F1 drivers and bosses speak about the break they had, what they were upto and the upcoming Azerbaijan GP with little addition of sprint race.

The cancellation of the Chinese GP and F1 not replacing or moving forward races allowed for a three weeks gap between Australia and Azerbaijan this weekend. Now they have five races in six weeks from April end to the start of June in a jam-packed run.

Considering the hectic calendar and undesirable back-to-backs, F1 could have just slotted Azerbaijan in place of China and kept rest as same but things are easier said than done. But any holiday and gaps are more than welcome by the team members certainly.

Considering the extending calendar, this is a blessing in disguise for them. This gap allowed the F1 drivers and bosses a time to reflect on the changes they may need going forward. Apart from Red Bull, every other team certainly felt the need for it.

And there are updates to come indeed in Baku, even though they just have FP1 to sort themselves out with two qualifying sessions after F1 confirmed the new sprint format with a truncated session on Saturday morning replacing FP2 for the sprint race.

Here’s what the F1 drivers and team bosses were upto and Azerbaijan GP ahead –

Max Verstappen (Red Bull): “It’s good to be back! It’s been a long break and I’m looking forward to getting back to racing. Baku is a challenging track to get right. As it’s a street circuit with long straights, it gives us multiple options on what wings we can run. It’s also the first Sprint race weekend of the season so that might make it slightly chaotic. We just need to try and get a good start into the weekend with a solid FP1 session. Let’s see what we can do.”

Sergio Perez (Red Bull): “It feels like ages since we have been racing! It has been nice to have a break, to work hard in the gym and with my Team at the factory. You must take advantage of these moments away from the track, especially when you see how busy the period is coming up. Australia wasn’t perfect for us, having the car and performance consistent is my aim this season. For two races we had that and now as a Team we must make sure that’s the standard we keep to for the remaining races of the season.

“We have five races in six weeks and after that, with the mix of circuits we are visiting, we are really going to see how good the RB19 can be this year. We had a great Team result in Baku last season and everyone knows I really enjoy a street circuit – winning is always the aim. The new weekend format is going to make things tricky when it comes to car set-up but every team is in the same position and we just have to make sure we are on it from the minute we roll out on Friday. I can’t wait to get back in the car now.”

Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin): “It’s good to be back after a few weeks away from racing. I have recharged the batteries after a high adrenaline start to the season, and I am now looking forward to Baku. The circuit presents us drivers with a unique challenge, as we face lots of tight slow-speed street sections and then extremely high-speed straights that create lots of opportunities for risk and reward. I’m excited to see the return of the Sprint this weekend too. We’ve seen some fun races in the past there and I’m sure it’ll be no different, especially now with two qualifying sessions and two races. After three races we know our car better, but we need to pick-up where we left off in Australia and keep up the development push over the next few races.”

Lance Stroll (Aston Martin): “It’s been good to have a short break after a busy few races, but nothing compares to racing and, given the strong start to the season, I can’t wait to get back out there. Baku is a venue that holds great memories for me – taking my first podium in F1 back in 2017 – and we enter this weekend hoping to continue our early-season form. In general, it is a wild ride, a really fun track. We also will have the first Sprint of the year this weekend and with another new format, which I think will be great for the fans. We need to hit the ground running as there will be little time to prepare for qualifying and the races, but the team have done a fantastic job this year so I know we’re up for the challenge.”

Esteban Ocon (Alpine): “It was good to have a little break after the Australian Grand Prix to properly debrief after the race and analyse the weekend as whole. Obviously, it did not end well for us but there were many positives to take from the weekend, and we are fully focused on bouncing back strongly in Baku. As a team we’ve already been looking forward to Baku for a while now so we’re all glad this new race week is finally here. An upgrade is planned for this race too, it’s a slightly new format with the Sprint, so that means we’ll have to be on the pace straight away. We need a positive weekend and aim to leave Baku with deserved points for the team.”

Pierre Gasly (Alpine): “The Baku City Circuit is an insane track for F1. I love it there. We have an interesting format to get through and it’s going to be all about staying alive in both races and capitalising on any opportunities that might come up. I’ve had past success in Baku from just keeping it clean and taking chances – including in 2021 for my latest podium in F1. You just never know in Baku…anything can happen! I’ve been to Enstone over the past few days and I’m excited by what the team is bringing and by what we have in the pipeline. It’s time to keep my head down, work hard and aim for strong performances that are rewarded with what we deserve!”

Lando Norris (McLaren): “I’m looking forward to Baku and to go racing again. It’s been a productive three weeks off with sim work and analysis with my engineers but also taking time to rest and reset ahead of a busy few races. I’m also excited that we’re at another street circuit and trying out the new sprint format. It will be interesting to see how it works and hopefully it will make good viewing for the fans. The track is narrow so it’s as important as ever to be on it as there are lots of opportunities for mistakes. This is even more important as we optimise and learn everything we can about the new parts we’re bringing to the track this weekend. Let’s get back to it.”

Oscar Piastri (McLaren): “I’m excited to go racing in Baku and I feel rested and ready after the three-week break. I’ve raced here previously in Formula 2 and it’s a cool circuit with the backdrop of the city and the castle. It’s a tricky circuit to get right from a car set-up perspective, given the long straight at the end of the lap, combined with the tighter sections of the track. We’ve been doing a lot of work in the simulator to ensure we hit the ground running on Friday, especially given the Sprint format, which I’m looking forward to taking on for the first time in Formula 1. I’ll be hoping to build on the momentum from Australia where I achieved my first-ever F1 points. We still have a lot of work to do and a long way to go so I’ll keep my head down and keep working hard.”

Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo): “I am looking forward to getting back to racing this weekend. Baku is a place I like – I’ve won this race and been on the podium here before – and I want to get a good result this time around as well. My focus, as well as that of the team, is on keeping improving: the season is still long, and there are still many points to be scored. I used the three weeks’ break to get prepared to be at my best. It is going to be interesting to race in the sprint here, and I am looking forward to this challenge. We have looked into the last few races, and we have been working really hard to get back to the level we showed in Bahrain. I am confident we have what it takes to improve: if we all do our homework, we can be in the mix for another points finish.”

Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo): “Scoring my first points of the season in Australia was a good motivation boost – just what was needed before heading into the three-weeks break. Still, it wasn’t holiday time for us: we kept working hard, in the sim and at the factory, as we all need to do to make further steps forward ahead of the upcoming races. I quite enjoy Baku and its unpredictability – and we must consider the sprint race element being added to the mix. I am keen to keep up the work I did in Melbourne, where I had a solid, clean race, and aim for another top ten finish. It’s going to be tight, as it always is this year, and a tenth or two could make a real difference in terms of placements, but we have a chance to do well here.”

Nyck de Vries (AlphaTauri): “Initially post-Melbourne I returned quickly to the UK to spend a day in the simulator, to do some correlation work and also look ahead to some of the races coming after this break. I had a short trip to the Netherlands for a couple of commitments after which I was invited to the Milan-Napoli game. It was a really cool experience as the Champions League is a very big deal. It’s always cool to witness sports in real life, as I think sometimes TV doesn’t do it justice, and this was a really unique experience. When you’re in a stadium with 80,000 people watching the 22 players on the pitch, the atmosphere and emotion gives you goosebumps. It was the same at the start of the year, when we were in New York for the livery launch and got to see the NBA game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Chicago Bulls. I just love the real sport action.

After that I attended the Monaco Tennis Open, which should have been a bit quieter, although I went with Stef (Red Bull Athlete Stefanos Tsitsipas, ranked 3 in world tennis) which made it a bit more challenging to be quiet! I follow tennis very closely as a lot of the top players live in Monaco and go to the same gym I use, and some live in the same building as me. My trainer was with me in Monaco where we did a lot of work, and it was also nice to spend some time at home. Now I’m ready to get going again with five races coming up in six weeks, so it will be an intense time.

“Baku will be my very first Sprint weekend and that will be particularly challenging with just one hour of free practice before qualifying, but I’ve been to the track before, with three second place finishes in Formula 2. We’re all excited to go racing again after this long break. The track is quite unique in the sense that, usually on street tracks, overtaking is very challenging, but the extremely long straight produces opportunities, which is why the races at Baku have often been quite eventful, so hopefully things will go our way and we’ll have something to cheer about come the end of it.

“I feel we are making progress, but the midfield is still very tight, and it is very challenging to fight for points because in a “normal” race the top ten is solidly occupied. We need to make sure we are ready to capitalise on any mistakes made by those who would normally be top ten. While I see signs of progress, Baku demands a lot of straight-line speed and so far, our straight-line speed has not been that competitive. Let’s wait and see how it works out.”

Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri): “Since Australia, I’ve spent most of my time at home in Italy, with occasional trips to Milan, focusing on my training, so I’m feeling fit and fresh, and ready to go racing again. Last week I was back in the simulator. In the past, I performed quite well in Baku, qualifying eighth the last two years, and finishing seventh in 2021, although last year I had that DRS failure when I was running in sixth place and ended up down in P13. I have good memories from there and I like the track. The past two years our car suited that circuit and we had a good understanding of the track, so I hope that will again be the case this year and we can aim for points this weekend.

“We’ve got some updates coming, particularly for the rear wing to suit the low downforce configuration for this track. So far this year, we have struggled a bit in terms of top speed, and you definitely need straight line speed for Baku. This should help and hopefully the pure set-up of the car should suit the Azerbaijan circuit. I will approach the weekend in my usual optimistic way and I’m looking forward to being back in the car after such a long break. This will be our first Sprint weekend of the year, and with the changed format I’m feeling more excited about it than usual.

“The changes mean that the work we have done in the simulator becomes even more important to make up for less practice time on track. It will be vital to have a good car right from FP1. Certainly, our last simulator session was very useful, starting with looking back at Australia to get a better understanding about the car and then looking at these next couple of races in Baku and Miami, as we will be going straight to Florida from Azerbaijan.”

Alexander Albon (Williams): “Going into Baku, the main talking point is the new format, with the need to get it right on Friday more important than it’s ever been. The team has done our prep on the sim, and it’s a familiar track so let’s see how the weekend goes. Most corners are low speed 90-degree corners, so the requirements of the circuit are quite consistent. If the car is good in one corner around here it tends to be good around the whole lap, and vice versa.”

Logan Sargeant (Williams): “I’m super excited to be getting back in the car this weekend in Baku. It’s been a long three weeks that we’ve used to put in a lot of hard work to keep learning and preparing for this round. It should be an interesting weekend as it’s a tough circuit and my first sprint event. I’m looking forward to taking on the challenge and hopefully having a good weekend.”

Kevin Magnussen (Haas): “I spent my time in Denmark and the three weeks were great for really getting into training. It’s not often during the season that we get such a continuous period of time where you can train routinely every day and get into it. That’s been great and of course just spending time with my family recharging the batteries. I hope we can score some points this year. Last year, we were in the running towards the end of the race but then my engine broke down. So, last year we had the pace but didn’t finish it off because of reliability and hopefully this year we can have a strong weekend again and not have any issues. I’m positive that we can be strong. I think it’s good that we get two qualifying sessions because it means that you can go for it a little more in the Sprint. There’s not the extra penalty of having to start at the back for the race on Sunday if you don’t finish, even though of course you want to. There’s a little more reward in the risk versus reward ratio for taking risks and that’s good for the show, good for us drivers and it’s more fun.”

Nico Hulkenberg (Haas): “Obviously it was a calmer, quieter time but we did the normal debriefing from Melbourne and then some preparation for Baku and Miami. It’s about to get pretty hectic so we also had a simulator day setting-up and preparing those two races. I’ve done a lot of training also, trying to maintain the best fitness possible and as a family we moved to Mallorca for two weeks to recharge the batteries and get ready. It’s the first Sprint for me and obviously from a spectator’s point of view it’s very interesting. For me also it’s much less practice, only one hour, and straight into a meaningful session – it reminds me of my junior days – and I used to like that. I go into it with an open mind just accepting the challenge, which is less preparation time, and you need to hit the sweet spot earlier. Baku is a pretty spectacular and challenging high-speed circuit so we’re gearing up for a tough but interesting weekend.”

Toto Wolff (Mercedes): “We’ve had a few weeks off from racing but both factories have been hard at work. We’ve tried to maximise this period, bringing planned development to the car and extracting as much as possible from our learnings so far. Australia showed that we are making progress, although we need to be cautious about reading too much into a single result. But the signs in Melbourne were still encouraging and that has been a good motivator for the whole team heading into this gap in the calendar. Over the next races, we want to keep on making small steps forward.

“The car will continue to evolve in the coming weeks, as we steadily bring performance and upgrades to the track. We’re excited to see their impact, but we know there is no magic bullet. After just under a month with no F1 action, everyone’s eager to be back out on track. Thankfully we’ve got plenty of that coming up. It’s a busy window in the calendar with five races in six weekends, starting with Azerbaijan.

“The racing in Baku is always dramatic and entertaining. It’s a challenging track with the walls close, so there’s no room for error. We also have our first F1 Sprint weekend of the season with a tweaked format. It’s an interesting challenge for us to tackle, with only a single practice session to be ready for two qualifying sessions and races spread across Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Hopefully this will mean more excitement and action for fans to enjoy.”

Frederic Vasseur (Ferrari): “It’s been almost a month since the last Grand Prix and in that time we have been working hard in Maranello on the development of the SF-23, both in terms of improving the current car package as well as moving forward with the planned updates that will be gradually introduced over the course of the coming races. Charles and Carlos have played their part, working in the simulator and giving us feedback. In Australia, we had already made a step forward in terms of pure performance and for Azerbaijan, we expect to move on from there.”

Matt Harman (Alpine): “We are bringing a new floor to Baku amongst some other aerodynamic and mechanical items. We then have a further development at the following race in Miami and something further for Imola after that. This consistent thread will continue throughout the season with more upgrades planned at most events. In the short term, what we have for Baku, Miami and Imola is a reasonable step – though not as significant as some media speculation in recent weeks – and it’s important we keep this aggressive rate of development up if we are to keep moving forwards towards our performance expectations. Credit must be given to the work going on behind the scenes at both factories in Viry and Enstone in meeting development targets and finding the improvements to make the car faster.”

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Here’s Las Vegas showing new photos and videos

Here’s F1 drivers and bosses on practice limitations

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