Johnnie’s Judgement: Qatar Grand Prix review - Brutal conditions

No driver should have to endure what they had to go through on Sunday.

The Qatar Grand Prix returned this year after debuting in the 2021 season, and to make things interesting they made it a Sprint Race weekend.

The highlight of the weekend was championship leader Max Verstappen and what he needed to do to secure the title, which he managed to do with relative ease.

But unfortunately for him, a bigger talk point came after the race which does cause a big concern going forward - the heat and humidity in the Doha desert.

Sprint Race celebrations

There were two reasons for celebration during the sprint race on Saturday - one team was celebrating their drivers’ championship win, and another celebrating their drivers’ first venture onto the top step of the podium.

Verstappen’s championship had been all but confirmed from basically round 7 but at the Losail International Circuit, he managed to finish second during the sprint with his teammate Sergio Perez out the points to confirm his third consecutive world title.

It’s been a dominant season for the Flying Dutchman and he deserves all the credit for taking the Red Bull car and absolutely smashing the field as much as he has.

But some other good came from the winner of the sprint, which was none other than Australian rookie Oscar Piastri of McLaren.

While it’s not a proper Grand Prix victory, Piastri did stupendously well to finish first, showing he has the capability to be a good race winner when he does get the opportunities later in his career.

I also celebrated it as much as I will when he wins his first Grand Prix, I do love Piastri and want him to win 10 championships one day.

Verstappen’s Sunday

Onto Sunday’s main event, and it was a fairly easy race win for the world champion. Aside from a brief scare on the first lap when the two Mercedes drivers who were starting second and third collided which could’ve very easily included the Dutchman in the accident, Verstappen cruised on to his 14th race win this year.

The two McLarens did very well to both get onto the podium, considering they started sixth and 10th.

That, though, came with some contention, as Norris was sure he was faster and that they should’ve been swapped to cover off a potential threat from George Russell, who was on fresh soft tyres to end the race compared to their used hards.

In the end, there was no threat at all as Russell never started catching them like everyone thought he would.

Still, swapping them could’ve seen Norris potentially challenge Verstappen for the race win if he was quicker as at the lowest point, the gap between Oscar and Max was under three seconds.

Regardless, it was a great drive from those three, as well as Russell who worked his way from being spun around at the start during his collision with teammate Lewis Hamilton to finish fourth.

Beyond the limit of what is acceptable

Those were the words of George Russell after the race when he, like all the drivers, spoke about the difficulty of the racing conditions.

The Losail International Circuit is located in a desert, and the heat and humidity during the race were killer on the drivers.

Williams’ Logan Sargeant had to retire from the race on lap 40 because he couldn’t keep going in the conditions, while other drivers spoke about their struggles.

Lance Stroll, who had a frustrating weekend, was seen fumbling out of his car at the end and stumbled to an ambulance.

Esteban Ocon said he threw up at times during the race, while Alex Albon was said to have been treated for acute heat exposure at the on-track medical centre after the race.

Russell, who is the director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, spoke after the race about the conditions saying how over 50% of the grid said they were feeling sick, couldn’t drive or felt like they were going to pass out.

That is the biggest issue there. These drivers are putting their lives on the line as it is every race. They shouldn’t be driving in conditions where the temperature of the cockpit is reaching an unbearable 50°C.

The people who are in charge of deciding where they go racing should be held responsible here. It is unacceptable to be staging a race when they would have known full well that temperatures would be too much. And they do know it because they already decided that next year the race will be held in December when it should be cooler.

But it probably won’t be that much better, and we will likely be having this conversation again next year.

This isn’t the only race where the high temperatures have been a problem and it definitely won’t be the last. It’s a damn shame that it feels like the only way they’ll listen and stop holding races in these conditions is when one of the drivers does pass out and end up in a serious accident because of it. 

If that does ever happen, every single member of the World Motor Sport Council, the FIA and the Formula 1 board from Stefano Dominicali down should be held responsible.

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