Qatar Grand Prix Puts F1 Drivers to the Test in Sweltering Conditions
The Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday posed a tough challenge for Formula 1's elite drivers, with many seeking medical attention after the race. In an unexpected turn of events, the Lusail International Circuit became an arena of extreme heat and high-speed action that pushed these athletes to their limits.
Logan Sargeant from Williams was the first to succumb to the gruelling conditions, having to withdraw after 40 laps due to illness aggravated by the intense heat. Alpine's Esteban Ocon was also dealing with illness as a result of the conditions, and admitted to vomiting in his helmet during laps 15 and 16 of the 57-lap race. Despite this early setback, Ocon demonstrated incredible resilience and finished the race in seventh place.
Why was the heat a problem if the race was held at night?
One might wonder why a race held after nightfall in Qatar posed such a challenge. With an air temperature of 31°C and with minimal wind to offer relief, conditions worsened quickly for the drivers. High humidity and stagnant air intensified the heat, causing cockpit temperatures to rise dramatically. Some drivers, like George Russell, even lifted their visors in search of cooler air as cockpit temperatures reportedly soared to 80 degrees Celsius (176 degrees Fahrenheit), according to Esteban Ocon.
Lance Stroll revealed that he began to struggle with the oppressive conditions roughly 20 laps from the finish line, and at times nearly passed out in his car. Even Fernando Alsonso, the driver with the widest range of experience on the grid this weekend, struggled with the conditions. He requested his team pour water over him during the pit-stop to combat the scorching heat, but it was not allowed.
The conditions were also worsened by the unique track layout of the Lusail International Circuit. Originally designed for motorcycle racing, the track features a layout composed of medium-to-high-speed corners, offering little respite for drivers from the demanding conditions. The high g-forces experienced through these corners places additional strain on the drivers, further intensifying their exhaustion from the heat and typical physical strain from racing. Additionally, drivers had to push their cars at a near-qualifying pace throughout the entire race, adding to their physical and mental fatigue as a result of new tyre regulations.
Charles Leclerc: “the toughest race for every driver”
Charles Leclerc, speaking about the race, described it as "the toughest race for every driver in Formula 1 of our career" He emphasised that factors such as extreme heat, high-speed corners, and the requirement for three pit stops made this race particularly gruelling.
Leclerc's comments reflect the sentiments of many drivers, who found the race physically and mentally draining. Some struggled to see clearly due to dehydration, and the extreme heat made it challenging to stay hydrated effectively. Lando Norris remarked that the race pushed drivers to their limits, with at least three drivers being treated in the medical centre or even passing out, highlighting the dangers posed by such conditions.
While next year's Qatar Grand Prix is scheduled for December, when cooler temperatures are expected, drivers have called for discussions about ensuring the safety of such races in the future. The extreme conditions of this year's race have prompted Formula 1 to consider the well-being of its athletes and explore ways to avoid a repeat of these challenges in the future.
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