Formula One 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 said 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.
Perez has much 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.