The extreme conditions faced by Formula 1 drivers at the Qatar Grand Prix “exceeded the limits of what was acceptable” during a “dangerous” race that saw drivers “pass out in the car”, vomit into their helmets, crash out of the race and fall in the aftermath.
The bruising humidity at Lusail, combined with the fast nature of the track and mandatory tire stint lengths that led to full-throttle racing rather than tire maintenance, took a heavy toll on much of the F1 field.
“This is the hardest race of our career for every Formula 1 driver, for everyone, without exception. I don’t believe anyone who says this isn’t the case,” was Charles Leclerc’s harsh verdict after the race.
Many drivers publicly agreed, with Grand Prix Drivers’ Association director George Russell describing the race as “an absolutely brutal race” as he experienced a new level of exhaustion in the cockpit.
“Definitely the most physical race I have ever experienced,” Russell said. “I was close to fainting in this race. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.
“I had to ask my engineer to encourage me to take my mind off it.
“I do a lot of warm-up exercises in the sauna, so you push your body to the limit and sometimes you just have to get out of the sauna. And that’s how I felt from about lap 20.
“I opened the visor for the entire race and it was hot, but it was better than no air. It was brutal.
“I felt very bad in the car. I wasn’t physically sick, I wasn’t sick, but I felt sick.
Seventh-place finisher Esteban Ocon was actually physically ill with his helmet “for two laps” in his Alpine less than a third of the way through the race.
“Those were the hardest points I’ve ever had to fight for,” Ocon said after the race.
“I felt bad on lap 15, 16 and was vomiting in the cockpit for two laps. And then I thought, “Fuck, this is going to be a long race.”
“I tried to calm down, I tried to remember that the mental side of sports is the strongest part of the body and I managed to master it and finish the race.
“But honestly, I didn’t expect the race to be so difficult. I can usually run two distances in a race, even in Singapore. Physically, in terms of muscles and circulation, I always feel good. During the race it was about 80 degrees Celsius in the cockpit.
“I don’t think we probably did the best job of not keeping the heat at the back but dissipating it into the cockpit where the driver is driving, and I think that was probably the reason why we felt so bad today.
“But yes. I’m glad we finished the race.”
F1 newcomer Logan Sargeant was unable to finish the race, voluntarily ending his Grand Prix due to exhaustion, having already been “weakened by flu-like symptoms” earlier in the week.
He and teammate Alex Albon visited a medical center after the race, and Albon was “treated for acute heat exposure”.
For some, stopping was simply not an option. Ocon replied: “You have to kill me to retire” when asked if he would consider it.
Valtteri Bottas called the conditions “torture” and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll said he was “fainting in the car” and “fading in and out of consciousness” due to the conditions.
He suggested this contributed to the two restriction penalties he incurred during the race, which cost him the points finish.
“They painted the curbs and narrowed the track so you can’t even see the curbs, you just try to see them, but the problem is you can’t see where you’re going because you black out,” Stroll said.
Leclerc, who escaped a penalty, made a similar argument that the already difficult limits on the track became a “nightmare” on Sunday.
“I think it’s hard to put it into words and explain how hard it is,” he said.
“Especially in overload, when you are very dehydrated, you can drink, but this drink is more like tea than anything else because it is over 60°C, so it is extremely difficult to rehydrate and again at g-force, you also cannot see.
“The track limits we are talking about are [the difference between just] centimeters at 280 km/h; in qualifying when we’re fresh it’s hard to respect them, but at the end of the race it’s a nightmare.”
Russell called it “exceeding the legal driving limit” because many of the race participants felt nauseous and were close to fainting.
“You don’t want to pass out going 200 miles an hour in a straight line,” he said.
“And that’s how I felt sometimes. If it had been warmer, I think I would have retired because my body was about to give up.
Race winner Max Verstappen was of a similar opinion – he said that “it’s already at the limit of what should be allowed”, while third-place finisher Lando Norris went a step further.
“It’s sad that we had to find it this way,” Norris added. “It’s never a pleasant situation. Some people go to the medical center and pass out and stuff like that.
“It’s quite a dangerous thing. This is not a point where you can say, “The drivers need to train more or something like that”, we are in a closed car which gets very hot during a very physical race.
“It’s frustrating because on TV it probably doesn’t look very physical, but clearly when there are people who are retiring or in poor condition, it’s too much for the speed we’re getting, it’s too dangerous.”
Teammate Oscar Piastri suggested F1 was “lucky it wasn’t worse” given it was “four or five degrees warmer” on track on Thursday.
“We need to discuss a lot of things related to this weekend, but the situation is not good,” Piastri said.
Many drivers expressed relief that next year’s race will be held a few months later – the Qatar GP has a December 1 date on the 2024 calendar – when it will theoretically be cooler.
“I know this race will take place later in the season [in 2024]a few months later it will be much colder, but it’s something that needs to be talked about and I’m sure we will talk about it because it shouldn’t be happening at all,” Leclerc said.
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