What F1 can expect from Qatar from GP2 stay alone
This weekend, Formula 1 will make its first visit to the Losail International Circuit in Qatar, a track synonymous with the opening of the MotoGP season but which has only hosted a handful of high-profile four-wheel events.
The 3.3 mile track was built in time for the 2004 MotoGP round and features a main straight that is over a kilometer long. Projector lighting was added in 2007 – the gallons of diesel needed to power the generators is not a problem in this oil-rich state – allowing it to organize evening events on a “European” schedule to cancel the jet lag.
Some true legends of modern MotoGP have won there, namely Sete Gibernau, Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, Maverick Vinales, Andrea Dovizioso and 2021 champion Fabio Quartararo.
Sete Gibernau leads Carlos Checa in 2004 Qatar MotoGP
Photo by: L’or et l’oie / Motorsport images
In terms of car racing, his first event was the short-lived Grand Prix Masters single-seater series for retired F1 heroes in April 2006. Nigel Mansell won the race, ahead of Christian Danner and Eric van de Poele. It also hosted the World Touring Car Championship for three seasons between 2015 and 2017, with the retirement of tin legend Gabriele Tarquini among the winners in 2016.
But its most publicized automotive event to date was the “Grand Racing Weekend” (obviously Wallace and Gromit were important in Qatar) featuring GP2 Asia and Speedcar Series, which had been moved from a date to Dubai for a a reason that escapes this writer.
It is a 15 mile drive from Doha to the nearby confusingly named town of Lusail which was under construction and was the closest thing to a ghost town I have ever encountered. There were buildings of an impressive size almost everywhere you looked, but no one really seemed to live there.
Losail International Circuit was a few miles down the road as you made your way inland and of course into the middle of the desert.
Lusail, Qatar city skyline, 2009
Photo by: Charles Bradley
There, it was difficult to determine where the desert ended and where the trail began: a huge sandstorm had just blown, and the sun was struggling to penetrate the dusty smog it had left behind.
During practice and qualifying, the drivers complained about the lack of grip. Under the lights, the circuit looked ethereal with the sand particles in the atmosphere causing the spotlights to flicker. On the flat, featureless circuit – which makes Silverstone look like the Himalayas – Jean Alesi remarked that he “was not always sure where I was on the track”.
Pre-event sandstorm meant grip was paramount for GP2 Asia 2009 meeting
Photo by: Motorsport images
At least the NASCAR-style Speedcars that the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix winner raced – in fact a recent stock car model specially designed for road racing – could lean on each other when they were seated. ‘was about shopping. In GP2 the only real passing point was turn 1 – somewhat reminiscent of the F1 race at Mugello last year.
If you come in with an overspeed on your rival – which is very likely with a long DRS zone – then the outside line is quite doable to make a move. If a car is defending the inside line, it is likely to slide widely and open up a potential rollback.
This is the only race I’ve been to where someone has run along the grandstand like a cheerleader, spinning a huge sword above their head – which certainly seemed to stoke excitement. from the crowd to applaud louder …
The other 15 bends? A trio of long, wide open switchbacks, where most overtaking attempts resulted in contact and a car in gravel, and the rest are high speed sweepers – which will create impressive g-loads but little overtaking .
The minimum speed in the turns is very unlikely to drop below 100 km / h (the slowest turn is the left turn of Turn 6) and the track limits will undoubtedly need to be strictly enforced, as the borders are flat and wide.
Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez were the winners of GP2 this weekend, the former using a nifty overcut strategy in the main race as the Bridgestone tires suffered from severe graining issues – but once that phase was over the tire got bigger. fast. The runway has not been redone since it was laid; the constant temperatures in the Gulf states mean it’s not a problem, but the sand flowing there certainly is.
Hulkenberg holds the lap record with his pole gambit of 1m35.741s, but expects F1 cars to beat that by 15s or more in qualifying.
Turn 1 to the right invites cars to lunge
Photo by: Motorsport images
The circuit then only had one grandstand (8,000 capacity) in front of the pits, and one of the local sponsors of the GP2 teams actually paid people to show up. It’s also the only race I’ve ever been to where someone ran along the grandstand like a cheerleader, spinning a huge sword above their head – which certainly seemed to stoke. the enthusiasm of the crowd to applaud louder …
Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation President Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Attiyah told me this weekend that he was applying for an FIA Grade 1T track license and that 50% of it should be paved. its runoff to get the license. . Sure enough, that has since evolved into a full grade 1 for this weekend’s Grand Prix, and now includes a modified pit lane entry.
The track has built additional seats north of the main grandstand, towards Turn 1, as well as temporary grandstands inside and outside Turn 10, with additional VIP seats as well. But don’t expect huge crowds, with ticket prices starting at $ 310.
Maybe they’ll need the guy with the sword to reappear!
Sergio Perez is one of two current F1 drivers to have raced on the circuit before.
Photo by: Motorsport images