Usually, a grand prix is considered dangerous in torrential rain. It didn’t rain at the Qatar Grand Prix, but there was extreme heat. Now typically when there are extreme weather conditions, races are postponed or cancelled. That wasn’t the case in Qatar. Instead, special considerations were made to ensure that the Qatar Grand Prix went ahead which led to drivers retiring, vomiting in their helmets, or “fading in and out” of consciousness.
The extreme humidity and temperature, which was in excess of 40 degrees Celsius, combined with high-speed corners was a recipe for disaster, with Lando Norris calling the conditions “too dangerous.”
The Drivers: "It Was Hell in There"
Norris has a point too considering that Esteban Ocon reported throwing up in his helmet, Logan Sargeant had to retire due to “intense dehydration”, Lance Stroll reported “passing out” and “fading in and out” of consciousness during the high-speed corners, as well as Alex Albon having to visit the medical centre after the race.
It wasn’t helped that the FIA announced that there would be a maximum stint mandate of 18 laps before having to pit due to concerns about the Pirelli tyres showing signs of internal damage. This seems innocuous at first, but forcing the teams into a minimum of three pit stops meant that drivers had fewer opportunities to ease off through the high-speed corners to nurse their tyres, making the race more physical. Oscar Piastri confirmed this was the case when he described the grand prix as “57 qualifying laps.”
Norris spoke to the media after the race and believes that they “probably found the limit” of what is expected physically of the drivers.
“It’s never a nice situation to be in, some people ending up in the medical centre or passing out, and things like that. So, a pretty dangerous thing to have going on.
“But it’s not a point where you can just go, the drivers need to train more or do any of that. We’re in a closed car that gets extremely hot in a very physical race. And it’s frustrating.
“I guess on TV, it probably doesn’t look very physical at all, but clearly, when you have people who end up retiring or in such a bad state, it’s too much, you know, for the speeds we’re doing. It is too dangerous.”
Esteban Ocon couldn’t agree more, explaining that he is normally fit and ready but “it was hell in there.”
“That was the hardest fought points that I’ve ever had to fight for,” Ocon said. “I was feeling ill, lap 15-16 I was throwing up for two laps inside the cockpit, and then I was like, ‘Shit that’s going to be a long race.’
“I tried to calm down, I tried to remember that the mental side in sport is the strongest part of your body, and I managed to get that under control and finish the race.
“But honestly, I was not expecting the race to be that hard. I can normally do two race distances, even in Singapore. Physically muscle-wise and cardio-wise I’m always fine.
“It was so hot that I wanted to open the visor on the straight line, because I had no air, and I was trying to also guide with my hand some air into the helmet. The more I was breathing to try and get everything lower, the more heat was coming inside the helmet. Honestly, it was hell in there.”
Valtteri Bottas called it “harder than Singapore,” a track infamous for the physical toll extracted.
The FIA Agrees and Plans to Respond
When even the world champion, Max Verstappen, is saying things were “definitely way too hot,” the FIA can’t simply ignore the detriment to the drivers’ wellbeing.
The FIA issued a statement reading: “The FIA notes with concern that the extreme temperature and humidity during the 2023 FIA Qatar Grand Prix had an impact on the wellbeing of the drivers.
“While being elite athletes, they should not be expected to compete under conditions that could jeopardise their health or safety.
“The safe operation of the cars is, at all times, the responsibility of the competitors, however as with other matters relating to safety such as circuit infrastructure and car safety requirements, the FIA will take all reasonable measures to establish and communicate acceptable parameters in which competitions are held.
“As such, the FIA has begun an analysis into the situation in Qatar to provide recommendations for future situations of extreme weather conditions.
“It should be noted that while next year’s edition of the Qatar Grand Prix is scheduled later in the year, when temperatures are expected to be lower, the FIA prefers to take material action now to avoid a repeat of this scenario.”
Initial talks will begin at a forthcoming medical commission in Paris which “may include guidance for competitors, research into modifications for more efficient airflow in the cockpit, and recommendations for changes to the calendar to align with acceptable climatic conditions, amongst others.”
It’s worth noting that last year’s Qatar Grand Prix was held on November 21, while the 2024 edition will be held on December 1.
Christian Horner: “This is What Drivers Train For”
In direct contrast with several driver statements, Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, was less sympathetic and argued that it’s extreme conditions like this that each driver trains for.
“Look, I think that’s what they train for,” Horner said. “And good to see that both our drivers were in reasonable shape at the end of it. Yes, they were physically dehydrated, but they were both in pretty sensible shape.
“But yeah, Max said I think it’s in the top five of toughest races for him.
“That’s physically a really tough one for them today, I think there’s a few drivers dehydrated, on the pit wall it was a tough job as well.”
Perhaps Horner simply understands the mind of a driver. While Ocon did suffer, he also said that “It’s not an option retiring, I was never going to do that. You need to kill me to retire.”