Mike on... the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Team Principal Mike Krack discusses a month between races, Formula One's new Sprint format, and keeping it simple this weekend.
It's unusual for modern F1 to feature an early season break, but the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix created a gap, and the Australian Grand Prix now seems a long time ago. It presented an opportunity to take stock and make plans because there won't be much time for anything as the calendar now speeds up to a blur. Ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying, Team Principal Mike Krack muses, first shared with I / AM members, on the potential for the gap to interrupt the natural rhythm of the season, the consequences of an all-new Sprint format to be debuted this weekend, and more.
This is Mike on…
"I think, overall, most of us would have preferred to keep racing. We had three ‘standard' standalone races, then this three-week gap and now we go straight into a long-haul double-header. It will affect the rhythm a little bit this weekend. On the other hand, people managed to take a few days off around Easter, which is welcome.
"Do we potentially lose some momentum when there is a gap like this? Perhaps – though it shouldn't have any noticeable impact. Inevitably, the hiatus is an opportunity to take stock. It's a chance to reflect on the first three races, see where we did a good job, analyse things that went wrong and carefully consider our future upgrade path based on what we've learned so far."
Lance's road to recovery
"The break will have benefitted Lance, giving him more time to fully recover from the injuries he sustained pre-season. The fighting spirit he has shown in the first three races has been incredible, but there's so much more away from the track that a lot of people haven't seen. His level of determination is fantastic, and he's been doing everything he can to accelerate the recovery process, leaving no stone unturned ahead of Baku. It's a track where he scored his first F1 podium and where he has performed very well in the past."
"The break also gave me the chance to spend some time with my family. We had planned to go karting, but the wet weather put the brakes on that! It didn't, however, stop me from taking the opportunity to watch the Champions League quarter-final clash between Manchester City and Bayern Munich!
"While I don't support a particular team, I'm a big fan of high-level, professional football. It was fascinating to watch two high-performing teams go head-to-head and the approaches of their respective managers. I'm always interested to see if there are any management styles and techniques that can be applied in the world of F1.
"How much I was able to glean from Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel from up in the stands, I'm not sure – but there are a lot of similarities between the role of a Team Principal and a professional football manager. Both must get the best out of a team of highly talented and skilled people and both are always in the spotlight, although a Team Principal slightly less so – thankfully."
Refreshing the format
"The big news this weekend is the revised format for the Sprint. F1 has to keep evolving, and I was at the meeting in Geneva on Tuesday where the last details were finalised around tyre usage and engine life. I think by making it a standalone Sprint, which has no bearing on the starting order for the Grand Prix, and introducing the Shootout, you maintain more of F1's DNA.
"This format allows the drivers to race properly, without the caution imposed by fear for their grid position. Obviously, you have to be careful that you still have a car for the following day – but that would be true in any case. What we have now is a programme that can produce suspense on all three days, that gets us away from discussions about things like reverse grids, which I think have no place here."
Our approach to the Sprint
"The message I've been relaying all week is that we should keep it simple. Particularly this weekend, I think there's a lot to lose by trying to be too clever. With just the one practice session, there's no time to be innovative, the key this weekend is to avoid mistakes and get both cars to the finish.
"In Baku, that's not always a straightforward proposition but if both cars cross the line in both the Sprint and the Grand Prix, we should score points. There's a bit of luck involved – this is a circuit where you can be unlucky with flags, tyres, Safety Cars and so on – but for the parts that don't rely on luck, we must make sure we don't overcomplicate things."
The challenges of FP1
"One consequence of the new format is dropping the second free practice session. It wasn't really loved by anyone interested in the show, but it was important for engineers who used it to do a lot of race learning. Its removal adds a complication to the weekend and puts more emphasis on Friday's single practice session which will now be very busy.
"In addition to finalising things like downforce level and ride height, almost the entire track in Baku has been resurfaced for this year. We don't have much information about the level of grip, or how smooth the new surface will be. That's a huge, huge extra element to study. Ticking all these boxes in an hour will be a challenge."
Not losing our way
"In line with the concept of keeping things simple, and because FP1 is going to be very busy, we've deliberately kept the upgrade list very short for this weekend. Having had such a long gap between races, this would otherwise be a prime opportunity to introduce upgrades – but without enough time to really test them, it would be very easy to lose our way.
"There will be some new items, but we've had to carefully consider what is important for this weekend and what we can live without until later. Fortunately, we have a team of very experienced people who, in my opinion, have made good calls over the last week regarding what we do and don't take to Azerbaijan."
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