F1 is coming off a month long break and return with the race in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. F2 is in Baku as well, so there is plenty to preview.
During the extended break Mercedes spent a ton of time working on their cars hoping to make them more competitive with the Red Bull team. Lewis Hamilton found himself on the podium in the last race, but admitted he still wasn’t comfortable with the car. Not much is knows as to how well the adjustments will translate to the track, so the Friday practice is incredibly important, especially given it is the only practice before qualifying since it is a weekend that features a sprint race.
Speaking of the sprint race, that entire process has been reworked for this season, as there will be a separate qualifying specifically for the sprint and the sprint race itself will no longer impact the Sunday grid. That Sunday grid will still be determined via traditional qualifying on Friday following FP1, but now Saturday will be a sprint only day, with qualifying and the race both taking place Saturday. Qualifying will also be an abbreviated version, as SQ1-3 will now be 12 minutes, 10 minutes, and eight minutes while the point structure remains the same. This also means the only practice all weekend will be FP1, which is big in general, but even bigger this week given the month off and so many adjustments to the cars it seems all the teams have made.
Introducing… Sprint Saturday ✨
🗓️ All-new weekend format
👀 Saturday’s Sprint sessions do not affect the Grand Prix
⏱️ Friday’s qualifying sets Sunday’s grid
🆕 New Sprint Shootout qualifying session
The first Sprint Saturday is only four days away! 📅#F1Sprint pic.twitter.com/vPq9kYuyH4
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 25, 2023
Last year Max Verstappen ran away from the rest of the field, beating teammate Sergio Perez by more than 20 seconds, while George Russell also found himself on the podium despite being almost 46 seconds behind Verstappen. Both Ferraris found themselves with a DNF due to mechanical issues, with Charles Leclerc actually leading the race at the time of his car troubles. So, what can we expect this year? My predicted podium is Verstappen-Perez-Fernando Alonso.
I fully anticipate the Red Bulls to have a great weekend just as they did a season ago as their speed on the straights is simply unmatched this season and it is a track that plays right into their favor. Perez had a miserable qualifying in Australia, but drove incredibly well working himself all the way up to fifth despite starting the race in the pit lane. Alonso has seemed reinvigorated this season and is off to a fantastic start, and I expect that to continue.
Logan Sargeant and Nyck de Vries are the only two drivers still with a zero in the points column, but I think that ends for one of them this weekend. Williams racing has followed the lead of Red Bull and Aston Martin in going to new “super-drilled” brakes. While these were on the cars in Australia and neither Williams car reached the checkered flag, there were some positive takeaways and another month to fine tune should result in at least a point this weekend.
Meanwhile, on the F2 side, I expect to see a podium featuring points leader Ayuma Iwasa to win again but he won’t extend his lead in the driver championship by too much as Theo Pourchaire is my prediction to come through in second, while I think this is the weekend Jak Crawford gets his first podium in a feature race.
Follow the leader, leader, leader 🎶#F2 #RoadToF1 pic.twitter.com/rMxzaDqLbq
— Formula 2 (@Formula2) April 22, 2023
In racing news not tied to this weekend’s race, the F1 Academy, F1’s women’s only circuit, had their preseason testing days, two in Barcelona, Spain and two in Le Castellet, France. They are scheduled to have seven race weekends this season, with three races on each weekend. The only race weekend for the F1 Academy that will be a support race for a F1 weekend is the final Academy race of the season at the Circuit of the Americas in October. They will have their inaugural race weekend this week at the Red Bull Ring.
Our weekend format… Explained! 🔍
Here’s everything you need to know about how each F1 Academy round will run this season! 👀#F1Academy pic.twitter.com/2SFY0T5t7F
— F1 Academy (@f1academy) February 23, 2023
Coming out of testing the clear favorite is PREMA Racing’s Marta Garcia as she had one of the top two fastest laps in five of the seven practices, and a top three fastest lap in six of the seven practices in France. Her biggest competition will likely come from Rodin Carlin’s Abbi Pulling, who put in the fastest lap in four of the seven sessions, two more than Garcia and finished second to Garcia in another. The only other driver to put in a fastest lap in France was MP Motorsport’s Hamda Al Qubaisi. The season kicks off in Austria with two free practices and two qualifying sessions