Posted on April 28, 2023
Heading to Baku this week, the series has its first Sprint Race of the year. And for the first time ever, F1 is implementing a varied qualifying procedure for the weekend.
Normally during Sprint weekends, there would be just a single qualifying that sets the grid for the shortened Sprint Race.
But now, there will be two qualifying sessions: one to set the lineup for the Sprint Race and one to set the grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday.
The result is a reduced amount of practice time, with just a single practice session all weekend.
I preview the race here and my Grand Prix predictions, along with those of Stephen Vilardo and Greg Kokot, appear below.
Sprint Race: Saturday, 6:30 AM PT, ESPN
Grand Prix: Sunday, 4:00 AM PT, ESPN (Re-air, 7:00pm PT, ESPN2)
Defined by a long straight and odd layout, the track varies from very narrow to relatively wide.
The Castle Corner is one of the most iconic sections of the Formula One calendar, bringing the cars through an ancient castle in one of the narrowest turns of the season.
The scenic section is juxtaposed with the long straight along the Caspian Sea where the cars reach in excess of 200 miles per hour.
Passing at the track can be difficult and qualifying is key. Turn One is generally a passing zone, though, with a wide runoff area to allow for mistakes.
That particular turn has seen several noteworthy incidents over the years, ranging from Daniel Ricciardo crashing into Max Verstappen in 2018 to Lewis Hamilton blowing the corner in 2021 during his epic title fight with Verstappen.
Odd events tend to happen at the circuit, too.
In 2019, a Williams driven by George Russell sucked up a drain cover that completely destroyed the floor of his car.
Similarly, Haas driver Romain Grosjean inexplicably lost control of his car and slammed into the wall under a safety car during the race in 2018.
But perhaps the most memorable incident was Max Verstappen’s crash while leading the race in 2021. Traveling down the main stretch at nearly 200 MPH, the Dutchman’s tire suddenly blew and he careened into the wall.
The variation in speed and technical corners puts a lot of stress on the machinery. Combined with the long length of each lap, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some teams retire their cars during the race to save the internal parts.
And due to the narrow stretches of the track, any mistakes can be devastating and send a driver out of the points with no chance of getting back into the Top 10.
As one of the most unique circuits on the calendar, the race has a general allure that is distinctive from many of the other street courses.
Most of the other street tracks are arguably hybrids, crosses between a traditional street track and a purposefully designed track run on the streets.
Take Saudi Arabia and Miami, for example. Those street tracks are purposefully built and designed tracks that just happen to be on the streets of a city.
Baku and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, on the other hand, is the more traditional version of a street course. The race is actually run on city streets that would normally be used by everyday drivers.
The only other tracks that compare are Monaco and Las Vegas. The result is an exciting product and a Wildcard race.
It’s unclear what curveball will come, but there undoubtedly will be some strange events that happen on the streets of Azerbaijan this weekend.
Recent Race Winners of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
|2022||Max Verstappen||Red Bull|
|2021||Sergio Pérez||Red Bull|
|2017||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
Our Writers’ Race Picks
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