Race Weekend Central

F1 Midweek: Qatar Returns From 2022 Absence

For the third Sprint weekend of the 2023 Formula 1 season, the paddock returns to the Lusail International Circuit in Qatar. The occasion will mark the F1 grid’s second visit to the circuit after it initially hosted 20th round of the 2021 season.

The absence of the Qatar Grand Prix in 2022 was a result of the Gulf country’s previous commitment to host the 22nd FIFA World Cup, which drew ample criticism over concerns ranging from Qatar’s human rights record, to the extreme heat that can characterize Qatar’s climate during that time of year, to the country’s ban on drinking in public settings, of all things. The race now returns to the calendar on a 10-year contract, which for sometime was expected to be accompanied by the construction of a new, purpose-built circuit for the event.

For the time being, however, the Lusail Circuit will retain the event.

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Lewis Hamilton took the win last time out, 25 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen with Fernando Alonso in third; the first podium for the Spaniard since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Designed primarily with motorcycle racing in mind, having hosted MotoGP’s Grand Prix of Qatar since 2004, the circuit is a fast, flow-focused challenge with almost zero elevation change. The flat and fast nature of the circuit presented some visually spectacular racing in 2021 despite the fact that overtaking was less than easy. The circuit does feature four heavy braking zones – fortunately – which provided opportunities for mistakes and overtakes on track.

Crucially, the 2021 race took place in the final year of the 2017-2021 regulations which saw cornering speed and downforce take priority over the ability to properly race. Cars produced such massive amounts of aero-disturbance that any car following in its wake would experience a loss of downforce severe enough to measurably inhibit the pursuing driver’s attempts to follow the racing line.

The 2022 regulations sought to remedy this long-standing issue, and did so from the 2021 to 2022 seasons. As one of the flattest, fastest tracks on the calendar, Qatar may be the unlikely but ultimate final boss for the 2022 regulations to show their teeth.

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On the topic of 2023, though, Verstappen will enter Qatar on the verge of his third consecutive F1 championship. The Dutchman only needs to outscore Sergio Perez by three points across the weekend, with 34 points on offer in total; 25 for the race win, 8 for the Sprint win and 1 for setting the fastest lap. Barring Perez outright outpacing Verstappen on Sunday, the title should be going Dutch for the third time when the checkered flag falls in Qatar.

Behind Red Bull, who won their sixth Constructors’ title last time out in Suzuka, the battle for second place rages on. Mercedes currently sits second with a 20-point lead over Ferrari. The Scuderia will be looking to carry their momentum from Carlos Sainz‘s win in Singapore – the only Grand Prix not owned by Red Bull so far.

Aston Martin and McLaren sit fourth and fifth with six races remaining. The former have seen a sharp drop in performance after starting the year as the de facto number two squad while McLaren has been on a tear since the end of the summer break. Lando Norris is currently on a two-race streak of runner-up finishes, with Oscar Piastri taking his first career podium in Japan.

Following Qatar will be the second Americas leg of the season with the United States, Mexico City, Brazil and Las Vegas Grands Prix before the circus swings back to the Gulf region for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. At the very least, there’s a chance that we get to the five-to-go mark with a championship fight technically alive. If we make it to four-to-go with the title still mathematically attainable for somebody not named Verstappen, we’ll match 2022 in terms of title excitement. If we get to three-to-go…

Nevermind.

About the author

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Alex is the IndyCar Content Director at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also serves as Managing Director of The Asia Cable, a publication focused on the international affairs and politics of the Asia-Pacific region which he co-founded in 2023. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.

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