‘It was torture’: F1 drivers’ grueling experience in ‘too extreme’ heat at Qatar GP

Conditions at the Qatar Grand Prix were almost unbearable for drivers due to an unbearable combination of extreme heat, energy-sapping humidity and high cornering forces.

At least one of them was sick in his car, another retired mid-race, and some said they almost passed out. With air temperatures still above 31 degrees Celsius, humidity at 75% and little wind at the start of the night race, drivers found conditions to be at or above acceptable limits.

Yuki Tsunoda stated that it was “just too hot” to drive. “I didn’t want to open the visor because sand was also getting in through the visor and I feel sand getting in my eyes,” said the AlphaTauri driver. “But if I close it, the amount of heat is just insane. Much worse than expected.”

Kevin Magnussen admitted he “felt nauseous at times” during the race and “really felt dizzy” when he stopped at the end of the race.

Several drivers had to take a break to recover before speaking to RaceFans and other media after the race. “I was just taking an ice bath, I feel it in my bones and suddenly I’m shaking,” George Russell said.

“It was an absolutely brutal race, definitely the most physical race I have ever experienced. I felt close to fainting during this race. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

Qatar isn’t the only place where drivers are racing and preparing for hot conditions. But Russell quickly found himself at the end of what he had prepared for.

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“I felt bad during this race,” he said. “I had to ask my engineer to encourage me and try to take my mind off it.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Losail International Circuit, 2023
The conditions took their toll on everyone

“I do a lot of warm-up exercises in the sauna, which pushes your body to the limit. And sometimes you just need to get out of that sauna. I felt like that from about lap 20 on. I opened the visor for the entire race and it was hot, but better than no air at all. It was brutal.”

Russell also believed that conditions on Sunday were too difficult. “I think today was over the legal limit for driving,” he said.

“If more than 50% of the rally participants said they felt unwell, couldn’t drive or were on the verge of passing out – you don’t want to pass out while going straight at 200 miles an hour, and that’s how I felt at times. I think if I had a higher temperature I would have retired because my body was about to give up.

Race winner Max Verstappen was no exception, saying that “temperatures like these are just too extreme.”

“When I saw the weather before coming here, I was looking forward to it,” he admitted. “It has nothing to do with extra training or anything else. I think some of the players who struggled today are in great shape, probably even fitter than me.

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“But all day long I feel like I’m walking in a sauna. Then at night the humidity increases. The races are quite long.

Alonso compared the heat to the heat in Bahrain in 2009

“But it’s not the only place. There are several such places. I think Singapore is almost like a two-hour race. And it’s very, very warm. I think it’s also pretty on the edge of what should be allowed. So there are a few things worth paying attention to. But it was way too hot here.

Even the most experienced Formula 1 driver of all time, Fernando Alonso, who took part in his 375th race last weekend, remembers few occasions when conditions were just as hot.

“I think it was definitely one of the hardest,” said the Aston Martin driver. “I think in Malaysia, when we raced in Sepang during the day, I remember it was very extreme conditions. I think it was about 41 degrees in Bahrain in 2009. It was extremely hot. And I think this one will definitely be in the top three.”

However, the Losail International Circuit differs from both of these tracks in that it only has one long straight where drivers can rest.

Alonso admitted that after two days of training on the track, he did not expect that the conditions during the race would be so punishing.

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“Honestly, it was a surprise to me because [it] During free training it wasn’t that bad,” he said. “Maybe it was windy or something, and today we lacked that wind or something, that ventilation.

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, Losail International Circuit, 2023
Bottas described conditions as ‘torture’

“So it was extreme. We need to see if there is any solution in the future and in some extreme conditions we may agree to delay the launch or whatever.”

He was not the only driver who felt the race should be a benchmark for future events to gauge when conditions became too demanding for drivers. Valtteri Bottas called the race “torture”.

“I would say it’s harder than in Singapore[‘s race]. The temperature in the cockpit is starting to get downright too high, I think it’s getting to the point where someone will get heatstroke. Honestly, this feeling is like torture in the car.

He said F1 must impose a limit on how hot the race can be because drivers cannot be expected to make the decision themselves.

“Every driver will try to finish the race. You won’t stop if you can still drive. But at some point it becomes unhealthy and risky.

Sunday’s race should serve to ensure that F1’s upper limit is not exceeded in the future, Bottas believes. “Higher temperatures would be dangerous,” he said. “I wouldn’t go for anything hotter.”

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Qatar Grand Prix 2023

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