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Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix Preview

NEWS STORY
18/11/2021

The last leg of the season's third triple-header brings us to Qatar, which, like the forthcoming race in Saudi Arabia is a brand new addition to the F1 calendar.

Originally brought in to replace the cancelled Australian Grand Prix, from 2023 Qatar will become a regular event having signed a ten-year deal with Formula One Management.

Mainly known for its MotoGP events, only one of the current F1 drivers has raced here before. Sergio Perez won here in 2009 when racing in GP2, but is the first to admit: "I don't remember driving there very well, it was a long time ago so I don't believe there is much advantage for me!"

Qatar comes at a time the 2021 world championship battle is reaching its climax, and for once the word 'battle' is not an exaggeration.

Over the course of the Brazil weekend Mercedes boss, Toto Wolff, clearly exasperated by events declared that the "age of diplomacy was over".

Indeed, in his team's preview to this weekend the Austrian described the Interlagos weekend as a "triumph through adversity".

He was referring, of course, to the fact that Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from the qualifying results for a rear wing infraction and consequently had to start from the back of the grid. A stupendous drive saw the Briton work his way up to fifth which still left him tenth on the grid for the Grand Prix as the result of an engine penalty.

Though he won the race, Hamilton was involved in (another) controversial incident with Max Verstappen and though the seven-time champion went on to win the race there was much bad feeling that the Dutchman wasn't penalised. To compound his misery, Hamilton was subsequently fined for undoing his seatbelts on his in-lap whilst celebrating his victory.

While Mercedes is seeking a right of review of the Verstappen incident, the FIA having summoned the German team to a hearing on Thursday, there are fears that Red Bull will counter with its own move, various members of the Austrian team, including team boss, Christian Horner having voiced suspicions over the "mind-boggling" speed of Hamilton's Mercedes.

The obvious needle between the teams, the drivers and team bosses can only add to the excitement especially at a track where so little preparation is possible other than simulator work.

A poor Brazil weekend for McLaren saw Ferrari extend its lead in the battle for 'best of the rest', while Alpine and AlphaTauri remain tied on 112 points in fifth.

On paper, the track should suit Mercedes especially with its newfound speed, and while the twisty section will advantage the Red Bull the overall layout definitely favours the Black Arrows.

Qatar is just one of four races held in the evening under floodlights this year, the others being Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. This means that the evolution of track temperature over the course of Sunday's race should be quite different compared to a standard afternoon race, with the potential for a big drop-off as the race develops.

In the desert, there's a big difference in temperature between day and night. While the race takes place at 5pm local time, FP1 and FP3 happens during the heat of the day, so only FP2 and qualifying provide a truly representative picture of the likely race conditions.

There are no support races on the schedule and the circuit hasn't been used a lot recently, which will mean that there's no rubber laid down prior to the F1 cars running. As a result drivers can expect a slippery track at first and a high degree of track evolution. The surface could also be 'reset' by sand blowing onto the track over the weekend.

The circuit's fast corners require a high downforce level, making it one of the most sensitive of the year to downforce. With what is expected to be an abrasive track surface, it remains to be seen whether that will result in high-grip and efficient cornering performance, or simply high-wear and easy tyre warm-up for drivers.

Given the track will only have one DRS zone - on the main straight - we can expect overtaking to be very difficult. The likeliest opportunity will be into Turn 1, particularly with DRS assistance, but Turns 6, 10 and 16 might offer chances to sneak down the inside if a mistake is made.

However, given the fast, flowing and high-speed nature of many of the corners, it's still likely to be an exciting challenge for the drivers.

With overtaking expected to be difficult, qualifying pace will be at a premium. That said, if tyre degradation is high, teams will be forced to consider two or three stop strategies which will shift focus towards race pace.

In terms of betting odds, Betway has Hamilton at 1.66, Verstappen at 2.50, Bottas 15.0, Perez 17.0, Leclerc 61.0 and Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris at 67.0.

In terms of teams, it's Mercedes at 1.57, Red Bull at 2.25 and Ferrari at 26.0

Check out our Thursday gallery from Qatar, here.

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