Formel 1-säsongen så här långt...
Ett extra långt uppehåll i Formel 1 just nu – Scott Mitchell-Malm summerar vad de tre första tävlingarna har inneburit och vad det kan betyda för resten av säsongen.
After three races at three very different circuits, but three very familiar results, Formula 1 pauses its 2023 season with a big gap caused by the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix.
Two Max Verstappen wins and one for Sergio Perez have given Red Bull a dream start to the championship while expected rivals Ferrari and Mercedes have been blown away.
In has stepped Aston Martin as a surprise consistent second-best, although Mercedes has started to show signs of progress.
So, what are the key lessons from the opening three rounds of 2023 and what can expect when the championship resumes at the end of the month?
Red Bull has vulnerabilities
It's been a near-perfect start to the season for the reigning world champions. The only negative is Perez's error in qualifying in Australia, which denied Red Bull another one-two finish as he could ‘only' recover to fifth.
However, beneath a very shiny surface, things haven't been completely clean.
Verstappen has been unhappy at all three events for one reason or another. He found the car balance tricky in Bahrain, had a driveshaft failure in qualifying in Saudi Arabia, and struggled with the brakes through practice in Australia.
There have been some pretty big reliability concerns at times as well, with Perez revealing that both cars were under pressure to get to the finish in Bahrain and little niggles striking in the Jeddah race too.
Add in a dash of intra-team tension – which will probably exist for the entirety of the Verstappen-Perez partnership – and what is very clearly the fastest package in F1 does still have some vulnerabilities.
Will Alonso win?
Three podiums is well beyond what Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin could have reasonably expected from the entire 2023 season. Let alone in three races.
Last year's seventh-best team has already scored more points than it did through the whole of 2022. That's how big a step it has made.
The AMR23 has looked very strong at every track. It's a great little car, nice and usable with a broad working window. It has weaknesses, particularly its straightline speed, but in Alonso's hands in particular it can lead the chase of Red Bull anywhere.
But can it win? Can Alonso win?
While we might expect Mercedes and Ferrari to make good gains through the season, Aston Martin has more development time than any of the other frontrunning teams. And it claims to have a lot of upgrades coming. So, why shouldn't this car get better?
All Alonso needs to do is keeping punching in these performances and sooner or later the stars will align. As we've mentioned, Red Bull is not perfect. The cars might be fragile.
And if Alonso maintains this level of form, he should eventually find himself in the best position to capitalise and win a race for the first time since 2013.
Ferrari's start is woeful
While Mercedes has talked very openly about making the wrong choices with its car development and needing big changes to try to catch Red Bull, Ferrari has been far less forthcoming about its weaknesses.
There have been occasional hints here and there. But nothing like the kind of open, honest admission that would suggest Ferrari is a team with a clear idea of what to do.
The Scuderia's start to the season has been absolutely woeful. An engine failure in Bahrain, poor pace in Saudi Arabia, and a point-less race in Australia due to errors from both drivers at both ends of the grand prix.
Every now and then there are glimpses of performance but this is usually reserved from when Charles Leclerc does a stellar job in qualifying.
The reality is the car is not quick enough over one lap and looks even less competitive over a race distance. It has never looked emphatically like the second-fastest car and as Mercedes has improved, is arguably fourth or fifth fastest team (Alpine looked pretty good in Australia).
There are upgrades coming but they better come quick, or Ferrari's season will be over before it ever gets started.
Is there a backmarker in 2023?
A great stat after Australia is that all 10 teams have now scored points, which is not something I would have predicted back at pre-season testing.
This might sound stupid, but there is not really a backmarker in 2023. Outside the top four, it's very hard to work out the order. And it seems like, track to track, any one of those six teams could lose a car (or both cars) in Q1 – or score points.
It hasn't been like this in the recent past. There was always a fairly clear 10th team. Last year it was Williams, in 2021 it was Haas, 2020 and 2019 it was Williams again – you get the idea.
In testing everybody thought that the 10th team would be Williams again. Including Williams! But that car looks better and better and Alex Albon in particular has been very strong. If he had not crashed out in Melbourne there could have been a huge result there.
If I had to pick a weakest car at the moment it would be the AlphaTauri, but even then I would have no confidence trying to work out where its drivers would qualify.
The midfield is more punishing than ever, because it feels like it will be more compressed than ever.
Low-key drivers impressing
Speaking of the midfield, two low-key drivers deserve praise from the opening races: Yuki Tsunoda and Zhou Guanyu.
Both drivers have their doubters and were facing very important seasons. And while there was obviously an element of luck involved it was good to see both rewarded with points in Australia.
Tsunoda is the team leader at AlphaTauri alongside rookie Nyck de Vries and as a result he is in a no-win situation. Beat De Vries and everyone shrugs (it's just De Vries), lose to De Vries and Tsunoda's reputation would be shot.
So, it's been a huge shame to see AlphaTauri deliver an unimpressive car. Tsunoda doesn't have the material to make a big impact this year.
He's trying though. Tsunoda has smashed De Vries so far. He's much faster and he's defending for his life in races after basically starting higher than the car has any right to be.
Tsunoda might end up spending a lot of races being overtaken this year but don't underestimate the job he's doing.
It's not the same situation for Zhou, but he still has something to prove. There has always been a question mark over his ultimate pace as Zhou's always stood out as a hard-working, down-to-earth, intelligent driver – not stunning, but good.
Those are solid ingredients for F1 but he needed to add more pace to his game. Having started to do that in late-2022, he has begun this season the quicker Alfa Romeo driver.
OK, Valtteri Bottas beat him in Bahrain. But Zhou should have been in the mix too, he just underdelivered on his actual potential that weekend.
Since then, he's shown Bottas the ropes.
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