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Formula 1 Preview: Qatar Grand Prix

Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Meghana Sree

Image Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

It’s race week once again, and the 2023 championship may well have boiled down to this weekend. After an utterly dominant year from Max Verstappen and the Red Bull team, the Dutchman can claim his third successive championship as soon as Saturday’s sprint race. Regardless, we can relax in anticipation of a cracking race, as was the case when the circuit burst onto the F1 scene back in 2021.

Circuit Guide

Image Credit: Formula 1

The Lusail International Circuit was constructed in 2004 for motor racing, but has since been adapted for the demands of Formula 1. A lap around the circuit includes one DRS (Drag Reduction System) zone on the mammoth start-finish straight, surrounded by fairly high-speed twists and turns. The swift, smooth flow of the track not only provides enjoyment for the drivers, but immensely enhances the viewing experience as well.

Weekend Format

It is a return to the F1 Sprint weekend format, with points up for grabs on both Saturday and Sunday.

Schedule (in BST)

Practice 1 - Friday, 14:30 pm

Qualifying - Friday, 18:00 pm

Sprint Shootout - Saturday, 14:00 pm

Sprint Race - Saturday, 18:30 pm

Race - Sunday, 18:00 pm

Weather Forecast

As is typical of many countries in the Middle East, Qatar is forecasted to have minimal chances of rain over the weekend. Soaring track temperatures will throw a spanner in the works for the teams as well, with air temperature potentially reaching 40oC at times.

Major Talking Points

  • Verstappen Veering Towards Third Title - 2023’s cut above the rest has earned himself the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Sebastian Vettel in securing a third consecutive title with Red Bull, which can be done by scoring a mere three points in Saturday’s Sprint Race.

  • McLaren Making Up For Lost Ground - The Woking-based team have closed the gap in the Constructors’ Standings to Aston Martin to just 49 points, and both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri will be looking to build on their double podium last time out with a shot at a maiden win for both drivers.

  • Qatar Tyre Troubles - After tyre deflations were rampant during the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix, it will be crucial that these issues have been rectified to ensure the smooth running of the event and to provide an even contest.

The Lusail International Circuit in Years Gone By

Image Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

While Qatar has only hosted a lone F1 race back in 2021, it was a massively important one given the context it was being held in. In the midst of the incredibly fierce title battle that year between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, we saw the British driver take another slice out of Verstappen’s lead in the championship, two races before the dramatic title decider in Abu Dhabi. This race also saw a return to the podium for Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, answering any questions of his age depleting his ability. Lastly, unpredictable tyre deflations for several drivers sprinkled some extra chaos and uncertainty into the race.

Last Race Recap

Despite early pressure from the McLaren duo, the Japanese Grand Prix saw a return to the top for Verstappen, and with it came the Constructors’ Championship for Red Bull. Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car periods introduced some drama and difficulty but ultimately, no one could come close to matching the blinding pace set by the two-time champion. Norris and Piastri managed to come home second and third, achieving the team’s first double podium finish since their staggering 1-2 in the 2021 Italian Grand Prix. Meanwhile, Sergio Perez made headlines for the wrong reasons, as his error-littered race ended in a double DNF – he was brought back out temporarily to serve a penalty accrued earlier on.

Drivers to Watch

Image Credit: Bryn Lennon/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton - Circuit King

As the only winner of the Qatar Grand Prix, Hamilton showcased his aptitude around the Lusail International Circuit with a commanding victory back in 2021. Providing his Mercedes car can continue to have competitive pace, the seven-time World Champion will be hoping to take advantage of a potentially unfocused Verstappen (if he secures the title on Saturday) to achieve his first win of the season.

Lando Norris - Maiden Victory

The young Brit has shown time and time again his incredible talent and ability to battle at the front of the F1 grid. Since McLaren’s sudden upturn in form this year, he has wasted no time in taking home four podiums, including in both of the last two races. Unfortunately, he has also overtaken Nico Hulkenberg to become the driver with the most points to have not been victorious in F1. Surely his time has come, perhaps amid Verstappen’s title celebrations this weekend?

The Other Contenders

Of course, Verstappen will still be likely to remain ultra focused and might record a lights-to-flag victory for the fun of it, so make no assumptions about his mental state going into the weekend. Carlos Sainz poses a threat to him as the only non-Red Bull driver to win this season, while the teammates of the other contenders are always in with a shout as well: be it Charles Leclerc, Piastri, George Russell, or Perez. With limited data and history to rely on from the Qatar Grand Prix, it is always possible that another team may have what it takes to run the quickest around here as well.

Marcus’ Predictions

Without any unforeseeable events taking place, it looks inevitable for Verstappen to win the title on Saturday. However, his champion mentality will lead him to keep his head very much down and dominate Sunday as well. Norris will make it to three podiums in a row, but once again miss out on the crucial top spot. Then the final podium position will be taken up by the ever-reliable Hamilton, to maintain a 100% podium record in Qatar. Another poor weekend from Perez will call into serious question his credentials for the Red Bull seat, while Alonso will show his adaptability and talent to take home vital points for Aston Martin in their uphill battle against the charging McLaren team.

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