Gerhard Berger takes aim at drivers over Qatar GP health issues amid FIA pleas

Oliver Harden
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton wipes his brow on the grid at the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix.

Former McLaren and Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger has been shocked by suggestions that the FIA should intervene to avoid a repeat of the driver struggles witnessed at last weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix.

A number of drivers were left exhausted at the end of the Lusail race, with Logan Sargeant withdrawing as a result of the physical strain and Esteban Ocon vomiting in his helmet at one stage.

Lance Stroll went on to claim afterwards that he was on the verge of passing out with the extreme heat, high number of fast corners over the course of the Qatar lap and the flat-out pace of the race – a function of the mandated stint lengths imposed amid Pirelli tyre safety fears – cited as the factors behind the drivers’ struggles.

Gerhard Berger: Qatar race exposed unfit F1 drivers

Pleas have been made for governing body the FIA to impose measures to prevent a repeat of the situation, but Berger – who took 10 wins in 210 grand prix starts between 1984 and 1987, memorably surviving a fiery crash at Imola’s Tamburello curve in 1989 – believes it came down down to a matter of driver fitness.

And he claimed drivers of the calibre of race winner Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, who retired after a first-corner collision with Mercedes team-mate George Russell, would have suffered less than their peers due to their commitment to success.

He told Servus TV: “It was the same for us. This time, the boys seem to have pushed themselves to the limit, but it’s simply a question of fitness.

“If you’re in great shape, you won’t get sick. It’s a fitness problem and a circulatory issue.

“If you ask a Verstappen or a Hamilton, they don’t get sick even in those temperatures, because it’s a factor that you must have on the radar if you want to win.

“For myself, I was often at the limit too – especially in the first half of my career – and I had to manage my limit.

“In a hot race in Adelaide I had to reduce my speed in the last few laps to avoid getting into a situation like we saw now – and I lost places as a result, of course.

“I often felt sick because I didn’t have the fitness.”

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Verstappen himself described the conditions in Qatar as ” a bit extreme” and urged F1 to move the race to a later date in the calendar to sidestep such high temperatures.

The Qatar GP is due to be held on December 1 next season.

Berger’s comments come after former F1 driver Martin Brundle said he does not “buy into the weak view [that F1] shouldn’t put [the drivers] through this kind of challenge,” claiming “it’s races like Qatar and very rainy days which make F1 drivers look the heroes and athletes they are.”

In an exclusive interview with PlanetF1.com’s Thomas Maher, physiological expert Dr. Chris Tyler – who has worked with the likes of Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris, Oscar Piastri and the McLaren team – described Brundle’s interjection as “not helpful.”

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