Red Bull principal Christian Horner feels his comments on the decision to host a sprint race at the Baku City Circuit have not been interpreted in the right way.
Formula 1 has upped the number of sprint events from three to six for F1 2023, and the first of those has now arrived with the Baku City Circuit, host of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, set to hold Formula 1 sprint action for the first time.
This is a venue which has become rather synonymous with drama, the street track featuring high speed and technical sections that leave very little margin for error, as several drivers found out during the only practice session of the race weekend on Friday.
Red Bull’s World Champion and 2023 Drivers’ Championship leader Max Verstappen has not shied away with his criticism of F1 sprints, and before Formula 1 arrived in Baku, Horner had labelled the decision to have this Baku sprint as the first of F1 2023 as “ludicrous”.
“From a cost cap perspective, all you can do is trash your car,” he added. “And it costs a lot of money around there.
“So you know one race is enough in Baku. The fact that we’ve got two, there could be, well, some action there.”
And speaking after FP1 in Baku, Horner felt the need to clarify the meaning of his words when Sky Sports F1 suggested that only he and Verstappen are the ones critical of the sprint concept.
“No, I think my comments have been taken a little bit out of context,” he claimed.
“Because what I said is it is completely mad to be doing a sprint race here at this circuit, probably one of the most dangerous on the calendar from a team’s point of view, because the jeopardy, the damage that potentially is there with another street race [Miami] next weekend…
“But, from a fan’s point of view, and from an action point of view, I mean, it’s going to be flat out racing all weekend here. So I think there’s going to be plenty of action and it’s going to be about trying to navigate your way through it as seamlessly as you can.”
Having just one hour of practice for the race weekend is uncharted territory for the Formula 1 teams and drivers, updates to the sprint weekend in time for Baku axing the unpopular FP2 session on a Saturday morning.
Now, that has been replaced by a shorter qualifying session for the sprint race, making it in effect its own entity now that traditional qualifying determines the starting order for the Grand Prix.
Horner then says the task at hand now before qualifying is to turn the FP1 data, as well as feedback from the drivers and engineers, into decisions with the cars then set in parc fermé conditions after qualifying.
“It was okay, we’ve got some data across two compounds of tyres, we’ve had a look at two variant of fuel load,” said Horner as he reflected on FP1.
“It’s now a matter of processing that data, because this is the last chance the engineers and drivers can introduce change before qualifying and then the cars are essentially locked down.”
Verstappen would top that FP1 session, though the margin over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was only 0.037s after a late flurry of laps on the soft compound tyres.