Formula 1 had a mixed weekend in Baku, with plenty of thrills and spills across three days of meaningful action (imagine that) but a race that some fans felt embodied all the negatives of modern F1.
With four competitive sessions (and carnage in Formula 2) there was always going to plenty of standout results for better or worse, while the jury still seems out on the new sprint format – unless you ask Max Verstappen.
Ahead of looking at the winners and losers of the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, it’s worth mentioning McLaren who were unlucky to miss out as they looked much improved and scored points while Oscar Piastri put in a very valiant weekend fighting illness.
Winner: Sergio Perez
Team boss Christian Horner crowned Perez the ‘street track king’ after the race and on current form it’s hard to argue with that as he beat Verstappen in three out of four meaningful sessions in Baku.
Yes, there’s always been a hint of good fortune for his urban victories, but today he really did still have it all to do after taking an early lead.
When Verstappen streaked past Charles Leclerc on the safety car it looked like Perez‘s days at the front were numbered, but the way he immediately pulled his gap out to over a second was mighty impressive.
He had less to do in the sprint race – just surviving behind Leclerc until he could unleash Red Bull‘s overtaking (totally legal) cheat code that is their DRS system – but still had to beat Verstappen in qualifying get that move for the lead done quickly.
Loser: Max Verstappen
Call it dull or predictable if you want, but there’s one very obvious storyline coming out of Baku this weekend and it’d be silly to ignore it.
Between the concept of sprint races, George Russell and Red Bull‘s grand prix, Verstappen didn’t seem happy for a single second in Azerbaijan and leaves with his championship lead slimmed to just six points ahead of yet another street track next week.
Usually he’d channel that anger into producing a legendary victory to prove the doubters wrong – and he certainly seemed to have the bit between his teeth at the safety car restart – but Perez always looked in control against his teammate.
Seeing him lose that duel with Russell and fail to pass Leclerc in the sprint was pretty surprising, though it’s important not to overreact to one average weekend for any driver.
Regardless, Verstappen is a driver who speaks his mind and for some that’s part of his charm, but there’s been more talk about his off-track comments than ever recently and he had the perfect opportunity to end that discourse in Baku, and missed it.
Winner: Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Maybe an unpopular selection given the chilly reception the grand prix has had with fans, off-track this weekend couldn’t have gone any better for Baku officials.
The track hosted a sellout crowd and Baku was able to lock up a contract extension until 2026.
That bumps it ahead of Spa, Silverstone, Monaco, Imola, Zandvoort, Monza in a perennially short-term European leg – and Suzuka, Mexico City, Sao Paulo and China too.
Winner: Yuki Tsunoda
Tsunoda picked up his and AlphaTauri‘s second points finish of the season on the back of a stunning qualifying performance to not only reach Q3, but beat two drivers in that final session.
His Saturday was nothing to write home about but he did everything that could’ve been expected of him in the grand prix, biding his time behind Lando Norris and Nico Hulkenberg before pouncing when the German’s tyres finally gave up.
It’s going to be difficult to evaluate Tsunoda all season given the ambiguity around his teammate’s performance level – but in a prove-it third year in F1 the minimum he has to do is be the team leader and he’s managing that so far.
Loser: George Russell
Qualifying was what it was, Mercedes clearly didn’t have the one-lap pace on Friday and Russell was desperately unlucky to miss out on Q3 by just 0.004 seconds from Lewis Hamilton.
He bounced back well on Saturday, holding his own against Verstappen and drawing the ire of the Dutchman but it’ll be the raceday that frustrates Russell the most.
Starting 11th he made steady progress up the field and caught a huge break with the safety car timing, so how did he still finish behind Hamilton?
Put simply, Hamilton just seemed more up for it, he rampaged up the field after that stoppage and posted a hair-raising overtake on the inside of a Russell who was already covering the inside. And to add insult to injury, he failed to pass a stricken Lance Stroll for 30 laps.
Team principal Fred Vasseur battling back pain all weekend embodied what was a dogged and ultimately morale-boosting weekend for Ferrari.
It was clear from qualifying that Leclerc was dialled into the track, he’s usually gone well at Baku and though Verstappen was carrying damage in the sprint it was still an impressive feat by Leclerc to keep him behind.
Things were never comfortable in the grand prix as it felt like there was never a point where neither driver was under pressure, but they held their own against Fernando Alonso and Hamilton to halve their constructors’ championship to Mercedes.
That didn’t stop the team catching strays from Alonso in the post-race press conference though…
Loser: Nyck de Vries
I waited until last to write this because it’s never easy to bag on a driver who just had a rubbish weekend.
But whatever De Vries is doing right now, it’s just not cutting the mustard. He seems to be losing confidence in the car, replacing that with frustration.
The results speak for themselves and neither of his crashes were particularly pretty, while Verstappen probably isn’t too pleased with how De Vries affected his race either.
Miami could be another tough one but with Monaco coming up after Imola, De Vries desperately needs to get some feel for the car and quickly.
Winner: Oliver Bearman
It’d been a tough start to the F2 season for Bearman with four pointless finishes and a best result of seventh, but he turned it around in style in Baku.
He rode out all the chaos of the sprint before completing an almost flawless feature race victory and in doing so managed a feat that no one, including the greats Leclerc, Russell or Piastri have managed – score just one point off a perfect weekend.
The way he scythed through the field in the sprint was just masterful and though he got some good fortune with the safety car timing right at the end, he’d earned it with the way he clinically set up his move on Frederik Vesti throughout the first sector.
Loser: F1 safety
What was going on here then? There’s been way too many of these near misses over the past four seasons – Stroll and the marshall at Imola, Leclerc‘s seatbelt in Spa and the Turkish recovery vehicle in 2020, and more recovery vehicles on track at Monza and Suzuka in 2022.
But this one might just be the worst, just a complete heart-in-mouth moment as Esteban Ocon bore down at high speed on dozens of photographers, that he could only see seconds before reaching them.
It’s a minor miracle no one was hurt and hopefully F1 and the FIA will follow Ocon‘s advice and rethink the post-race parc ferme procedure to avoid anything like this happening again.