This three-week period between Formula 1 races, so early in the season seems like an eternity but, for Zhou Guanyu and the Alfa Romeo and his team, it has not been a time for rest.
With only six points on the board in three races, the Swiss team is not delivering on expectations, thus it was full throttle at Hinwill to prepare for this weekend’s 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Round 4 of the 2023 F1 World Championship.
Looking ahead to Baku, in the Alfa Romeo preview of the race weekend, Zhou said: “Scoring my first points of the season in Australia was a good motivation boost – just what was needed before heading into the three-week 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,” predicted Zhou.
Bottas: My focus, as well as that of the team, is on keeping improving
In the sister Alfa Romeo, veteran Valtteri Bottas – the 2019 winner in Baku – said: “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’ve 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.”
The team adds in the report: “For Valtteri and Zhou, this week is an opportunity to show their mettle. Valtteri is a Baku specialist: a winner here in 2019, he’s second among active drivers for laps led here and holds the all-time best lap around this track. Zhou has made close battles and daring moves into his signature: he’s perfect for this. Both will approach this event ready for the challenge ahead.”
This weekend’s Grand Prix in Baku will also offer an added element of jeopardy.
The new sprint format, introduced for this event, reduces the opportunity for practice to just one session: the onus is on the team to set up the car in such a quick time, with limited data; and on the drivers, to master the track from the first handful of laps.
The report added: “All these elements make this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix a challenge not to be sniffed at. Just as with the hippo waiting in the water, the track stretching by the Caspian Sea is a danger one would be foolish to underestimate.”
Summing up the preview, Alessandro Alunni Bravi added: “Three weeks away from the track meant we had a chance to regroup and focus on the work we need to do for the next few races. It’s been an intense start of the season, in which we scored in two out of three races, and it’s been good for the team to have some time to analyse our performances and see in which areas we can make improvements.
“We have made steps forward compared to last year – our reliability, just to name one – but we know we need to keep working hard to be competitive in such a tight field. We head into the first sprint of the season knowing that anything can happen on this track.
“We saw how quickly a race can change in Melbourne, and once again we will need to be at our best to maximise the potential of our car and of any opportunities that may arise,” concluded Bravi.
Ahead of Round 4 in Baku, Zhou is 15th in the 2023 F1 drivers’ standings on 2 points, with Bottas on four in 11th; Alfa Romeo are eight in the constructors’ table.