Why were F1 drivers so sick at the Qatar GP?

The Qatar Grand Prix proved to be a challenging event for F1 drivers as many of them were treated at the medical center after the race.

Williams’ Logan Sargeant withdrew mid-race due to illness, while Alpine’s Esteban Ocon suffered a helmet problem early on.

Both Alex Albon and Lance Stroll struggled to get out of their cars in parc ferme, while in the podium rest room, Oscar Piastri lay down to collect himself.

F1 drivers are among the 20 fittest athletes in the world, and many of them undergo sauna training in preparation for temperature-critical races, so why has the Lusail International Circuit proven such a challenge?

Qatari heat

At the start of the race the air temperature rose to 32 degrees, even though the sun had set well in advance, and although it is not a heat that in any way exceeds other events, many factors played to the drivers’ detriment.

Humidity was also high in Doha as the wind decreased during the first two days of the race. With less cool air coming from the breeze to cool the effects of temperature and humidity, one mitigating variable was removed.

A snowball effect then occurs as the temperature in the cockpit rises rapidly, and less airflow helps cool drivers as the air temperature combines with each car’s internal heartbeat, sending heat levels through the roof.

Drivers feel the heat loss generated by the car’s mechanics, such as the engine, as Fernando Alonso demonstrated when he radioed his Aston Martin team to complain about a burnt seat.

George Russell could be seen lifting his sun visor in the hope of getting some fresh air while pitting for Mercedes, and Lando Norris doing the same for McLaren.

However, on the race track, when Yuki Tsunoda tried to put air into his helmet, the AlphaTauri driver had a face full of sand.

Hot air from the cars ahead can also exacerbate the problem and as the driver drinks throughout the race, the driver will stay hydrated as the driver warms up, as will the fluid, so there is no cooling effect either – and this usually leads to the driver choosing not to take the necessary fluid.

Track layout

The Lusail International Circuit was built in 2004 primarily for motorcycle racing, as can be seen from its layout.

One main straight is connected at both ends by a track consisting mainly of medium and high-speed corners, giving drivers little respite from the intense work of the lap.

High G-force stresses the body and uses up additional energy, which only increases the effects of dehydration caused by intense heat.

When the start-finish straight finally arrives, drivers face their only real chance of overtaking for a lap, meaning there’s no need to think about relaxing.

Tire problems

For tracks where this is usually a problem, tire management is usually used to ensure a one or two stop race is possible, which usually leads to drastically longer lap times compared to qualifying.

However, measures introduced by the FIA ​​and Pirelli in response to tire safety concerns arising from Friday’s post-practice compound analysis, in which drivers were allowed to run no more than 18 laps on a set of tires, were thrown out the window by management.

Instead, it was necessary to make the most of the shorter runs so as not to lose out when everyone made at least three stops.

How to maximize travel time? Rate.

The drivers raced as if it were qualifying for 57 laps, which only added to the effects of heat and exhaustion. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc commented on this in a conversation with the media, including: after the race, explaining: “The most important thing is that we had to make three stops, which meant not having to check the tires at high speed and qualifying lap after qualifying lap.”

Although there is extensive training for such demanding races, no driver is prepared to perform lap after lap at maximum effort – it’s like asking a marathon runner to sprint the entire 42.2 km.

© XPBimages

Why were there no problems at other desert races?

Concerns surrounding last year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar meant that it would be held in December rather than the usual summer tournament date.

The reasons for this were obvious during this weekend’s F1 race, and the heat proved the problem.

However, the schedule usually includes such highlights as other Middle Eastern Grands Prix in the sport have proven.

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia also take place at night, but in March, where they do not experience the highest temperatures of the year, while Abu Dhabi takes place at the end of the season in late November for a similar reason.

Qatar is being postponed until November next season, which should alleviate the problem somewhat, but if similar problems persist, discussions will need to be held about driver safety in the future.

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