After the spring break of about three weeks, it is finally time to race again with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. And no less than twice, because next weekend is the first sprint race of the season. Can Max Verstappen be at the top twice this weekend? In F1Maximum Predicts, editors Bart Slabbekoorn, Wim G. Vandebilt and Mark Hanselman discuss the upcoming Grand Prix weekend.
A new sprint format; what do we think?
Bart: ‘The new sprint format is an interesting experiment to increase the tension on the track and is reminiscent of the race weekends in Formula 2 and Formula 3. It will be interesting to see how the teams adapt to this new format and whether it really delivers the desired tension. Although it is still too early to say whether it will be a success, I look to the new format with optimism in the hope of more spectacle.’
Wim: ‘If we look at the real reason for introducing a new sprint format, we can only come to the conclusion that it was done to attract a new and more public. The younger audience in particular, and in this way make the cash register ring more in favor of circuits and especially the FOM. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but there are a number of major drawbacks. Among other things, the severely reduced time for adjusting the super sensitive cars, the much greater risk of damage, especially in this time of budget limits, and the change to entertainment instead of sports. The latter in particular is something I personally have a problem with. It’s starting to look more like a casino event than a sporting event, and I’m having a hard time with that.’
Mark: ‘I think it’s better than the old sprint format, but it’s a pity that the drivers are already being imposed on which compounds they have to use in the Shootout. This largely removes the strategic element from the weekend, because without this rule the teams had to decide for themselves how they would get through two qualifying sessions and two races with twelve sets of tyres. In addition, it is a pity that the action on the track on Saturday has now been shortened to two times half an hour. The advantage is that drivers are now penalized less harshly for taking risks in the sprint race, even though there is only one point per position.’
Can Pérez do something against Verstappen on one of his best jobs? Or should Verstappen watch someone else?
Bart: ‘Sergio Pérez can certainly pose a threat to Verstappen. Pérez has proven in the past that he can be fast in Baku and race well on street circuits. Given the current dominance of Red Bull Racing, he is therefore Verstappen’s main competitor. However, the Dutchman will also have to keep an eye on Fernando Alonso, among others. The Spaniard is maturing like wine and only seems to get better. A victory will definitely be on his bucket list and a street circuit like Baku might offer the perfect conditions for Alonso to stunt.’
Wim: ‘In my opinion it is strange when people say that the Baku City Circuit is one of the best tracks in Pérez. In the races that have been driven, Verstappen has always done a lot better than his teammate, until he dropped out, and last year he won with great ease. The downside this time is that there is only one hour, if all goes well with no red flags, to properly set up the car. That means that the Red Bull just might not be at its best. In that case, half or more of the field immediately becomes a huge opponent. If it succeeds, we have the usual opponents. Given the speed on the straights that will be hugely decisive and looking back at previous races and developments announced, I expect Aston Martin, Mercedes and possibly Alpine in particular to be the main contenders to fight for podiums.
Mark: “I don’t think Pérez can keep up with Verstappen. Baku is indeed one of the best circuits in Pérez, but Verstappen has been faster in recent years. However, Baku is nicknamed The City of Winds, and if the drivers have headwinds on the straight, this combined with DRS can create a very strong slipstream, which can allow a slower driver to overtake a faster driver. traps. I do think that Pérez will be Verstappen’s main challenger, but also that he needs a chaotic final phase to have a serious chance of winning.”
What will be the top three in the race and why?
Bart: ‘Baku usually guarantees spectacle, so let’s hope for a nice race with perhaps a surprise winner. I’m going for Alonso, Verstappen, Pérez. Although Red Bull is the strongest team at the moment, I think Alonso will win the race. Although it may be very optimistic, I expect the two-time world champion to benefit from the battle between the two Red Bull drivers in a chaotic race. Verstappen will then win the battle for second place, as he simply has more quality than his teammate.’
Wim: ‘If setups go according to plan, I expect Verstappen to win both the sprint race and the main race, with Pérez in second place in the Sprint, but third in the main race. Alonso is the one who I think will claim the other two spots, so third in the Sprint, and second in the race on Sunday. It’s a feeling, but I think Alonso does better in a real, full race than on a shorter stretch, hence the division. However, he will not be faster than Verstappen, who is currently the best driver on the grid. Both Red Bull and Aston Martin are therefore beating the two teams, and both bring updates this weekend, with Red Bull still having the best car in every area, fast and slow corners plus straights, with Aston Martin sitting just below that . It is also not expected that the other teams will be able to pull all kinds of rabbits out of top hats to suddenly offer real resistance to Red Bull and Aston Martin. A possible scenario is that Alpine will be able to make it really difficult for Mercedes and Ferrari, partly due to their high straight-line speed, and the updates that the team brings.’
Mark: ‘I do expect Verstappen as the winner and Pérez as number two, but the fight for third place is more difficult to predict. Alonso finished on the podium every time, but the Aston Martin is short on top speed, so I don’t think Alonso will finish on the podium this time. For third place I bet on a surprising podium place for Pierre Gasly. Alpine performs quite well in terms of top speeds and the Frenchman also had a good pace in Australia. In addition, Alpine brings an upgrade to Baku that can help the team close the gap. Of course Gasly will also have to be lucky, but that is certainly possible in Azerbaijan.’
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