A brand new weekend format is in store for Formula 1 in Baku – but will that make the dominant Red Bull team’s route to victory more difficult? Here’s what to watch out for at the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix!
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Formula 1 has enjoyed a four-week Spring Break after an action packed Australian Grand Prix. The chaotic Albert Park race was red-flagged three times after a string of accidents and crashes. Max Verstappen emerged victorious despite the melee behind him, continuing Red Bull’s impressive run of strong season-opening form.
The break was much needed given that there are 10 Grands Prix over the next 14 weekends – an intensive schedule running to the summer break at the start of August. With four weeks having passed since the last event, will any team have bridged the gap to Red Bull?
6 winners in 6 races in Baku
You can expect the unexpected when it comes to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. On the calendar since 2016, the tight confines of the city street circuit mean that the barriers are never too far away. The opportunity for misdemeanours is high on the challenging Baku City Circuit and frequent Safety Car outings can turn races on their head.
The polesitter has only won in Baku twice from the six previous races held in Azerbaijan. Nico Rosberg took a commanding Grand Slam victory from pole in 2016, while Valtteri Bottas remains the most recent polesitter to win in Baku back in 2019.
Furthermore, there’s yet to be a repeat winner on the streets of Baku, with six drivers having one Azerbaijan win apiece. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez or Max Verstappen could become the track’s first repeat victor at the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Given Red Bull’s form, the chances of a repeat winner this weekend seem high. But this is Baku and anything can happen!
A new Saturday format
Just in case there wasn’t already enough jeopardy at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Formula 1 has confirmed a new Saturday format for the race weekend. The 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was already scheduled to be the first Sprint weekend of the year but an update to the rules – approved
only a few days before the teams touched down in Baku – sees a change to the format.
Previously on Sprint weekends, Friday qualifying would set the grid for the Sprint and the Sprint would then set the grid for the Grand Prix. That’s no longer the case in 2023. Friday qualifying will set the grid for the Grand Prix, with Saturday’s action having no impact on Sunday’s grid order.
Instead, a 45-minute qualifying session – known as the Sprint Shootout – will take place on Saturday morning, setting the grid for that afternoon’s Sprint race. The Sprint will award points as it did last year, but will not determine Sunday’s grid.
The switch up to the format provides fans with more meaningful on-track action, with the exciting 45 minute qualifying session replacing a usually uninteresting Free Practice session. With the Sprint having no impact on Sunday’s grid order, drivers may be more willing to take risks in the Sprint race, leading to more wheel-to-wheel action.
Will Red Bull continue to dominate?
In the past, Sprint weekends have not been particularly lucky for Red Bull. Of the six held over the last two seasons, Red Bull have won the Grand Prix on a Sprint weekend only once; a surprisingly low success rate.
A win for Max Verstappen this weekend would be a notable one, as it would see him equal Sebastian Vettel as the driver to have taken the most Grand Prix victories with the Red Bull team.
You can’t rule out Verstappen’s team-mate, Sergio Perez. The Mexican has proven to be somewhat of a street circuit master, taking victories in both Monaco and Singapore last year. Perez has a previous win in Azerbaijan, having won in Baku in 2021. He also holds the record for the most podium appearances at the circuit, with four and is likely to be highly competitive again in 2023.
Red Bull are one of only two teams to have taken victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The other is Mercedes, with whom Lewis Hamilton recorded the team’s first podium of the 2023 season in Australia.
How do Alonso and Aston Martin’s chances look in Baku?
Fernando Alonso has supplied Aston Martin with third place finishes in all of the first three races of the season. It’s the longest run of consecutive podium results in the Silverstone-based team’s history, whose roots date back to Jordan in 1991.
The team have enjoyed previous podium success on the streets of Baku. Sergio Perez finished in the top three with the team here in 2016 and 2018, while Sebastian Vettel record the Aston Martin marque’s first podium finish in Formula 1 at the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The chances of the team finishing on the podium again this weekend seem pretty high, given their success so far in 2023 and their record to date in Baku. A podium for Alonso would represent his longest podium streak in over a decade, while a third place finish would see him equal the record for the longest streak of consecutive third place finishes in F1 history.
Could Alonso’s team-mate Lance Stroll surprise this weekend? The Canadian has previously finished on the podium in Baku and, behind the wheel of the speedy Aston Martin, carnage around him could put him in a good position. With long odds of victory, Stroll could be the outsider to back in Azerbaijan.