Welcome to the Qatar Grand Prix – 2023

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Tsunoda fears Lusail will be a “floor destroyer”

Yuki Tsunoda fears that the revamped Lusail circuit will be a “floor destroyer” this weekend thanks to new kerbs that he thinks are too aggressive. After a year off the circuit has been upgraded ahead of this year’s race the first major resurfacing works and a new pit lane since the last race in 2021.

On top of a complete resurfacing, the first time that has happened since the venue was built in 2004, all the kerbs around the track have been revised. This was initially viewed as a positive step because back at the 2021 race there were a spate of problems caused by kerbs causing punctures for drivers.

During that race Valtteri Bottas, Nicholas Latifi and George Russell all suffered high-profile punctures that post-race investigations pointed to being caused by abuse of the kerbs.

But as drivers got their first sighting of the Qatar upgrades ahead of this weekend’s event, concerns have emerged that the new solution introduced could be even worse. Tsunoda says the whole team is worried that the new kerb design is far too aggressive for the current generation of ground effect cars, describing Lusail as a “floor destroyer track.”

He said, “It seems like they changed to the aggressive kerbs. Here is always a story with track limits, but they made even worse the kerbs because when you go over the white line, you are going to have a proper penalty – which seems like it’s going to be a high risk to damage the car.”

Tsunoda explained that the biggest issue was the transition between the kerb and the run-off, which left the risk of a car running wide being exposed to a battering from underneath. This means that its OK going along the kerb but their could be issues if drivers go over the kerb.


Ricciardo delays return further

Daniel Ricciardo delayed his return from his hand injury until the next race in Austin, giving Liam Lawson his first opportunity to take part in a sprint weekend. The Australian who was brought in to replace Nyck de Vries after he failed to meet expectations.

Two races later, Ricciardo crashed in practice at Zandvoort, sustaining a broken metacarpal in his left hand and flew to Spain for immediate surgery. It was suggested by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner that he could return in Lusail but it’s now understood that has been further delayed by a fortnight to Austin.

AlphaTauri head of trackside engineering Jonathan Eddolls said ahead of Japan, “He’s still going through that recovery phase. We’re still talking a while away, so we wouldn’t want to put a target on it. The recovery is going well. We’ve got some simulator work planned before a return.”

“I think from our side and his side, there’s no rush to get him back too early. The worst thing would be to come back before it’s properly healed and cause any issues. So, watch this space. The simulator is a very good representation of the car, all of the loads, et cetera. I think the final decision is more than likely going to come from him rather than from us.”

Eddolls said that Ricciardo knows how the pain and recovery are, and the team were putting him under pressure to return as soon as possible, with the team having a good pool of three drivers.

This delayed return for Ricciardo will afford Super Formula points runner-up Lawson another substitute appearance before he takes a backseat in 2024 to serve as the reserve driver for Red Bull. Lawson has impressed with his appearances given how he navigated the treacherous wet-weather and safety car interruptions on his debut in Zandvoort before banking two points for ninth place in Singapore.

But ahead of the Japanese GP, AlphaTauri confirmed a 2024 line-up of Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda to leave the Kiwi on the sidelines.

Ahead of the weekend, Lawson said Ricciardo had FaceTimed him to tell him he would be racing in Lusail. he only found out he would be racing on Monday after picking up a “random” video call, which turned out to be from eight-time GP winner Ricciardo.

Lawson said, “I was sitting at lunch and I had a random number call me and it was a FaceTime. I was really confused because people don’t just FaceTime randomly, so I answered it and it was just Daniel’s face! He basically said that he thought he’d let me have another weekend. Obviously good to be back, good to be in the car this weekend. I’m excited.”

Speaking about his preparation for this weekend, the New Zealander said “To be honest, after Japan, it was looking more likely that we’d be driving so we just carried on preparing like normal. I didn’t assume I was driving but we prepped like a normal situation like I would be. It’s a bit different. I want to be here full-time but just trying to make the most of this.”


Talking Points Lusail

F1 returns to Qatar the stage for Max Verstappen to have his first attempt to wrap up the title. The Dutchman only needs to outscore his teammate by three points in either the Sprint or Grand Prix.

Two weeks ago in Suzuka following his defeat in Singapore, Verstappen bounced back with a sensational pole lap which was labelled as “one of the great qualifying laps in F1 history”.

The Dutchman, who needs to finish sixth or higher to secure the title this Saturday in the Sprint Race, held off the McLaren challenge at the start of the race and romped his way to his thirteenth victory the year. He could make history as well becoming the first to seal the title in a sprint.

There are not many reasons to think Verstappen won’t seal the title this Saturday – not Sunday, as it’s a Sprint Weekend. However, the Losail International Circuit is very challenging for what looks like a conventional race track.

The fast, flowing circuit is filled with medium to high-speed corners that should suit Red Bull. They reward drivers with good rhythm, but heavy loading on tyres could hamper teams that suffer more with tyre degradation in the race. We are also in the desert and the changeable winds can catch drivers out, which creates a chance

Last time out amidst a controversial and dramatic season notable for the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen. More controversy took place during qualifying when Verstappen was awarded a five-grid place penalty as he didn’t slow down for double-waved yellow flags.

It meant Verstappen started from seventh, while Hamilton was on pole, so we were denied a potential head-to-head battle down to Turn 1. Fernando Alonso brilliantly overtook Pierre Gasly for second place at Turn 2 on the opening lap, as Verstappen got up to fourth.

Losail is a high-speed circuit which mainly punishes the left-side tyres and last time the abrasive kerbs were another reason, and the hot track temperatures – despite the race being held during the night – did not help the tyres either. But this year we have new profiled tyres, it could be hotter given it’s earlier in the year.

The fast, flowing circuit is filled with medium to high-speed corners that should suit Red Bull. They reward drivers with good rhythm, but heavy loading on tyres could hamper teams that suffer more with tyre degradation in the race. But drivers need to be careful given changeable winds and, coupled with the desert dust, they could make things more challenging and unpredictable, particularly in qualifying when mistakes are likely to be costly.

Red Bull had a difficult weekend at the last night race in getting their tyres into the right operation window, we also have a new track surface, it doesn’t help having one hour of unrepresentative practice going into Grand Prix qualifying this being a night sprint weekend.

Verstappen win in Suzuka was by about twenty seconds, was one of the biggest of the season.

Competition for the top six places is currently strong, with McLaren now firmly in the mix alongside Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. Aston Martin’s season-opening form has faded, but Fernando Alonso can still get up there. Apart from Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton has been the most consistent scorer, finishing in the top six places in all but one race this season

McLaren took their first double podium for two years at Suzuka as Norris finished second and Oscar Piastri was third for the first time in his F1 career. For the second time this year, McLaren’s upgrades have given them a big step in performance and the high-speed Losail corners should suit their car again.

While Red Bull wrapped up the constructors in Suzuka, the battle between Ferrari and Mercedes for second. In the last few races Ferrari has solved the problems they had with tyre wear earlier in the season, but this circuit looks more favourable to the Scuderia.

Alpine must do a better job with communication

Alpine says it must do a better job in communicating with its drivers, after the team orders fallout in Japan. Pierre Gasly was left angry after Suzuka, having been told on the final lap to slow down and let team-mate Esteban Ocon through to take ninth place.

The French manufacturer decided to swap Gasly and Ocon because it believed that Gasly was best placed to chase down Fernando Alonso. That left Gasly upset, feeling the switch was unnecessary and that there had been no mention of it happening beforehand.

Acting team principal Bruno Famin has completed a deeper dive into the circumstances of what happened and has accepted that the pit wall could have done a better job in making things clearer to Gasly. However, he stands by the decisions that were made that day because he says the focus is always on trying to help the team overall.

Team orders are always going to be controversial, but they are part of the sport we need to accept that, teams always want to maximise their points and that will always cause friction. But we tried banning team orders it didn’t work I think teams need to find ways of managing the communication, but it’s better to be clear about it than do it on the sly.

Famin said, “Our priority, first and foremost, is to score as many points as possible at any given race weekend. We saw the opportunity for Pierre, with fresher tyres, to try to fight for eighth place. We had to try.”

“Our communication with him may not have been optimal and in the future, we will make sure that it is. Both drivers are clearly motivated for success and maximising the team result and I’m happy this is the case.”

Gasly is more philosophical about what happened now too, having sat down and discussed events with the team after the race. he said, “Sometimes emotions do spill over and, of course, as a driver, I want to push to the limit and achieve the best result possible.”

“I was definitely frustrated in the aftermath, but as a team, we were able to discuss the strategy and execution. And what is most important is to maximise the overall team result at any given weekend.” I always take comments made in the race with a pinch of salt, as emotions are running high during a race.


Aston Martin accepts rivals did “a stronger job”

Aston Martin says it has to accept rival teams did “a stronger job” in the 2023 development race as it continues to slip back. Last time the sport was in the region back in March, the team were seen as the ones to watch this seasons with two podiums and three more allowing Fernando Alonso to score five podiums in six race.

But as the European season got underway the team, began to slip back as it struggled in places where balance is needed between straight line speed and cornering which requires aerodynamic efficiency comes at a premium, as Alonso was restricted to just one more podium in eight races.

In the meantime, it has also lost touch with Mercedes in the constructors’ table and is instead looking over its shoulder at the resurgent McLaren team. Performance director Tom McCullough admitted that the team rivals who had done a better job at catching up.

Asked by, if Aston was expecting others to catch up after its rapid start “There are definitely some teams at the start of the year who were underperforming, who were taking a step back, we knew that they’d get back on top of that, most notably McLaren and Mercedes.”

“At the start of the year, we were a little bit surprised to be the second or third fastest team, but the margins between the second, third and fourth fastest teams were always very small. And we’re always very aware that it doesn’t take much to fall to the back of that pack.

“Then just from a pure development race, bringing bits to the car, making the car quicker, it was a relative game. Some teams have been doing a stronger job than we have, we have to accept that.”

The team has repeatedly stated the technical directives introduced in Singapore were not a contributing factor in its downturn in form. However, Aston believes that it now has a good understanding of its weaknesses, and they can be more competitive on circuits that combine severe downforce requirements with straight line speed and low-speed handling.

Looking ahead to this weekend, the team is looking to return towards the front of the challenging pack, Losail’s high downforce circuit doesn’t emphasise aerodynamic efficiency as much as Suzuka did.

McCullough explained, “Qatar is quite different in the way that it’s predominantly high-speed corners, and the efficiency of the cars not as important so you’ll be up on rear wing level. One of the things we were struggling with [in Japan] is being competitive in both high-speed corners and low-speed corners, and in a straight line.”


Bearman to drive in FP1 in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi

Ferrari Academy driver Ollie Bearman will drive for Haas in FP1 at the Mexico City and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix. The Englishman has won four races in his debut F2 season and is in Lusail embedded with Haas so he can see how the operates.

He is the latest in a long line of Ferrari youngsters who have had outings with the Haas F1 team. The list includes Charles Leclerc, Mick Schumacher, Antonio Giovinazzi and Robert Schwartzman.

Speaking about the opportunity, Bearman said: “I am so happy to be joining Haas F1 Team driving in Mexico and Abu Dhabi. Getting to Formula One has been my dream since I was go-karting, so to be driving a car for the first time this year is really special.”

“I’m grateful to the team, and of course Ferrari, for allowing me this chance. I’m working hard to make sure I’m ready to support the team as best I can on both occasions.”

Bearman joined the FDA in November 2021 after winning both the Italian and ADAC (German) F4 championships. After finishing third overall in FIA F3 last year, he stepped up to F2 for this season and is currently sixth in the standings. His four wins included a sprint/feature double in Baku. He also won feature races at Barcelona and Monza.

Haas team boss Guenther Steiner has no doubts that Bearman is up to the task of stepping up to F1. He said, “We’re very happy to offer Oliver Bearman these outings in Mexico and Abu Dhabi. He’s had a stellar rookie season in Formula Two, four wins is testament to that, and we know his background preparation coming into these weekends will be first-rate. We look forward to welcoming Oliver into the team and have him drive the VF-23.”


Hamilton Mercedes winner to be auctioned

The car which Lewis Hamilton took his first victory for Mercedes at the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix will be auctioned at the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix. Following his seven-year stint with McLaren, Hamilton joined the Silver Arrows for 2013 and has led the team to its record-breaking title success.

The following year Mercedes mastered the hybrid era with Hamilton dominating the rest of the decade winning six championships in seven seasons while Mercedes won seven drivers and eight constructors between 2014 and 2021.

The car he drove at Budapest, Mercedes W04 chassis #4, is up for auction with RM Sotheby’s and will headline its Las Vegas sale on 17 November – the Saturday of the F1 weekend. This is the first Mercedes driven by Hamilton to be auctioned off with an estimated to be worth £8.2-£12.4m.

RM Sotheby’s global head of private sales Shelby Myers said: “In the world of automotive great-ness, few marques match the allure of the Mercedes Silver Arrows.

“The Mercedes W196, which sold for $29.6million, remains the most valuable Formula 1 car ever sold. However, it’s the Mercedes-Benz Uhlenhaut Coupe that fetched $ 142 million, cementing the Silver Arrows’ place in history books as one of the world’s most valuable and recognisable brands.”

Myers believes that the cars significance cannot be overstated, saying it signalled the beginning of Hamilton’s dominance of the hybrid era.

This weekend RM Sotheby’s is also selling a vast array of significant trophies, race suits, helmets, steering wheels and other memorabilia from the private collection of 1992 F1 world champion Nigel Mansell.

Highlights from the lot list include three GP winner’s trophies from 1986, three from 1987, plus his second-place pot from the 1992 Monaco GP, notable for the famed lead battle between Mansell and McLaren’s Ayrton Senna.


The Weekend Ahead

This weekend the main story is likely to be Max Verstappen wrapping up his third championship, he needs to score three points in either the sprint or Grand Prix. I believe its highly likely that Verstappen, barring two retirements which seem unlikely, will seal a third title.

I think while this is the second race in Lusail, we need to view this race as a new race as the FIA put it in the notes, because it’s a new track surface and we have a few modifications to a few corners and kerbs. But it is a high speed and downforce circuit which should favour Red Bull, but you need to wonder if the difficulty they had in Singapore with tyres could come back.

There will be a lot still to learn about this circuit we have only raced here once, twenty-two months ago. Practice will be busy we only have an hour before qualifying and the teams aren’t really going to learn much we are effectively blind going into qualifying as the conditions are very different.

But this is a permeant circuit however the track is new, so we should see a lot of track evolution and being a night qualifying session we know that the lap times fall dramatically.

The battle behind Red Bull has been close in recent races I think this is more a  Mercedes circuit given its flowing nature and in more recent races they have gone back to where traditionally been strong. McLaren are also looking very good as we know they had a double podium at Suzuka, they are the team who have made the most progress this season.


You can join us for coverage of this weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix with reports and analysis on our website. Practice starts Friday 16:30 AST / 14:30 BST, Grand Prix Qualifying 20:00 / 18:00, Saturday Shootout 16:00 / 14:00, Sprint 20:30 / 18:30, and the Grand Prix Sunday 20:00 / 18:00
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