Race Weekend Central

F1 Midweek: Physical Demands at Qatar Require Pause

There were plenty of problems at this past weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix.

Okay, besides the usual… questionable decisions and human rights abuses by the host country. That just goes without saying now in Formula 1. Then. Now. Forever.

In addition to tire troubles that bordered on a fiasco but didn’t cross the line, there were massive problems with driver fatigue both during and then after the race.

Logan Sargeant, who is in a very rough spot as the lone driver on the grid still trying to prove he is worth a renewed contract, had to retire his Williams midway through the Grand Prix itself. The driver then had trouble getting out of his car in the garage and had to be helped out as team members shielded him from much of the media.

Esteban Ocon threw up in his helmet in the first part of the race, then needed medical assistance in the aftermath of the race. He defined the race as “hell”.

Lance Stroll and Alex Albon both had trouble getting out of their cars in parc ferme, with Stroll later stating that he passed out multiple times during the race in high speed corners. Onboard footage was later found that showed Stroll’s head drooping down while piloting his Aston Martin.

See also
F1 Review: With Championship Already in Hand, Max Verstappen Cruises to Win in Qatar Grand Prix

Even the podium drivers were not safe. Any of our normal readers who have seen our race recaps know that we usually have a transcribed quote from the race winner and/or somebody else significant on the podium.

I’ve written a lot of these recaps the last few years, and because of how F1 has been, that means of hearing a lot of Max Verstappen. I’ve never heard Verstappen as worn out as he was at Qatar and at one point he simply looked lost mid-interview.

Runner-up Oscar Piastri then laid down in the cool down room, with Verstappen also choosing to sit on the floor rather than his chair. Verstappen was the oldest driver in the cool down room, having turned 26 years old not 10 days prior to the race, yet all three acted like they were no less than 50.

So, why did all of this happen? Well, it was a perfect storm. 76% humidity at 88 degrees Fahrenheit did not do anybody any favors whatsoever, and is probably the key one. But there were still other issues as well.

The Losail International Circuit is one that a lot of drivers liked prior to this weekend because of its unique design. The motorbike track has a very long pit straight followed by what is essentially a backstretch full of high speed, high G corners.

It’s a bit like a more complex yet flat version of Bahrain. The key difference is that Bahrain has three fairly long straights to go along with the big pit straight, giving drivers time to breathe and take some air into the cockpit. That’s not the case in Qatar.

See also
The Pit Straight: A Narrowly Averted Tire Disaster

The FIA has stated that they will be investigating and providing recommendations in the future as far as how to avoid another situation like this. And it’s one that could well come up again, considering F1 has four races in the Middle East, three races in very warm areas of the United States (Miami, Austin, Las Vegas), and a race in Mexico City.

Mexico City is a concerning one in that that’s a track that has very thin air due to how high it is above sea level. A situation like what we had in Qatar happening there is fairly unlikely, but would be much, much worse for drivers.

Originally, this column was going to be about how the FIA needs to begin looking into how to fix this problem, so kudos to them for being very proactive on this issue. Now, let’s look at somebody who isn’t.

So, I preface this by saying that Martin Brundle is probably the best color commentator today across all English speaking motorsport. When he’s actually in the booth, he always knocks it out of the park, and he’s the last link F1 has to the great Murray Walker.

Now, with that being said, he’s being a right fossil on this issue.

I think my favorite part of this tweet is that the first two people he points to as his justification are Ayrton Senna and Jackie Stewart. Senna of course being one of the most infamous fatalities in motorsport in the past 50 years, along with Dale Earnhardt. Stewart, meanwhile, retired due to safety concerns; and of drivers with at least 24 Grand Prix victories, Stewart and Sebastian Vettel are the only ones who didn’t die young, are still active, or who came back after their first retirement. In Stewart’s case, it was due to his own continued work as a safety advocate.

Basically, his point is wrong and goes against everything that Stewart in particular has worked for in the last 50 years.

When Sargeant informed the Williams team of his condition over the radio, they did what was absolutely the right thing. Telling him that there was no shame in retiring from the race, and that his health was the team’s biggest concern in that moment. He wasn’t weak for it, nor was it comparable to a very rainy day.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting F1 teams and drivers to be challenged. I’m sure there’s a part of Verstappen who would love to have a serious contender to him again. But part of that challenge should not be straight up inhumane conditions.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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