Table of Contents

    Three races into the 2023 Formula 1 racing season, Red Bull has established an early lead, with Aston Martin, Mercedes, and a struggling Ferrari looking to keep pace. 

    The Baku City circuit sets up as a fast, sometimes tightly constricted race with the added challenge of a tweaked weekend format featuring the first-ever F1 sprint qualifier on a city circuit.

    Red Bull and Max Verstappen are heavily favored to win the weekend, but the midfield has threatened and stolen points already this season and Fernando Alonso has been hot, finishing with three consecutive P3 podiums.


    Azerbaijan Gran Prix

    Date: April 30, 2023
    Circuit: Baku City Circuit
    Location: Baku, Azerbaijan

    Laps: 51

    Circuit Length: 6.003km

    Race Distance: 306.049km

    Lap Record: 1:43:009 Charles Leclerc (2019)

    Previous Winners

    • 2017: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing)
    • 2018: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2019: Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
    • 2020: Canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic
    • 2021: Sergio Pérez (Red Bull Racing)
    • 2022: Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing)
    AP Photo/Sergei Grits

    F1 2023 Season to Date

    All ten F1 teams have finished in the points at least once so far in 2023, marking the first time in F1 history that every team has scored at least one point in the first three rounds; a testament to the catch-up work other teams have been doing to chase down Red Bull at the front of the pack. Despite this wide-ranging competitiveness, there is still a very clear midfield and back of the grid that’s really just competing for points behind Red Bull, Max Verstappen, and Sergio Perez. 

    Ferrari is a distant fourth in the Constructors Championship after a series of early season missteps, trailing both Mercedes and the up-start Aston Martin team, which is prospering thanks to the seasoned racing of veteran driver Fernando Alonso, and the much-improved driving of Canadian Lance Stroll.

    Alpine, Alpha Tauri, and McLaren make up the middle of the grid in many races. Haas and Williams are clearly improving, while Alfa Romeo has lost pace versus the 2022 F1 season. Every team on the grid will be challenged by the long and sometimes tight Baku City Circuit, which in the past has forced many crashes and DNFs.

    The Challenges of Baku and the Sprint Format

    As mentioned, Baku is a city circuit. It has been the host of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix since it was built in 2016. Crashes are the norm here.

    Known for its challenging pit exit and entry points, Baku runs along the Caspian Sea and through Baku’s Old City, with challenging turns, particularly at turn 8 and the high-speed turn 15, setting up the entrance to the circuit’s second and longest DRS zone.

    The circuit’s combination of 90-degree turns, high-speed corners, and lengthy DRS zones lends itself to fiercely competitive racing with plenty of opportunity for overtakes. While the circuit is challenging enough, particularly for younger drivers, the Baku weekend’s race format will make things especially difficult in 2023. Why?

    Most F1 races are conducted on this schedule: 3 practice sessions, followed by 1 qualifying session, where individual best lap times determine the following day’s starting grid. Baku, instead, will use a modified sprint format: 2 practices, and 1 qualifying session for the sprint race (a ¼ length version of the actual race, which awards both driver and constructor points). Then the full race is on Sunday.

    This effective double-race format places a lot of extra pressure on the cars themselves, as well as drivers and race engineers. Qualifying fast against other drivers who are getting out of your way is one thing; doing the same against drivers deploying race tactics to beat you is quite another. Expect all teams to spend extra engineering and manufacturing hours getting their cars ready for Baku ‘23. 

    That said, who is in a position to win?

    Race Predictions

    Clearly, Red Bull is in a prime position to win at Baku. The team is #1 in the 2023 Constructor Cup standings, while Verstappen and Perez are 1-2 in the driver standings. No one else has the same kind of DRS speed as Red Bull and Baku features the championship’s longest DRS zone. Mercedes and Aston Martin have knocked at the door, but I just don’t think they have the cars to win this race.

    If you like outside shots, consider Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso to take the top spot on the podium. He’s been very close all season and a little luck is all that’s required to break through. Hamilton and Russell will be in it for Mercedes, but they don’t have the speed on this track. Also, I’m just not buying Ferrari’s vibe after a bad start to the season and a double DNF in Baku last year. Given the Williams Racing team’s proficiency in the DRS speed department, I like them to finish a car in the Top 10, as well.

    In the realm of likely disqualifications/DNFs: Baku is brutal on young drivers. As such, picking Logan Sargeant, Oscar Piastri, or Nyck De Vries not to finish the race may be a good prop to take advantage of. I’ll also go on record and say Alfa Romeo will get blanked in Baku; I don’t know what happened to my guy, Valtteri, but it makes me sad. In terms of the mid-field, Alpine, McLaren, and Haas are all capable of claiming a handful of points in Baku. 

    Come back next week for our preview of the F1 Miami Grand Prix!

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