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Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2023: Race predictions

Staff Staff

After what seems like an eternity, Formula One will finally resume this weekend with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30, 2023.

Red Bull have been untouchable, but Aston Martin have managed to keep up with the Austrian team.

With a Sprint weekend ahead of us, there could be multiple surprises. As we get back to racing, lets take a look at a few possibilities this weekend. 

Also Read: Formula One 2023: Team Principals

An inter-team battle

This season has been all Red Bull up till now. The first three races have seen three Red Bull wins, with reigning World Champion Max Verstappen taking two wins and his teammate Sergio Pérez taking the other.

With Verstappen leading the Championship standings and his teammate in second place, the signs could not be clearer for yet another Red Bull double sweep in the Championships this year. 

As we head to a street circuit in Baku, this time it isn’t Verstappen but his teammate Pérez who is the favourite. The Mexican excels in street circuits, having won all his Grands Prix with Red Bull in street circuits. More importantly, he has a wonderful record at the Baku Street Circuit. Apart from Baku being the venue of his first-ever win with Red Bull in 2021, Pérez has three podium finishes in six visits to Azerbaijan, having finished in the top six every single time barring 2017, when he had to retire from the race. 

While it is once again going to be advantage Red Bull going into Azerbaijan, Baku is sure to be one of the more exciting races, with Verstappen certain to face a strong challenge from his teammate. While street circuits are Pérez’s strong suit, counting out a double World Champion like Verstappen would be plain foolishness. The Dutchman is currently one of the best—if not the best—and easily the most skilled driver on the grid.

The Baku race will probably be one of the first instances where Pérez goes into the race with the odds favouring him more than his teammate. Expect Red Bull to take the win again on Sunday, though we may see Pérez on the top podium instead of Verstappen. 

Regardless of whoever takes the top podium, we are in for an absolute belter of a race in Baku. 

Pole prediction: Max Verstappen / Sergio Pérez

Win prediction: Red Bull

Rethinking Sprints

The Baku race will also be the first race in the 2023 calendar with the Sprint format, which was introduced in 2021. F1 had announced earlier that the 2023 calendar will host a total of six Sprint races. 

Ever since its introduction, the Sprint format has divided the drivers, critics and fanbases. While some have appreciated the new format as a breath of fresh air, others have argued about whether it is at all needed.

The Sprint format sees Fridays host Practice Session 1 and Qualifying instead of Practice Session 2. Qualifying on Friday sets the grid for the 100km race, with the Sprint setting the final grid for Sunday’s main race. 

The Baku Sprint is going to be a bit different, however, with teams wanting to have Qualifying on Saturday set the final grid for Sunday’s race, while Saturdays on Sprint weekends usually host Sprint qualifying and the Sprint Race. Teams have stated that the risk element of losing grid positions for the main race has seen multiple drivers being vocal about wanting normal qualifying to set the final grid for Sunday rather than a 100km dash, in which they can’t even race properly as they have one eye on the Sunday race.

According to the new format, Friday will host Qualifying, which will set the grid for the main race on Sunday. Saturday will have Qualifying 1 consisting of 12 minutes, Qualifying 2 consisting of 10 minutes, and Qualifying 3 consisting of eight minutes, which will be dubbed as the Sprint Shootout and set the grid for the Sprint. The Sprint Shootout will see teams following mandatory tyre rules — while Q1 and Q2 will be on mediums, Q3 will be on the soft compound tyres.

The new format will certainly be an interesting watch but will also see us heading back to the more conventional ways of Qualifying, which means the favourites will stand a better chance rather than a surprise result from the Sprint. 

Seeing Red

With 26 points from the opening three races, the 2023 season start has been the Scuderia’s worst start to a season since 2009, when they scored 0 points in the first three races. Ferrari are fourth in the Constructors’ Standings, a good 30 points behind Mercedes and being closed upon by McLaren. 

Ferrari’s star driver Charles Leclerc sits 10th in the Driver’s Standings with two DNFs from the opening three races. His Spanish teammate Carlos Sainz is fifth, having missing out on points due to a driver error in Australia. Ferrari suffered mechanical issues in the opening race, were nowhere near the pace in Saudi Arabia, and once again struggled with pace Down Under, with Sainz’s erroneous move further costing them dearly. 

Ferrari, who brought in former Sauber and Alfa Romeo team boss Frédéric Vasseur as Team Principal at the start of the season, were looking for a completely different start than the one they have endured so far. While it was clear that Red Bull would be clear of the Italian team, with regards to pace, Ferrari seemed like they would be the second strongest on the grid.

However, the Italian team have just not found the pace yet. While Leclerc has shown brilliances on Saturday in Qualifying, the team haven’t been anywhere near to front of the grid with regards to pace. Aston Martin—and even a struggling Mercedes—have been able to outscore them.

Ferrari will be desperately looking for a clean weekend in Baku — a track on which they are yet to win. Should they stay out of trouble and be reliable throughout the weekend, Ferrari could be podium contenders. While Fernando Alonso has been the second-best driver so far after Verstappen, Leclerc will be hoping to break the Verstappen-Alonso-Pérez triopoly. 

Even if they are at the bottom of the grid, never count out the Scuderia. 

Dark Horses: Ferrari

Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2023: When and where to watch (India)

Circuit: Baku City Circuit
Venue: Baku, Azerbaijan
Practice Session 1 time: 15:00 (IST), April 28 
Qualifying time: 18:30 (IST), April 28
Practice Session 2 time: 15:00 (IST), April 29
Sprint time: 19:30 (IST), April 29
Main race time: 16:30 (IST), April 30
Where to watch: F1 TV Pro

Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2023 : Race Predictions
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