Fernando Alonso has warned Aston Martin have “only things to lose” as Formula 1 gears up for the first sprint race weekend of the 2023 championship.
This season Azerbaijan plays host to F1’s first sprint race weekend but the format has been tweaked with Saturday’s running a standalone event with sprint qualifying in the morning, called sprint shootout, and the race in the afternoon.
The powers-that-think hope it will mean more action in the sprint race as the drivers have nothing to lose as it won’t set the grid for Sunday’s race, that will be decided in Friday’s qualifying.
But, according to Alonso, any change to a format means those in the top cars have “only things to lose”.
“It’s very easy to make a mistake,” said the Aston Martin driver, who goes into the Baku weekend chasing his fourth successive podium finish.
“I think at the end in Q3, we all got the practice and we will all optimise the lap. But in Q1 if you brake late or whatever and you crash, especially here in Baku with no room for mistakes, you will look terribly bad.
“So I think this weekend, there is an opportunity to have a big mistake, not a big opportunity. So we need to avoid that.
“When you have a competitive car, there are only things to lose in a different format or in a wet race or wet qualifying or whatever, there are only things to lose. So that’s the difficulty of the difference that I find now compared to the previous years.”
But while Alonso has a lot to lose, so too do runaway championship leaders Red Bull.
The Milton Keynes squad has won every race this season, building up a 58-point lead in the Constructors’ Championship, with rivals conceding they may not win a race this season unless Red Bull run into trouble.
That, Alonso says, may yet happen in Baku.
But he acknowledges in order to take advantage of the situation if that happens, he needs to stay out of trouble.
“I don’t see much of an opportunity of taking advantage of it or capitalising on something unless Red Bull does some mistake,” said the double World Champion. “So it’s a weekend of avoiding the mistakes, not a weekend of making something special.
“So that’s something that we need to approach in a very cautious manner.
“Here we have our low downforce wing at the back of the car trying to chase a bit more top speed but we don’t know if that’s enough or not to keep with the top teams.
“But I think there’s going to be an interesting part of the season now but we are aware that if we are sixth and seventh on one of the weekends, we have to take it and this is maybe more our natural position.
“But we will not give up of our hope of try to keep challenging Red Bull especially and try to win a race one day.”