaren driver Lando Norris told the media.
How Did The Conditions Affect The Drivers?
Another situation regarding the conditions was explained by Esteban Ocon at the media pen. The Alpine driver did manage to finish strong, starting in eighth place and finishing in seventh in a physical and eventful race.
“The conditions were extremely tough in the car, and I did not feel well physically in the first half of the race. I was able to pull it together and focus on what I needed to do,” the French driver said after the race. He reported that by lap 15, he vomited in his helmet due to the heat conditions during the Grand Prix but still managed to finish the race.
However, Williams’ rookie Logan Sargeant did not feel well enough to see the chequered flag on Sunday. He retired early on lap 41 out of 57, as he had had early symptoms of the flu before starting the race, as reported by the team. In the garage, he was lifted and helped out of the car by the crew.
Unfortunately, many drivers did go to the medical centre after the race. Alex Albon was helped by Alfa Romeo mechanics, who stopped by to give him some water, as the Williams’ crew was on its way to the parked car. Lance Stroll too left the race without points after track-limit penalties and went straight to the ambulance next to his Aston Martin, struggling to keep himself on his feet.
That weekend the cooldown room turned from an episode of the ‘Max Verstappen podcast’ into its definition, as the World Champion of this season and the McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri had lay on the floor, catching their breath. The latter described the Qatar Grand Prix as “the hardest race I’ve had in my life,” while Verstappen ranked among his top five toughest races in his career.
Officially, the FIA put out a statement on Monday regarding the extreme racing conditions. While noting the incidents after the Qatar Grand Prix on the drivers’ health, the governing body found it amongst their concerns to ensure a safe race for both assets – drivers and the car.
“While being elite athletes, they should not be expected to compete under conditions that could jeopardise their health or safety,” it was stated. In addition, the FIA had “begun an analysis into the situation in Qatar to provide recommendations for future situations of extreme weather conditions,” including next year’s race that is scheduled to be held later on in the season.
How Can The Situation Improve In 2024?
In 2024, the Qatar Grand Prix will be held from 29th November to 1st December, being the 23rd race on the calendar. There is no doubt that the track and weather conditions will be different, as the race is put off more than a month later than this season. Nevertheless, the forecast in early December says that Qatar, or Losail in detail, has an average of 26 degrees (Celsius) during the daytime and around 20 degrees during the nighttime. Adding to the summer-like temperatures is the extreme humidity of around 70 % the whole time. This makes racing even more difficult for drivers, as much as wind – natural ventilation – cannot be expected in the desert.
Thus, the obvious question is how the FIA can rule out the conditions to be more ambient for the teams, drivers and others.
What do you think about the extreme conditions at the Qatar Grand Prix? Let us know in the comments!