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Formula One teams will welcome more than their drivers the breathing space provided by a long April break in a record 23-race season.
Fans must pause until the last weekend in the month for the next race in Azerbaijan after Sunday’s triple-stopped Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, the gap caused by the cancellation of China’s round.
The Shanghai race, initially scheduled for April 16, has been axed for the fourth year in a row due to strict local measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“I don’t want to have that break, because you know which race was missing from that break,” said Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou, the sport’s only Chinese driver.
Racers always want to race, eager to build momentum or overcome setbacks and climb back into contention, but teams will be grateful for the opportunity to rest their pit crews and engineers.
“It’s a bit weird to have three weeks off, especially that early in the season,” commented Red Bull’s double world champion Max Verstappen, whose win in Melbourne was his dominant team’s third in three races so far.
“I prefer to keep racing,” agreed Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, who finished third on Sunday for the third race in succession.
“You will use [the break] just to prepare for the next race in a better way and review the first three races. And, you know, in my case it’s a new team, so there are a couple of things that we want to revisit.
“So it’s OK, but it’s better to do it on a racetrack.”
Others, particularly those working long hours and spending weeks away from families without the compensations of private jets and millions in the bank, may see it differently.
“I just said to the guys, take it easy in these three weeks, don’t do anything I wouldn’t be doing,” said Haas team principal Guenther Steiner, whose outfit are one of the smallest in the paddock.
“For the race team, there’s an opportunity to have a little bit of rest because the rest of the season will be tough.”
The break provides more time also for teams to work on upgrades and add spares after a bruising weekend for some in Australia.
Baku’s street circuit will be the first sprint weekend of the season, with more damage to be expected.
Once-mighty Mercedes are playing catch-up while Ferrari, pointless in Melbourne and yet to appear on the podium this season, go back to Maranello with plenty of work to be done at the factory.
“I think in the situation we are in as a team, we take this as an opportunity to work as much as possible during this break in order to get upgrades as quickly as possible,” said Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc before the race.
The sport and team bosses will also be talking further about the sprint weekend format and whether to make Saturday’s race a standalone event.
“No decisions were taken [in Melbourne] but [Formula One chief executive] Stefano (Domenicali) wants to continue to try and see what we can do to make the sport more exciting, so stay tuned,” said McLaren boss Zak Brown.