Will the Qatar Grand Prix be a success with Formula One fans?

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It was recently announced that the Qatar Grand Prix would fill up the vacant slot in the 2021 F1 calendar. This took very few people by surprise, as the Losail International Circuit had been touted as the favourite for the slot for weeks.

What was more surprising was that the Qatar Grand Prix had secured a 10-year contract starting from 2023, meaning it will become the fourth venue in the Middle East to be on the season calendar, after Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and the brand-new street circuit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Many F1 fans are concerned, as the circuit being used is primarily designed for motorcycles, and definitely does not look suited to cars. Furthermore, it is another example of Formula One prioritising money above anything else, with another new circuit being built whilst fan favourites such as the Malaysian and South African Grands Prix still lay dormant. But is the Qatar Grand Prix really doomed to fail, or will fans grow to love this new addition?

This season’s edition of the Qatar Grand Prix will be held at the Losail International Circuit, which has hosted Moto GP since 2004. However, the closest it has come to hosting Formula One cars was in 2009, when Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez won as part of the GP2 Asia series, a predecessor of Formula 2.

Having looked at the track layout, there are very few signs that an entertaining race will be produced. The run into Turn 1 could provide overtakes, with the first couple of corners a worse version of Bahrain. After that, we find too many high and medium-speed corners and too few straights and heavy braking zones, so we should expect to see the bulk of the overtakes along the pit straight.

Whilst this year’s race could be boring, there is a silver lining. There are rumours that from 2023, a new street circuit in Doha could replace this purpose-built circuit.

However, with the street circuit come other issues. It is evident that F1 is moving more towards street circuits, shown by the new tracks being built in Miami and Jeddah, which tend to be tricky to overtake on. We only saw one on-track overtake in Monaco this year and past races in Singapore have been famous for being wars of attrition.

We should be careful not to write it off due to the country’s reputation and one glance at the track

However, the events tend to be more spectacular and challenging for the driver, as there is so little room for error with next to no runoff area. We also see some quirky designs, such as Baku, with its 90-degree corners, ridiculously narrow castle section and its 2.2km back straight. We have no idea whether we will get a new street circuit in Doha, or what it would look like, so it is hard to judge for now whether the Qatar Grand Prix will produce memorable racing.

Races in the Middle East have always had a mixed reception with fans and the public alike. On the one hand, Bahrain looks to have shaken off the poor reputation it had in the early 2010s, when the 2011 edition had to be cancelled due to protests in the country and violence towards the protestors.

Nowadays, the track itself promotes close racing and different tyre strategies, leading to more unpredictable races with lots of overtakes, as we saw earlier in the season when Hamilton and Verstappen duelled throughout the race, and could only be separated by less than a second at the chequered flag.

On the other hand, Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi is despised by both fans and drivers, due to a lack of overtaking opportunities and next to no elevation change. However, with changes to the track taking place, it could surprise us to produce an unforgettable finale, something we have not seen since F1 ended the season in Brazil in 2012.

We now have four races in the Middle East, compared to roughly three in Asia, one in South America and still none in Africa. These are all areas with growing fan bases, many ex-drivers, and history of hosting F1.

Qatar and the Middle East has none of these, and this does simply look like a case of Formula One once again following the money. Why take a risk with a new track in Qatar when top-quality circuits such as Sepang, Kyalami and Hockenheim are waiting in the wings to host the top tier of motorsport once again?

Overall, the Qatar Grand Prix is an unknown quantity, but we should be careful not to write it off at once due to the country’s reputation and one glance at the track. People felt the same way about Bahrain, yet that is now a key component of the calendar, and its versatility was instrumental in making sure that Formula One could continue despite the pandemic.

Yet, we can’t keep neglecting areas of the world that need a Grand Prix more simply just to chase the Almighty Dollar. Stefano Domenicali has promised that a return to Africa is just around the corner, but this has been the case for decades. The Qatar Grand Prix might be a huge success, but I fear it is paper over the cracks.

Image: Morio via Creative Commons

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