Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Ishani Aziz
For many, the summer break is a time to relax and recharge after a long year, and that is no different for those individuals talented enough to work in Formula 1. However, it comes in at the midway point of the season, which sometimes can lead to a switch in momentum and ultimately a twist in the championship. So how has the F1 summer break impacted teams over the years?
The first obvious example comes from the 2019 season, in which Lewis Hamilton had already taken home two thirds of the possible race wins in the early part of the season. Mercedes looked utterly dominant, with only Max Verstappen able to sneak a couple of wins in unpredictable races. So, the summer break came around, with teams unable to do any significant work on the enhancement of their cars for two weeks, before the F1 circus rolled back around to Belgium. Most F1 fans tuned in expecting to see the status quo being maintained, while holding some desperate hope that maybe Ferrari will pull themselves together. They were pleasantly surprised.
Ferrari’s pace was unstoppable throughout the next three races, with Charles Leclerc getting his maiden win in Belgium, before delighting the Tifosi with another at Monza. He was close to making it three in a row, but a favourable strategy and an assured drive from Sebastian Vettel in the other Ferrari car meant it was him who took the applause. This astonishing mix-up looked to continue in Russia, but a mechanical retirement for Vettel was hugely advantageous for Mercedes, and they picked off Leclerc as well. Around this time, rumours were spreading wildly about Ferrari’s sudden pace being caused by a new engine, and not necessarily a legal one. Nothing ever really came of it, apart from a private settlement reached between Ferrari and the FIA, but Ferrari’s pace certainly fell off a cliff soon after.
Another notable example is two years prior, in 2017, when Vettel and Hamilton duelled throughout the first half of the season, trading wins in a championship battle filled with drama and tension. Vettel kept pulling away before Hamilton kept pegging him back but it was Vettel who held a 14 point lead heading into the summer break. The drivers let off steam and the engineers took some time off, all while attempting to best prepare themselves for the continuation of this gripping title fight. But the impact of the summer break can never be underestimated.
Hamilton immediately took the win in Belgium, closely followed by his championship rival, but that wasn’t to continue. Mercedes locked out the top two spots of the podium in a frighteningly dominant display in front of the Tifosi, meaning Hamilton led the world championship for the first time that season. However, it was Singapore in which the championship really fell into his grasp, as an opening lap crash involving Sebastian Vettel meant Hamilton stretched his lead over the frustrated German to 28 points. Malaysia came and despite neither of them winning, it was Hamilton who came away with even more of an advantage, before engine problems for Ferrari in Japan ended Vettel’s race early, moving the championship lead to an almost unassailable 59 points. Vettel kept the embers of his championship hopes still flickering in the USA, but Hamilton wrapped up the title in Mexico to equal Vettel’s tally of four world championships to his name.
Another famous example was the dramatic 2016 season, in which a flying start for Nico Rosberg landed him four wins on the trot to start the season, before Hamilton’s best efforts to cut his lead down resulted in a 19 point lead for Hamilton going into the summer break. The season had been packed with thrills and even a few spills, as Hamilton and Rosberg took each other out during the Spanish GP among many examples. Having won three world titles already, it seemed like Hamilton had neutralised Rosberg’s early season form and the 2016 world championship was only going one way, but along came the fabled summer break.
Once again, Rosberg had utilised the break from racing to his advantage, charging out of the blocks in Spa and taking four out of the next five possible race wins. The only blip in that streak was when Hamilton’s engine failed in Malaysia and so Rosberg still gained on him despite finishing behind the two Red Bulls. Hamilton’s late flurry was almost enough to catch him again, winning the next three races, but Rosberg’s car held up and he came home second in each of those races. It all came down to Abu Dhabi, where Hamilton needed to win and for Rosberg to not finish on the podium. Hamilton was dominant, even able to back the pack up in an attempt to see Rosberg overtaken, but it was to no avail and Rosberg achieved his life goal, instantly retiring a champion.
The final example that I will focus on is the 2013 season, in which early signs indicated that Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and the two Mercedes cars could have a shot at ending Vettel’s dominant run of consecutive championships. Alonso took two early wins, Raikkonen won the season opener, Rosberg had two wins, and Hamilton had one. However, while not dominating the first half of the season, Vettel still had four wins and was looking good for the championship, but the championship was still open. That is, until the summer break.
High-speed punctures in the early part of the season forced Pirelli to change tyre construction midway through the season, which fell perfectly into Red Bull’s hands. The championship that had previously been hung in the balance soon descended into dominance from Vettel and Red Bull, as Vettel won an outstanding nine out of nine races to hammer home his fourth consecutive world title, wrapping it up in India with three races still to go. This was the most dramatic impact of the summer break by some margin.