Perhaps one of Baku’s most forgettable weekends has come to an end, and with many still divided on the new sprint format, here are a few of my small takeaways from this sprint weekend.
We’ll start off with probably the most dramatic moment of the weekend that saw an unexpected confrontation between Verstappen and Russell, following their contract during the sprint race. Whilst the chat surrounding this incident may have been blow out of proportion I think it gave us a slight glimpse into one of the best possible rivalries that could be awaiting us in the future. Last year we got to see Leclerc v Verstappen for the first half of the season and there was a clear difference in the way that they battled each other compared to 2021, in my opinion this is largely due to Leclerc’s driving style as I don’t think he shares the same aggressive driving style as Verstappen. On the other hand, Russell possesses a more ruthless driving style and mentality that is much closer to what we’ve seen from Verstappen during his title fights, we’ve seen this style of driving over step the mark a few times from both drivers but considering their responses to the incident it looks as though this one won’t be forgotten any time soon, as least from Max’s side. It’s no secret that Redbull are in a league of their own this year, but if Mercedes are able to get their car back on track in the next few seasons, I suspect that a title fight between these two drivers could go down as one for the ages as both are just relentless on track with neither wanting to concede, leading to explosive battles and tension that carries over off track as we saw this weekend. Bearing in mind that the conflict this weekend was over a few points that were relatively non-consequential, who knows the what would happen if it were a championship on the line.
Heading into this weekend, drivers such as Verstappen has made their opinions on the new sprint format very clear and doubled down over the course of the weekend stating that Formula 1 should “scrap the whole thing”, this reaction seems to have divided a lot of people but there were other drivers who also adopted this sentiment with Albon noting that it’s essentially pointless for anyone outside of the top 4 teams. I was all for the sprint races as it provides us with more action, and I think most people would argue that it easily provides more entertainment than watching two practice sessions, but after this weekend I think my mind might have been changed. It’s not necessarily the race that we saw that has changed my mind but more so the fact that when looking at what would make an enjoyable sprint race we have to rely on external factors such as weather, incidents etc. to shake up the order which cannot be guaranteed for each race. The sprint this weekend gave us a preview of what would happen on the Sunday and when looking at the race results for the sprint and the Grand Prix there are no surprises in the eventual outcome. The Sao Paolo sprint race in 2021 stands out in my mind as one of the best sprint races but when looking at what made that race so good it was due to Hamilton having to start from the back as well as having that extra jeopardy of there being a close title fight that season. There is no doubt that the sprint weekend has potential but it will have to be tweaked moving forward as this new format has received a lukewarm reception from drivers and fans alike, turning what should’ve been a thrilling sprint weekend into a disappointing Grand Prix that under delivered.
The final point that I thought would be worth mentioning is the uptick in form that we’ve seen from Yuki Tsunoda this year. It’s only been 4 races but in comparison to the nightmare start that his teammate has had, Tsunoda seems to be pushing that car to the limit and getting the most that he can out of every race. Baku is a real test of a driver’s skill as you are entrapped by walls at every corner and we saw a few drivers go beyond their limit this weekend but Yuki put on an impressive display, only being hindered by the misfortune of those around him. I think that his performances have flown under the radar this year and Baku has helped to shine a light on how far ahead he is of his teammate as he managed to bag the final point in the Grand Prix whilst De Vries has to retire following his contact with the wall. The Alpha Tauri has taken a significant step down in performance since these new regulations were introduced but Tsunoda’s performances seem to be carrying the team into the points somehow, demonstrating why he deserves to remain in F1 beyond 2023.