The whole Qatar weekend was not what F1 is about as a sport. The weekend has the glitz and the glam that comes with the sport. It had safety cars, crashes, and overtakes. What more could a viewer ask for? At face value, it was a good weekend of racing with the new weekend format.
I would go as far as saying the new format was a success. However, I want to discuss something else here. First I want to discuss the track itself and then the health danger to the drivers.
Qatar has a boring track where drivers retire from the race due to beaching themselves in the gravel traps. In my opinion that is not what should be retiring cars. I know that gravel traps are a safety feature and that driver safety is the most important. However, if gravel traps were the answer to driver safety every time then they would be everywhere. Gravel traps are not fit for good racing if they are at every corner. Throughout the whole weekend, too many drivers fell into the gravel trap when at other tracks they would have been able to continue. While this is just a personal opinion, I want to speak more about how the track interacted with the tyres.
It is no doubt that the heat of the track caused too much graining of the tyres. Despite knowing this the track designers and race organisers knew this race was held in a hot country so why not make adjustments? The curbs around the track were so steep that they damaged the floors of the car. The steep curbs also added to the graining problem on tyres.
While race organisers cannot control the weather, F1 as the overarching body must ask themselves if it is simply too hot to race there. It is simply not safe enough to hold a race in a place that is too hot for drivers, cars and tyres. This may be a one-off event, yet this has overshadowed the weekend in my opinion.
The safety concerns over whether a tyre could last more than 18 laps is by no means what this sport advocates for. Drivers and teams should not be worried from a safety perspective whether tyres can last such a short time. This not only ruined team strategy but also the element of surprise which makes this sport so engaging. Teams were able to closely predict when drivers would come in for their 3 pitstops.
As a result of the short tyre life the Grand Prix became a 3 stop race. Given other circumstances like rain, this would have been acceptable and entertaining. Yet these tyre changes were based on safety. That is not okay or fair to the teams and drivers. The tyres are not made to operate in the conditions which they did on Sunday and as a result caused a major safety concern not conducive to good racing. The temperature of the track is abnormal and unsafe.
The track is designed for Moto GP. This matters because motorbikes only have 2 wheels, thus not creating as much heat due to the surface area of the tyres to the track as a 4 wheeled car. This means the track is cooler and graining is less severe. The track got too hot and as a result, the tyres made for Formula 1 cars were not as safe to use as they usually are.
Now I would like to mention arguably the main worry of the weekend. Drivers have retired for different reasons in the past, yet drivers like Logan Sargent were forced out of the race due to extreme dehydration. Ocon was sick in his helmet within the first 15 laps. Other drivers commented on the heat and how they nearly fainted in the car. How is this safe? How can a race where drivers are too hot still be on the calendar next year? During the race, drivers do have the opportunity to drink through water tanks in the car. However, the temperature was so high that the water became so hot it lost its effect and the seats were too hot to sit in. This led to extreme dehydration forcing Sargent out of the race. Without cool water, many of the drivers found the race more taxing than they had trained for. It is common among drivers to train in a sauna to simulate the heat they may face.
To put this into a non-F1 perspective, this is like a football team training in Spain for a week to then play a football game at mid-day on the equator. The drivers could not be expected to train for conditions that they should not be driving in. These drivers are trained hard to withstand massive amounts of G force, to last 50+ laps and drive consistently as well as a number of other taxing workouts on the body. However, by the end of the race drivers couldn’t get out of their cars, drivers were being taken in ambulances to the medical centres and engineers and mechanics were helping drivers out of the car.
These are some of the most athletic and stamina-built people in the world. The mere fact they couldn’t get out of the car unassisted by the end of the race is so dangerous. This surely has to add to the debate on driver safety. What if there was a Romain Grosjean incident but the drivers were so heat-exhausted and dehydrated that they couldn’t get out of the car? Would the race still take place next year? Why take that chance when it could have been a real possibility and avoidable?
My personal opinion is no, the Qatar Grand Prix should not happen next year.