Race Recap: 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

A breakdown of the most recent race weekend in Baku.


Baku City Circuit

After a 3 week break, Formula 1 was back last weekend in Baku, Azerbaijan. The weekend had a different schedule than most, with the season’s first sprint race.

The sprint race is a shortened version of the race, breaking it down from 51 laps, in Baku’s case, down to just 17. On Friday, there was a short time for practice, then qualifying for the Grand Prix on Sunday. On Saturday, the sprint shootout and sprint race took place. After the end of the sprint race, the top eight drivers are given points towards the championship.

F1’s goal for making the sprint race a stand-alone event is to make the event more exciting and give drivers a chance to earn more points. F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali recently said that he wants to replace some practice sessions with “more meaningful events.”

However, there are many critiques of the sprint format. For drivers who are outside of the top eight, there seems to be no incentive to fight, since they are already qualified for the Grand Prix on Sunday and have very little to lose.

Current world champion, Max Verstappen, pushed back against the sprint format. Verstappen went as far as to suggest in an interview that he may leave F1 for good if this format becomes more common.

“I’m not a fan of it at all,” Verstappen said. After the race, he took an even harder stance. “Just scrap the whole thing. I think it’s just important to go back to what we had and make sure every team can fight for the win.”

Verstappen’s fellow drivers seemed neither for nor against the format, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alsonso describing the format as simply “OK.” Verstappen argued that if the racing was more competitive, there would not be a need to try and add more entertainment aspects.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took pole position for the Grand Prix on Sunday, starting ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. The race itself was described by many as fairly dull, with only 13 overtakes occurring over all 51 laps. In the end, Sergio Perez finished first, Charles Leclerc took second, and Max Verstappen took third. Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton finished sixth, and two drivers, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Alpha Tauri’s Nyck de Vries, failed to finish.

By far the most drama occurred during the last lap of the race. Photographers gathered at the pit lane to capture the final moments of the race, while Alpine driver, Esteban Ocon, had yet to make a pit stop. At least one pit stop is mandated, since drivers must use two different tire compounds per race. As he pulled into the pit lane, photographers were standing on the track and were just able to get out of the way of the incoming car.

An immediate investigation was opened by race stewards into the FIA and the representative who was responsible for the parc ferme, the area where cars are stopped post-race.

After the race, Ocon spoke to the press, saying, “You need to wait until all the cars are past the checkered flag, and ensure there is no racing in the pit lane anymore until you start prepping the podium. It’s not a mystery, it’s very simple. We don’t want to see these things happening.”

Formula 1 returns on Friday, May 5th in Miami, Florida for the Miami Grand Prix.