Finally after a long four week break F1 marks its return on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The first ‘true’ street circuit race (Jeddah and Melbourne are semi-street circuits) to take place in this massive 23 race calendar for 2023.
|2022||Max Verstappen||Red Bull|
|2021||Sergio Perez||Red Bull|
|2020||Not Held Due to Covid-19||Not Held Due to Covid-19|
|2017||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix marks the first of six sprint races to take place in 2023. Now in its third successive season, the F1 Sprint is a 100km race which takes place on the Saturday of the Grand Prix weekend. Previously the Sprint race result will determine the starting grid for Sunday’s race. Something which didn’t go particularly well with some fans, including myself. The new changes aim to address that.
Friday remains somewhat unchanged with the first and only practice session in the morning to get the teams ready and up to speed for qualifying. So far so good, however, the qualifying taking place on the Friday afternoon is your usual qualifying which will determine the starting grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday and will no longer determine the Sprint Race starting grid.
Another major change for Saturday morning as F1 have scrapped the other practice session and instead replaced it with another qualifying session which will determine the starting grid for the Sprint Race, albeit a slightly shorter qualifying session. This will formally be called the ‘Sprint Shootout’ and this will open up more betting opportunities for you!
The Sprint Shootout is basically a shorter version of the qualifying sessions with some added rules. It will use the same format as traditional qualifying with Q1 being 12 minutes long, Q2 being 10 minutes long and Q3 8 minutes long. The shorter time in Q2 & Q3 will mean that there won’t be time to change for fresh tyres.
Speaking of tyres, the teams will have to run Q1 & Q2 using the Medium Compound tyre, whilst Q1 will be run using the Soft Compound tyre. As we’ve seen so far this season not all the cars can ‘switch’ on their tyres to the required temperature quick enough, particularly the Mercedes cars, which should make things interesting.
The added use of tyres will also most definitely cause a few strategy changes with tyre allocation and can definitely open as well as close a few options come Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Why was there such a long gap between the Australian Grand Prix and round 4 in Azerbaijan? That’s because we were meant to have a race in China for the Chinese Grand Prix which unfortunately hasn’t taken place yet since 2019 due to the country still struggling with Covid-19 restrictions and lock downs. We took a look at some of the most memorable moments from the Chinese Grand Prix over the years to keep things in check.
With the nature of the track being the first of its kind on the calendar so far, and with one practice session before qualifying it’s an open book as for who’ll take pole. Well, a partial open book. Baku is full of long straights and tight 90 degree corners, something which may not come as a surprise, but that favors the Red Bull over anyone else. Checo is good on street circuits and he’s definitely fighting Max for points, but the Dutchman won’t back down so easily.
Ferrari are usually quite good around here but their pace has been way off so far so I don’t exactly expect them to surprise anyone just yet. Meanwhile in Brackley, the Mercedes team have been hard at work trying to extract the most out of their car with major changes coming at Imola, don’t discount the Merc’s from putting in a few surprises around here.
Two other drivers to watch out for are Nico Hulkenberg of Haas and Alex Albon of Williams. Nico has been very impressive so far this season, hauling that car around like there’s no tomorrow and extracting every single ounce of performance on qualifying, making Q3 appearances.
Alex has also been noticeable on race day and that’s thanks to his slippery Williams, not that he ain’t a good driver because he is! The Williams however has been very, very good in a straight line, and like we’ve seen in Jeddah it has the potential to be the quickest car in the high speed sectors. I expect Alex to make a Q3 appearance and to score points on Sunday.
And of course we can’t forget about the people’s hero, Fernando Alonso. Literally everyone is rooting for this guy and he deserves it. He’s finally got a car that can work with him, and more importantly a team who are prepared to listen to him and work around him. So far most definitely the second fastest car and their consistency has backed this up. I expect another podium from him, but I still don’t think they’ll be able to take the fight to Red Bull just yet…
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