Formula 1’s April break is coming to an end, with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix from Baku taking place this weekend.
Max Verstappen prevailed in the race last year with Charles Leclerc suffering an engine failure while looking to be on course for the race win.
But what are the key questions and main talking points ahead of this year’s event?
How will the new format play out?
F1 is once again shaking up the weekend format for the upcoming event, with the sprint schedule going through further changes. Two separate qualifying sessions will decide the grid for the sprint and grand prix, while there will be just 60 minutes of practice to allow the drivers and teams to get up to speed.
Tension will be high and mistakes will be costly, but it is set to inject further excitement and unpredictability into the race weekend. Drivers may now be enticed to race harder in the sprint knowing it won’t impact their starting position in Sunday’s race (provided they aren’t issued a grid penalty for an incident).
Should it prove to be a success and favourable with the fans and drivers, it will likely be commonplace at more events in 2024.
Will McLaren make a leap forward?
McLaren missed development targets with its 2023 car and as a result, started the campaign off the pace of where it was hoping to be.
It has long been looking to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix to bring its first major upgrades of the year, which it hopes will provide it with a step forward and allow it to continue the momentum it gained by finishing in the points last time out in Melbourne.
Although the team has downplayed the impact of the upgrade, Baku offers McLaren a chance to change the narrative and showcase it is progressing rather than face continued questions about its difficult start to the year.
Can anyone stop Red Bull?
Red Bull appears unstoppable at the moment. Although it has faced gremlins in the opening rounds, it has overcome them through the sheer pace of the RB19 which has delivered a trio of wins to start the 2023 campaign.
The team has won the last two grands prix at Baku, and its straight-line deficit in 2023, particularly in DRS zones, will only serve it well when it comes to this weekend’s event.
Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes are all unable to keep up with the Milton Keynes-based squad as it stands, meaning something unfortunate may have to befall Red Bull for one of the teams to capitalise. But Baku has traditionally thrown up surprises…
Will Ferrari turn around its fortunes?
Ferrari was hopeful that its return to the top step of the podium in 2022 would further translate to a serious championship push the following year.
However, that has so far failed to suffice with Red Bull being the class of the field and Ferrari enduring a nightmare start. Charles Leclerc has retired at two of the opening three races, and like team-mate Carlos Sainz, is yet to make it onto the podium.
With wins seemingly not yet on the radar, a top-three result must be its goal as it looks to shake off a miserable opening trio of races. And with Baku being a track that conjures chaos and the unpredictability of a new weekend format in play, it could play into the Scuderia’s hands.
Will Alonso’s hot streak continue?
Fernando Alonso’s move to Aston Martin was heavily questioned when it was confirmed last year that he would be departing Alpine, but now, it is shaping up to be one of his smartest career decisions.
A trio of podiums to start the year has played out like a dream for the Spaniard, who has found himself in the most competitive F1 machinery he has had for several years.
Full of confidence, experience and raw speed that hasn’t escaped despite his age, the ever-competitive Alonso will no doubt be targeting the higher steps on the podium. Could Baku be the weekend when he brings an end to his 10-year F1 win drought?