It’s finally here! After four exceptionally long weeks without Formula 1, it’s time to prepare for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as the twenty drivers head to Baku for the first street race of the 2023 season.
Last time out (which feels like a lifetime ago now) we saw one of the most chaotic races take place in Melbourne. We had a record number of red flags (three), eight DNFs as well as a catatonic Carlos Sainz who was handed a five second penalty for contact with Fernando Alonso and the Ferrari driver was pushed down to 12th place.
Max Verstappen currently sits 15 points clear at the top of the drivers’ championship but as we prepare for the fourth race of the year, F1 fans will know all too well how unpredictable the Baku Grand Prix can be.
Here are some of the biggest talking points ahead of the Azerbaijan race weekend…
How will the teams fare with the new Sprint format?
Not only will this weekend be the first street circuit of the year, but it will also be the first Sprint race of the 2023 season. F1 will also welcome the new rules for the sprint race which will see this element of the race weekend act independently from Sunday’s race.
It’s fair to say, the sprint weekends are met with mixed results and while teams such as Ferrari and Mercedes will relish another opportunity to attempt to catch up with Red Bull, Christian Horner’s team is less than thrilled about the possibility of losing their considerable. In Australia, the Red Bull Team Principal said: “it’s absolutely ludicrous to be doing the first sprint race of the year in a street race like Azerbaijan. All you can do is trash your car and it costs a lot of money around there.”
However, from a fan’s perspective, sprint weekends add extra excitement and make the Saturday driving sessions just that much more compelling. Of course, there are still only a maximum of eight points up for grabs so it may well be that no driver is willing to risk a potential crash or upset to the car for just eight points.
However, if the new rules play out how the FIA and F1 council wish, Saturday could provide just as much exhilaration as Sunday
Will Baku signal revival for McLaren?
Baku will see the first of three major upgrades in place for Zak Brown’s McLaren. The men in Papaya endured quite possibly their worst ever start to the season before the chaos at Australia. The first two races saw neither Lando Norris or Oscar Piastri come anywhere near to points but following the seemingly never-ending drama in Melbourne, the British driver came in sixth while the Australian rookie secured his first points of his F1 career at his home race when he came in eighth.
While there was much jubilation from the team, it is exceptionally far from where they appeared to be headed a couple of seasons go.
Ahead of 2023, Brown admitted that the team had missed their development targets with their initial car and a slow start was to be expected. However, this weekend fans will see the first of three major upgrades McLaren is planning for the MCL60 with Team Principal Andrea Stella saying earlier in the season that the data looked “promising”.
Could this weekend be the start of a much needed revival for the Papaya drivers?
Baku: the home of the drama
Australia was by far one of the most dramatic races to have taken place in recent years. However, Baku is infamously known for causing complete havoc and this weekend is unlikely to be an exception.
There have been six different winners in the six different races of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and if that wasn’t enough, it was where Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen wiped each other out when they were Red Bull teammates in 2017; Sebastian Vettel bumped cars with Hamilton behind the safety car in the same year and Leclerc’s depressing “I am stupid” radio message was born in 2019.
So for fans who do not wish to just see the two Red Bulls dominate for an entire race, there will undoubtedly be much more on offer as twenty of the most competitive people in the world fight it out on the historic streets of Baku.
The race will take place on Sunday 30 April 2023, with a start time of 12pm scheduled while the sprint race will take place on Saturday 29 April.