Christian Horner hits out at ‘ludicrous’ Baku sprint race
Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, has criticised the decision to hold a sprint race in Baku next month, describing it as “absolutely ludicrous” from a cost-cap perspective as teams are bound to “trash” their cars in two races at the street circuit.
Formula One, however, is expected to adopt sprint races – or at least a variation of them – at far more meetings in the very near future, with chief executive Stefano Domenicali keen to liven up the offerings on a Friday.
Horner believes Azerbaijan could be a little too lively. “The reality is it’s absolutely ludicrous to be doing the first sprint race of the year in a street race like Azerbaijan,” he said ahead of qualifying for this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix. “But I think from a spectacle point of view, from a fan’s point of view, it’s probably going to be one of the most exciting sprint races of the year.
“From a cost-cap perspective, all you can do is trash your car. 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.”
Horner’s concerns were echoed by other team leaders. “As Christian said, anytime we go to a street circuit... Baku creates pretty exciting races, some pretty big crash damage bills,” McLaren chief executive Zak Brown said.
“[It’s] the same for everyone and it is what it is. It’ll be very exciting for the fans, and hopefully, all the cars will come back the way they started.”
Mike Krack, the Aston Martin team principal, conceded there was “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,” he added.
Sprint races currently involve qualifying on Friday, after one practice session, for a shortened sprint race on Saturday. The finishing positions in the sprint race determine the starting grid for Sunday’s main race.
Qualifying may soon determine grid
The speculation is that the format may be changed with Friday qualifying determining the grid for Sunday’s main race, and then a second qualifying session on Saturday for a stand-alone sprint race the same day, which again would be for reduced points. Domenicali is thought to support the idea, with teams and drivers broadly in agreement that F1 does not need so many free practice sessions with nothing hanging on them.
Mercedes’ George Russell said on Thursday that he liked the idea of getting into the real action earlier in the weekend. “I wasn’t in favour of the sprint races initially, but I really enjoy them and having action on a Friday is vital for all of us and also for the entertainment factor.”
Domenicali was a VIP at the MotoGP opener in Portugal last weekend, waving the chequered flag at the finish. MotoGP is doing a sprint race every Saturday this season.
New female category to be added to F1 weekend
The Italian, meanwhile, has announced that F1 Academy, the new all-female driver category aimed at developing young female drivers and preparing them to progress to higher levels, will be part of F1 weekends from next year.
The series, which is being run by Susie Wolff, is preparing for its inaugural season, with five teams – run by current F2 and F3 squads – each entering three drivers each for a 15-car grid across seven events and 21 races.
Only the season finale at the Circuit of the Americas is set to coincide with a F1 race this year.
Domenicali said holding the races on F1 weekends – as the all-female W Series did before it ran into financial difficulties last year – was important.
“That’s something we are really keen [on], that hopefully that will be the right boost for the series to grow," he told Sky Sports F1.
Organisers of W Series will likely raise eyebrows at Domenicali’s claim that F1 “took the leadership to try to do something, investing, believing that by creating attention to that project we can have, hopefully, as soon as we can, a girl, a woman, in F1”. But Wolff said F1 Academy – which holds its first race in Austria in late April – would give female drivers the best possible chance of making it to motorsport’s upper echelons.
“It’s great that the F1 Academy will be racing during F1 events next year and this highlights again the importance of the series to Stefano and the team at F1,” she said. “We are looking forward to getting the season under way in a few weeks’ time and while there is lots of work to do, we are forming a clear plan to build a project that really works for the future of female talent in motorsport.”