Formula 1 returns to Qatar after the inaugural GP in 2021, but for the teams, it’s like starting from scratch. Here’s why:
“I consider it a new circuit.” Toto Wolff spoke candidly about the Qatar GP. Yet, Mercedes’ team principal remembers the Losail track well. In 2021, the facility was the stage for a Regulation-bending showdown between Verstappen and Hamilton, which ended with the Englishman’s victory after a collision between the two title contenders on the track.
So, why does the Austrian think the Qatar GP in 2023 will be completely different?
For several reasons.
Firstly, the cars have changed since 2021. The new generation of cars, based on ground effect, is entirely different from the previous ones, altering the reference points for both teams and drivers.
In addition, the organizers have made massive changes to the circuit’s structure. Apart from the renovated pit area and paddock, the track has been completely resurfaced, rendering essentially useless any data collected from the previous road surface, dating back to 2004.
This sentiment is shared by the FIA. In the pre-event notes compiled by the Federation, it is stated that: “Considering the nature of the changes made, it is to be considered, in all respects, a new circuit.”
Sprint and Plunging Temperatures: a Challenge for the Teams
As if that weren’t enough, the sprint format returns to Qatar, reducing the free practice sessions available to teams and drivers to just one. The FP1 sessions become even more critical, with the car’s setup essentially being frozen at the end of the session. Therefore, data correlation with the factory will be important to utilize the first (and only) practice session to fine-tune the setup.
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“We have worked a lot in the simulator to define a basic setup,” confirmed Enrico Sampo, head of simulations at Ferrari. “We have simulated various scenarios; it won’t be easy,” he added.
But it doesn’t end there.
Making the Qatar weekend even more complicated are the event’s schedules. The race will take place at night, with temperatures and track conditions significantly different from what the teams will encounter in the first free practice session.
The approach will necessarily be different from other evening events like Singapore, where teams relatively underused the early practice sessions because they were considered unrepresentative of race conditions.
For the Qatar FP1, scheduled at 16:30 local time, temperatures of up to 40 degrees are expected. Qualifying, on the other hand, will take place at 20:00 with almost ten degrees lower in temperature. A significant difference.
This is why Qatar will be a significant challenge for all the teams, with no exceptions.