F1 Azerbaijan Notebook: Miami, Here We Come!
Azerbaijan gets an extension, when will AlphaTauri’s new boss start, and there’s a Bear(man) on the loose.
Autoweek rounds up news and notes from another 1-2 race finish for Red Bull in its Azerbaijan GP notebook.
Miami Gearing Up for Sophomore Event
Formula 1 had been without a race in four weeks but the paddock has packed up and is heading straight to Miami. It will be the second event for the Miami International Autodrome, after its 2022 debut, and is the first of three U.S. stops for Formula 1 in 2023.
The layout of the MIA has not been altered since its debut, bar minor revisions to the Turn 14-15 chicane, though the entirety of the track has been repaved after drivers complained about its slippery off-line surface in 2022.
The sun is setting on another day of #MiamiGP prep 🌞
Up next, RACE WEEK! 🏎️🌴 pic.twitter.com/4lx0YQXL5z
— F1 Miami Grand Prix (@f1miami) May 1, 2023
Elsewhere, a permanent three-story building has been constructed atop the existing pit garages, after last year’s temporary solution, with a rooftop viewing deck that extends into the Hard Rock Stadium. The football field will also now house Formula 1’s paddock, with the team hospitality units that last year were placed behind the pit building now relocated there.
Fans with general campus passes will be able to look down on the paddock from the 300 level of the Hard Rock Stadium. Miami organizers have also expanded grandstand capacity to over 55,000 and have installed elevated viewing platforms between Turns 8 and 10. More shaded seating has been added in the expanded F1 Fan Zone, along with more water stations, while all pedestrian bridges have been doubled in order to facilitate a better flow of spectators.
Mekies’ AlphaTauri Start Date Still Undetermined
Ferrari has yet to decide when team sporting director Laurent Mekies is allowed to leave the team for AlphaTauri. Mekies was announced last Wednesday as AlphaTauri’s new Team Principal after Franz Tost steps down at the end of 2023—but his start date remains unknown.
Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur was aware of Mekies’ departure but suggested AlphaTauri was “a bit aggressive” in publicizing the move. Tost, who has been considering retirement for a couple of years, explained that AlphaTauri wanted everything out in the open after a couple of leaks to the media. He did not want to have to tell “useless lies” when asked by journalists about his own future.
Mekies was present as usual with Ferrari in Azerbaijan and is expected to continue in his current role in the short-term. Vasseur and Mekies have a strong relationship but Vasseur outlined that “we have a long-term contract [with Laurent] and we have to discuss the details.”
Mekies is the latest senior Ferrari figure to depart, following the resignation last November of ex-team boss Mattia Binotto, and the exit a few weeks ago of head of vehicle concept David Sanchez, who will join McLaren in 2024. Vasseur dismissed concerns regarding high-profile departures.
“To lose two persons in an organization with more than 1000 people is not a drama and the power of the team is always more important than the power of the individuals,” he said.
Azerbaijan, F1 Extend Deal in 2026
Azerbaijan will remain on Formula 1’s schedule through at least 2026 after a three-year extension was signed.
Azerbaijan joined the calendar in 2016 with a six-kilometer circuit mapped out around the streets of capital city Baku. The new promoter of the event had indicated earlier in the year that Azerbaijan wanted to remain on the schedule and that has now been ratified. A date for next season’s event has not yet been decided. It is understood Formula 1 wants to pair Baku with a far more geographically logical partner than in recent years, with Baku having been back-to-back with Canada last year, and back-to-back with Miami this season.
Baku is one of F1’s lesser attended events but its grandstands were sold out this year in spite of the ongoing difficulties of the Russian market, with organizers outlining over 100 different nationalities acquired tickets. Azerbaijan’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Farid Gayibov, described “the economic, social and cultural impact (of Formula 1) on Baku” as “remarkable”, with the grand prix the country’s most high-profile sports event.
Oliver Bearman Roars to Success in F2
There was an eye-catching display in Formula 2 as rookie Oliver Bearman swept the weekend’s races.
Ferrari junior driver Bearman, still only 17, showed flashes of speed through the opening trio of events but converted that into tangible results in Baku—on his first visit to the daunting street track.
Bearman clipped the wall in qualifying, leaving his steering bent, yet still claimed pole position. From ninth in the reversed-grid Sprint Race Bearman avoided the chaos that unfolded ahead and passed Mercedes-backed Fred Vesti for the lead shortly before the Safety Car neutralized proceedings.
HISTORY. MADE. 🏆@OllieBearman becomes the first driver to top every session of an #F2 race weekend! 🥇🥇🥇🥇
Extraordinary from the 17-year-old rookie 🤯#AzerbaijanGP #RoadToF1 pic.twitter.com/9nz6jCIKWS
— Formula 2 (@Formula2) April 30, 2023
In the main Feature Race, Bearman managed proceedings from pole to pick up victory, vaulting himself into title contention, in the process becoming the youngest driver to "do the double" under Formula 2’s current format.
“The team gave me an amazing car this weekend, we can be really proud, and it gives me a lot of confidence heading into the next races,” said Bearman.
Given his Baku results, allied to speed shown at previous events, not to mention his youth and Ferrari connection, keep an eye on this Briton.
Sauber-supported Théo Pourchaire, 19, leads the championship on 65 points, three ahead of Vesti. Formula 2—which is not in Miami—will return for three events in three weekends alongside Formula 1 in Emilia Romagna, Monaco and Spain.
F1 Academy Kicks Off
The new-for-2023 F1 Academy series held its first of seven rounds in Austria last weekend. The single-spec series was created to help develop and prepare female drivers for higher levels of motorsport competition. It basically replaces the W Series, which suspended operations last season.
The series, supported by Formula 1 and run by the Formula Motorsport company that also arranges Formula 2 and Formula 3, has been structured specifically to maximize track time—both in terms of racing and testing—while also providing the youngsters with technical, physical and mental preparation.
Marta Garcia won two of the three races while the reverse-grid encounter was controlled by Amna Al Qubaisi. The series will continue in Valencia this weekend. The final event will take place alongside F1 at Austin’s U.S. Grand Prix in October, with the current intention for the category to support F1 at more events in 2024, along with full-scale live TV coverage.