With Formula 1 taking an early-season break with a four-week gap until Azerbaijan, some of the drivers and teams will be relieved to have a chance to regroup.
Following the race in Melbourne, F1 takes an early-season breather with a four-week gap until the next race, which will be held on the streets of Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku.
The reason for the gap is that the Chinese Grand Prix, which was scheduled for 16 April, was cancelled due to ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic in Shanghai, with strict protocols remaining in place in the region.
While talks were held to weigh up a replacement race for the slot, an agreement with an alternative venue was not reached.
Unlike the summer break, which the rules dictate includes a two-week mandatory factory shutdown, this Easter break is full steam ahead for the drivers and teams ahead of the season resuming – but who on the grid might be particularly grateful for the four-week respite? Let’s take a look…
After finishing off the 2022 season with fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship, the start to the 2023 season has been tough for the Enstone squad.
The A523 may have plenty of potential but, at this early stage of the season, Alpine have struggled to unlock its performance out of the box.
After a slew of errors with Esteban Ocon in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia was a calmer weekend as Alpine came home in eighth and ninth place, while there were clear steps forward in Australia as Pierre Gasly was able to keep within DRS range of Carlos Sainz for most of the second half of the race as he occupied fifth spot.
But the race ended in disaster for the team, after Gasly ran wide out of Turn 1 at the restart and, while trying to re-join, pitched Ocon into the wall – both cars ending up damaged and out of the race.
Rumours have abounded since Australia that both chassis are write-offs following the collision, meaning plenty of work is needed back at the factory to have two cars ready for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix – things might have been very difficult for Alpine if there had been a race scheduled for the 16th of April.
The crash also means that spare parts and components could be scarce for a while as the team recover from the most catastrophic of incidents under a tight budget cap, although team boss Otmar Szafnauer has said the break will be used to stockpile as many spares as possible.
In better news for Alpine, the performance was clearly there in Australia and, as the pink BWT-liveried car switches back to blue for the rest of the season, the driver pairing have behaved with utter maturity – the potential was there for Australia to drive an early wedge in between them but, if anything, Gasly and Ocon appear to be consciously making an effort to ensure their past coolness towards each other turns into something more productive and friendly.
This time last season, the Monegasque was riding the crest of a wave after a near-perfect start to 2022 with wins in Bahrain and Australia and a second place in Saudi Arabia.
This year, the picture couldn’t be more different: a mechanical DNF in Bahrain, a lack of pace in Saudi Arabia, and then an early-race collision in Australia meaning a grand total of just six points from the opening three races.
Leclerc’s frustration is already evident, and the problem for him is that there’s no clear positive to latch onto: the car appears cooperative but slow(ish), and the power unit reliability is questionable.
With Red Bull a clear step ahead, and Mercedes showing signs of higher peaks of performance, Leclerc may have to adjust to a season more similar to 2021 with Ferrari trying to rebuild once again.
In reality, it’s not just Leclerc who may have to alter expectations over the Easter break – it’s the entire Scuderia. With Fred Vasseur finding his feet and setting about taking control of the team entirely, the break also offers him the chance to assess more calmly how the opening trio of races have played out for him – what lessons can the Frenchman take from them to bring forward for the rest of the season?
After starting the season in panicky fashion with plenty of doom and gloom, the Mercedes team have perked up considerably after being a genuine thorn in the side of Max Verstappen in Australia.
Both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton ended up ahead of Verstappen on merit at the race start, and it would have been particularly interesting to see how Russell’s switch to the hard compound would have played out had the red flags not come out to ruin Mercedes’ spit-strategy gamble.
While Verstappen got past Hamilton with ease once the DRS was activated, Mercedes had little to worry about from Ferrari and Aston Martin – while Fernando Alonso was able to keep up the pressure on Hamilton throughout, the British driver never looked seriously under attack from the Spaniard.
Said doom and gloom about the W14’s prospects have been temporarily staved off, although there is the obvious possibility that the car simply worked better at the fast and flowing Albert Park circuit. The four-week break until Azerbaijan, scene of one of Mercedes’ least happy weekends last year, gives the Brackley-based squad plenty of time to understand the W14 a little better – the prospect of a race win certainly doesn’t seem as preposterous at this point as it did last season.
After spending most of 2022 as ‘best of the rest’ behind the leading trio of teams and single-handedly fighting with Alpine over fourth in the Constructors’, 2023 has been a big comedown for Norris.
Without a big rules change to explain a pecking order shift, McLaren’s slump in performance means that the team are having to work hard just to get back to the position they were in last season – demotivating circumstances for Norris at a point when his talents are firmly recognisable, rather than just being ‘promising’.
It’s by a slight degree of fortune that McLaren find themselves occupying fifth place in the Constructors’ after three races – having inheriting sixth and eighth place by the misfortunes of others in the final laps in Australia.
With James Key departing McLaren in the recent shake-up on the technical front, the Easter break means Norris and the team can mentally adjust to their new lower-midfield position and start rebuilding once again. Commendably for Norris, he’s managed to keep a lid on his frustrations, perhaps cognisant of just how long still remains on his long-term contract at Woking. Will he eventually get a reward for his patience?
After putting in a properly impressive debut weekend in Bahrain, the rookie’s season has gone off the rails somewhat in the two weekends since. A harsh but technically correct flying lap deletion in Saudi Arabia resulted in a messy Q1 as the American tried to respond under the pressure of the moment, before a Safety Car-compromised strategy on the Sunday resulted in a 16th place finish.
Australia was Sargeant’s first proper ‘rookie moment’ in 2023, with the Williams driver making an error of judgement on the final standing start to plough into the back of the hapless Nyck de Vries. Surprisingly, the moment didn’t draw the attention of the stewards – meaning the American goes to Baku without a potential grid penalty hanging over him.
It’s easy, particularly for a young rookie, for a negative spiral to begin as the pressure ramps up. The early break this season allows a chance for a breather before the next slew of races, meaning Sargeant can take the opportunity to evaluate himself, come to terms with his errors, and come back with a clear mind in Baku.
Almost as soon as his championship challenge seemed to become a reality, Perez produced the sort of inconsistent weekend that one simply doesn’t expect of the Champion level drivers, such as the one sitting in the other Red Bull.
The Mexican driver struggled for consistency throughout the Melbourne weekend, going off-track on almost as many occasions as he stayed on it, with his weekend utterly ruined by a mysterious moment in Q1 – was his running wide caused by an issue on the Red Bull the team have decided not to reveal or, as is more likely, by a momentary lapse of a driver trying to brake too late for the corner?
Perez put together a strong drive in the race itself to recover back to fifth place, including some exceptionally brave overtakes that he can be so good at, but needed some luck to get away with falling down the field at the final standing start after taking avoiding action across the grass.
The inexorable momentum of Verstappen in the Red Bull finally put some distance between himself and Perez at the third race of the championship, but Perez’s canny knack for street circuits gives him the opportunity to respond next time out in Baku – even if Verstappen was the star performer there over the past two seasons.