Fatigue a major factor after gruelling F1 season concludes at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

With no respite next season as well, drivers believe organisers must create a sustainable model for teams, mechanics and everyone involved

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“We’re all burnt out massively,” said Williams driver Alex Albon ahead of the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – the finale of what had been the most stacked Formula One season ever.

This year’s F1 calendar featured 23 races for the first time, starting in Bahrain in early March and concluding on Sunday at Yas Marina Circuit.

The last three months have been particularly gruelling for everyone involved in the sport. The schedule took the drivers from the Netherlands at the end of August, to Italy, Singapore, Japan then Qatar before a triple-header in Austin, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. That was followed by a double-header in Las Vegas and finally Abu Dhabi.

Next year won’t be any easier. In fact, the 2024 calendar will feature a record-breaking 24 races as the Chinese Grand Prix returns for the first time since 2019. The season will finish with a triple-header that will see back-to-back races in Vegas, Doha and Abu Dhabi.

Some changes have been made to allow for smarter travel between races; Japan, for example, has been moved from September to April to be slotted between Australia and China. But there are still several pockets in the calendar that make for some dizzying back-and-forths across the globe, and drivers and teams are understandably concerned about the toll this is taking on their bodies.

Arriving in Abu Dhabi straight from the inaugural Las Vegas race, most drivers spent a good portion of their press conferences discussing jetlag and sleep schedules. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon didn’t even turn up to media day because he fell ill.

“It's a bit tough to understand what time zone that you're in,” said triple world champion Max Verstappen, who completed his record-breaking season with victory in Abu Dhabi – his 19th win of the year.

“I definitely think for the future – of course for next year, it's not possible – but it's a little bit odd that we are on the other side of the world, basically, before getting here and especially when you're talking about sustainability, it's probably not very sustainable, not only for the emissions but also for the human body.

"Of course, eventually, we always deal with it but I don't think it's great. I think we can do a little bit of a better job with placing the grands prix.”

McLaren’s Oscar Piastri said because of the time difference, he felt he was in Vegas just one day earlier, even though it had already been four days since he arrived in the UAE, while Mercedes’ George Russell recounted some travel shenanigans he and Pierre Gasly went through together en route to Abu Dhabi.

“It’s pretty brutal for everybody. Yeah, had an interesting trip over with Pierre. We were flying together and we got delayed and diverted via Dallas and ended up in a 24-hour diner at three o'clock in the morning for some breakfast. So that was an eye-opening experience.”

Structural issues in overcrowded calendars are a growing trend in sport and the F1 drivers' concerns have been echoed in other sports such as tennis, where players feel their season is too long and that they are forced to play too many tournaments.

Whether it’s an effort to raise the profile of the sport globally, or a means to capitalise on a sport’s growing popularity, it seems the mentality of adding more events, irrespective of when and where these events will be held, is the common denominator.

Sport has become a lucrative business and the short-term gains of adding events frequently outweigh concern for longevity and the well-being of all individuals involved.

When you're talking about sustainability, it's probably not very sustainable, not only for the emissions but also for the human body
Max Verstappen on F1's schedule

Red Bull Racing’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez said he has never seen people this tired at the end of a season the way he has this campaign and he is worried about the team’s support crew; the mechanics, engineers and beyond.

While most drivers fly private which can make travel easier, others touring the F1 circuit like support staff, journalists and the like, do not have access to such luxuries.

“It’s definitely been more [burnout] than other years. This last part of the season has been super intense with the travelling, the amount of races is definitely at the limit, not just for the drivers but also for all the mechanics out there,” said Perez.

“The schedule has to be more efficient and try to look after everyone a lot more. My main concern is for my mechanics really.

“I think we just have to make sure that we keep delivering and we don’t make a lot of races for the sake of doing them. I think the quality level is still very important to have in this sport, to make sure we keep this upward route.”

While Perez acknowledges it’s too late to make any changes for next year, he said the issue has to be raised with F1’s leadership for future campaigns.

“I don’t remember seeing people so exhausted in the last race," he added. "So it’s something we have to take very seriously. It’s important for the sport, for the drivers to keep having these long careers, for the staff and mechanics, we want them to have long careers as well. I think it’s something we have to consider."

Updated: November 27, 2023, 9:08 AM