Baku hosting first sprint race of 2023 is ‘absolutely ludicrous’ according to Christian Horner

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Photo credits: Oracle Red Bul Racing

This week sees F1 return after its mini break in action following the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix. Racing resumes on the streets of Baku at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Formula 1’s sprint qualifying format also makes its first 2023 appearance at this time. This format will appear at 6 Grands Prix this season – compared to 3 last year. However, with so many circuits to choose from, Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner has said the decision to host a sprint qualifying this coming weekend in Azerbaijan is ‘absolutely ludicrous’. 

Red Bull Racing have won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix the last two years and are strong favourites for victory once more – even before the cars have graced the asphalt this year. This is as a result of the dominance seen early on from the Milton Keynes-based racing outfit’s 2023 challenger – RB19. 

However, it is not always smooth sailing for Red Bull Racing at this venue and can be a costly weekend due to its high speed nature potentially causing crashes and collisions with barriers.

Christian Horner no doubt remembers all too well the events of 2018. That year in Baku, on lap 40, teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were in a battle for P4 and crashed into each other when the former tried to make an overtake into Turn One. The incident was very costly for Red Bull Racing in more ways than one. As such, in the cost cap era, it was not a great surprise to hear Christian Horner criticise the decision to host a sprint race at Baku when he spoke on the matter at the Team Principals’ Press conference on the Friday of this year’s Australian Grand Prix weekend.

“The reality is it’s absolutely ludicrous to be doing the first sprint race of the year in a street race like Azerbaijan but I think from a spectacle point of view, from a fan point of view, is probably going to be one of the most exciting sprint races of the year.  

“From a cost gap perspective, all you can do is trash your car and it costs a lot of money around there. So, one race is enough in Baku. The fact that we’ve got two… yeah, there could well be some action there. But that’s part of the challenge and it’s part of the task that we’ve got,” said Horner.


After Baku, there are a further 5 sprint races to come this season – Austria, Belgium, Qatar, United States and Sao Paulo. With that in mind, Christian Horner also hoped that the format would be tweaked even further, as he explained to media in attendance in Melbourne. 

“Hopefully, we can tidy up the format for the sprint races coming up, they are a bit more dynamic. I know that the sporting director has been working hard on that and hopefully we can get that finalised so yeah, a sprint race in Azerbaijan is something to be certainly wary of.” 

Red Bull Racing was not the only team to share their thoughts on the choice of venue for the first sprint race of the season.  


McLaren’s Zak Brown said: “Baku creates some pretty exciting races and some big crash damage bills, same for everyone and it kind of is what it is. It’ll be very exciting for the fans and hopefully all the cars will come back the way they started.”  

Meanwhile, Aston Martin’s Team Principal Mike Krack shared similar concern stating: “There is certainly some nervousness about it but it’s the same for everybody. So, we try to keep the cars in one piece as long as we can.” 

What is obvious, is that the budget cap means that damages resulting from accidents will be far more costly than in previous seasons both on and off the track.

F1’s sprint qualifying format continues to divide opinion inside and outside of the paddock but certainly seems to be here to stay.  However, even without the sprint race, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix nearly always produces memorable moments and many overtaking opportunities.

Just how bold drivers are this coming Saturday in the full knowledge of the potential risk remains to be seen, as no driver wants to sacrifice their Sunday race day potential. Such a decision to do so would be – ludicrous!