It has sixteen turns spread out over 5,380 km and that is about all that Esteban Ocon knows about the Losail circuit, near Doha. Sunday he will argue the first Qatar Grand Prix in the history of Formula 1. Until then, his discovery of the circuit will take place in two main stages. The first will begin as soon as the long journey from Brazil has ended, where the Norman driver obtained an eighth place this Sunday.
A day at the simulator
All the stables have their driving simulator with all the circuits recorded. Problem: this Grand Prix of Qatar was not scheduled for 2021. It was chosen to replace Australia and Alpine does not have the modeling of this route never visited in the past. ”We will start preparing for Qatar at the start of the week. The team has prepared a small simulator that we will use on site”Explains Esteban Ocon, obliged to set up, with his teammate Fernando Alonso, an express apprenticeship in virtual piloting mode. Fortunately he quickly memorizes: “ for me, it doesn’t last very long. After five, six laps, I know a new route”. But the use of the simulator will go well beyond a handful of laps. It will be necessary chain the hours to define a base of mechanical and aerodynamic settings for the race. “We will spend the day there”Summarizes the Ebroïcien, familiar with the simulator after his 2019 season at Mercedes to prepare the cars for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
The second stage will be the discovery of the circuit in real, Friday morning, during the first free practice. Because the simulator never fully replaces the truth of the track. “We arrive at 98% roughing in the simulator. But the remaining 2% are the most important to gain the last tenth of a second”Explains the man who won the first Grand Prix of his career this summer. On the Qatari circuit, during testing, he will look for the final points of reference necessary for driving. “You have to find the right braking points to the nearest meter, and above all to be able to bring the right speed at the right time to the nearest kilometer / hour in certain bends. These things take a little longer but they will define the end result.”. In Formula 1, the detail always makes the difference. He is impossible to lose a tenth of a second in each turn. For this Grand Prix of Qatar (16 turns) it would cost 1.6 seconds per lap!
The next circuit in Saudi Arabia will also be a new addition to the calendar. Even more complex with 27 turns to master perfectly! The pandemic which has suspended certain classic destinations (Australia, China, Japan, Singapore, Canada) is forcing the pilots to end the season full of unknowns.