Losail International Circuit, Qatar

Why Qatar could be a surprise addition to this year’s F1 calendar

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During the British Grand Prix weekend RaceFans exclusively revealed that F1 was in discussions with Qatar’s Losail circuit to host a replacement for Australia’s cancelled race but added that politicking in the region – until recently sanctions against Qatar from a number of neighbouring states were in place, as were airspace bans for its airline – had complicated talks.

Although the track regularly hosts Moto GP’s season-opening night race, the Qataris are no strangers to F1, having in 2015 jointly bid with RSE Ventures for the 35.5% stake of F1’s commercial rights held by CVC Capital Partners. Sports marketing company RSE is controlled by Stephen Ross and owns the Miami Dolphins, but is better known to F1 fans as promoter of the Miami Grand Prix – confirmed by F1 CEO and president Stefano Domenicali in April.

The rights were secured by Liberty Media instead. However it has long been suspected that, in gratitude for Ross canning his bid, Liberty looked favourably on his efforts to stage a grand prix in Miami. Hence the extraordinary lengths Liberty and RSE went to persuade Miami’s city fathers to approve the race. Perhaps a similar arrangement is in place for Qatar’s F1-ready circuit in Losail?

Qatar is believed to have applied for a grand prix during the Bernie Ecclestone era, but its approaches were rebuffed due to a ‘courtesy’ veto that had been granted to Bahrain by the former F1 tsar. However, according to high-ranking Bahraini sources this veto had no contractual standing. Ecclestone no longer controls F1’s commercial rights; thus there is no impediment to a race in Qatar.

Years of lobbying went into F1’s new Miami race
All these factors had, however, existed since Liberty agreed to acquire F1’s rights at the end of 2016, yet there has been no talk of a grand prix in the emirate situated on the west coast of the Arabian Gulf. Indeed, when Liberty last year cast about for an additional race in the Middle East it turned to Bahrain for an event on the ‘outer’ circuit rather than travel to the nearby Qatari peninsula. True, there were some political tensions at the time, but F1 has generally disregarded these.

In order to fill the 23 slots on the 2021 F1 calendar, the series is presently seeking a replacement for the cancelled Australian Grand Prix. Why not a second race in Bahrain, potentially on the outer circuit again, ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix before the circus moves to Abu Dhabi for the season finale? The Bahrainis have, after all, been most obliging to F1 in its hours of need.

Surprisingly, the explanation may be connected to Formula 1’s eagerness to attract a new manufacturer entrant.

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Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund QIA holds the second-largest individual share block in Volkswagen Group – 14.6%, though the share structure is such that the fund holds 17% of the vote. Domenicali, as a former chief executive of one Volkswagen Group brand, Lamborghini, would surely have met and shared contact data with the Qataris during his four years at the helm of the supercar company.

Duesmann and other VW staff joined recent F1 engine meeting
Domenicali is absolutely determined to attract at least one VW Group brand to F1. Indeed, it is said to be one of the key objectives set for him by Liberty’s board. Hence the presence of his former peers Oliver Blume (Porsche) and Markus Duesmann (Audi) at the recent F1 engine summit. So exclusive was the invite list that Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff was not present, with the three-pointed star’s interests represented by CEO and chairman of Mercedes Cars Ola Källenius.

However, any tentative decision by either (or both) of the two VW Group brands to enter F1 – as engine supplier and/or team owner – would require main board ratification, which is precisely where Audi’s mooted entry fell down in 2014/5. That project was overseen by Domenicali prior to his Lamborghini appointment, and clearly he learned from that bitter disappointment.

Could the offer of a grand prix at the Losail circuit simply be sweetener to persuade the Qataris to look favourably upon an F1 engagement? After all, what better ally to have in the VW Group boardroom than the Qataris – anxious to have a ‘home’ grand prix at which to strut their products – and their 17% voting block?

Twisty Losail is well-suited to motorbike racing
Given that tribal rivalry is acute in the Middle East, what better motivation for the Qataris to vote in favour of an F1 entry than visuals of Bahraini royals crowding around ‘their’ McLaren F1 team on home soil? Crucially, the Bahrainis were recently joined as shareholders by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund; you can bet similar images will surface after Jeddah’s race. Incidentally, Kuwait’s fund owns 7% of Mercedes.

Getting a grand prix at Losail International Circuit signed and sealed for November is a tall order given the political tensions that exist in the region – although these cooled down of late – but all the parties have every reason to work towards agreement, with the big prize being not being the event itself but a commitment from one or both of the VW Group brands to enter F1.

Thus, the Qatar Grand Prix is likely to come to pass – using Moto GP’s night race infrastructure.

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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44 comments on “Why Qatar could be a surprise addition to this year’s F1 calendar”

  1. Also, is it just me or does the Layout resemble the legendarily bad cesars palace track?

    1. @mrboerns Barely any similarities.

      1. I think he is referring to the way the track on a map always goes up then down, up then down, up then down.

        Which, if you people actually looked, you would see his point

    2. I do see some resemblence. Let’s hope that’s the only thing…..

  2. I wouldn’t mind Losail, although like with Sakhir, bringing Jeddah forward by seven days would be better for avoiding unnecessary back-and-forth travel within the Arabian Peninsula region. Abu Dhabi GP is at risk because of UK’s red list, though, which may change this. Qatar and Bahrain are also red list countries, but a non-issue for them if either preceded Jeddah rather than a non-race weekend. Anyway, choosing Losail instead of Sakhir would bring more variety, so preferable in this regard + the circuit has permanent floodlit infrastructure like the Bahrain and Yas Marina Circuits, so another plus.

    1. No thank you. Prefer tracks where F1 sized cars can pass each other a lot and have a good race than a parade.

      Quality over Quantity!

      1. Yep, and there are 0 places to overtake at Jeddah.

        there would be more chances of f1 cars overtaking on the star wars planet Jedha than in Saudi Arabia

  3. The Losail circuit is atrocious. I’d rather have 22 races this year.

    1. Unlike what the caption suggests losail is not a twisty track at all for motogp, in fact it is one the longest and widest tracks for bikes but for f1 I agree it is atrocious.

    2. I’d rather have 20.

  4. I’d rather see the outer Bahrain track like last year, it produced a very interesting race.

  5. Can’t see how Qatar is going to happen as long as Saudi and Saudi aligned money hold disproportionate sway in Formula One

    1. It would be a sweet poke at the Saudis to have a race in Qatar, so I am all for it.

      1. Josh (@canadianjosh)
        25th July 2021, 20:30

        Jamal Khashoggi agrees with you as do I 👍

        1. Follow the money.

  6. I think we should leave this track for Moto Gp. I don’t expect an exciting race here based on the layout and speeds of the corners. Probably similar to my Zandvoort’s expectation as well, if that race takes place.

    1. @krichelle What do you mean if? The Dutch GP isn’t at risk, or at least I haven’t read or heard anything suggesting this.
      Concerning Losail, yes, perhaps not the best for racing/overtaking, but I don’t mind. Track variety is always welcome.

  7. Given the rise of delta variant outbreaks, I think they’ll need more than 1 extra race organised.

  8. Definitely a track more suited to MotoG

  9. Definitely a track more suited to MotoGP but I’d like to see how it would go in F1 just out of fascination.

  10. at the recent F1 engine summit. So exclusive was the invite list that Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff was not present, with the three-pointed star’s interests represented by CEO and chairman of Mercedes Cars Ola Källenius.

    Why would Toto be invited?
    He is responsible for the F1 team, and not for the independent Mercedes AMG HPP PU supplier.

  11. If they added Qatar, I would love it if they included the sprint race. Would be great seeing drivers qualify after a 1 hour practise session, then learn more of the tracknin qualifying and practise 2 and fight it out in sprint race. Could be very entertaining with drivers at different levels of learning the track. Could be a great weekend of 3 days of action instead of usual 2 sat qual and sun race

  12. Losail is one of the worst circuits in terms of racing in MotoGP. It has no flow.
    In F1 we have a turn1 overtake zone….and nothing else. I’d prefer another race in the crazy Outer Circuit in Sakhir again.

    However, if we need to race in Qatar in order to have a Porche/Audi/Laborghini team, let’s race in Qatar…can’t be worst that Sochi

    1. Everyone loves Qatar in motogp… top 5 track.

      1. It’s so loved that the highest ever 3 day attendance is 32252 (2019). For comparison, Thailand, France and Germany all had over 200,000.
        At least it is now a night race so the empty grandstands are rather less obvious than before.
        I suspect the ‘love’ comes from the $12m/year they pay to stage the opening event.

    2. @doctorlovesexy “…can’t be worst than Sochi.”
      This is the most 2021 sentiment that I have heard so far this year. I feel your pain.

  13. Of the all the places in the world we could race, do we really need another Middle East circuit?

    1. And if so, why not consider Dubai or Kuwait. I think those tracks would provide better racing.

      1. Josh (@canadianjosh)
        25th July 2021, 20:32

        2 races in Dubai would be a joke

        1. the current race is in Abu Dhabi

          1. Josh (@canadianjosh)
            26th July 2021, 9:31

            Forgive me, 2 races in the UAE

      2. Qatar needs the support of the rest of the international community. Even if their track is not completely suitable, it sends a message to the rest of the region that F1 might stand for more than money. I would love to see a W series race at this track as an F1 support race.

      3. @zomtec I’d be all for a race in Dubai, but I’m being selfish as I live 5 minutes from the circuit….

  14. Agree with others, would rather have a 2nd Sakhir GP on the Outer Circuit.

    Paragraph start:
    “Getting a grand prix at Losail International Circuit signed and sealed for November is a tall order given the political tensions that exist in the region”

    Next paragraph start
    “Thus, the Qatar Grand Prix is likely to come to pass” 🤔

  15. It’s interesting to read that Bahrain’s veto was just a gentleman’s agreement between Bernie and the promoter. You’d have thought they would have put that in ink…

  16. Why leave an opportunity to add another human rights violating country to the calendar on the table I guess..?

    1. But at least Aljazeera annoys the crap out of the rest of the Gulf.

  17. End of November is the US Grand Prix, I think. The Rolling Stones are confirmed as concert on the Saturday of that TBC weekend, november 20th.

    Would be difficult to add another Grand Prix between that weekend and Saudi Arabia.

  18. Steven Cummins
    26th July 2021, 11:39

    Regardless of what you think of the track (personally I don’t think it would provide better racing than Bahrain’s outer loop), the track is fundamentally flawed in many ways for F1.

    Whilst everyone talks about bringing back gravel traps, Losail is one massive gravel trap with no access roads across the traps to recover cars. If a car stops in the gravel there is every chance it will result in a red flag every time.

    The pit building is too small. It was design for MotoGP 17 years ago and even they are outgrowing the pits. The media centre is fairly basic and the paddock is woefully sub-standard.

    Stick with either Sakhir outer loop or two races in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi actually has multiple configurations but I suspect they aren’t homologated like Bahrain sadly.

    Reply moderated
  19. It does seem to match the only 2 requirements of a modern f1 track – one long straight with a braking zone and no other place to overtake.

    Although I like the look of the corners in the top right

  20. If the lede here is that the Qatar sovereign wealth fund’s 17 percent voting bloc in VAG means that Qatar is able to push VAG to enter an F1 team and that this effort is aided by the possible calendaring of a Qatar GP this doesn’t really add up to me. Unless they have numerous allies on the board, possibly including NRW, for this effort they won’t have a say in it. Also, VAG also has already potential “home” races for it’s brands—Germany and Italy—so it won’t be much of a sell. Yes rich, thirsty people around the world want to rub shoulders with Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford and be associated with F1, and regimes of certain types view it as a way to burnish their brands. I think that’s the long and short of it: Qatar has a lot of money. Qatar wants to throw a party for itself where they don’t have to worry about regrets from illustrious invitees.

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