Verstappen ponders F1 future ahead of chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Formula 1 is braced for chaos on the streets of Baku this weekend while world champion Max Verstappen mulls a change.
Double world champion Max Verstappen raised doubts about his future in Formula 1 after his Red Bull contract runs out in 2028.
The 25-year-old Red Bull driver is leading Mexican teammate Sergio Perez in the championship after winning two of three races in 2023 and could clinch a third title with plenty to spare.
This weekend in Azerbaijan sees the first of six sprint races in the 23-round season, with the Saturday 100km dash now a standalone event with its own qualifying and unconnected to Sunday’s main race.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Max Verstappen starts season with win in Bahrain for Red Bull one-two
Next year there will likely be a record 24 races, with China set to return after a four-year break due to Covid-19.
Verstappen is not a big fan of sprints and thought carefully when asked by reporters in Baku about the new format and expanding schedule.
“If we keep expanding the calendar and the whole weekend is that long, at one point you question yourself ‘is it worth it?’,” said the Dutch driver.
“I do like racing, I do like winning. I know that of course the salary and everything, you have a good life, but is it actually a good life?
“I think sometimes you get to a point in your career where maybe you want to do other stuff.
“I know that I have a contract until the end of 2028, and then we’ll review again. But I do feel that if it’s getting at one point, too much, then it’s time for a change.”
Not chasing records
Verstappen accepted it might seem odd to those on the outside, who just saw the wealth and the winning, but he was not interested in equalling or beating Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton’s record seven titles.
“I want to do other things, other competitions. A bit like Fernando (Alonso) did,” he said.
Alonso, a double F1 world champion, is also a two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and has taken part in the Indianapolis 500.
The Spaniard, now 41, is chasing his fourth successive podium with Aston Martin in Baku this weekend.
Braced for chaos
Meanwhile, Formula 1 is braced for chaos on the streets of Baku this weekend as Azerbaijan hosts the first sprint race of the season and kicks off a run of five grands prix in six weeks.
After a long April break due to the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix, racing resumes with the sprint recast as a standalone event and a qualifying session replacing final practice.
The change should allow drivers to race for points on Saturday, knowing the outcome will not affect where they line up on Sunday.
Despite teams voting unanimously in favour, the new format could backfire on such a tricky city circuit where speeds are high and the walls and fences leave no room for error.
The track has seen plenty of crashes since its debut on the calendar in 2016.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous to be doing the first sprint race of the year in a street race like Azerbaijan,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner told reporters at the previous race in Australia.
“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.
“From a cost cap perspective, all you can do is trash your car and it costs a lot of money around there.”
Haas boss Guenther Steiner, whose team operate on a tight budget and count the cost of every crash, agreed there could be ‘carnage’.
“The chances are high. We all know that,” he told Reuters.
“Hopefully we are not the unlucky ones… because now with the budget cap if you have damage that will have an influence on your season because you have got less to spend on developments on the car.”
Williams boss James Vowles said the tight and twisty castle section in the old town was “going to cause a little bit of mayhem”.
Champions Red Bull have won all three races so far this season, twice one-two, and start as favourites while Fernando Alonso chases his fourth podium in a row with Aston Martin.
Baku has yet to witness a repeat winner but that looks likely to end with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez both past winners of the race and their car in a league of its own.
Mexican Perez has the best record with victory in 2021, second in 2022 and third in 2016 and 2018. Verstappen won last year.
Mercedes, with seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton still chasing his first win since 2021, are the only others to have won in Baku.
Chief technical officer James Allison returns to his role of technical director, swapping jobs with Mike Elliott, with the former champions ramping up car development.
Several other teams will also bring upgrades, and plenty of spares.
“We are bringing a new floor to Baku amongst some other aerodynamic and mechanical items,” said Alpine technical director Matt Harman.
“We then have further development at the following race in Miami and something further for Imola after that.” Reuters/DM