Formula 1 has held 36 grands prix at four tracks in the Middle East since first visiting the region in 2004, but it has not explored all the possibilities yet out in the deserts by the Persian Gulf.
The world championship has never visited Dubai Autodrome, although in late 2013 the track unsuccessfully tried pitching itself to F1 as its future home for pre-season testing. Since 2019 Kuwait has had its own permanent circuit too, Kuwait Motor Town, which now has the FIA grade one rating required to host F1 races.
But this 5.6-kilometre track would never have even been in F1’s eyeline as it had never hosted single-seater cars in any capacity before.
That all changes this week, as the Formula Regional Middle East and Formula 4 United Arab Emirates championships visit for a seven-day stay. Each will hold two rounds and, unusually, the competitive sessions will take place on Thursday to Saturday for the first round and Monday to Wednesday for the second.
While the definition of when the weekend takes place in Kuwait is not universally agreed upon, all definitions include Fridays. While F1 will this year hold a grand prix on a day other than a Sunday for the first time in decades by introducing the Las Vegas Grand Prix to the calendar with a Saturday slot, it has not adopted similar timetable changes in other Middle Eastern countries with different weekend conventions to Europe.
The unusual schedule means the Formula Regional and Formula 4 drivers will each do six races in six days. But that’s not the only strange phenomenon they will be encountering in the desert.
Two of those new experiences came on Wednesday, as each series held pre-event test sessions for drivers and teams to acclimate to the unfamiliar track. With its lack of single-seater racing history, it is highly unusual in being a permanent venue which teams have arrived at with no simulator data, no opportunity to watch onboard single-seater videos online and no way of finding driver feedback from previous visitors.
When the FRegional drivers took to the track for the first time, they were then hit by another new challenge: a wet track surface. Rain fell during their opening session and restricted how much running could be completed. Not a single one of the 28 drivers that took part were able to set a representative lap time, and the track only dried out enough at the very end to give drivers some resemblance of how much speed they should carry through corners.
As the racing line was still forming, there wasn’t one ‘dry’ line which gripped up particularly more than others. That left those drivers then using their second test session to truly learn the track, and figure out between them what was the quickest way around it.
The 20-corner anti-clockwise layout is predominantly filled with high-speed corners, with several of those being long multi-apex sweeps that would be taxing on the neck of drivers. That’s a challenge that is experienced irregularly, and of the nine anti-clockwise tracks on the 23-event F1 calendar, only five of those were staples of the calendar prior to 2020 and only two are routinely used by more than one F1 feeder series.
Of the little preparations teams had been able to ahead of this week’s trip to Kuwait, they had expected a hot, dry and dusty track. They certainly picked up a problem with sand in the air, as seen in pictures taken during Wednesday’s test, but instead temperatures were cool and there was in fact.
There will be eyes on Kuwait Motor Town from other international single-seater series and the FIA this week, to see what kind of racing the track will create and if the weather is predictable enough for them to visit too.
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