After leaving São Paulo, Formula 1 moved to the Middle East, in Losail, to compete in the first Qatar Grand Prix. The Grand Prix is the race’s debut in the Formula 1 World Championship calendar. It is the third Grand Prix to debut during the 2021 season, after the Mexican Grand Prix and the São Paulo Grand Prix, which are part of the calendar after the forced stop due to the worldwide pandemic of Covid-19, held during the previous two weeks, and the 51st name used in the World Championship. Initially, the Qatar Grand Prix was not scheduled for the 2021 season, but following the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix due to the problems dictated by the Covid pandemic, the FIA introduces the Qatari race on the calendar on the same date which the Australian race was to be held on, moved, at the beginning of the season, to the end of November, due to the pandemic. This is the last Grand Prix to be established in the calendar, during the month of September, after the reduction of the number of appointments from twenty-three to twenty-two, since the Japanese Grand Prix, also canceled due to the pandemic, would not be replaced. After the Bahrain Grand Prix, the first race of the season, the Grand Prix is the second race held in the Middle East in this championship. Qatar becomes the 33rd country to host a race as a valid test for the Formula 1 World Championship, and it is the fifth Grand Prix hosted by a Middle Eastern nation, after the Bahrain Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi and Sakhir, and the already announced Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, scheduled after the aforementioned race. The agreement between the organizers of the Grand Prix and Liberty Media, to have the race in the calendar of the world championship, provides a decade from the 2023 season. Stefano Domenicali declares: "We are very pleased to welcome Qatar into the Formula 1 calendar both this season and in the long term. The authorities were incredible, they worked with efficiency and speed to ensure the race this season. We have shown that we can continue to adapt and we see the great interest in our sport shown by many countries. The huge effort of all the teams, Formula 1 and FIA is making possible to have this season a 22 races season calendar, an impressive milestone considering how challenging this period is, and it is something we can all be proud of. The president of the FIA, Jean Todt, adds:
"I congratulate Formula 1, the Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation and the Qatari authorities. They worked tirelessly, in order to quickly and efficiently build the inaugural Grand Prix in Qatar in a very challenging period. The Losail International Circuit, which will host the race, has worked closely with us to make sure they are fully ready for this important occasion. We are very proud of this achieved result thanks to the commitment of all stakeholders".
The president of the Qatar National Federation, Abdulrahman Al-Mannai, expresses satisfaction for a project that sees the Middle Eastern country guarantee the presence of both MotoGP and Formula 1 in the next decade:
"This is a very special day for Qatar Motorsport, our nation’s ambitions as a host of major sporting events are coming true. We are very proud to have been able to support Formula 1, intervening and hosting a race in our country in such a short space of time, while ensuring a revolutionary long-term agreement with Formula 1, that confirms Qatar as the home of both Formula 1 and MotoGP for the next decade".
In fact, no event is scheduled for the 2022 championship as the country will focus on hosting the football World Cup. From 2023, instead of the Losail circuit, a new track will be built specifically for Formula 1 cars. The Qatar Grand Prix, once its presence in the world calendar has been made known, has received criticism from Amnesty International about human rights in the country. The race is held at the Losail circuit of Doha, the capital of the country, and it’s home, since 2004, of the traditional Qatar Motorcycle Grand Prix. The event is held at night, for the fourth time in the history of the highest category after the Singapore Grand Prix, Bahrain and Sakhir. It is the seventy-fourth circuit to host a race valid for the Formula 1 World Championship and the fifth circuit to debut in the turbo-hybrid era, after the Sochi circuit in 2014 with the Russian Grand Prix, the Baku circuit in 2016 with the European Grand Prix, the Mugello international circuit with the Tuscany Grand Prix and the Internacional do Algarve autódromo with the Portuguese Grand Prix in 2020. The track was also home of other motorsport competitions, including the Superbike World Championship from 2005 to 2009 and from 2014 to 2019, the World Touring Car Championship from 2015 to 2017, the Motocross World Championship from 2013 to 2017, and in 2009 the Speedcar Series and the former GP2 Asia Series.
Also this race, at its first edition, is disputed with the presence of spectators on the stands, so not affected by the pandemic, as happened in this championship since the French Grand Prix. Among the drivers competing in the championship, only the Mexican Red Bull Racing rider, Sergio Pérez, has raced on this track so far, in two rounds of the 2008-2009 GP2 Asia Series. The Grand Prix is sponsored by Ooredoo, the country’s leading telecommunications provider. The Qatar Grand Prix, as mentioned, is the third consecutive. The FIA, during the month of August, had confirmed the calendar of the remaining races, reducing it to twenty-two Grands Prix compared to the twenty-three initially planned, however a record in the history of Formula 1. The Turkish Grand Prix, Mexico City and São Paulo have therefore been moved by a week, and this new Grand Prix was placed in the third weekend in a row after the two previous races in Mexico and Brazil. The dispute of three consecutive games occurred, for the first time ever, in the 2018 championship, on one occasion, subsequently three times in the 2020 season, and twice in this season: the first between the end of June and the beginning of July, between the French Grand Prix and the Austrian Grand Prix, the second between the end of August and the beginning of September, between the Belgian Grand Prix and the Italian Grand Prix.
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto is back at the team wall for this race, after missing the Turkish Grand Prix and the previous ones in Mexico City and São Paulo, where the responsibility of the team was entrusted to Laurent Mekies. Meanwhile, it is announced that Scuderia Ferrari will terminate its sponsorship contract with Mission Winnow, title sponsor of the manufacturer since the 2018 Japanese Grand Prix, but on Thursday 18 November 2021 renews its partnership with Shell. McLaren is in its 20th race. Two days earlier, on Tuesday 16th November 2021, Scuderia Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto announced that the new DMG (Dynisma Motion Generator) simulator will be developed and tested at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which will be held on Sunday 12th December 2021:
"We are commissioning the simulator, that is to say we are finalizing the tuning, after having made a comparison of data with the old, our intention is to use it officially from here to the end of the season for the preparation of a Grand Prix, so that it can be fully homologated and is ready for next season".
Woking’s team made its first appearance at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix. Since then, the team has won 183 victories, 493 podiums, 5811.5 points, 156 pole positions, 160 fast laps, twelve world drivers' championships and eight constructors' championships. On Friday, the Grand Prix Drivers' Association meets to discuss the issue of some decisions made by sports stewards in recent races, which have led, on some occasions, to penalties, while in others not, following collisions or duels between pilots. The British Williams driver, George Russell, as President, must then interface with the leaders of Formula 1 reporting the considerations that the drivers will have shared with each other at the meeting. Former Formula 1 driver Emanuele Pirro is appointed as Deputy Commissioner for the race. The Italian has played this role on several occasions in the past, the last at the United States Grand Prix. For this Grand Prix, it is the British car manufacturer Aston Martin to provide the safety car and the medical car. Due to force majeure, before the start of the first free practice session on Friday, Commissioner Loic Bacquelaine was replaced by Tim Mayer. The circuit used for this new Grand Prix is that of Losail. Built in 2004, it features the Federation’s Grade 1 license, the highest required to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix.
The track has never been resurfaced and according to simulations, the average speed in qualifying is 237 km/h, while for the race is 220 km/h. The lap time is estimated at one minute and twenty-two seconds for qualifying, while one minute and twenty-eight seconds for the race. The circuit has a length of 5 380 km, to be covered clockwise, and winds through 16 bends, 10 on the right and 6 on the left. The first intermediate is positioned 80 meters before turn 6, the second intermediate 80 meters before turn 12, while the third intermediate coincides with the finish line of the main starting straight. The speed trap, the point where the maximum speed is detected, is located 210 meters before turn 1. The expected race distance is 57 laps, equal to 306.660 kilometers. The Federation establishes only one zone for the use of the Drag Reduction System, being placed on the main starting straight. The detection point is set before curve 16. In the weeks leading up to the Grand Prix dispute, following inspections dictated by race director Michael Masi, The pit lane of the Qatari circuit was remade, adapting it to the standards provided for Formula 1. Along with the required changes to the lane of access to the pits, also some protections on the track are reviewed, with the installation of a series of double curbs.
Outside the track, new buildings have also been built that host the hospitality in the paddock. The Federation establishes five points of the track where drivers are forced to respect the limits. These points concern the exit of turn 4, 12, 13, 14 and 16. Not respecting the limits in these points the drivers will see the lap time erased from the race direction and immediately the next in the case of the exit of turn 16. Before the start of the second free practice session on Friday, all previously established track limits are removed. They are defined, at the exit of each curve, when no part of the car remains in contact with the curb. Together with this new procedure, it is established, before the start of the third free practice session on Saturday, that riders, in case of off-piste excursions, must re-enter the trajectory in safe conditions, without taking advantage of it. New track limits are also set at the exit of Turns 2, 7 and 16. For this Grand Prix, Pirelli, the sole supplier of tyres, offers the choice of C1, C2 and C3 compound tyres, the hardest in the range among those available. The Italian manufacturer opted for the three hardest compounds as the asphalt is abrasive. The grip can be compromised by the sand coming from the desert where the track is located. Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director, comments:
"Qatar is a fascinating challenge, in a unique circuit, so we are looking forward to going there for the first time. Racing on a new track is not a new experience for us, to select the compounds we can still rely on simulations and data we collect in advance. We could not measure the roughness of the asphalt with our tools, but the promoter gave us very useful information about the characteristics of the asphalt. According to the data we have, the hardest compounds in the range are the most suitable choice for the Losail track, considering the rather high abrasivity of the asphalt and the very demanding curves. But since we have never raced on this track, we will really understand how the tyres behave once we get there".
On Tuesday 16 November 2021 the Australian Formula 2 driver, Oscar Piastri, currently in first place in the Drivers' Championship, was announced as the new reserve driver at the Alpine for 2022. The 22-year-old Australian driver comments:
"I am super excited to join the Alpine F1 Team as a reserve driver, I look forward to being much more involved with the team and contributing to its planned success next season. This role is the next step towards my goal of an official driver’s seat in 2023, which is very exciting. I’ve proven my worth in junior formulas for the last two years, and now I feel ready for Formula 1. Along with track experience on race weekends, We will face together a substantial test program to continue my growth and be more prepared for a place in the race. I am very grateful to Alpine for their support. We have had two very successful seasons with the Academy, and I am grateful for the trust they have placed in me for this next step towards an even greater future. My goal now is to finish the Formula 2 championship in the best possible way with Prema and I can not wait to get back in the car and push hard on the track".
On the same day, Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu, currently in second place in the World Championship in the same category, became the Alfa Romeo Racing driver for next season, partnering with the already announced Valtteri Bottas, and taking the place of Antonio Giovinazzi, who arrives in Formula E with the Dragon Racing team alongside the Brazilian Sérgio Sette Câmara. Zhou then completed the line up of the following season’s drivers, becoming the first Chinese driver to race in the top category, choosing the number 24. Alfa Romeo team principal Frederic Vasseur comments on the choice made:
"Saying goodbye to a driver is never easy, especially in the case of Antonio, who has been part of the team for so long. As we separate, we will retain memories of the good times and learn lessons from the difficult ones, knowing that these moments have made us grow together as a team. We wish Antonio the best for his future: before then we still have three races to get good results together and finish the year great".
On the eve of the Qatar Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing team principal, Christian Horner, does not say - nor can he say, without tests - that the solution adopted by Mercedes regarding the possible flexion of the rear wing is irregular, but brings the matter to the attention of the FIA.
"Mercedes has never faced this kind of pressure in the hybrid era. And it’s clear that Toto Wolff is getting nervous and starts cursing in front of the cameras and planting bombs in his statements. That’s great. As for their car, from Hungary they’re getting faster and faster on the straight, gradually. According to us, they found an intelligent solution with their rear wing. The question is whether it is legal, and this will be up to the FIA, the Federation will evaluate this. Look at the straight speed that Mercedes has been able to achieve in the last two races. In Mexico they were faster than us in the straight of 14 km/h. While in Brazil they were 27 km/h faster. Let’s see how it goes in Qatar, what we want to be sure of is the fact that everyone competes on equal terms. If we suspect the regularity of the Mercedes wing we will not hesitate to protest".
What Red Bull’s team principal might object to Mercedes is the high-speed opening of a single portion of the lower flap of the rear wing, a virtually invisible movement that can still offer a great advantage at peak speed. But Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff remains impassive:
"I think it’s regular".
Mercedes team principal points out that Mercedes' rear wing has been checked forty times this season. If at the beginning of the season Red Bull had the whole rear aerodynamic appendix flexed, now Mercedes could have reached the point of flexing only a part of its wing, the lower one, only in the center. Meanwhile, arriving in Losail, Max Verstappen talks about the track that is unprecedented for Formula 1, and the fact that he can’t wait to race there:
"What just happened was a difficult weekend, we were slower than the Mercedes. But we only lost five points. Of course I would always like to win, but we played it out and taking second place is fine. We have three races to face, we have to push and do everything possible to get the maximum performance on track, as a team. I was only once in Qatar for an award ceremony, I can not wait to go back. It’s a new track and I’m excited to see how it will guide us, we hope to make a good performance. It’s always nice when we see the MotoGP racing there. It’s hard to say what we can do. I drove a bit to the simulator to understand the curves, but it will be nice to enjoy the track live. The test sessions will obviously be very important for everyone to get speed and understand the correct setup of the machine".
But it is not only the issues related to a possible flexion of the rear wings of the Mercedes to make discussion. On the eve of the Qatar Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton admits that he has changed his mind about Max Verstappen’s behavior on the track, after seeing the onboard that was not available to the commissioners at the time of the decision to continue the race played in Brazil without penalties, for the same admission of the race director Michael Masi.
"In Brazil we found something more to improve the pace of the car. We hope to do the same this weekend. About the duel with Verstappen I don’t have much to say: in that moment I thought only to run, complaining is something that blocks you, and in addition it is difficult to judge something that you have not seen from all angles. Now that I’ve seen it better, I have a different idea, of course. Everyone - even those who don’t run - has an opinion about that duel, but I’ll keep my thoughts to myself. Personally I want to focus on this weekend because we are still behind and Red Bull will be very fast this weekend. I leave certain things to the team, I won’t spend a bit of energy on things other than the setup of this weekend’s car. I’ve been trying to beat Red Bull all year, and Interlagos was a phenomenal weekend, and I tried not to get carried away. I was back at the factory with the team to prepare and we hope to do well again".
While Sergio Perez admits, speaking again of the previous Brazilian Grand Prix:
"We were very unlucky on Sunday to miss the podium. But this is the world of racing and these things happen, so there’s no point stopping to think about it, I just need to move on, focus on Qatar and get back on the podium there. I think we will make a deep analysis as a team: Losail is a very different track from São Paulo, things will change. We hope we can be much stronger there, all weekend. For me, moreover, it’s nice to return to the normal format of the weekend, let’s see where we will be at the level of pace. I think we’ll be competitive, hopefully give Mercedes a run for its money. It’s a really fast track, with a lot of downforce required, let’s see how fast we’ll be. I don’t remember it well, I ran there a long time ago, so I don’t think I have much advantage! There are three races left in the season and everything is still in play. In Brazil there was a very fun race, we hope it will be the same this weekend".
Scuderia Ferrari arrives in Losail with the contrary favors. Nevertheless, the Maranello team will try to defend the third place in the standings, trying to precede the McLaren drivers. On the eve of the Qatari Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc admits:
"We’re doing well this weekend. The last two weekends went well on Sunday, even if they were circuits on which we have suffered in recent years and indeed on these occasions I struggled more than usual, especially in qualifying, which is my strong point. But the races went well and I’m very happy about it, especially for the team. Now we will continue to push and I hope that this track will fit even better to my driving style. I only did one lap of the track by bike, then that’s it, I didn’t even have time to go home between Brazil and Qatar, I’ll discover the track tomorrow. I like the track, it sounds exciting and fun. There are many medium-high speed corners, they are the ones I like the most to face especially with these F1 cars, I can not wait to race".
Carlos Sainz, however, wants to specify what happened in recent Grands Prix, which saw him in difficulty compared to his team-mate and opponents:
"There are several reasons why I ended up behind, and we know them, we’ve analyzed them, and we’ll try to improve them. Including Austin, it was certainly three very frustrating weekends. However, there are also positive aspects to be taken into account. I’m gradually getting faster and, as soon as I can solve some problems at the start or during the first laps, at that point there are good opportunities to get satisfactory results. Normally, after a year, my experience suggests that misfortune is compensated by a bit of luck, and now I need the latter in the three races that remain on the calendar. There have also been mistakes, and we must be able to admit them when we have not been perfect. The pace and speed that I’m starting to show with the car makes me feel comfortable. We can not afford to go flat, but I see that Lando and Charles are very close in the championship, and I do not hide that I would not mind improving my position. We think it is a circuit in favor of McLaren, because it has many fast corners where they have an advantage. It is true that you cannot simulate everything that will happen in terms of degradation, temperatures and so on. In Brazil I made contact with Lando when he was about to pass me at the start, while in Mexico the same happened between Ricciardo and Bottas. If this had not happened in the last two races, at least one McLaren would have finished in front of us. These circumstances have played in our favor, but it remains a very close battle".
Daniel Ricciardo is ready to relaunch the challenge to Scuderia Ferrari to shorten the distance on the third place in the standings, which he missed after the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix:
"Now there is definitely a bit more tension: it’s not over until it’s really over, but Ferrari has managed to capitalize on the last two weekends, when Lando and I had accidents on the first lap. On top of that, our most advanced car had an accident on the first lap. And it was bad for us. Looking at the whole season, I think that Ferrari has been fighting since the beginning of the World Championship, also getting the pole in Monaco and Baku. I’m not saying we’re giving up, but I think we’ve been good at keeping the fight open so far. In any case, this weekend we will necessarily have to do better than them if we want to keep some more chances. We will continue to give the best of ourselves, hoping at the same time to get some points more than the last two tests".
Speaking of the Qatari event that will take place on the Losail circuit, Ricciardo expresses his consideration and first impressions on the track:
"I took it on in the simulator, obviously it’s a track I don’t know. I haven’t even tried it on the simulator in the past, but I can say that I liked it. It’s pretty fast, there are a lot of corners in fourth, fifth and sixth gear; we hope that somehow it can help us, since the car performs well in fast corners, but we’ll see. I’m excited to drive on a new circuit, I’ve watched it in MotoGP for many years, so it’s great to be able to drive here now".
Obviously, even Lando Norris is intrigued and excited about the circuit after having tested it on the simulator, and having examined it more closely on the eve of free practice:
"I did the track walk this morning: it’s a track I’ve seen with MotoGP for several years, not with a car. The only exception, of course, is for the simulator, which is part of our training. We did our best to prepare for this event, with all the limitations of the case, because I don’t think any F1 car has ever tried on this circuit in the past. It is exciting because it is something new, and it will be a challenge for everyone. By the way, it is a rather fast track and very physically demanding , especially for the neck. The last two races have been complex for us, especially in Brazil. On top of that, I also had an accident at the start, even though it was my fault. Surely this episode will serve to accumulate experience and to be more careful the next few times. Not everything was negative anyway; in the last two weeks Ferrari had a car simply faster, but we were still able to keep the fight alive, and the layout of this track could be an advantage for the characteristics of our car, at least I hope. We can still keep this challenge open".
Fernando Alonso underlines the importance of being able to take advantage of the experience gained by Davide Brivio in MotoGP:
"I always like to run in the Middle East. Losail is a track that we do not know so well, but it has been in the MotoGP calendar for many years, so mentally it is not a big news to make a stop in Qatar to race a Grand Prix. I chatted with Davide Brivio about the circuit to get his opinion, as he is the most experienced of the whole team. We have raced in different circuits in that geographical area and usually the weather does not give surprises. At the simulator the track seems very fast with a great rhythm between a curve and the other. It will be interesting to see how a Formula 1 car behaves in Losail compared to a motorcycle".
While Esteban Ocon expects to face conditions similar to those that drivers are used to in Bahrain:
"There will be wind, dust and we will race at night, which is always special. It’s nice to race on a new circuit because we all start from scratch. I will try to better prepare for the simulator, starting to internalize the trajectories".
With excellent personal performances in the last two events in Mexico and Brazil, Pierre Gasly will try to repeat himself in Losail.
"We are still fighting for the fifth position in the constructors' championship, but that of Brazil was a rather difficult weekend. It was great to come back to São Paulo and all the media reminded me that I came in second, the last time we ran there. No podium this time, but after the not so perfect starts of the Sprint Qualifying and the race, being able to make some good overtaking and finish seventh is a boost ahead of the next round. I tried the Qatar track on the simulator and watched the MotoGP races that took place there. At the simulator it looks really interesting, there are a lot of high speed corners - from fourth, fifth and sixth gear - and I think it will be quite physically challenging. It’s a track that I like, because with so many fast corners you can push the car to the limit of its aerodynamic capabilities, it should be interesting".
Qatar will also represent an opportunity for redemption for Yuki Tsunoda, author of a race that is far from positive in Brazil.
"I enjoyed my first time in Brazil, discovering a new track was interesting. Interlagos is certainly a unique place, with a great atmosphere and passionate fans like in Mexico. On the track, however, things didn't go as well as I would have liked. Although I think I have adapted well, it was rather difficult to face the qualifying after only an hour of practice. In the Sprint Qualifying I made a bad start and in the Grand Prix it was difficult to drive, because of the damage remedied in the accident with Stroll. So, I’m glad I can try to do better in Qatar in a few days. Somehow, I expect Qatar to be the easiest of the three races, because I will be on par with the rest of the group: no one has ever raced there before. In addition, the current layout seems simpler than Mexico or Brazil, so I should be able to learn it faster".
Also Kimi Raikkonen expresses a certain enthusiasm in front of the prospect of ending his career facing two new tracks out of three in this season finale.
"It is certainly exciting to end the career on unknown tracks, it keeps up the stimuli and the level of attention. The Qatar track is intriguing, it has a long straight at the peak of which there is the only real opportunity to bring an attack, then the mixed stretch looks really challenging and fun. Free practice will be fundamental to try to understand how to make the most of the tyres, also because we expect a lot of dust. In Brazil we were not lucky, but in Mexico we had a great weekend and we want to repeat ourselves".
And speaking of Antonio Giovinazzi, and about the fact that the Italian driver will not race next year in Formula 1 with the Alfa Romeo team, the Finnish driver expresses his opinion:
"Obviously it’s a shame for him, he’s a really good guy. We’ve known each other for a long time, since the years spent in Ferrari. But sometimes that’s the way it is. Fortunately he has already found an excellent alternative and, moreover, I hope he can still have a chance in Formula 1. He would absolutely deserve it. There are not many cars but, at the same time, there are many drivers ready to enter the Circus. So, I wish you that".
Antonio Giovinazzi will look for new satisfaction with the clear mind after the farewell to Alfa Romeo and the formalization of the passage in Formula E with Penske:
"In Qatar we all start from scratch, I want to finish the season with good results, now the past is the past. As always, we are in debt with luck, we hope to collect some of our credit here in Losail even though we are aware that it will take the perfect weekend to emerge in the middle of the group".
These will be the last races for George Russell on board the Williams team, as the British driver is ready to move to Mercedes from next season.
"It’s always very exciting to visit new slopes, so I can’t wait to go to Losail this weekend. I already tried it on the simulator in Grove, and I think it has a very interesting layout, with a lot of medium and high speed corners. The latter are connected by a long straight, which I think will offer many variables in terms of set-up options for all teams. If we could find the most correct one, this could offer a great reward".
Enthusiasm and expectations that are not lacking also for Nicholas Latifi:
"I can’t wait to face the challenge of racing on a new track like Losail. Formula 1 has never been to Qatar before, so all of us in the team will have to update without the historical data we usually have, but it will be a good fight. We will then have the opportunity to travel regularly to Qatar, as it will be back on schedule from 2023. It will also be an interesting opportunity to explore the area, as it is also my first time in the country. We have a couple of new races coming up, with this event followed by Saudi Arabia, and I am therefore eager to experience some Grand Prix".
Friday, November 19, 2021, to inaugurate the track of Losail is Kimi Raikkonen, followed by the two drivers of Haas and Daniel Ricciardo. All the drivers, while running the minutes available for the first free practice session, complete an installation lap. The contenders for the world title, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, also took to the track, and there was an immediate problem that had already been foreseen by Pirelli, the presence of a lot of dust and sand on the track, which obviously represents an additional difficulty for drivers who are not familiar with the track, as well as increasing the abrasion of the tires. As for the timing, in the first few minutes these are still very high. After the first eight minutes from the start of the first session in first position Charles Leclerc rises, but after only one minute he is bypassed by Max Verstappen. Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton is slowed down by a drop in power unit power. The British driver, however, tries to make the most of the remaining time. Continuing with the tests the circuit begins to clean and rubberize, favoring the lowering of the times. In fact, in the minutes that follow Daniel Ricciardo climbs to first position, followed in second position by Max Verstappen and in third by Valtteri Bottas. The first position is, however, immediately taken from Ricciardo by Pierre Gasly and between them is placed the Spanish Carlos Sainz.
The time is around 1'26"0. Daniel Ricciardo resumed the first position, improving the time of Pierre Gasly, but immediately he was overtaken by Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and finally by Lando Norris, who is approaching the limit of 1'25"0 positioning himself in first position. Lewis Hamilton, after having had the problems mentioned before, records the fourth absolute time. Max Verstappen was first, Lando Norris second and Valtteri Bottas. The session came halfway through, and Lewis Hamilton made a mistake in turn 5 that did not allow him to close the fastest lap. A few minutes later the cars are back on track, with the two Red Bulls performing different aerodynamic tests: Max Verstappen has a much more charged rear wing than Sergio Perez. A few minutes later Pierre Gasly suffered a mistake in turn 11, while Mick Schumacher made the same mistake in turn 12, bringing large amounts of sand on the track and putting the drivers in even more serious difficulty. While Kimi Raikkonen performs the same maneuvers, bringing sand to the track, Lance Stroll suffers from brake problems and returns to the pits of Aston Martin. Daniel Ricciardo moved into fifth position, while the two contenders for the title, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, took to the track to test with Soft tyres. The Dutchman completed the fastest lap, while Lewis Hamilton moved 0.3 seconds away from his teammate, Valtteri Bottas.
Just ten minutes from the end, Lewis Hamilton’s car again had problems, this time on the front of the car, and was recalled by Mercedes to the pits, while Sainz and Tsunoda are victims of a misunderstanding and the Japanese driver is forced to widen the trajectory and pass in the dirty area of the circuit to avoid contact with the Spanish driver’s Ferrari. Vettel also noticed that he had problems with the car, at the height of the pedals. During the last minute of the session the yellow flag was displayed due to the presence of debris on the track, and Mick Schumacher made an excursion off the track. This concludes the first session, which was full of events and which caused a lot of damage to the front wings, especially because of the height of the curbs. Max Verstappen closed the first practice session at the top of the standings, followed by Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas. A few hours later the circuit lights up thanks to the artificial lights and the second free practice session begins. Valtteri Bottas is the first to take to the track, followed immediately by all the drivers. The Finnish Mercedes driver, after a few moments, also makes a mistake in turn 4. The drivers, who for the most part use Medium tyres, record high times again.
Bottas, Hamilton and Tsunoda competed for the first position, but it was the Japanese driver who won the race, but was soon overtaken by Max Verstappen. Shortly after Lewis Hamilton improved and took the first position, but he was almost immediately overtaken by his team-mate, Valtteri Bottas. Lewis Hamilton, 17 minutes into the session, returned to the pit lane and stepped out of the car. Also Antonio Giovinazzi returns to the pits: the Italian driver damaged the bottom passing over a kerb and the team asks him to return to carry out checks. The drivers, almost half an hour before the start of practice, all take to the track with Soft tyres and get ready to perform the simulation of qualifying. The first to launch with Soft tires is Valtteri Bottas, who easily marks a valid time, with which he conquers the first position. Lewis Hamilton follows and reaches the second position, while Lando Norris is placed in third. Max Verstappen was stopped in the pit lane to allow the mechanics to work on the DRS actuator system; the Dutch driver managed to get back on track to perform the qualifying simulation only a few minutes later. Pierre Gasly, meanwhile, wins the second position, placing himself in front of Lewis Hamilton, who soon after is overtaken by Max Verstappen. Only ten minutes left and the drivers start the race simulation.
After the first practice sessions, Lewis Hamilton was not happy with the results obtained:
"I don’t know how big the gap is, but for the moment I’m far away, I’m not at all close. The circuit? For the driver it’s okay. They’re all high-speed corners, it’s a physical circuit. The track is nice, there’s no particular problem. On my car there was no particular damage, just something because I ended up over the curbs".
Finally, of course, there is a comment from the British driver about the decision not to reopen the investigation into the behaviour of Max Verstappen at Interlagos, when the two were struggling to win the lead of the race.
"About the decision about Max I don’t have much to say, I didn’t attend the meeting, I focused on this weekend. Wheel-to-wheel battles with him? Yes, I’d like to have more. But at the moment I have no idea if there will be any in the race. I’m a bit slow, I still have to figure out how to improve".
Valtteri Bottas is already happy, fast in the first two test sessions:
"We started the weekend pretty well with the set-up, the balance was already good, so we only made a few small changes ahead of FP2. This is an encouraging way to start the weekend on a new track, the team did a great job with the preparations for this appointment. We are not far from our optimal point, but of course there is always work to be done and I myself have to perfect my driving style here. You can not find all the speed in just two sessions, so we will continue to do our best to try to improve. Today it is difficult to draw conclusions, also because these are still tests, but the feeling is very good. All this is promising for the rest of the weekend".
Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda F1 engine manager, worries about the incredible speed of Mercedes:
"The Mercedes is still very fast, but I think all four of our cars have brought home a good Friday. We have to see how far we can go on Saturday, when the cars will be faster, but as for the first day, the engine plans have worked well. But we still have a lot of work to do. The similarity is related to the flatness of the track, including the pit lane, and the constant presence of sand. The main difference is in the layout. Some riders like the combination of different turns, others find it difficult. I think it is one of the most challenging circuits from this point of view".
Sergio Perez, who finished the first two practice sessions, said that there is still a way to find competitiveness:
"I drove here when I was younger, and it’s slowly coming back to me, but I don’t think I have any advantage over all the other drivers. I think we got off to a good start today, but we made some changes during the sessions. In addition, we must necessarily review some aspects, especially those related to soft rubber. The margins are very tight, so we hope to be competitive for tomorrow night’s qualifying. It is an interesting location, which presents many differences from day to night. It is not an easy track and by the way, tomorrow we expect the wind to change, so it will be interesting to see what will happen. I think we have a bit of work to do during the night, we are not quite happy with the balance of the car, so we will try to change it before the morning. Qualifying will be crucial, so we will try to get the best from the analysis of FP2 during the evening to be able to relaunch ourselves".
Charles Leclerc, who confesses his appreciation of the Losail circuit, is quite happy:
"I had a lot of fun driving in Losail: it’s a nice track, I always find the changes interesting and I like it when there are news in the calendar. Today we put together a lot of laps with the two cars, and this allowed us to know better the characteristics of the circuit and to collect as much data as possible. Now we will focus mainly on qualifying since our long runs are already quite good, for the dry lap will be essential to be able to balance as much as possible the first and the last sector so as to limit the overheating of the tires caused by the high temperatures that are the norm here".
A feeling shared by team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr.:
"The first day on a new track is always exciting and challenging, because it is a completely new experience. In all honesty, I think that this circuit has surprised everyone for how racy it is and for the speeds that can be reached in the corners. There will be hard work on the set-up, because we had to change it a lot compared to what we had in mind. We are not yet where we would like to be and for this we will need to improve the car tonight because the competition is very tight. But I have every confidence that we can succeed and I hope that tomorrow we will be able to play it at the top positions of the group".
The battle between Ferrari and McLaren continues. Lando Norris, in perspective, begins to confess that the circuit will not have a great evolution and that there will not be much to change on the car:
"There is not a great evolution of the track, obviously changes for the temperature, but there is not much to change on the car. The car gave good sensations and we also improved compared to this morning. However there is still progress to be made to be competitive, but it was still a good first day. We expected it, and we hope to grow again tomorrow".
And even Daniel Ricciardo is not entirely satisfied:
"This evening I wasn’t very fast, we tried some changes after FP1 to see where we would end up, but we went further back than we thought, while Lando was ahead. Our long run was not so limited, but with this set up we could still have some problems. Pierre Gasly was very fast, while the Ferraris didn’t appear so fast. However, tomorrow it could change everything".
Pierre Gasly, who admits:
"It was a very good Friday, I would say the best of the season so far. From the car it didn’t seem easy at all, but the lap times were really good. In general I think we can do even better tomorrow, so tonight we will try to work on this. Our goal is clearly to be as high on the grid as possible, but always realistic. We are very competitive at the moment, so we hope to be there again with McLaren and Ferrari in qualifying".
And also his teammate, Yuki Tsunoda, declares:
"It was nice today, with the car that seems to be going pretty strong so far. We have tried some different arrangements to collect important data for qualifying and the race, which are fundamental, since we are on a new circuit. The car performed well in middle school, but I struggled a bit more with the soft rubber. As a result, we will have work to do tonight to try to improve in this area. Overall, I think it was a good day, we just have to try to put it all together for the evidence that will count. Overtaking seems to be quite difficult here, so it will be important to get a good starting position for the race. At that point, we could be in good condition to score points on Sunday".
Among the drivers happy with the layout design is Fernando Alonso, who after trying in Losail admits:
"The circuit is really great to drive, I like the layout and how the combination of curves really gives you the impression and the ability to maximize the potential in a Formula 1 car. I was enjoying every lap so it was a fun Friday. Grip levels were good today, especially in PL2, and the car felt stable in both sessions as well. We will see what we can do tomorrow, but we will need to evaluate everything overnight if we want to aim for Q3 in qualifying tomorrow".
Team-mate Esteban Ocon agrees with the Spanish driver:
"It was a fun Friday on this new track, I had some nice surprises for several reasons, so it was a pleasant day overall. The track was high grip, very fast and smooth, which was great for driving. It presents the features of places like Sepang and Istanbul concentrated in one track and this was really fun to experience. It is challenging for all of us to learn a new circuit, but together with the team we have organized very well so as to be ready immediately. It’s about finding the right set-up, trying to improve test after test and understanding what to do to perfect the car. All in all, today was productive for us and I can’t wait to see what we can do in qualifying".
Lance Stroll, who was slowed down in practice by a problem with his Aston Martin, comments:
"The track runs very well and is just as enjoyable, and in fact I enjoyed it. The hydraulic problem we had during FP1 didn’t cost us too much time on track, and in the second session the car was well balanced. Saturday is another day, but I have high hopes for a competitive weekend. Progress up to Q3 is definitely the goal, and if we can qualify well, I think we will be strong in the race".
Practice is better for team-mate Sebastian Vettel:
"Today went well from my point of view, but at this stage it is difficult to understand where we really are, because everyone is still getting acquainted with the track. It takes a bit of time to focus and find your own pace, but overall this is a very fun circuit to drive. I wasn’t very happy with our pace on the dry lap, and the traffic made it difficult to complete clean laps. However, we will still have time in PL3 to work further on this. Tomorrow everyone will aim for the perfect lap in qualifying, but only some will succeed. I hope to be one of them because, being so hard to overtake, making sure a good position on the grid will play an important role in our final result".
Williams' British driver, George Russell, is happy with the track’s feel, but is concerned about the lack of points where he can try overtaking:
"I had fun out there today, it’s a very fun circuit to drive and it’s pretty fast, probably more than we expected. The degradation of the tires seems relatively low, and that allowed us to push hard enough, which is what all of us drivers want from a track. However, I am not sure what the circumstances will be in the race, also because it does not seem to me the most suitable circuit to overtake. However, the weather is expected to change tomorrow, and I hope that they are favorable. In any case, if not, we will adapt to the situation. The curbs here are pretty brutal, given the speeds we travel. Consequently, care must be taken not to go beyond the limit of the track. We’ll be slower, but if we’re not careful, we could actually damage the car. Overall it was still a fun day".
Nicholas Latifi expected that the circuit of Losail could be a track to have fun driving the car inside:
"I expected Losail to be fun after driving him on the simulator, and he didn’t disappoint me, he’s really fast and smooth with a few tight corners, which is great for these current Formula One cars, and I also think it fits the characteristics of our car well. It seemed like we were doing well out there, but that didn’t reflect on the timing. So, we’re going to look at the data that we’ve collected tonight and we’re going to find areas where we can take a step forward for tomorrow. A brand new circuit brings a lot of variables as we head towards qualifying, but each team will be in the same position, so we will do our best to face these challenges".
Mick Schumacher, who did not work on the simulator before arriving in Losail, saw the track for the first time on Thursday:
"I never worked on the simulator, so I went without expectations. Overall, it was a lot of fun, I liked it. The track is very fast, and this probably wasn’t what I expected. I feel pretty good, I think it’s a nice track to race on qualifying. Probably it will be a little more difficult for the race, but I’m ready for surprises".
Nikita Mazepin comments on the circuit:
"I think it’s the fastest circuit I’ve seen this year, as there’s almost no slow curve, which definitely makes it an interesting challenge. The surface is very smooth, and allows you to live a pleasant experience thanks to the characteristics of the Formula 1 cars. I felt something that touched the bottom of my car. It’s frustrating because I wasn’t off the track, I was still within the limits at the time it happened, so I’m afraid these kerbs aren’t entirely gentle with certain cars. Specifically, the contact occurred at a critical point, and we will have to be very careful both in qualifying and in the race. Tomorrow in FP3 I will be inside the white lines. I will not look for the speed, but I will be committed to be careful right away and then raise from that point on".
Antonio Giovinazzi, however, is not happy with the sensations experienced during the first tests:
"The track was dirty, but already in FP1 there was a lot of grip, even with hard, and this surprised us. There was dirt, but in the car it was not so bad. The FP1 went well, the FP2 also, but I found traffic in qualifying simulation. Tomorrow it will be difficult with traffic because it is a track with many fast corners. Giving space to the people behind is complicated, plus if you’re in front you lose a lot of weight. There’s a lot of work to do tonight. I liked the track, it’s a lot of fun, but we will see how’s the race. It will not be easy to follow the cars in front. There is only one trajectory. But in qualifying it will be very fun. The track limits issue, then, is not very clear. We will talk about it now in the meeting with the drivers. Change immediately before qualifying will not be ideal, but at least that is clear".
Haas driver Nikita Mazepin did not take part in the second test session: his mechanics had to replace the chassis of the single-seater following some excursions on the track during the first session where the bottom of the car was damaged. There will be three times cancelled for exceeding the limits of the track at turn 2, five times canceled for exceeding the limits at turn 7, one time canceled for exceeding the limits at turn 8, and one time canceled for crossing the limits at turn 16, during the second free practice session on Friday. In the first case George Russell, Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris cancel the time; in the second case Valtteri Bottas and Fernando Alonso (twice), Charles Leclerc (once); in the third case Charles Leclerc cancel it; The fourth case concerns Lance Stroll. At the end of the tests Ferrari is fined 200 euros by the FIA because Charles Leclerc has exceeded the speed limit established in the pit lane. At the end of the second free practice session on Friday, transmissions were replaced on the cars of Nikita Mazepin and Nicholas Latifi.
Both drivers are not penalized on the starting grid as they used, by regulation, the previous transmission for six consecutive Grands Prix. Before the start of the third free practice session on Saturday, Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi’s cars were fitted with the eighth unit for the exhaust system. The Alfa Romeo Racing duo does not suffer penalties on the grid because the installed component is among those replaceable within the maximum number established as per regulation. During the afternoon of Saturday 20 December 2021 begins the third session of free practice. After a few minutes the session was interrupted and the red flag was displayed: Nikita Mazepin had problems with her car and stopped shortly after the pit lane. Ten minutes go by and you can finally get back on track, but the activity is scarce. Nevertheless, Esteban Ocon is already fast and ranks first, followed by Lando Norris. These two drivers are the only drivers on track in the first minutes of the third practice session. But when the two Mercedes drivers hit the track, Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time, and Valtteri Bottas was second. Several drivers compete for the lead, first Fernando Alonso, then Valtteri Bottas, then Lewis Hamilton and finally Max Verstappen.
The standings at half an hour from the end of the session show Valtteri Bottas in first position, Lewis Hamilton in second and Max Verstappen in third. Leclerc, Sainz, Alonso, Tsunoda, Perez and Ocon follow. Verstappen still had problems with the wing and Leclerc spun in turn 2. Minutes passed quickly, and there were no changes in the standings until the end of FP3. At the end of the third session of tests there was only one time canceled for having exceeded the limits of the track at turn 2, three times cancelled for having exceeded the limits at turn 16, and five times cancelled under the double yellow flag, during the third free practice session on Saturday. The first case concerns Yuki Tsunoda; the second case takes into account Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll and Charles Leclerc; while in the third case Nicholas Latifi (twice), Mick Schumacher, Kimi Räikkönen and Lewis Hamilton (once) have been cancelled. Nikita Mazepin is immediately forced to pit, to replace the front wing, damaged when passing on a curb. The first time is that of Lance Stroll; the Canadian is beaten by Carlos Sainz Jr., while Charles Leclerc, despite beating Stroll, is 0.024 seconds from the time of the team-mate.
The Spaniard’s time is beaten only by Sergio Pérez, in turn overtaken by Lando Norris. Lewis Hamilton lowered the limit in 1'22"019, doing even better than Max Verstappen who stopped at 1'22"234, 0.1 seconds slower than Sergio Pérez. Valtteri Bottas, however, with his first attempt, is a second from Hamilton’s time. Pierre Gasly came back in third, leaving the other AlphaTauri driver, Yuki Tsunoda, in fifth. Fernando Alonso is even better, now third; Pierre Gasly’s time is also beaten by Carlos Sainz Jr. After that Sergio Pérez climbs fourth. Max Verstappen drops below the limit of 1'22"0, scoring a time of 1'21"996, which puts him just 0.020 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas and 0.023 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton. During this phase, Red Bull Racing continued to work on the rear wing of the Dutch driver’s single-seater. Lewis Hamilton climbs to the summit, thanks to a time of 1'21"901, while Carlos Sainz Jr. is able to do better than the time of Sergio Pérez, with Fernando Alonso returning to sixth place. Kimi Räikkönen, Nicholas Latifi, Antonio Giovinazzi, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were eliminated.
In the second phase Carlos Sainz Jr. It immediately marks a time of 1'22"241, before the arrival of the two Mercedes drivers: Lewis Hamilton closes the lap in 1'21"682, while Valtteri Bottas is 0.3 seconds from the time of the World Champion in charge. Max Verstappen also does better than the Finnish Mercedes driver. The Dutchman was preceded by Pierre Gasly for 0.004 seconds. Yuki Tsunoda rises to fifth, confirming the good time for the AlphaTauri. Sebastian Vettel is seventh, behind Esteban Ocon. The track seems to progress so much that Fernando Alonso, with Soft tyres, scores the best time in the first sector, even if at the end of the lap he is sixth. After these first attempts, Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren used Medium compound tyres, unlike the Soft tyres used by other competitors. Sainz Jr., although threatened by the cut, still faces the track with the Medium compound. However, Norris, Pérez and Leclerc decided to move to Soft. Sainz Jr. is not improved, rather is overtaken by Norris. They remain out of the top ten Leclerc, eleventh, and Daniel Ricciardo, thirteenth. Pierre Gasly rises to second place, and his compatriot Esteban Ocon to fifth. Sebastian Vettel, eighth, is safe, while Fernando Alonso is even third. Sergio Pérez, with the last attempt, is only eleventh, thus allowing Carlos Sainz Jr. to enter the ten who will compete for pole position, despite having used Medium tires. Besides Pérez, Stroll, Leclerc, Ricciardo and Russell did not go to the decisive phase.
In Q3 Lewis Hamilton set a time of 1'21"262, 0.2 seconds faster than the time scored by Valtteri Bottass. Third is Carlos Sainz Jr., 0.5 seconds from the summit, ahead of Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda. Max Verstappen, however, detached by 0.162 seconds; Valtteri Bottas slipped to fourth place, beaten also by Pierre Gasly. With the second attempt, made a few minutes before the end of practice, Lewis Hamilton improves in the first sector, makes the best time in the second, and closes the lap scoring a time of 1'20"827. The session, in fact, ends when Pierre Gasly, passing on a curb, in the third sector, loses the front wing, which cuts the right front tyre. The race direction exposes the yellow flags at the point, forcing the drivers to slow down. Lewis Hamilton took the 120th pole position, ahead of Max Verstappen, Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas. For the Briton it is the thirty-first different track in which he wins the start in first position. It’s just one of the times cancelled for crossing the limits of the track at turn 2, and two times cancelled for crossing the limits at turn 16, during qualifying. In the first case, Mick Schumacher cancels it; in the second case, Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris cancel the time.
Also at Losail, Lewis Hamilton will be on pole position, commenting on the qualifying:
"My first time here, it’s great to see new fans. Yesterday was a tough day for me. I didn’t feel too good all Friday. I suffered a lot in FP’s. I gritted my teeth and stayed here until midnight with the engineers. They always work until then, they are really great workers. I found points where we could improve and I made changes for FP3. Apparently they worked and we got them into qualifying. I’m very grateful for the timing that they put us on track, we never found any traffic. The last lap was beautiful. This track is fantastic, incredibly fast. It gives nice sensations. Yesterday I had a stomach ache, but last night I slept very well and I felt much better. The trail is so fast it won’t be easy to follow for whoever’s behind. But there is also little degradation of the tires, we saw that all three in front of us start with the medium. The hardest tire I do not know if it will be usable. We’ll see if it’s a one or two stop race. In Turn 1 there is wind behind, anything can happen. Yesterday was a very difficult day for me,I didn’t feel too good all day long. I suffered a lot during the first two sessions, I wasn’t there at all. I had a bit of a tummy ache that I took with me since Wednesday. I had to grit my teeth, last night I was in the pits until midnight with the engineers, who always stay late and are really great workers. I found some points where we could improve and we made some changes for FP3. Apparently they worked, so we took them into qualifying. I am really very grateful for the timing with which they put me on track, I never found traffic, and I think the last lap was beautiful, a really beautiful lap. This is a fantastic and fast track, with lots of high speed corners. It really gives good sensations. Also on a physical level I am now well, yesterday I slept well and I recovered".
Of course, Max Verstappen is more disappointed, as he only managed to take second place:
"We are a bit behind schedule, it was a difficult weekend for us, as we saw in qualifying and also in the third free practice. We struggled a bit more than normal. I’m still second and it’s all in the game for the race, where we want to fight for something more. It’s hard to make predictions because it’s the first time we’ve run here and there are so many unknowns. I don’t want to think too much about these things. We have to work on the departure and then we’ll see how it ends. Now we will review the qualifying, we will examine them, and then we will focus on the race in general. We can still play, but I wish I could have fought more. Departure? It’s always hard to tell, because we’ve never had a race here. We just need to work on our start and then see where we end up, so we focus on the race. However, we lack a bit of rhythm: I think it was again a bit difficult for us in qualifying and this is testified by the elimination of Checo from Q3. All this just shows that we are definitely struggling a little more than normal, while still remaining second".
He is amazed by the abnormal behaviour of his car Valteri Bottas, who after winning the third place on the grid, comments:
"I felt strong in the car yesterday, I don’t know what happened tonight. I felt like I didn’t have that much room. In qualifying I struggled a lot, especially in Turn 1, unlike yesterday, when I managed everything better. I’m a little confused about what happened between yesterday and today. We have two cars against Max, I hope the grip on our side is better. Surely we can do something".
The Monaco driver of Scuderia Ferrari, Charles Leclerc, is astounded by his result in qualifying, the thirteenth time, and comments strangely on what has just happened:
"I really have no idea what happened. There was definitely something strange. I had a second gap, but it’s not like I was making huge mistakes or anything out of the ordinary. Now we have to look hard because this time I have no explanation. Normally when I get out of the car after qualifying I always have an explanation, I got it wrong here, I got it wrong there. But this time it’s not there and so it’s really a very bad surprise to see such different times. Surely we will find something. As for the preparation of the gum, I never had the feeling of being in the right window. Especially in the first sector where I was five or six tenths behind everyone. I wasn’t feeling well".
Carlos Sainz is undoubtedly more relieved, ending the qualifying with the seventh time. Nevertheless, the Spanish driver is not happy at all:
"I didn’t have a great feeling with the average, the passage in Q3 was very limited. Brave sure, risky too, but in the end we succeeded and tomorrow we start with this mix. It won’t be an advantage at the start, but it will give us a hand already between turns 5 and 10. We’ll see. For my part it was a good qualifying: Q3 was not perfect, I did a good first lap, after I tried to put the car at the limit in the second attempt, but I went further and I could not lower the time. Anyway, I did some good laps today. It wasn’t easy this weekend, at least until now: Alpine, AlphaTauri and McLaren are all there. The other times we had some margin, but we managed to stay calm and do our job. Going to Q3 with the average and starting tomorrow with this mix will not be easy, but it will be nice to do something different from the others".
The championship fight will not only involve Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, as Scuderia Ferrari and McLaren are also involved in a duel that sees them competing for third place. Qualifying, however, was not positive for the British team either, as while it is true that Lando Norris will start sixth ahead of his friend-rival Carlos Sainz, it is also true that Daniel Ricciardo will start fourteenth, behind Charles Leclerc.
"Obviously it wasn’t a great session in terms of position. I would have liked to have been more competitive, but I struggled to find those last tenths. I could have gained something at one point but I could have lost it in the next part of the corner. I still have some things to look at and work on to improve. I think it’s about the lap as a whole because I didn’t make any big mistakes, I’m just missing that half-tenth. We will try to do something tomorrow. We will start back but tonight we will see what we can come up with in terms of strategy".
Says the Australian driver, while Lando Norris admits to feeling:
"Very happy today. We made a good amount of improvements from FP3 to qualifying and we didn’t expect the P6. I’m definitely happy about this, especially because it wasn’t an easy P6, but it was done with probably one of the best laps I’ve done in qualifying for some time. I’m satisfied with my work and what we did as a team. This helped us today. So, a positive day overall. We couldn’t get through Q2 with the average tyre, which is the only downside, this will make our life a bit more complicated than we want tomorrow, but we still have a good opportunity to score solid points".
Pierre Gasly will start in fourth place. The French driver manages to achieve this incredible result because passing on a curb, in the third sector, he loses the front wing and cuts the right front tyre, forcing the race direction to expose the yellow flags and the riders to slow down, thus ending the Q3. Gasly, however, was good at not losing control of the car, then parked it on the main straight, near the pit wall.
"Losing the front wing like this was a bit shocking, but that’s okay. The lap was going well and we would have been even closer to the top positions, but I’m happy anyway. We are fourth, it was a fantastic qualifying for us and we are very happy. The strategy for tomorrow? For us it has always been this, we wanted to give us the maximum chance for the choice of tires for the race and all are available for tomorrow. We wanted to start with Soft tyres, it was my choice already before qualifying and we followed this plan".
The fourth place on the grid of the French driver was also favored by the elimination in Q3 of Red Bull of Sergio Perez. A very important result in terms of the championship, which clearly favors Mercedes. Asked about a possible help to give to the former team-mate, Max Verstappen, Pierre Gasly admits that he will only think about his race.
"I don’t drive for Red Bull. I can’t help him the same way. Sure, I’ll do my best if we can fight Mercedes. But we also have to be realistic. We will try all of them and if there is a chance we will. But I expect them to pull us off. We will fight with Alonso and the others behind: Carlos and Norris. But if there is an opportunity at the start I will take it".
Sergio Perez, where having played a qualifying session definitely to forget, having reached only the eleventh position, comments:
"It was a crazy qualifying for me, I think we were ahead all weekend and after FP3 we were really confident of the changes we were making. We had everything ready to perform a really competitive qualifying but we could not put it all together when needed. We changed our approach with the preparation of the tyres going towards evening and we were not able to do the laps we wanted; I caught a lot of traffic and getting out in Q2 is the price we paid, we were not able to concretize when it was necessary".
Sebastian Vettel, questioned about an overtaking of Pierre Gasly at the exit from the pit lane, is justified by pointing out that there is no rule against it.
"You can’t overtake? Why not? You can overtake in and out of the pit lane, maybe he had a problem. It would seem not. But I thought he had it".
Finally, the German driver also has his say on the controversy of the day, which concerns the yellow flag displayed at the end of the session for the accident that happened to Pierre Gasly.
"We discuss the rules all year round, sometimes things are one way, sometimes another. I had a tough penalty in Bahrain even though I didn’t see a yellow flag. When a car stops on the track, for me it’s a yellow double. I interrupted my lap, I don’t know what happened behind me. Maybe they took off the yellow flag because Verstappen was coming".
It didn’t go as well for the Alfa Romeo team. A disappointment highlighted first by Kimi Raikkonen, about to run the third final race of his career in Formula 1.
"We did the best we could out there, it wasn’t a bad ride and there definitely wasn’t anything specific to point the finger at. The car was not bad in terms of balance, we just weren’t fast enough and the weather reflected this. The track was the best of the whole weekend and it will be interesting to see what it will be like for the race on Sunday. Starting so far back is not ideal, but this is what we have and we will try to improve. Overtaking won’t be easy, but this is pretty much the same wherever we go, so let’s see what we get out of it".
Even worse was Antonio Giovinazzi, who will start from the penultimate row after a very complex week from a personal point of view, characterized by the lack of confirmation in Alfa Romeo for next season.
"The feeling with the car in qualifying was the best all weekend, but it wasn’t enough to earn a place in Q2. It was not the easiest experience and in fact we seemed to be struggling even in free practice, but I was still hoping for a better result. Let’s start instead from the bottom, on a track where to follow and overtake is not the best. It will not be a simple race, but never say never. We will give our best and we will try to get a good result tomorrow. The track has evolved a lot today and, if it made a further improvement, at that point different strategies would come into play. Even the first lap on a new track could reserve some surprises, so let’s see if we can make progress".
Nikita Mazepin was penalized for not having been able to do a regular job during the Free Practice, and in qualifying the Russian driver could not express himself to the maximum:
"I think I’ve done about ten laps on a track that is totally new to me. What the team did to turn the car in such a short time, changing everything that was possible to change, was fantastic. It was a miracle job, it wasn’t just my team working on it, it was Mick’s. It was very special of them, but it was a difficult qualification".
Little to do for Mick Schumacher, despite the increased activity on track:
"It’s a fun track, I like to drive here and surely you have to get used to the night driving too. We knew it would be tough, but I’m actually pretty happy overall. We maximized what we had from lap time, and so we achieved our goals. We almost went even further. There was always traffic at the last corner, everyone wants to look for the right temperature at the last corner, but nobody wants to give up a position. As a result, we were all stacked up, but we managed to handle the situation very well as a team, and I am very happy about that".
The performance of Fernando Alonso, fifth with his Alpine, is remarkable:
"I think the whole weekend has been positive for us, the car has been strong in all sessions and seems to have a good pace especially on fast corners. I told the team if they gave me enough fuel, I’d drive all night and wait for them here in the morning. There is a feeling that some circuits are better than others for our package and Qatar seems to be one of those. But we have to understand why we lack this kind of performance on other circuits. However, the points will be awarded tomorrow, so we will have to maximize our starting position. We start from the clean side of the grid and there are several tyre strategies that we need to be aware of. We have some question marks, but to face them starting from the fifth position is better".
Completing the good moment of the Alpine is the performance of the French driver Esteban Ocon, who managed to enter Q3 getting the ninth place:
"As a team, it’s a very positive result for both Fernando and me. For my part, however, we have lost a little today, and we need to review a few things to see where we were lacking and where we can improve. It has to be said that we also left something extra on the table, as in my last lap I went wide in Turn 1 trying to gain some time. Anyway, we’re back in Q3, which is great, but we know points are awarded on Sundays. We are still fighting and we can fight hard tomorrow to earn some points".
Overall, George Russell is also satisfied, and on this occasion he managed to bring Williams to Q2, getting the fifteenth place:
"I’m happy with the work we did today, we were a few tenths ahead of Alfa Romeo, which are our main rivals, but at the same time we were a bit too far from Q3. It was fun, but it’s always a shame when you can’t get the next step right, especially when you get a good lap. In Q2 we tried to make the most of the tyre during the first lap, where we pushed, but we couldn’t get the best. I think it will be difficult to overtake tomorrow, but we are on a new track and in special conditions, so we are looking forward to the race to see what we can do".
Instead, Nicholas Latifi got the seventeenth place, which thanks to this performance confirms the good moment of Williams:
"The car came through well during the lap, and I really enjoyed driving this circuit; I can say that it was one of the funniest qualifying sessions of the year. There is a bit of disappointment, however, for not having transmuted these feelings with a more efficient pace, especially because I expect that the qualifying position will play a key role in tomorrow’s race. However, it is a good thing that we are going to get close to our main competitors. Looking forward to tomorrow: overtaking could be challenging, especially in the last corners, but we will see what we can do to gain positions".
In conclusion, Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner, lavishes sincere compliments against rival Lewis Hamilton, author of a superb qualifying:
"Lewis made the difference in turns 6 and 7 on the last lap, and it was incredible especially in the area where there are the slowest corners on the track. From what we could see, his speed was normal on the straight. It seems to have gone down a bit, so much so that it is now comparable to ours, but I really don’t think that we were the ones who found something, as Wolff said. Lewis ended a crazy final lap, in which he was very, very fast".
And after praising the rival’s tests for the title, Christian Horner highlights the result obtained by Max Verstappen, focusing on the scenarios that could occur in the race:
"Anyway we have Max in the front row, and he will start in front of Valtteri. It’s a shame and a disappointment not to have Checo in the top ten. Tomorrow the pit-stop strategy and tyre consumption will certainly be important to analyze but, first of all, the start and entry into Turn 1 will be decisive. On this track it is difficult to stay close to the car in front, and it will be just as complex to overtake. For this, the first 400 or 500 meters will be fundamental. Being second is a disappointment, but we could have also arrived third. Max has been very good at extracting the best from the car, and I can guarantee that he will be able to take back the lead of the race; if he sees a gap, he will exploit it, even if Damon Hill may not agree. During the free practice, neither we nor Mercedes made specific tests on the long run, also because we noticed a greater energy of Pirelli tires that we had never seen before. Consequently, wear and tear will be a decisive factor".
Finally, Horner explains why he insisted on a load test on the rear wing of the Mercedes:
"The load test is doing its job, so much so that the speed in the straight is not only under control, but is also in line with that of the other competitors. It is an aspect that has not been seen since some races, and it will happen not only here, but also in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi".
The day after the qualifying dispute, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Valtteri Bottas are called up by the sports stewards: Verstappen for not respecting the double yellow flag, in qualifying, while Sainz Jr. and Bottas for not respecting the single yellow flag, always in the same session. Verstappen was penalized by five positions on the starting grid and two points on the super license. In addition, his best time recorded during Q3 under the double yellow flag regime was cancelled by commissioners. Sainz Jr. receives no penalties, while Bottas is penalized by three positions on the grid and one point on the super license. Before the race, the Ferrari mechanics replaced the chassis of Charles Leclerc’s car, damaged at the end of qualifying. Regarding the penalty, Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal, is obviously furious, and comments:
"It’s incredible. We’re faced with a misunderstanding between the Race Director and a Commissioner. Sainz raised his foot three meters before the finish line. All three had DRS because Michael Masi thought the track was safe. We can appeal but it would be a waste of time. Let’s hope Verstappen has a good start and that someone overtakes Hamilton at the start. I’m sure Max will be even more motivated after this verdict".
At the end of the race, Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner will be summoned by the sports stewards for violating the sports regulations following statements made before the Grand Prix related to the penalty imposed on Max Verstappen. Horner will receive a warning, but at the same time he will offer to participate in the FIA International Stewards Programme scheduled for February 2022. The offer will be accepted by the Commissioners.
On Sunday 21 November 2021, in Losail, the first Qatar Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place. At the start Lewis Hamilton is able to maintain the lead, while Fernando Alonso passes Pierre Gasly for the second position; Max Verstappen is the author of a great start, which takes him from seventh to fourth place. Behind them are Norris, Ocon, Sainz Jr. and Pérez. Verstappen managed to climb up to fourth place, but was in danger of going off the track following a close contact with Fernando Alonso. Bottas, on the other hand, loses many positions at the start and goes down to eleventh position. Starting positions were not according to the predictions also for the two Ferrari drivers, since Sainz loses two positions and is seventh, while Leclerc is thirteenth. Hamilton immediately creates a margin over Alonso. While Bottas is still eleventh and can not overcome Lance Stroll, Verstappen overtakes Gasly and is preparing to recover ground also against Fernando Alonso. Already in the fourth lap the Dutchman also got rid of Alonso, thus bringing himself behind Hamilton. On the sixth lap Pérez took Sainz Jr. at the first corner, but the Ferrari driver held the position. The next lap the Spaniard could not prevent the Mexican from taking seventh place. Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc approached Kimi Raikkonen and overtook him, taking 12th place. After only nine laps Sergio Perez is already in sixth position, ahead also of Esteban Ocon.
Hamilton, meanwhile, gains ground on Max Verstappen. From lap 10 the pit stop series begins. The first to stop is Yuki Tsunoda. Gasly and Norris, who fought for three laps, now come to a conclusion, settle the dispute with Norris who takes Gasly’s fourth position. In the previous lap Bottas passed Stroll and was getting ready to overtake Carlos Sainz. The two Ferraris do not seem competitive. The cars equipped with Medium tyres seem to have an advantage at the moment, as Sergio Perez manages to make a resounding comeback, overtaking Pierre Gasly. The French driver, struggling with the tires, stops on lap thirteen, to fit medium tires. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton has moved further and further away from Verstappen, bringing his lead to almost seven seconds. Lando Norris resisted Perez’s attacks and maintained his fourth position, but during the sixteenth lap the Briton had to surrender to the Mexican driver’s Red Bull. Meanwhile Valtteri Bottas overtakes Esteban Ocon, taking sixth place. During the seventeenth lap Verstappen anticipates the stop, moving to hard tires: Lewis Hamilton reacts immediately and in the next lap he heads to the pits, keeping a nine-second lead over the Dutch driver of Red Bull.
Fernando Alonso managed to resist the attacks of Sergio Perez on track: therefore, the Mexican driver tried to undercut the Spanish driver, returning to the pits during the eighteenth lap. During lap 22, Bottas attacked Norris and moved up to fourth place. During the twenty-third lap Fernando Alonso returned to the pits and mounted Hard tyres, managing to get back on track in front of Ricciardo and Perez, who immediately overtook the Australian driver and moved into eighth position. Ocon, the other Alpine driver, who had climbed to fifth, also made the pit stop. Norris, on the other hand, awaits the 25th lap. Pérez, who had slipped out of the points after the break, recovered several positions, overtaking Charles Leclerc for sixth on lap 27. On lap 27, the Scuderia Ferrari made a double pit stop, allowing Carlos Sainz to return to the track in tenth place, while Charles Leclerc dropped to thirteenth. Hamilton continues to lead the Grand Prix with seven seconds of margin over Verstappen, while the rest of the group is very far: the third, Bottas, is 29.4 seconds, while Alonso, fourth, is nineteen seconds from the Finnish driver.
During the 29th lap Sergio Perez finally gains the position against Fernando Alonso, bringing himself in fourth position, behind Valtteri Bottas. During the thirty-third lap, however, the Finnish driver, who has not yet changed the tyres, is forced to slow down due to a puncture and during braking ends up with the car in the escape route where there is gravel, but still manages to get back on track and then to the pits on three wheels. During the thirty-sixth lap Gasly, who is fifth, stops for the second time. The Frenchman has Medium tyres. The same choice is also made by Red Bull drivers, who both stop at lap 41. As in the first phase of the race, also in this case Hamilton copies the strategy of his pursuer, switching to Medium tyres. The reigning World Champion still holds the lead of the Qatar Grand Prix, with more than eight seconds to Verstappen. Alonso, Norris, Ocon, Stroll and Pérez follow. Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz failed to overtake Lance Stroll, who was overtaken by Sergio Perez on lap 47.
The next lap, following a long duel, the Mexican Red Bull driver also prevailed over Esteban Ocon. Perez is now seventeen seconds from Alonso. Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz takes the seventh position, while during the forty-eighth lap Valtteri Bottas is forced to retire. Lando Norris, who was hoping to finish the race without further stops, had to stop on lap 50. George Russell also punctures a tire after passing over a curb. Even the British driver, like Bottas a few laps before, is forced to return to the pits. The same trouble happens, shortly after, to the other Williams driver, Nicholas Latifi, who however does not finish the lap and parks the car in an escape route. The race direction establishes on the track the virtual safety car regime, in order to remove the car of the Canadian. The race resumes only to make the last lap. In the final laps Verstappen made another pit stop, to mount Soft tyres, and conquer the fast lap, with the additional point, which he actually already had before the stop. Lewis Hamilton won the Qatar Grand Prix and took his 120th career victory, bringing the overall standings to just eight points. The British driver wins on the 30th different circuit.
Max Verstappen followed, with the fast lap limiting the damage, and Fernando Alonso, third after resisting the return, in the last laps, of Sergio Pérez. The Spanish driver won his ninety-eighth podium, the first since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix. Never before had a driver waited for 146 races to return to the top three of a Formula 1 World Championship race. Alonso is the first person over forty on the podium since the 2012 European Grand Prix, when it was Michael Schumacher who succeeded. Sergio Perez finished in fourth place, followed by Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll, the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and Sebastian Vettel, who won a valuable point for the British Aston Martin team. There are two times cancelled for crossing the limits of the track at turn 2, and three times cancelled for crossing the limits at turn 16, during the race. In the first case Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon had the time cancelled; in the second case Pierre Gasly, Sebastian Vettel and Antonio Giovinazzi had the time cancelled.
Having finished victorious in the Qatar Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton is not exalted, but on the contrary he is already trying to focus on the next goal:
"The last two weeks have been simply fantastic, but there is no time for celebrations. I’ll be back with the team this week, and I’ll be right back training with my head down. I’m not experiencing a lot of emotions except feeling supported right now. In the last two races, it was also important to shorten the gap in the standings. The Red Bulls obviously still very fast, as could be seen with their fastest lap. On top of that, both their cars have passed almost all quite easily, so we still have a lot of work to do. It must be said that I love the pressure, the close battles and the expectations that the team puts on you. As a result, we will work hard for the next races".
Max Verstappen was able to limit the damage to Losail despite a penalty of five places on the starting grid for not respecting the double yellow flag regime during qualifying.
"If I’m angry about the penalty? No. I knew they would take it. I never get gifts from stewards. I don’t know what we did wrong. Maybe because of my face. But it went like it did. I focused on my race. I started very well, I did a good first lap and I managed to quickly recover to second place. Then the gap to Lewis was too big. I tried to keep it as low as possible, in case they made an extra stop. Something went wrong for them though, because the fastest lap I did, I was very happy with that. I had fun. It’s a very nice track for drivers, especially at the end when I was playing the fastest lap it was very nice. Did I save the weekend? Yes and not only after the penalty. Overall it was a rather complicated weekend. The first match point in Jeddah? There are still many points to be won, I don’t think about it too much".
Fernando Alonso is instead euphoric, who finally returns to the podium after waiting for seven years.
"We hope not to wait another seven years for the next podium. It was a nice weekend. The car has been very performing since Friday and the circuit was very nice to drive. The race was also good, there were more overtakings than expected. Being on the podium with Verstappen and with Hamilton is very nice, it means that it was not a crazy race. It was a race where everything went as it was supposed to go and we were there, fighting. A nice picture with them, now I’ll sign it. I hope this record is not broken. It is very hard to always maintain the dedication and motivation for this sport, when things are going well and when they are not. That all the others who have gone on the podium do it right away, that they do not have to wait so long. We also saw in Brazil that we made a stop and the other two. It seems that a stop for us was possible, although not easy. For others it was not so obvious. We have a nice car that keeps the tires alive, we are happy".
The Spanish driver will add, in the following days:
"I look forward to a third world title, I will do what I can and even more in the coming years. It would mean a lot in terms of inheritance once my Formula 1 career is over; a legacy on how to always push to the limit, achieve excellence in your work, have great discipline in the way you run and approach racing. Of course, it’s not something I desperately need. And it wouldn’t change my career or my view of sport. It’s just, I’ve always said, I’m a competitive person in everything I do. No matter if you are nineteen or forty-two or forty-three, it is a way of life and full dedication to sport. This is probably the greatest thing about winning a possible third title: leaving a certain legacy and a message to future generations. And I definitely want to continue after 2022, even if the car will not be so good. The plan is to stay at least another two or three years".
At the end of the race, Esteban Ocon comments on his race, talking in particular about the challenge with Sergio Perez:
"Today was a great race on our part and I am very happy to have finished fifth after starting ninth. I managed to pass Carlos Sainz and Yuki Tsunoda after a good start. I tried to return the favor to Fernando from Budapest; I asked the team if they needed me to defend against Perez. It was on fresh tyres and it wasn’t easy, but I did the best I could. Today’s result is almost a win for us. Everyone on the team deserves credit for this fantastic effort. The gain of twenty-five points on AlphaTauri puts us in good condition for the last two races of the year".
The challenge between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton is seeing the British driver in a strong comeback. And at this point, not a few insiders begin to believe that it can be just the seven-time World Champion to win the challenge. Meanwhile, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes he can lead a better team:
"If I think that at team level we are better than Mercedes? Yes, we won more races this year. For us it is already a great privilege to have led Mercedes to play the titles up to Abu Dhabi, who had succeeded in this regulatory cycle? Winning just one of the two titles would be an extraordinary achievement for us".
On paper Gedda’s track looks perfect for Hamilton’s 'rocket', but Horner did not start:
"At the top speed in Qatar we were competitive and in line with Mercedes, this gives us confidence".
Honda F1 Technical Director Toyoharu Tanabe is disappointed with the Qatar result, but also confident that he and Red Bull can take a further step forward:
"When it comes to Mercedes' advantage on the straights, track features play an important role. In Qatar, the difference was not as great as in Brazil, on the other hand the balances are constantly changing. Future results will depend on the work of the whole team and the combination of chassis and engine. In Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi we have to show that we can replicate what we have achieved many times this year: we too can take a step forward. We all worked so hard to get these results, it would be a shame to collapse after twenty races. We have to work very hard, both ourselves and Red Bull, to see how we can still get one hundred percent of the performance. We need to find a way to better use our engine with better settings on the side of the chassis".
Toyoharu Tanabe, impressed by the performance of the German power unit in Brazil, in Qatar noticed a smaller discrepancy in performance between the Mercedes and Japanese engines due, in particular, to the characteristics of the track:
"I think these have had a great influence and our feeling is that, this time, there hasn’t been a big difference like in Interlagos. We’ll still have to figure out with the team how to make the best use of the engine to make sure we’re well prepared. We have to show what we have done all year and what we can still do in the last two races. For this reason, we have a lot of work to do".
Not everything went well for the Mercedes team. Valtteri Bottas seemed to be able to get on the podium, but a puncture to the left front tyre definitely ruined his race.
"It was a very disappointing day for me, and it was a huge blow to finish the week like this, after the weekend started so promisingly. I struggled to heat the tires in the training lap and then, being on the dirty side of the grid, I had no grip at the start, so I skated a lot. Then I entered a DRS train, but once the distances between the cars increased I was able to make several overtakings. The rhythm was good, and we could do a long stint. But then, the tire punctured suddenly, without any vibration or failure warning. We knew we were pushing the tire to the limit, but I had a good pace, we still felt comfortable and staying on track was our best card to play the podium. Among other things, the puncture occurred immediately after the entrance of the pits, it was the worst possible scenario. In addition, the car damaged a lot in the three-wheeled lap, and we thought it was safer to withdraw and save the mileage of the power unit".
A decision made by the team, and explained by the technical director, Andrew Shovlin:
"We couldn’t really imagine how it would be possible to get into the points with him, there was a lot of aerodynamic damage. We were starting to get more vibes on that set of tires. In the end we decided that scoring points had become something so unlikely that it only made sense to withdraw the car".
Mercedes' main team, Toto Wolff, also regrets the retirement of Valtteri Bottas:
"Bottas is in a really unlucky period. He started badly, but then he recovered. He was third and this problem with rubber was a shame. If he had finished the race we would have had a minimum safety cushion in the constructors' championship. So instead everything will be decided at the end. There was no more deportation and we picked it up the car was warming up, it was damaged and it was not faster. We decided to preserve the power unit. If we used an old power unit here? Yes. In Saudi Arabia we will have huge power. I’m confident, this season started very badly and if someone had told me that we would be in the game until the end I would have put the signature. For this we are happy and grateful to be here. Whoever wins, he will have deserved".
There is regret about Ferrari’s performance at the end of the Qatar Grand Prix. The team principal of the team of Maranello, Mattia Binotto, with a lot of honesty admits:
"I wouldn’t say that it was a weekend below expectations, it is clear that seventh and eighth is not what we are aiming for, but we knew that this track is difficult for us because of tyre wear. We had suffered a lot at Paul Ricard and in this the car has not changed. But we learned how to handle this and we certainly did it better than France. We immediately asked the drivers to never push and to try to make a single pit stop. They held back, they never pushed. Not with middle school, not with hard, if not at the very end, when we had the certainty of getting to the finish line. It worked. If you look at others, they pushed when it was not needed and they punctured".
One satisfaction, for Mattia Binotto, however, comes from the double pit stop operated by the mechanics of Maranello. A stop that actually arose from a communication problem.
"There was a problem with radio communication that we will try to understand, with Carlos, otherwise he would probably have been in front of Stroll with the pit stop and could have attacked Ocon at the end, making a better result. After the radio problem, the guys managed the double stop very well. Let’s not forget that they came from three races in a row, with fatigue on them and also a chassis change on their shoulders".
Then, the Ferrari team principal, talking about the car’s performance during the championship, admits:
"We never really developed the current car, we introduced a couple of developments at the beginning of the season and that’s it".
The only changes were the power unit. But even in this case, the ultimate goal has always been to upgrade the project for the 2022 season.
"That too was a development ahead of 2022. All our efforts, since the beginning of the season, have always been for the 2022 car. We never made compromises. It never occurred to us to even try at some stage to penalize 2022 to the advantage of 2021. We knew we could fight for third place early this season, we knew it could be a balanced challenge, but we also knew that our main goal in 2021 was not third place, but trying to improve in every detail as a team. The third place was simply an output. What we had to learn we learned, we are no longer developing anything and it is inevitable to scramble to open a different chapter with a new car. I say this with sincerity: we can’t take it anymore. We can’t wait for this season to end".
After the race, Spanish Scuderia Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz commented on the result of the Qatar Grand Prix:
"With the Medium there was less grip at the start and in the first corners. It certainly cost us a bit. But that’s what we decided yesterday. We knew it was a challenge, especially being a used average. From there on we went very conservative with the tires. We were so afraid of the left front tire. It is a conservative race that brought us points, unlike McLaren. They probably went too aggressive. Too bad, but they did. Even though I was very conservative, we were afraid not to get to the end. I didn’t push until the team told me they agreed to push it to the end. And so I arrived very quickly near Stroll. Looking at the Grand Prix we might see that we could push harder. But the others were more aggressive and paid for it, like Gasly and Norris. It was a boring race on my part. I don’t like to race without pushing. But the car had rhythm, I was comfortable all weekend. We were slow to be conservative".
Ferrari, however, is now projected towards winning the third place in the championship, especially following the negative results collected by McLaren. In particular, Lando Norris was blocked by a puncture, which compromised the race:
"It was a decent performance, we could have done better, we did not interpret the situation to the maximum, almost as if I could not push for some reason. The puncture, then, ruined everything. I could have made it fourth or fifth, but none of us is to blame. There’s no responsibility on the team and I’m proud of what we’ve done. I just hate that something like this can happen. For us drivers it is risky every time, they should make better tires. I did something like twenty, twenty-five laps, so not one stint too long. I should have been able to go on again".
And from the anger of Norris we move on to the disappointment of Daniel Ricciardo, twelfth at the finish line after a performance characterized by several difficulties:
"We were saving so much that the tires and brakes even cooled down. Sometimes I was two seconds slower than the lap before, almost as if he never wanted to get to the end. At the start I lifted my foot at turn 1 so as not to do anything rash, as I found myself in the middle of the group. By the way, during the first lap, the signal appeared on the steering wheel that warned me to save fuel. I’m glad this race is over, because it was a pain. Something is gone and we have to review what happened. I felt like a passenger for 75% of the Grand Prix. Our car is put to the test on this type of long curves to cover at average speed; in those areas Lando is doing a better job, but I have not yet understood how he can combine braking with cornering. I myself am trying to improve myself, but I still don’t get the results I would like. It is a difference of half a tenth, but in these long curves add up another three or four tenths. It is a weakness of the machine, but it is also my inability to adapt at certain points to make it work as I would like. I can see all the differences between me and Lando in the driving style. If it were simple I would have already perfected it, while his is really high level, and is behaving very well. Certainly he was helped by the fact that he has been working for this team for three years, and I myself think I have improved since the beginning of the season. However, I still have to take other steps to be able to do better in some tracks, where he is faster than me".
However, McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl relaunches the challenge at Scuderia Ferrari:
"We have to accept the latest results. Getting four points in three races is obviously painful. But if we look at what happened and how we lost a lot of points, we had a lot of bad luck. And that’s part of the sport. The good thing is that in Qatar we had a competitive car, plus the team did a good job with the pit stops. If Norris had not drilled, he would have finished fourth or fifth and would have brought home a good number of points. We just need to get back to our levels in Saudi Arabia. After two unlucky weekends, it would have been great for us to get a good result in Qatar regardless of the battle with Ferrari in the constructors' championship. Unfortunately with the tyre failure we missed this opportunity, the last hat trick of races did not go in our favor. Sometimes it’s like that in sports. But we have to keep fighting because, as long as the math allows, we will give everything for the third place in the constructors' championship. And regardless of this, we simply want some good results before the winter break".
Despite starting from the front row, Pierre Gasly finished in the Qatar Grand Prix in 11th position.
"It’s a really frustrating day. Both Yuki and I started in the top ten, but we definitely went backwards during the race. I gave everything with the car, but we were too slow. Even at the beginning I was not able to stay with Alonso, so we tried to go towards a two stop aggressive strategy, but the rhythm was not there. It didn’t work, which is really disappointing. After the accident on Saturday we changed some parts on the car, I don’t know if this could have affected our race pace, but we will have to review everything, because I can’t explain it right now".
It was even worse for Yuki Tsunoda, thirteenth despite the good result obtained in qualifying:
"It was a particularly tough race, I struggled a lot with the Soft tyre, especially in the first stint. We didn’t expect this, because overall this week we had a good pace, but in the race it dropped, so we have to look at the data and see why it happened. It’s a shame, because Alpine made a very good race, so we need a strong comeback in the last two races".
However, the French driver will be able to console himself thanks to the words expressed towards him by the team principal of AlphaTauri, Franz Tost.
"Pierre always increases the level of his performance. If you compare it now with the beginning of the season, he has made another big step forward in terms of understanding the technical part of the car. It shows us how much he has matured and how well he understands the technical part of such complicated cars and power units. At the moment, in my opinion, our car is faster than Alpine. We have two fantastic drivers and the team is doing a great job. But you never know what will happen because Alpine has scored a lot of points at the Hungaroring and in Qatar. This means that in a race can change everything".
The Qatar Grand Prix will not be remembered with particular enthusiasm by Williams and his drivers, forced to replace the tyres due to punctures that have affected several drivers. In this regard, Nicholas Latifi comments:
"We tried to make the single stop work while knowing that it would be at the limit with the tyres, so we thought we could manage the strategy. The amazing thing was that I didn’t have the slightest idea that the tire was going to get a puncture, so unfortunately, we weren’t able to adjust our strategy in time. Even once George had to pit, I thought I would be able to finish the race with my current set, because I felt it was fine. Overall, I think it was still worth the risk, especially once we lost track position on the Alfa Romeo. We couldn’t have done more. It’s a shame that the race didn’t work, because the car behaved really well on this circuit, but that’s how things sometimes go".
A disappointment shared with his team-mate George Russell, who had also managed to finish 15th in qualifying.
"We had an aggressive strategy, and we were trying to push our final stint for as long as possible. With the right turns at high speed on this circuit, the tyres have always been pushed to their limit, but we had to be at our best to stay in the fight with the Alfa Romeo. Unfortunately, however, the front left tire punctured a few laps from the end. It was a shame that our race ended that way, but in the end, there was nothing gained and nothing lost, as our closest rivals did not score any points. I think everyone on the team is a little disappointed at the moment. We need to figure out what has changed, for now we have only clues. We have gone through difficult races in the past, but at least we had taken away satisfactions on Saturday. For some reason now we have no rhythm even in qualifying, now we have to face the last two races making sure to bring home the eighth place in the constructors' standings, this is the main goal for us at the moment".
Both George Russell and Nicholas Latifi were punctured in the final laps of the race, allowing the two Alfa Romeo drivers to cross the finish line ahead of the two Haas and Valtteri Bottas, who also pitted just before the chequered flag. Nevertheless, Kimi Raikkonen expresses his satisfaction with his and the team’s performance:
"I was surprised by the overtaking we were able to do, in the end it was a fun race. I didn’t expect much at the beginning, maybe because we practically had the same pace as yesterday, but we had a good start. In addition, things continued to improve as the race progressed. I had some good battles and in the end we were catching up on the McLaren and the AlphaTauri in front. In general, we got everything we could from this race".
Satisfaction also expressed by Antonio Giovinazzi:
"We did as much as we could, I don’t think we could have done better than 15th. We gained four places after a great first lap, and then we engaged in other battles in the rest of the race. Yesterday we were fighting, but we knew that with a good race we could finish ahead of Haas and Williams, and that’s what happened. We went for a two-stop strategy, as we knew the degradation was high and the curbs were difficult, and in the end we were faster than our rivals. Given where we started, we must be satisfied with our result".
Mick Schumacher could have compromised the happy race of Fernando Alonso, but fortunately the German driver was able to control the car, avoiding contact with the Spanish driver’s car:
"I simply pushed too far in, ended up on the curb and unbalanced the rear end. I am happy to have managed the episode, at that speed it is quite easy to lose the car. I was only focused on getting the car back on track, also because the gravel didn’t help me. I was aware that I had to get back safely. Anyway, it was a difficult and fun race. For the first time we had the opportunity to really push throughout the race, and we were going strong towards the end: for me it was the first time".
Mick Schumacher closes the race in Losail in sixteenth place. The German driver comments on today’s result, stating:
"It was great and we can be happy with what we have achieved today. We made the strategy we had chosen earlier and we committed ourselves. The start was good, so much so that we took Latifi at the beginning. The performance of the car was satisfactory, we were in the right window. We were very close to the Alfa, which was what we expected but, on the other hand, not since the beginning of the year. This progress is due to our teamwork, with technicians who are committed to understanding the behavior of the machine based on the tools available. We are still trying and finding new aspects, so that we can improve further".
An optimism not shared by his teammate, the Russian driver Nikita Mazepin, author of a complex weekend and closed in 18th and last place as a result of the retirements of Latifi and Bottas:
"In the first stint I didn’t have a great balance, so much so that I suffered from understeer. In the last stint, however, I completed more efficient laps, but I drove with tyres that, rather than racing, were qualifying. I learned the characteristics of the track back after the lap, but it was a complex test. Our big goal was to make laps and maximize them. It was not easy, but now we have a new track".
Despite the complexities of a difficult championship, the third final round of the World Championship did not go unnoticed by the Haas team principal, Güenther Steiner, who commented on the performance of the team and its drivers with great satisfaction:
"The Losail race was one of the best this year, if not the best. Both drivers did a good job. Mick was fighting Williams and Alfa Romeo, which is unexpected. We didn’t get past them, but at least we were in the fray, and it was great to see for the whole team. Nikita also did a very, very good first part of the race, keeping pace and considering that he had only traveled fifteen laps before taking part in the race, and without ever having driven the car to full tank. With Williams stopping earlier, and with a different planned strategy, the situation also complicated for him. For Schumacher it was a difficult first year in Formula 1, as he was rarely able to fight with other drivers thanks to an uncompetitive single-seater available. In the last race, however, he was more able to face the opponents, and this pushes all of us to get to work to make improvements. For now we can be happy with what we have been able to do. We have chosen the ideal strategy and are committed to keeping it".
Sebastian Vettel comments on what happened during the early stages of the Qatar Grand Prix, where the German driver found himself in difficulty due to a maneuver by Valtteri Bottas:
"Valtteri had a bad start and I couldn’t go anywhere. The cars in front of me could pass it but I was the first of that line to brake, I lost the momentum and I tried to recover outside. But I got it wrong a little bit because of the sand and got out. Then almost all the cars passed. The rhythm was strong. It was a shame to lose the potential to score more points in the beginning. Somehow we went from eighteenth to tenth, which is a decent comeback. We fought against the AlphaTauri and passed a McLaren. It was a strong race".
Less spectacular but more concrete and consistent was the race of Lance Stroll, sixth at the end of the Qatar Grand Prix.
"The car was going very well today, I am very happy with our performance. I recovered a couple of positions in the first lap and during the first stint it was clear that we had the pace to do well. I passed Tsunoda in middle school and then, after reaching the front drivers, I did the undercut in Sainz to get up to sixth place after the hard tyre stop. Overall, everything went perfectly for us today. Scoring eight points at the end of this hat-trick is a very satisfying reward for all our hard work".
At the end of the race, Pirelli’s Motorsport Director, Mario Isola, spoke about the tyre problems, stating:
"The front left was the most affected, but not by an excess of energy or anything like that. The first element I can share is that all the tires were quite worn, close to one hundred percent. We have cuts on the tires that we need to figure out if they were caused before or after the pressure loss. We are waiting for the telemetry data from the teams, which will be a really important element to understand if the pressure loss was sudden and when it occurred. All the drivers were able to go back to the pits, so they lost pressure but in a time that was enough to control the car and go back to the pits. It is no secret that many teams have also had damage to the chassis, the bottom of cars, the wings, and when a tire is worn, it is less protected from curbs and high-energy impacts. Surely, we had some teams that tried a strategy with a single stop, because here it is difficult to overtake, they did not want to waste time in the pits. But the reason we planned a two-stop strategy was mainly because of the tyre wear data we collected on Friday, and the front-left wear was quite high. So today, for example, the left front and the left rear were both 100% consumed. But the reason we only had a puncture on the left front has to be studied. We’ll do an investigation and try to figure out what happened. Clearly, with a worn rubber that is less protected from impact, you continue to punish the tire. And then, was it a cut? Saturday we saw what happened with the front wing, we had several cars damaged by other elements like floor, wings, chassis. We don’t want to rule anything out. Any small debris, any kerb can cause a small puncture, and then losing air, then the tire, when it’s broken, is not able to sustain the high level of energy that these cars are putting on the tires".
It concludes another Grand Prix amid controversy regarding the penalty that involved Max Verstappen, racing for the title of World Champion for the 2021 season. Regarding the Dutch driver, Sergio Perez, his teammate, expresses his thoughts, praising him for the excellent work done so far:
"He’s the driver of the moment. It’s not easy being his teammate, but I think I’m being good. He’s fighting for the title and I won’t have any problem helping him. It’s part of the game, it’s in everyone’s interest and it doesn’t bother me at all. I think I have the right team spirit. Now everything is coming to an end, but there is still a lot of work to do. In other years, at this point in the championship, I had nothing left to play. Today, however, we are still fighting for both titles and it is a great commitment. I would have liked to win more races, but I had to adapt to the team. It’s a real process when you have such a competitive car and it took a bit longer than expected to start rolling in. In addition, you realize how difficult it is to succeed when you enter this sport. It is not guaranteed at all, also because there are so many drivers and level teams that it is not at all obvious to win a single Grand Prix".
In conclusion, Race Director Michael Masi, often criticized for his choices over the course of the season, defends his choices by declaring that judges are often unpopular:
"A referee will never be popular, we must not forget that it has been a long time that in Formula 1 there has not been a duel of this magnitude between two drivers and two fantastic teams. The differences are often minimal, but the commissioners are there to recognize and evaluate them".
In conclusion, given the recent controversy, at the end of the Qatari race, the FIA announced the arrival of a technical directive concerning the front and rear wings before the dispute of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday, December 5, 2021. The teams receive assurances if any ailerons do not pass the controls. In any case, there is no disqualification in the last three races of the season. The new findings should be more understood as tests by the FIA for the future to avoid scenarios related to flexible wings. This concludes the first Qatar Grand Prix, and the twentieth of the 2022 season. Only two events remain, in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Lewis Hamilton continues to chase Max Verstappen, who can boast 351.5 points against the British driver’s 343.5 points. Already in Jeddah the Dutch driver can graduate as World Champion, but we can be sure that Lewis Hamilton will do everything to avoid this possibility.