What Can We Expect from the Losail International Circuit?
What's the track layout like?
The Losail International Circuit, located on the outskirts of Qatar's capital city of Doha, first opened in 2004 and is a 5.380-kilometre layout; fairly middle-range in terms of lap length. Focus is very much on medium and high-speed corners, with a fast and flowing nature, in part due to it being used predominantly for motorcycle racing.
There are 16 corners in total, 10 right-handers and six left-handers. The track's main straight takes up over 1km of the total lap distance, before drivers hit the brakes for the Turn 1 hairpin. This will be the only DRS zone on the circuit.
A series of slower, tighter corners follow with Turns 4 to 9 putting significant temperature into the tyres and requiring drivers to be conscious of overheating, before the middle part of the lap which mostly features high-speed sweeping corners. The last section has a mix of corner speeds and types, with a slow right-hander leading the driver back onto the main straight.
The track is below average when it comes to corner speeds, so on the slower end of the scale, similar to the Hungaroring or Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The slowest corner on the track will be Turn 6, at around 100 km/h, with the fastest being Turn 13, taken at 260 km/h.
How challenging will it be for car set-up?
This is the first time Formula One has raced in Qatar, so it's a step into the unknown for everyone. We have no historical data of the Losail International Circuit, so much more focus in the build-up to the event is in the virtual world, working on the computer simulations and driver-in-loop simulator running with the limited information we do have for the track.
The workload around the simulations is obviously higher, because we're more dependent on them, and the simulator programme will be hard at work all through the week, including running on Friday to maximise the fresh learnings we receive from practice.
The circuit's fast corners require a high downforce level, making Qatar 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.
Teams have limited info on specific track characteristics like bumps in the road so calculations on ride height, for example, will be explored during practice sessions, as teams look to gather data and build up their track knowledge as quickly as possible during Friday running.
How will the track's layout translate to racing action?
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 likely to be an exciting challenge for the drivers and therefore, an impressive spectacle for viewers, particularly in qualifying when drivers are pushing to their absolute limit.
The unknowns of a new track also present opportunity for teams to make the jump on rivals, as pre-race weekend preparations are trickier due to a lack of data. If a team can find the set-up sweet spot sooner than their competition, they could shake up the pecking order.
With overtaking expected to be difficult at the Losail International Circuit, 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.
What about the weather and climate?
As you might expect from Qatar, the temperatures will be warm at the Losail International Circuit, with average evening temperatures in November of over 25°C. However, given it is autumn time, the conditions will be dramatically cooler and less humid compared to the summer. Weather expectations are in line with what we experience in Abu Dhabi.
Track temperatures will be higher than the ambient and the expected abrasive surface will mean tyre degradation could be on the high side of the spectrum. Because of its location and the surrounding area, it's hard to avoid the sand in Qatar. But like in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, we've found that sand does not present a major issue for the cars and is quickly brushed off the track surface by running on track. And as we've seen in Bahrain, artificial grass is used to try and prevent sand from sweeping onto the circuit.
What's the racing history at Losail?
The Losail International Circuit is a purpose-built track, which was constructed in less than a year for the debut MotoGP round in Qatar, which took place in 2004. The premier motorcycle racing series has been a permanent fixture in Qatar ever since, including hosting the first night race in MotoGP history in 2008.
Over the years, the circuit has also hosted World Superbike rounds and has also been used in single-seater racing, with the GP2 Asia series making an appearance in 2009. It has also hosted rounds of the World Touring Car Championship, so while it is mostly used for motorcycles, there is history of car racing at Qatar's only permanent racing track.