Before starting the American phase of the season, Formula 1 stops in Qatar for the eighteenth round. The Sprint format could offer some surprises, whilst Max Verstappen can secure a third world title in a row.
Temperatures will be high, with almost 40°C highs and around 30°C lows throughout the weekend. Engine cooling will be a crucial factor, and we could witness several surprises. Given the characteristics of the circuit, McLaren has a good chance of confirming its second strength after the excellent test in Japan, which saw the MCL60 close to Max Verstappen’s dominant RB19.
The Woking team has a great chance to take fourth place in the Constructors’ championship at the expense of Aston Martin, now a shadow car of the one that debuted in Bahrain.
Ferrari and Mercedes are now separated by 20 points, and with only one free practice available to optimise the set-up, the Brackley engineers will have to reverse the trend seen so far this season so as not to lose any more ground.
Further back, upgrades have changed the pecking order. Alpine are still quite close to the points, with most teams separated by just a few tenths.
Qatar GP: Ferrari will count on a strong baseline – Mercedes must reverse the trend
Since last season, Ferrari has often started the weekends with a good basic set-up studied in Maranello in the weeks preceding the race, which is why the Sprint format can work in their favour.
On the contrary, Mercedes has almost always needed Friday evening to understand the demands of its car and optimize the set-up. These difficulties may become evident given that the parc fermé will come into force on Friday afternoon, but the circuit is unknown for everyone with this new generation of cars.
McLaren finds a circuit that suits the characteristics of its car very well, with many medium and high-speed sections and a limited presence of low-speed corners, which would have favoured the SF23 more.
These attributes also suit Adrian Newey’s car perfectly, so it is likely Max Verstappen can again dominate.
There will be only one DRS zone, corresponding to the main straight – which will also be the only stretch where speeds of 300 km/h will be exceeded.
The teams have little data on the Losail circuit, but according to the information coming out from the teams, there is little need to compromise on set-up.
Given the absence of long straights and fast changes of direction, set-up could prove to be less complicated than at other tracks, like Suzuka, where both McLaren and Mercedes struggled on Friday.
After the decent performance in Japan, Ferrari will have to confirm the steps forward made with the high-load wing on a circuit where the setups will probably be even less efficient compared to Japan.
The surface that debuted in Suzuka gave greater stability to the SF23, but in the first sector, the Red was almost four-tenths behind (in 35 seconds) on Sunday.
It is no secret that the leading group, if we want to include Red Bull with its pursuers, has returned to being a group of four.
Aston Martin has followed a reverse trend compared to McLaren, losing a lot of performance from mid-season onwards, and in recent races, it has often been closer to the other teams in the middle of the group than the first pursuers.
Miracles cannot be expected from the AMR23, although the team continues to work to bring further innovations this season, and it will be difficult to break away from the position of fifth-fastest, especially as others introduce updates.
However, the little need to find compromises, with few changes of direction and many similar curves, will be able to help the engineers find a better setup and benefit the performance of Alonso and Stroll’s car.
Despite this, a circuit that at the start of the world championship would have exalted the Silverstone single-seater, with many medium and high-speed sections, may at the moment prove to be another of the tracks on which the green car suffers enormously.
Qatar GP: Pirelli chooses the C1-C3 compounds, curbs and asphalt modified compared to two years ago
In the usual pre-Grand Prix preview, Pirelli revealed that Losail will be one of the toughest tracks on tyres, “comparable to Silverstone and Suzuka”.
Just like in the two races just mentioned, the Italian company has chosen to bring the hardest compounds used in 2023: C1, C2 and C3.
An important detail of the weekend, linked to the single free practice due to the Sprint format, is that the FP1 will be run under sunlight (at around 40°C ambient temperature).
However, in Qualifying, the Sprint and Official Race – the conditions will be slightly cooler. This could be significant in shaping overall performance.
Speaking again about tyres, Enrico Sampò, Ferrari’s Head of Driving Simulator, commented on some of the characteristics of the Qatar GP as follows:
“The fast corners require careful management of the temperature and behaviour of the tires to avoid overheating and premature wear.” confirming what Pirelli said. The track has been completely resurfaced compared to 2021, with the pit land and curbs – which gave the drivers many problems during the race modified – after causing several issues many years ago.
No other support races are scheduled over the weekend, so the track will not be able to rubberize thanks to the passage of other cars.
However, an important evolution of the track is expected due to the new asphalt and thanks to the natural removal of the sand present on the track.
Although with completely different cars, Lewis Hamilton won the Qatar GP two years ago with a two-stop strategy, although three stops were also common.
Author: Andrea Vergani
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang