Lusail International Circuit
Lusail International Circuit (Arabic: حلبة لوسيل الدولية) was the third of the desert-based circuits that sprang up at the turn of the century and is the only motorsport facility in Qatar. Lying on the outskirts of Doha, the capital city of Qatar, it is the only circuit in the region to have both FIA and FIM homologation licenses.
Considered a bike circuit for many years, it has been home to MotoGP and WorldSBK as well as regional races. Until relatively recently, major car races were something of a rarity, though the circuit began to gain prominence with the visit of the WTCC in 2015.
Now it has been catapulted to the top of the tree with the arrival of Formula One in 2021 as part of a 10-year deal signed by the Qataris, though the bulk of that contract is expected to be held at a brand new circuit, with Losail filling the gap until it is ready.
Note: For commercial reasons, the circuit is marketed as the Lusail International Circuit, in recognition of the new major city of Lusail which has been constructed on the outskirts of the circuit as part of the preparations to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Its original English-language name was Losail International Circuit.
The circuit was built in little over a year at a cost of US $58 million by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation. Almost 1,000 workers had to be on site round-the-clock in order to get it ready for the inaugural event, the Marlboro Grand Prix of Qatar, on 2 October 2004.
Designed primarily with motorcycling in mind, the track itself is a flowing layout of 5.4 kilometres, surrounded by artificial grass designed to prevent sand from the neighbouring desert from blowing onto the circuit. The main straight is over a kilometre in length and there is a good mix of medium and high-speed corners, including a couple of quick left-handers which has proved particularly popular with the riders.
In 2008, the circuit added permanent outdoor lighting for night races, creating what was at the time the largest lit venue in the world (a title later claimed by the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi). Musco Lighting, which had experience of racetrack lighting from its fitment at the Daytona Speedway in the USA, took just 175 days to install Lusail's lighting system of over 1,000 structures, 3 million kilos of concrete and 500km of wire. There were considerable complexities to resolve; providing enough high light levels for television without creating glare for the spectators or riders while also eliminating shadows and enabling riders to see the warning flags and braking markers were just a few of the challenges. The night lighting allowed MotoGP to run its first night race in 2008, won by the Ducati of Casey Stoner.
Four wheeled action has also taken place at Lusail; in 2006 the short-live GP Masters series debuted, with Nigel Mansell taking victory. GP2 Asia also paid a visit in 2009, Nico Hülkenberg taking the victory under the lights and Davide Rigon setting the track record at 1:38.699.
In 2021, the venue was announced as the host of the Formula One Qatar Grand Prix, an in-season replacement for the cancelled Australian event. For the Grand Prix cars minor modifications were made to the kerbs, with sausage kerbs added at several corners to discourage track cutting, while the pit lane entry was completely remodelled, now beginning ahead of the final turn instead of after it. There were also a significant number of barrier upgrades, including the installation of Tecpro and tyres around the entire venue.
The race proved a frenetic affair, with the battle between eventual winner Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes and Max Verstappen for Red Bull the highlight. Track limits proved a constant thorn for the drivers, as did tyre wear, with four drivers suffering front-left tyre failures, as a result of teams going against Pirelli advice and attempting one tyre change only.
The revised chicane entry was not adopted for the two-wheeled grand prix, with MotoGP preferring the original entry after the final turn. For 2022, the motorcycles were the main headline event, as the country's hosting of the FIFA World Cup meant that Formula One skipped a year, electing to return for 2023.
More extensive remodelling brings track variants
Before the Formula One teams returned, the track underwent significant upgrades, including completely remodelled pit and paddock buildings. New garages for 50 teams were among the features of the new pit building, which was officially certified as the longest in world motorsport by Guinness World Records™. It boasts upgraded VIP areas, used by the Formula One Paddock Club, as well as a new race control tower with world-class technology, while there is also a new media centre and medical facilities. The extended pit lane that resulted reverted to having its entry after the last corner, though its exit was now closer to Turn One.
Elsewhere, a new spectator seating area was created overlooking Turn 1, named Lusail Hill, set in green space and accessible for General Admission ticket holders. The main grandstands overlooking the pit straight were also upgraded and now accommodate 40,000 people, while on-site parking capacity expanded to 15,000.
The opportunity was also taken to introduce two new circuit variations, with a short course bypassing the main Grand Prix course after Turn One on a new link road, which cut out Turns 2-10. The Qatar Motorsports Academy, meanwhile, gained its own club racing variation, complete with its own pit and paddock facilities. The club and short courses can be run simultaneously.
The revised course made its debut with the return of Formula One in October 2023 with the event being one of those selected to host a Sprint Race. McLaren's Oscar Piastri scored victory in the Sprint Race but could do little to prevent a dominant victory in the main race by Red Bull's Max Verstappen. Extreme heat during the weekend took its toll on the drivers, forcing Logan Sergeant to retire with heat stroke and numerous others reporting severe fatigue.
For 2024, the FIA WEC makes its debut at the circuit, with the Qatar 1812km race set to be the season-opener. The curious race length is a nod to Qatar's National Day (18 December) and will last up to 10 hours, making it the second longest of the season. The track will also host the pre-season prologue.