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Why Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff could be the big winners from F1’s early break

Why Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff could be the big winners from F1’s early break

Why Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff could be the big winners from F1’s early break

Why Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff could be the big winners from F1’s early break

There was never meant to be an enormous early season pause in the 2023 F1 calendar.

Had the Chinese government developed a consistent Covid-19 arrivals policy in the past year, 20 cars would have been speeding around the Shanghai International Circuit last weekend for the first time since 2019.

Zhou Guanyu would have been the first Chinese driver to compete on home soil, Aston Martin would have been looking to consolidate their surprise second place in the constructors’ championship, and Max Verstappen would have won the race. Plus ça change, and all that…

Alas, China was again unable to host its event, and now we’re halfway through four race-less weekends on a sort of bizarre spring break that nobody really wanted or asked for.

That doesn’t mean that the 10 F1 teams are sitting around, twiddling their thumbs in the departure lounge of airports and simply waiting to jet off to Baku at the end of the month, though. While there might not be any action on track for an extended period, there is plenty to be done at the factories, in the wind tunnels, and in the simulators at an intriguing point of the campaign.

F1 has not raced in China since prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

An unexpected break after three rounds of the season is particularly interesting because simultaneously the order of the field is pretty solidly known, but there is also still an awful long time for things to change.

Every squad in the sport will spend the break working on its own individual flaws and developing upgrades for later down the line, but Mercedes unquestionably have the most to potentially gain from the pause between Australia and Azerbaijan. The Silver Arrows may have managed a second-place finish in Melbourne, but they are woefully off the pace of frontrunners Red Bull once again, having fruitlessly decided to continue pursuing their ‘zeropod’ aerodynamic concept over the winter.

The approach was proven wrong by the time the team took to the tarmac in testing at Bahrain in early March, and team boss Toto Wolff has already vowed that the team is working on a completely different design which it will implement at some point during the 2023 campaign, and which it hopes will pull it back towards the front.

That process will involve a significant amount of resource, ingenuity, and sheer graft, not to mention a sizeable dollop of luck. After all, there is no guarantee that any new concept Mercedes come up with will be any more successful than their last.

READ MORE: Former Red Bull F1 star says team 'stabbed him in the back' with Max Verstappen swap

Mercedes W14 upgrade

The four-week break following the race in Australia, however, allows them space and time to experiment early on in the year which would otherwise have been significantly more restricted. While other teams could have reasonably still been focused on upgrades to their existing machinery while undertaking all that is involved in travelling to and running a flyaway race in China, the level of revamp Mercedes are looking to get to grips with would have been compromised.

None of that means that Mercedes are likely to turn up to Baku with a completely redesigned version of the W14, but it does mean they are likely to be further along the line than they would have been had they been racing in China. It stands to reason, then, that the eventual new spec machine will be available for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell to drive a round or two earlier than it would otherwise have been.

For Hamilton in particular the break comes at intriguing time. With his current contract set to expire at the end of the season and his chances of securing a record-breaking eighth world championship diminishing, the 38-year-old will have a vitally important decision to make between now and then: Does he stay, does he move, or does he go altogether?

Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff have worked together at Mercedes for a decade.

The break means that Hamilton is both able to step back and assess where Mercedes currently stand, while the extended time the team has to develop the new W14 should mean he has a much stronger idea of the team’s potential in the very near future by the time the season is back underway again.

If the signs are good and the rejigged concept is beginning to like a significant step forward, Hamilton and Wolff stand to gain a huge amount from a hiatus which F1 never intended. And even if the team is still struggling to find performance, both parties will at least have greater understanding of what the future could look like before negotiations over a new deal really take shape.

A 25-day early season break might not have been part of Mercedes’ pre-season plan, but if they are spending the time off well, it could turn out to be the best thing that has happened to them so far in F1’s new era.

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