Losail International Circuit, 2021

Three-stop strategies? No passing? What to expect from F1’s first race at Losail

2021 Qatar Grand Prix

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Formula 1 is heading to Losail International Circuit for the first time this weekend.

The Qatar venue seldom hosts high-level single-seater racing, so the track will be completely new to 18 of the 20 drivers in the field. What can they expect from the new addition to the schedule?

Which drivers have raced there before?

Two drivers on the current grid have driven at Losail before. Sergio Perez won in GP2 Asia’s only visit to the venue in 2009. Unfortunately he says he can’t remember anything about it.

“The first time I went on the simulator, it was like I’ve never been there,” Perez admitted. “But then I watched a video and I’ve seen that I was there many years ago.

“I think it’s going to be a fun truck, pretty fast. A lot of downforce there, required for the high-speed sections. I think we’re going to enjoy it.”

The only other driver with experience of Losail is Nikita Mazepin, who made his first appearance in a single-seater race at the track in 2014. His results in the 14-strong field across a quadruple-header weekend were fifth, second, retired and sixth.

Start, GP2 Asia, Losail, 2009
Perez doesn’t recall his race-winning visit to Losail
“It’s a track that I enjoy, although I haven’t been there in a long time,” said the Haas rookie. “It’s a track where a lot of sand remains.”

Conclusions from the sims

Details of the track’s addition to the calendar were first revealed by RaceFans in July and officially announced by F1 at the end of September. Teams have had to work quickly to get the track model into their simulators.

Pierre Gasly described the high-speed layout as “unique” and George Russell likened it to Italy’s Mugello circuit, which F1 race at last year. “It’s very, very fast and flowing. Not a lot of time to relax and then obviously, we’ve got this big long straight.”

“There’s lots of medium-speed corners, fourth, fifth-gear corners, there’s only one slow-speed corner, which I think is going to be really interesting, and then followed on to a really long straight. So it’s going to be difficult because I think there’ll be a lot of split in strategy in terms of where people run the downforce because the straight’s so long yet you’ve got so many corners where you need that downforce.”

Following his session in the McLaren simulator Lando Norris said he expects “a physical race” on “a pretty fast and fun track with a few big braking zones.”

Losail International Circuit, 2021
Main straight is likely to be the only passing place
The likely difficulty overtaking was a recurring theme among those who sampled the track virtually. Williams’ head of vehicle performance, Dave Robson, said passing “could be tough” but that “on their own the drivers will love it.”

“I think most of these corners in the middle section I think will be a lot of fun,” Robson explained. “You’re not going to do any overtaking there, and there’s just the one main straight, one DRS zone. I think they’ll enjoy it. It’s may be a tricky race but again, who knows, we’ve got to go there and test it out and see how people get on.”

Charles Leclerc is among those who hasn’t had the chance to assess the track on the simulator. He said he will have to “basically discover the track once I am there,” after studying onboards from Ferrari’s professional simulator drivers.

Track tweaks for F1

The fundamental layout of the Losail circuit has not been changed but there have been tweaks to made it F1-ready. The most significant alteration is at the beginning of the main straight, where the entrance to the pit lane has been “changed dramatically” according to FIA F1 race director Michael Masi, who has visited the track several times to inspect work on the changes.

Amro Al-Hamad, executive director of the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation, told RaceFans “many of the changes has been in the regards of the safety barriers. The type of safety barriers required for Formula 1 [are] completely different than the TecPro that is used [in other series].”

Nevertheless, Al-Hamad said the alterations were mostly “very small changes, when it comes to artificial grass that has been removed from specific places, some double kerbs that we needed to add, some sausage kerbs that we added just to make sure that there’s no track infringements taking place during the race.” Track limits is a persistent bugbear in F1, of course.

Among the general infrastructure upgrades are significant improvements to the circuit’s lighting system. “It has contributed big time into the quality of videos that are being shot,” says Al-Hamad.

“The feedback that we got from the riders, from the last Moto GP, is that their vision is something completely different than it used to be since our older system.”

That’s good news for F1, which will run three sessions under Losail’s floodlights; sundown is at 16:44 local time this weekend and second practice, qualifying and the grand prix all start at 17:00.

High grip, high speed, three stops?

Losail International Circuit track map
Track data: Losail International Circuit
Losail is expected to be a high-grip circuit, with an abrasive track surface. Pirelli is bringing its hardest compounds available this weekend, the C1 making its final appearance of the season in Qatar.

“From what we can see, the hardest tyres in the range will be well-suited to Losail, due to the quite abrasive asphalt and the very demanding corners,” said Pirelli’s head of F1 Mario Isola.

However, inevitably there is an element of wait-and-see when cars get out on track, Isola acknowledged. “As we’ve never actually raced there before, we’ll only get a true picture of how the tyres really work on this circuit once we arrive.”

With no support races scheduled this weekend, the two hours of running on Friday and Saturday and then the grand prix will be the only opportunity to build up rubber levels at the track. It has held a relatively lively schedule of local racing for bikes and touring cars since Moto GP’s round in March.

When F1 added the likes of Istanbul Park and Algarve onto its calendar at short notice last year, the venues were resurfaced and therefore very low on grip. Losail’s surface hasn’t been extensively re-laid since its first Moto GP race in 2004, and is therefore likely to be very hard on tyres.

It will have one similarity to Istanbul, as Isola explains. “Turns 12 to 14 form a triple-apex right-hander making up almost a single high-energy 5.2G corner that is slightly reminiscent of the famous turn eight in Turkey – only in the opposite direction.”

Depending on how quickly the grip levels improve, drivers could see rapid gains in lap time and, with it, tyre degradation. So much so that Mercedes has even suggested a three-stop strategy could be possible.

How realistic that is will depend partly on the consequences of the pit entry changes. The more time drivers lose making a pit stop, the less likely they are to come in twice or even three times. However they may be wary about using up their stocks of the harder tyres early in the weekend until they have a clearer understanding of grip and wear levels at the track.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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38 comments on “Three-stop strategies? No passing? What to expect from F1’s first race at Losail”

  1. Even if this circuit isn’t overtaking-friendly on paper, the lap flow is enjoyable from the outset.
    I also liken Losail to Mugello.
    Strategy-wise, three-stop would be interesting, but I reckon this choice would be involuntary if anything, but we’ll see.

  2. If the video’s from the gp2 race in 2009 are anything to go by, passing will even be difficult at the end of the straight. Unless you have a rocket in the back and can simply cruise by everyone like Hamilton could in Brazil. So I expect Hamilton to destroy all competition unless the FIA steps in and stops them cheating

      1. Lol!

        Some guys have the talent to make every topic about Hamilton and/or Mrec. Just stunning!

    1. Ham faster than Mazepin through speedtrap by 3.6 KM/H, and Max slower than 14 other drivers during sprint
      Ham slower than Lando across finish line by 7 KM/H, and Max slower than 16 other drivers during sprint.

      Seems to be a lot of rocket ships out there besides the Merc; inc the RB of Perez.

      1. People keep refusing to look at the data and keep going with the narrative that Mercedes have a new engine with 100 extra hp as evidenced by massive top speed advantage. It’s just not true. Horner also stokes this but forgets to mention that Verstappen, at 318 in the speed trap, was one of the slowest cars in Brazil on the straight. His complaint should be with his aero philosophy.

        1. That’s due having 1 top speed reported for each car but not their average top speeds.

    2. Or like Perez did to Hamilton.

    3. Hear hear. Its not cheating though. They found a crack in the regulations. But I am annoyed as well. After almost a decade of domination, diluting achievements if drivers in the past, this is now getting borderline ridiculous. Hopefully 2022 will bring changes as Max (trying to bring us just a bit more than processional races) cant do it alone all the time.

  3. This is a must-win race for Verstappen.
    If he wins, the lead will go to 21pts with 2 races to spare.
    Then unless he suffers a mechanical issue, he’ll win the championship as he can sit back and let the Mercedes race to an easy 1-2 in the last 2 races, as he cruises to bag 2 easy 3rd places and maybe 1 of the 3 remaining FLAPs to be absolutely safe, and still take the championship by 1pt…

    1. Surely that makes this a must win for Hamilton? Verstappen just needs one win from the last 3 and he should be fine. Of course, it may be that this would appear to be by far his best opportunity to win.

    2. @black Qatar is not a “must win” race for Verstappen. However, without some calamity befalling Verstappen, Hamilton absolutely needs to win the last three races.

      I can’t see either Hamilton nor Verstappen getting another fastest lap point because Perez or Bottas will be used to ‘steal’ the point away (even sacrificing some WCC points if needed).

      1. @j4k3 @scbriml
        Sure Verstappen can win one of the last remaining races, but given that enormous Mercedes engine advantage, I’d suspect that Mercedes will be the team to beat, even if they take an engine penalty at every race.
        So Verstappen has to make the most of it in Qatar because it looks like the most RB-friendly track from the last 3. Saudi Arabia looks like a Mercedes track and so does Abu Dhabi after the changes.
        Qatar has only one big enough straight with DRS and many corners to build a bit of a gap because of the dirty air, so it’s easier to defend than Brazil for example.

        1. @black Assuming no issues for Verstappen, in order to win the WDC Hamilton needs to win the last three on top of Brazil. So, four races on the bounce. The best he’s managed so far this season is two. Brazil was just his second win in the last nine races. The odds are heavily in Verstappen’s favour, IMHO.

        2. There is no enormous Mercedes engine advantage. That was not in evidence in Brazil. As Steve says, RBR is now conclusively the dominant car this season. Wins and poles don’t lie. Hamilton would realistically have to win-out but since that is unlikely, because RBR has the dominant car, he needs some misfortunate on the other side.

          From a fan’s view, the arithmetic makes it possible the go to Abu Dhabi tied on points, which would be incredible. I do hope it goes tot he wire without an early denouement from accidents or reliability issues.

          1. @dmw The enormous Mercedes advantage refers to Brazil – specifically as we saw, if they just use the engine for just 1-2 races in party mode, then yes, I’d call it enormous – otherwise if the used the engine for more races, it’s more or less the same as Honda’s.

            Poles (fastest in traditional qualifying not after the sprint race) : Mercedes 9, Red Bull 7, Ferrari 2, McLaren 1… so yeah complete domination by the RBs…/s

      2. I can quite easily see Verstappen or Hamilton getting FLAP. If, say, Merc has a 1-2, Verstappen will likely be so far ahead of 5th that he will do the pit stop – even coming out behind Perez, who will just slow down and let him by. And vice versa for if Red Bull have a 1-2.

    3. Never gonna happen. Mercedes will win all remaining races this year. Its a hollow season with again an enormeous advantage for Mercedes and lots of nasty narratives coming from them on top of bumping cars off, getting an in season tyre advantage, etc. Lets just wrap it up please, so we can start the next season. Totally fed up with this team

      1. Red Bull has had the fastest car all season with only a few exceptions where Verstappen had difficulties setting up his car properly. So Hamilton had the advantage in those few cases since he is more likely to extract the maximum from the car.

        Those few exceptions hardly make it impossible for Red Bull to win both championships. It could actually already be theirs.

        Verstappen chose for a lot of downforce at Interlagos giving him the lowest speeds through the speed traps. That’s his choice. Gasly was faster on the straights than Hamilton. So does that prove that the Honda engine is faster than a rocket engine?

      2. What about Redbull “Lewis tried to kill Max narrative” and other such rubbish?
        It isnt just a one way street.

        1. Absolutely agree both teams have seriously misbehaved this year

      3. It’s funny how little faith many Verstappen fans have. One good race for Hamilton and it’s all doom, gloom and give up. Lol.

        If Hamilton wins the WDC, apparently, it’s “hollow” and “it’s the car!” But if Verstappen wins the WDC, suddenly Hamilton will be a great driver in a great car who was put in his place by brave little Verstappen dragging his HAAS-level car to victory. It’s so predictable.

        1. Same after Mexico, title was over apparently. Maybe it’s modern day, so much hyperbole. Merc were faster on US but track position was key, maybe same here. Brazil has always been a food track to overtake even without DRS. Different tracks different outcomes. People seem to predict everything based on the last race. Now it’s a Hamilton slam dunk, no way sit back and enjoy. Been great on track this year only annoying thing for me is the off track rubbish but nowadays maybe the audience like that, it’s been more Horner v Wolff BS than the drivers in the media, both brilliant drivers and their outstanding achievements seem to have been covered somewhat.

        2. One good race for Hamilton and it’s all doom, gloom and give up.

          This is what the press is doing and experts like Hill. It’s all opprtunism and very short memories it seems

  4. Qualifying is gonna be amazing. Drivers pushing hard on such a fast and flowing track, that’s what I wanna see.

    I don’t have high hopes for the race though. It’s almost impossible to pass (even the WTCC cars had it difficult) and T1 isn’t really that slow in a F1 car.
    The only way I see overtakes happening is through a headwind on the main straight (bigger effect of DRS) and high tyre degredation (more pitstops).

  5. I don’t know why everyone is calling it flowing. All corners (bar the hair pin and the triple apex right turn) are 4th or 5th gears, roughly all are of the same speed, all of them need some bit of abrupt braking followed by steering inputs.

    How does hat abrupt braking result in a flowing circuit?

    1. Where do you see abrupt braking here?
      According to Mercedes’ simulations, only five corners are taken with less than 200 kph.
      Other than the triple righthander (which could be almost flat – 260, 260 & 250 kph), also T2, T3, T8, T9 and T11 are all flatout. Even T15 is about 240 kph on the apex (7th gear according to Mercedes).
      I think that’s a pretty nice flow of corners.

  6. For anyone new to the circuit here is an OnBoard from when GP Masters raced there in 2006.

  7. Well, Mercedes has no idea what to expect… I was reading about the rear wing and the amount of testing that it goes through and it sounded to me like Mercedes is still baffled that it failed as they perform testing with triple the force and that wing had passed the test many times.

    Since the FIA gets to keep the part they also can’t run their own testing but the wing was apparently within 85mm but it failed the testing methodology which is rolling ball at 10 pounds force test, not fully but at a very particular spot and the difference was apparently that of a hair.

    But this whole incident does beg the question? Who is testing the methodology? All it would take for an inspector to fail a team’s wing is a new ball that’s manufactured to inaccurate specs (8.49mm wide) and their wing would fail somewhere along the entirety as Mercedes’ did even if Mercedes had made the absolute perfect wing. If the wing fails, does the FIA surrender “said instrument” in this case ball for scrutineering to the team especially if it might decide the entire championship. I believe that would be required. If it’s not surrendering the part as some are too large, then the team must be able to take the wing and test another part for consistency to ensure the testing equipment isn’t faulty or hasn’t been tampered with.

    After all, this is just a ball. For all we know, extensive testing may result in wear and tear and the instrument becoming inaccurate over time. Temperature may cause it to expand or contract. Then there’s deliberate tampering. You can just buff part of it in 5 seconds and it would fail any wing. Everyone in sports knows how easy it is to deflate balls or modify baseball bats made of metal to change the outcome of things.

    Do I trust the FIA to make the right call? I normally would but this was no ordinary weekend as we all witnessed.

    Let’s take a step back and start with the fact that Max touched that part of the car in the same race that it was disqualified as if he already knew that it was going to fail. What are the odds of a driver touching a part of the car that fails? Are the odds 1 in 1,000 or 1 in 1,000,000 or higher? Any mathematician will tell you it’s the latter. It’s such a coincidence that it’s probably statistically more likely for Max to win all the races in F1 in his career with the Red Bull and Toro Rosso.

    It was also absurd that the stewards didn’t factor that into their decision of disqualifying the Mercedes especially since the wing had passed inspection multiple times by Mercedes and the FIA before.

    We also have to factor in that F1 is desperately trying to make sprint races more interesting as they’ve proven to be controversial and pushing Lewis to the back of the grid would be the perfect vehicle to remedy that and spice the race up. Again, how convenient was this disqualification for sprint races?

    There’s also talk of reverse grids. Well, they certainly found a way to test that with an unwilling Mercedes.

    We also have to take into account the blatant racing incident that wasn’t even investigated as it’s part of the same race.

    Then we have Horner pulling a Jedi mind trick on Masi telling him “this is just racing” and Masi repeating “agreed, this is just racing!”.

    1. @freelittlebirds Testing is done under the team’s own supervision and I’m sure they have the right to question any part of the test – either the methodology being used or the equipment. I can’t remember now but I believe they have the option to request a different piece of measuring equipment and may even have done so in this case to ensure this is not the cause of the failed test. However, Mercedes never queried the validity of the test, which they certainly would have done if there was any doubt over it, so we can safely conclude that this is not a possible explanation in this case.

      The video showing Verstappen touching the rear wing made a couple of things clear which were confirmed in the stewards’ verdict on this incident. First, he did not apply a significant enough force to damage or alter the wing. And second, he touched the wing near the middle and not at the edge where the wing failed the test. So this explanation is out too.

      You seem to be going to extraordinary lengths to cast doubt over the Mercedes failed wing test. It failed the test, therefore the stewards had no option but to disqualify them. It doesn’t matter how small the margin was or even whether there was any performance benefit. Past precedent has shown that there is zero tolerance on these issues.

      1. @keithedin it’s worth checking the FIA document (available here). Some excerpts:

        . This test was repeated four times with two different gauges, once being done in the presence of the Stewards and representatives of the Competitor.

        The gauges were measured and the Stewards were satisfied that they were the correct dimension.

        while a TD is not in itself a regulation, TDs are accepted as the method upon which the teams may rely and in this case, the test that was carried out was in conformity with the TD and its legitimate aims.

        the Stewards fundamentally accept the Competitor’s explanation that the cause of the failed test was something “gone wrong” rather than a deliberate action

        TL;DR: The wing has been legal for basically the whole season, and the stewards accept that there has been an issue, outside of Mercedes’ control, that caused the test to fail; however, since the technical directive is the accepted method to check if a part is legal, and the wing didn’t pass the test described in the technical directive, it’s a penalty. It’s somehow similar to Vettel’s penalty in Hungary: a mechanical issue preventing a team from complying with a technical requirement.

        1. @warheart this is all great information and, yes, it definitely does remove the majority of doubt especially if multiple devices were used, multiple tests were conducted, and it was done in the presence of multiple people including the team.

          I’m definitely much less skeptical than I was before. Was there visible damage to the wing?

          It is interesting that the part complied with the regulation of not being more than 8.5mm. It simply failed that test and did it with the FIA’s equipment.

          I think that’s important information to note as the test seems to fail to meet the actual regulation of not exceeding 8.5mm.

          Do we know if Mercedes was allowed to test with their own equipment to ensure that the FIA’s equipment was properly calibrated and within specification?

          All it would take is for their equipment to be 8.498mm to be exact in this case. Can anyone manufacture a ball to a hair’s circumference?

          1. @freelittlebirds you should also check the post race debrief Mercedes always post on YouTube, if you haven’t already, given by Mike Elliot (technical director) for this race. The wing only failed the test in a specific area, but it passed the test over the majority of the span. They perform the same test both in the factory and on track, but with three times the force required in the TD, and for some reason which he attributes to a reliabilty issue, a small bit of the wing failed the test.

            If Mercedes themselves assume this has been a reliability issue rather than a problem with the measuring equipment, I’m not gonna argue with that. Specially considering they’re the only team to have this issue, only in one race, with one small area of one of their cars. I’m quite confident Red Bull play it as close to the limit as Mercedes.

          2. @warheart I don’t disagree with you. I’ll check out the debrief video.

            My point is that if you’re relying on a ball that needs to be 8.5mm and you’re going to disqualify for 0.2mm which is 200 microns I believe and a hair, then that equipment must not be 8.5mm or more at all points which are infinite for a round object :-)

            It also must not be affected by temperature or air pressure because literally a deviation of 200 microns is the difference between pole and the back of the grid – vastly different outcomes.

            The problem with Mercedes was that they couldn’t appeal it and had to accept it, otherwise they’d risk losing all the points from the weekend.

            In all honesty, it was a bit of a clever disqualification on behalf of the FIA.

      2. @keithedin

        You seem to be going to extraordinary lengths to cast doubt over the Mercedes failed wing test.

        You’re right but should we not be questioning that?

  8. I am a MotoGP fan and have watched man y races at this track. In my view, even the brilliant videographers at MotoGP cannot put lipstick on this pig. It’s one of those tracks where you can never feel oriented as to which part of the track is being shown. It flows nicely, so the bikes look good on it. But racy? Watch this one at nap time is my expectation; think Mexico City only at sea level, maybe.

  9. I expect from this race and the remaining Max doing everything he can to cause a crash with Lewis as that leaves him with an advantage in the points if they both dont finish a GP, as witnessed in Brasil…

    1. Plossl yes. 100% Max will try to shumi’ Lewis as a 0 pointer will destroy his Title hopes unlike Max.
      Liberty will love this because of the ‘drama’ and extra content for another 100 Netflix series and the haters who dont want Lewis to surpass Shumis’ 7x wdc titles want Max to win at all cost…

      Most obvious place this will happen is Saudi Arabia GP which is basically racing 300km/h in a mad max street style race so I hope merc build an extra heavy duty car to take the abuse..

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