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today is May 31, 2023

This weekend’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix at Imola could be a pivotal point in the course of the 2023 season, with many teams planning to bring substantial upgrades to their cars.

As the opening race in the first triple-header of the 2023 season – followed by rounds in Monaco and Spain – the effectiveness of the upgrade packages brought to Italy this weekend could have a major impact on teams’ final placings in this year’s championship.

Here are the talking points for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.

Upgrades galore

Although it is only round six of this year’s world championship, the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix is set to effectively mark the start of the second phase of the 2023 season.

The opening five rounds of the championship were dominated by Red Bull, who claimed every chequered flag first every time to storm to a commanding 122-point lead over their nearest rivals Aston Martin in the constructors’ championship. In the drivers’ standings, Max Verstappen leads team mate Sergio Perez by 14 points, courtesy of his third win of the season in Miami.

But this weekend in Imola marks a key point of the season. Many of the ten teams have been building to this round to introduce their first major upgrade packages of the season, not least of which Mercedes, who will be looking to make progress in their efforts to chase down the runaway Red Bulls.

George Russell, Mercedes, Miami International Autodrome, 2023 Mercedes are planning a change of development direction Team principal Toto Wolff has said Mercedes’ W14 will receive a new floor, new body work and new front suspension in what he described as a “large operation” for their 2023 car. Although he emphasised the need for his team to “manage our own expectations” of the impact the upgrades will have on their performance, it could still be an important first step on their mission to establishing themselves as Red Bull’s main rivals.

AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo are also among the teams planning important new parts for their cars in Italy this weekend. The fight in the midfield so far in 2023 has been as close as it has possibly ever been, with the bottom six teams all covered by just 14 points. With this weekend’s race the first of a triple-header, points gained over the next three weeks could be critical to the final championship order at year’s end.

However, the nine teams chasing Red Bull could be in for a rude awakening. The world champions themselves have no intentions of allowing themselves to be caught and may well have new parts of their own just as their rivals. Although this weekend could see the start of the next phase of the season, do not be surprised if it continues very much the same way as the first.

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Tyre rule tweaks

Since returning to the F1 calendar in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, Imola has been the scene of multiple attempts to shake up the race weekend format. Back in 2020, the entire event was truncated to just two days with a single, 90-minute practice session leading into qualifying and the grand prix the next day. Last season, Imola was host of the first of three sprint weekends.

Pirelli tyres, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 Pirelli will bring fewer tyres to Imola This year sees the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix used as the testing ground for F1’s latest experimental format – the ‘Alternative Tyre Allocation’. Over three practice sessions, traditional qualifying and the grand prix, each driver will be allocated only 11 sets of Pirelli tyres for the whole weekend, rather than the typical 13 – four sets of softs, four sets of mediums and three sets of hards.

In qualifying on Saturday, all drivers will only be allowed to fit hard tyres in Q1, and those who progress to Q2 only permitted to run mediums in the second session. The top 10 drivers who race the final shoot-out for pole position must use soft tyres for the duration of the session.

This is the first of two occasions where the Alternative Tyre Allocation system will be tested in 2023 – the second venue is still to be decided but will be not be one of the planned sprint weekends. The experimental format is not designed with entertainment in mind, but rather in an effort to reduce the quantity of tyres used through the weekend. While the changes will affect every driver in the field, it will be interesting to see if some teams are affected more than others.

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Leclerc’s lament

Leclerc hit barriers twice in Miami It’s been a difficult start to the 2023 season for Charles Leclerc. The driver who took three race wins for Ferrari in 2023 has amassed only 12 points this season outside of his brilliant race weekend in Baku – and even there he ended up in the wall at the end of sprint race qualifying.

To process his emotions at the end of grand prix weekends, Leclerc has taken to composing piano pieces which he has shared publicly. To date, he has released a pair of hauntingly melancholic tracks – ‘AUS23′ and MIA23’ – after his most recent disappointing rounds in Melbourne and Miami, respectively.

With hopes of a championship challenge for 2023 seemingly already faded, Leclerc is coming to terms with having to wait for another year to have the opportunity to fight for the title. He has shown remarkable speed over recent rounds, but he has also began to allow costly mistakes to creep back into his driving. At the first of two rounds in Italy this season, the Tifosi will be hoping that solid points or even a podium will be the result for Leclerc this weekend and that ‘EMI23’ is one musical piece that will never be written.

De Vries

For AlphaTauri’s home grand prix, the spotlight will be on their newest driver – Nyck de Vries. The 2021 Formula E world champion and 2019 F2 champion arrived into F1 as arguably the most well-prepared rookie of his generation due to his age and extensive experience. With one impressive grand prix debut under his belt at last year’s Italian Grand Prix, the 28-year-old was expected to hit the ground running in his full season debut.

Nyck de Vries, AlphaTauri, Miami International Autodrome, 2023 De Vries is last in the championship Instead, it’s been a difficult start to 2023 for De Vries. His Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend was especially poor with multiple mistakes through the weekend, then he ruined his race in Miami at the first corner by bumping into Lando Norris’ McLaren. While team mate Yuki Tsunoda has been either in or on the cusp of points in each round so far, De Vries is last in the championship without a point to his name so far.

Last weekend, rumours circulating online that De Vries’ seatmay be under threat from Daniel Ricciardo, of all people, were rebuffed. But while that is not the case, De Vries does not need anyone to inform him that he needs to start picking up his performances. His team’s home grand prix in Imola would be a great place to start.

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Gasly nears relief

After seven rounds on the brink of a possible one-race suspension due to being just two penalty points away from the 12-point threshold to trigger a ban, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly could earn some relief this weekend if he manages to go the whole weekend without incident.

Gasly has two points due to be taken off his tally at the end of this weekend, originally earned during last year’s Spanish Grand Prix for colliding with Lance Stroll during the race. While losing those points does not fully free him from the risk of a ban later in the season, it will give him some breathing space that could allow him to avoid being the very first driver to be banned under the penalty points system first introduced back in 2014.

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