The first ever Formula One race will be held at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar at 6PM local time, setting up the prospect of another exciting showdown between the Mercedes and Red Bull racing teams whose last clash in Brazil netted Lewis Hamilton first place and put him just 14 points behind rival Max Verstappen.
"There was a strong will from Qatar to be helpful to F1, and in the course of this process, the vision for a longer partnership was discussed and agreed," F1 said in a statement in September, when the Qatar GP was announced. "The vision for F1 to be the showcase for Qatar after the (soccer) World Cup in 2022 was the driving force."
Losail International Circuit has already hosted other motorsport events like the MotoGP but this is the first time it has been roped into the F1 calendar as a replacement for the Australian GP which was taken out due to Covid-19 restrictions put in place by Australia. The fast, sweeping circuit boasts 16 corners and little elevation change, With simulations by F1 and tyre manufacturer Pirelli predicting a race that will be punishing on the tyres of the cars.
The 5.4-kilometer (3.4-mile) circuit, which can hold 8,000 fans, is situated north of the capital Doha and is speculated to be favourable to the Mercedes car which has been showing exceptional straight-line speed in the recent Sao Paolo Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton muscled his way up to P1. The total race distance will hit 306.8 km at 57 laps.
Qatar Motorsport Head Amro Al-Ahamad disagreed with assessments based purely on the track's purported speed, saying that the data provided from practice and qualifying would be essential to set up strategy.
"I know from a competitive driver point of view there is a lot of overtaking that will be done – against all of the speculation that has been spread that this is a straight-line kind of circuit, which it's not…It's very technical. It needs a lot of downforce. There are a lot of strategies that will be involved with tyre wear here as well," Al-Ahamad was quoted as saying by Motorsport.com.
Qatar has signed a 10 year deal with the FIA to be included in the F1 Grand Prix calendar which will come into effect from next year although the track location may undergo changes. Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Mercedes' Valterri Bottas set fastest times for first and second practice sessions respectively followed by Alpha Tauri's Pierre Gasly and Lewis Hamilton in fourth place.