Albon fears Qatar GP conditions risked creating dangerous “wet bulb effect”

Formula 1

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Alexander Albon said his physical recovery after the Qatar Grand Prix took much longer than after a typical race due to the extreme heat.

The Williams driver was one of many competitors who received medical attention after the race at the Losail circuit which took place in unexpectedly punishing temperatures and humidity. Albon’s team mate Logan Sargeant, who was unwell before the weekend began, withdrew from the race as his physical condition deteriorated to the point he no longer felt able to drive.

Speaking to media including RaceFans ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, Albon described the acute physical impact on his body from competing in the conditions.

“You wouldn’t want to have seen the colour of my urine on multiple days afterwards,” he admitted. “It really did take a long time to get fluids back. It was not fun.”

He said he felt “almost at burnout” after the 57-lap race. “You’re just tired and you’re lacking energy. I definitely ate a lot, almost over-ate, between now and Qatar just to get back some calories, a bit of extra fat.”

Low winds and high humidity for the Sunday race coupled with high temperatures in the desert nation of Qatar meant drivers experienced little cooling in their open-cockpit cars. Albon suspects the conditions came close to creating the “wet bulb effect”, where the human body’s natural cooling mechanisms cease to be effective.

“It’s quite a serious situation where the humidity gets to a certain point and the heat gets to a certain point and your body can’t get rid of the sweat because it’s too humid for your skin to breathe,” Albon explained.

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“It won’t evaporate and then your body is in panic mode because it’s getting too hot and it can’t sweat. It’s how a lot of people pass away – it sounds bad to say. Not to say that’s what happened, but I think something like that was quite close, if not was happening.”

He insisted that physical fitness of drivers was not a factor in determining how each coped with the impact of the conditions on their bodies.

“It’s not fitness related at that point,” he said. “It’s pure heat exhaustion. Everyone’s passing out on the floor trying to strip off their clothes after the race. So it’s not really a fitness point.”

Despite his gruelling experience of the conditions Albon, who has Thai-British parentage, suspects he was better equipped to cope with them than some of his rivals.

“I’d even say I would be one of the better people at it because of my ethnicity and being used to the humidity,” he said. “But it was painful.

“We are driving around quickly. The speeds that we’re doing around Qatar are huge. It’s one of those things – we can’t communicate it because we’re the only people that drive it. So when we say it’s bad, obviously, I hope people just take our word for it and know that we’re not being divas.”

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The FIA announced after the race it will look into the conditions drivers were subjected to in Qatar and give guidance for future races which take place in extreme conditions.

Albon believes the conditions in Qatar served as effectively a hard limit for what drivers can cope with and that the sport’s organisers may need to step in to protect them in future.

“There’s limits. If you saw me after on Sunday, you just saw what state I was in,” he said.

“You can call me a warrior for doing the whole race, but we’re drivers at the end of the day. We will always push ourselves to the extreme. We would do that again for sure. But that’s just because of our inherent competitiveness. We’re not going to ever retire or stop being in a situation like that, because it’s just who we are.

“But it’s up to, in some ways, the FIA and F1 in just managing us a little bit as well. Looking after us and making sure that we don’t have any issues happen again.”

Albon admitted it took several days after the race for him to return to full fitness and start to prepare for this weekend’s round in Austin. “It was definitely longer than normal,” he said.

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“I think the toughest races like Singapore, Suzuka maybe, the Monday you’re a bit sore, a bit low on energy. But then by Tuesday, you’re back in the gym getting ready for the next one. This was like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – Thursday, starting to get better, and then Friday getting back to normal in the gym. So a longer recovery rate for sure. I think it was a tough one. It’s tough for everyone, but I’m sure every driver’s been saying it.”

He said the conditions were even more challenging than his experience in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix, when he competed two-and-a-half weeks after undergoing an appendectomy. “It was definitely the toughest race I’ve ever done,” he said.

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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2 comments on “Albon fears Qatar GP conditions risked creating dangerous “wet bulb effect””

  1. I don’t get why do people still treat low-30s temps like something that would’ve never featured in F1 before, even though they’re exactly like in Singapore every season or several other events over the years, so the low wind & unusually high humidity were the true contributors without which driving conditions would’ve been better even with the same ambient figures.

  2. Has anyone reported how much body weight the drivers lost during the Qatar race? I’d heard previously of absurd amounts after Singapore.

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