F1 Qatar: coming right at you

F1 Qatar: coming right at you 01

A CULTURE RICH IN MOTORSPORT

Losail is well-known for motorbikes: the circuit was effectively built for the MotoGP championship, with the first race taking place in 2004, the same year that the track was completed. It hasn’t missed a race since (although in 2020, it counted for Moto2 and Moto3 only). Since 2005, Losail has also been a venue for World Superbikes: equipped by Pirelli in one of the longest-standing tyre supply agreements in motorsport history. But Qatar is not only about two wheels: Losail has seen plenty of car racing as well – and some Formula 1 stars have been at the forefront of the action. In 2006, it hosted the short-lived Grand Prix Masters championship, with 1992 F1 world champion Nigel Mansell emerging as the race winner.

Three years later in 2009, Aston Martin’s current reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg took his maiden GP2 Asia victory in what was only his third start in the championship at Losail.

Outside motorsport, Qatar has hosted World Championships in athletics, road cycling and gymnastics, before hosting the FIFA Club World Cup as a practice run ahead of the arrival of the World Cup late next year. Because of that, there won’t be a 2022 Qatar Grand Prix – but it will return as part of a long-term 10-year deal from 2023.

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QATAR’S FAVOURITE SON

Qatar may only be a small country, but it definitely has a superstar driver: Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Qatari is one of the few people in motorsport with an Olympic medal to their name, claiming a bronze in clay pigeon shooting at the 2012 games in London. But it’s his motorsport exploits for which he’s best known. Al-Attiyah has won the Middle East Rally Championship 16 times since 2003, and he’s claimed multiple titles at world level too.

In 2006 he won the World Rally Championship’s Production category for showroom-specification cars, and he went on to win the WRC2 support series in both 2014 and 2015.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a driver from a country dominated by desert, Al-Attiyah’s most notable successes have come at the legendary Dakar Rally. Since making his debut on the epic event in 2004, he has won three times and finished second five times. Al-Attiyah also competes in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies: a title he’s already won four times. He has a strong chance to make it five this year, after he won the penultimate round in Abu Dhabi recently.

F1 Qatar: coming right at you 03

GETTING ON TRACK

Losail has a special character that looks set to make it a unique challenge. The track has a long start-finish straight, but also several high-speed corners that come in quick succession: making it a proper work-out for the car, driver and tyres. The asphalt is the original surface from 2004, so it’s likely to be quite rough as well – and to add to that challenge there’s the risk of sand blowing onto the track from the surrounding desert (although there’s been some artificial grass put down to partially alleviate the problem). Since 2008 the circuit has benefitted from lighting all around the track, which involved 500 kilometres of wiring, enabling MotoGP’s very first night race to take place the same year. In Formula 1 too, Qatar will be a night race: actually the fourth night-time venue this year along with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi.

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