The Losail circuit was built back in 2004 with a view to hosting international motorbike races. Now having signed a ten year deal with Formula One, the promoter was obliged to upgrade the facilities to meet the FIA category 1 race track standard.
The crow capacity has been increased from 8000, to around 30,000 since F1 debuted in Qatar in 2001. Further, the track has been completely resurfaced but this is now proving a problem for the F1 teams this weekend.
Abrasive new asphalt
The abrasive nature of the new tarmac combined with the sand blown across the facility which makes the F1 cars slide, has been proven producing excessive tyre wear unexpected by Pirelli.
Following the analysis of the tyres form Friday, the FIA has taken the unprecedented step of adding a 10 minute on track ‘familiarisation’ session to gather more data on the tyres.
Mandatory 3 stop Grand Prix
Should the wear again prove excessive, on safety grounds the FIA have suggested they may mandate a minimum of three pitstops for each driver and team for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
The decision on this will be taken following this evenings Sprint race, when the degradation of the tyres in the 1/3rd Grand Prix distance event will prove decisively whether the safety concerns are valid.
An FIA statement, released little more than three hours before the scheduled start of the Sprint Shootout, said: “Following the standard analysis of tyres used during Free Practice 1 yesterday, in which tyres that have been used for approximately 20 laps are examined by Pirelli to check various safety parameters, a separation in the sidewall between the topping compound and the carcass cords on many of the tyres that were checked was discovered.
“It is the view of the FIA and Pirelli that a significant number of additional laps on these tyres could result in circumferential damage of the tyres with subsequent air loss, and tyres analysed with lower lap numbers showed a much-reduced extent of the issue.
“This issue has likely been caused by the high-frequency interference between the tyre sidewall and the 50mm ‘pyramid’ kerbs used extensively at this circuit, aggravated by the propensity to ride those kerbs.”
New kerbs in Qatar
The new kerbs at the Qatar circuit have been praised by the drivers and commentators alike for allowing the cars to use the full width of the circuit but create a significant penalty should the drivers leave the track completely.
Hamilton complained that race control were unnecessarily pleasing drivers for exceeding track limits and should just allow the transgressions given the time penalty the drivers suffer should they go too far over the kerbs.
However the FIA have no decided the kerbs are dangerous and have revised the track limits at turns 12 and 13 and the white lines designating the edge of the circuit will be moved accordingly.
Questions will be asked
Given the extensive renovations of the Losail circuit under the supervision of the FIA as it begins a 10 year contract to host an annual F1 event, questions will be asked as to how the state of affairs with the kerbs was allowed to develop.
Further, the circuit has no variations in the layout to facilitate both the motor bike racing and the different requirements for Formula One cars. Whilst resurfacing there track, sections could have been added to facilitate overtaking which will be difficult for the modern long and wide F1 cars.
How long Pirelli and race control will take to perform the analysis following the Sprint race is unknown and it could be late into the night before the rules are made clear for the Grand Prix to be held on Sunday.
Another Red Bull record
Meanwhile Max Verstappen needs just three points from the Sprint race to become the 2023 F1 drivers’ champion. This would see him equal Michael Schumacher’s record of being crowned champion with six full Grand Prix remaining.
Steiner says “its embarrassing”
Haas F1 boss Gunther Steiner has admitted the unexpected development is “a concerning thing for the future.”
“It shouldn’t happen,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans. “This should not happen in Formula 1.”
“But it has, and now we need to see how we get out of it,” he continued. “I think the good thing with this coming out, there are solutions for this race weekend but going forward, this shouldn’t happen again.”
“In the end it is embarrassing because this is not where we should be,” Steiner concluded.
Historic Qatar kerb problems
This is not a new problem discovered in Qatar as Steiner reveals there were problems the last time F1 raced here in 2021.
“There was some signs already here two years ago, we had issues but they were different kerbs,” he said.
“I think they were supposed to develop some kerbs which don’t damage the tyres but apparently the kerbs we have developed they damage the tyres.”
“I didn’t speak with Pirelli yet to see what actually is happening, but I think if they found issues with the tyres that is what they need to do to make sure that we are not having a scenario like a few years ago, that you have got tyres going down which is never good,” concluded the Haas F1 boss.
This is a breaking story and will be updated as it develops…. meanwhile
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