Horner fears 'ludicrous' crash damage risk in Baku sprint

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It might still be a month away, but Red Bull team principal Christian Horner's sights are already set on the first sprint race of the year in Azerbaijan at the end of April.

It's the first of six sprint races on this year's calendar, but Horner thinks the choice of Baku to host a Saturday sprint is a big mistake because of the risk of a major accident on a tight and twisty street circuit

“The reality is it's absolutely ludicrous to be doing the first sprint race of the year in a street race like Azerbaijan,” Horner told the media in Melbourne on Friday.

Horner explained that teams were still working flat-out on building up a reserve supply of spare parts for their new cars, as well as working on extensive upgrade packages, and can ill-afford writing off components at this stage.

“From a cost cap perspective all you can do is trash your car, and it costs a lot of money around there," he complained. “But that's part of the challenge and it's part of the task that we've got.

"A sprint race in Azerbaijan is something to be certainly wary of," he added, while acknowledging that it was something that could make for an exciting weekend from a fan perspective.

(L to R): Mike Krack (LUX) Aston Martin F1 Team, Team Principal; Zak Brown (USA) McLaren Executive Director; Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal; and Tom Clarkson (GBR) Journalist, in the FIA Press Conference 31.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Practice Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

"One race is enough in Baku. The fact that we've got two, there could well be some action there," he said. "From a spectacle point of view - from a fan point of view - it's probably going to be one of the most exciting sprint races of the year."

Horner was not alone in voicing his concerns about a Baku sprint. "Baku creates some pretty exciting races and some big crash damage bills,” noted McLaren CEO Zak Brown in Friday's official FIA press conference.

“Certainly there's some nervousness about it,” Aston Martin boss Mike Krack said. “But it's the same for everybody, so we'll try to keep the cars in one piece as long as we can.”

“It does seem that Baku always produces interesting racing,” said Alpine’s Otmar Szafnauer. “And yes, there's more jeopardy because it's a street race and some of the walls are pretty close."

“I think we know enough about sprint events that we know how to get prepared," countered Guenther Steiner. "I think everybody is leaving a little bit of a margin there knowing that some of these races could be tough for the budget.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB18 in the pits. 11.06.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 8, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku Street Circuit, Azerbaijan, Qualifying Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

“Baku always creates something unexpected - hopefully we're not involved in the unexpected and come back safe without damage and with points," the Haas principal added.

Horner also pointed out that Formula 1 is still conducting talks about possible changes to the sprint race weekend format with suggestions that the sprint race and the Grand Prix could have their own individual qualifying sessions.

"Hopefully we can tidy up the format for the sprint races coming up, that they are bit more more dynamic," Horner contributed. “I know the sporting directors have been working hard on that, hopefully we can get it finalised."

At the last F1 Commission, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali proposed that Friday's current FP1 session could be followed by a qualifying session for Sunday's main race.

Saturday morning's currently largely irrelevant FP2 session would then be replaced by qualifying for that afternoon's sprint. But an alternative idea could see sprint qualifying on Friday and race qualifying on Saturday instead.

Either way will entail major changes to the current sporting regulations, with time running out for all the interested parties to reach agreement. With Easter approaching, team officials also plan to be on holiday.

Changing the race weekend format would also involve different tyre allocations for the teams- and Pirelli has already dispatched all the tyres for Baku.

"In Baku we are talking about having a second qualifying," Steiner commented. "We don't know how we do it and if we do it.

"I think we need to take it step-by-step, get over this hurdle of how we can do a second qualifying on the weekend in the sprint events, and then maybe go the next step.

"I don't think we have to sort out everything in one shot now all of a sudden, not doing free practice sessions."

If the new format can't be hammered out in time for Baku then it might all have to be deferred until the next sprint race weekend in Austria at the start of July.

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