Alfa Romeo’s 2022 | ‘Bottas did an excellent job at Williams in that free role’

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While all kinds of competitors are working on the way in the organizational field, it remains calm at Alfa Romeo Racing. Frederic Vasseur is still in control, and seems confident of a successful 2022 season. In 2021, the racing stable from Hinswil failed to impress, but at times it seemed as if that was not the intention at all. With Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, the team continued to heat up, as it has done in the last few years of the hybrid era. Will the upcoming season be the year then the long-awaited revival?

If it’s up to the team boss, yes. Let’s be honest, Alfa Romeo is slowly needing that comeback. As annoying as it may sound, the team has been serving as a field fill at the back of the grid for some time now. In 2019 an eighth place was possible in the World Cup, in 2020 also. However, when Williams found a little speed in 2021, it was immediately enough to pass Alfa Romeo. Some weekends the equipment seemed to be there for points, but often the team missed opportunities. More than once, this had to do with Raikkonen and Giovinazzi not doing what was expected and/or asked of them.

The partnership between Raikkonen and Giovinazzi showed hairline cracks by the end of 2021. For 2022, both drivers will be replaced. (Photo: Alfa Romeo Racing)

Alfa Romeo can take advantage of budget cap

P9 is therefore the final classification that Alfa Romeo has to scramble for if they want to do better in 2022. That will not be an easy task, but for the Vasseur team there is light at the end of the tunnel. After a financially difficult 2020, the teams entered the season in 2021 with a budget cap. In 2022, however, the racing stables will come into action for the first time with cars that have actually been developed with a limited budget. For the largest racing stables (read: Mercedes, Red Bull Racing and Ferrari) this is a significant disadvantage, for teams such as Alpine and McLaren a less great disadvantage, and for the small racing stables, such as Alfa Romeo, even a relative advantage.

Relative is the key word in this argument. Alfa Romeo has been operating for years with a budget that is approximately equal to the budget ceiling of 2022 – 140 million dollars (approximately 123 million euros, ed.). So no savings on personnel costs, R&D and other expenses. Virtually nothing changes for Alfa Romeo with the entry of the budget ceiling, while competitors have to reduce spending. The efficiency that the team works with can come into play and provide a relative competitiveness against the top players. But is it enough?

After all, the step to the top of the grid is very big. Alfa Romeo has to look more in midfield, and hopes to compete there in 2022 against teams such as Alpine, Aston Martin and AlphaTauri. Logically, these smaller teams are less affected by the budget cap than the top teams. The budget ceiling therefore has a leveling effect, but also for Alfa’s direct competitors. Because the top teams will be closer, points will theoretically be up for grabs more often. It therefore seems especially important for Alfa Romeo to ensure that those possibilities are converted into results in 2022.

Alfa Romeo benefits from Ferrari

Another fact in favor of Alfa Romeo in 2022 is that after two years of underperformance, Ferrari is back in the ass. In 2019, the Italian racing stable turned out to be seriously short on engine power and the engineers were put to work in Maranello. Two years later, this has resulted in a power unit that can compete well with the dominant suppliers in F1, Mercedes and Honda. The messages from Italy for 2022 are promising. In terms of power, Ferrari seems to be at the top of the field and Alfa Romeo is also reaping the benefits.

They have been buying parts from Ferrari for a while, and will continue to do so in the coming years. The power source is covered by this deal. So when Ferrari arrives with a reinforced engine, the straight-line speed of the Alfa Romeo will also skyrocket. Again, the direct competitors must be taken into account here, and the fact that the engine suppliers of these direct competitors are also not sitting still, but it will certainly be better than in 2019 and 2020 in terms of power. The figures support this hypothesis: the last three years seem to be especially difficult on power-intensive circuits, which only adds to the advantage of a good engine.

Alfa Romeo scored 29 weekends in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Twelve times, i.e. about 43 percent of the goals scored, they succeeded on a track where downforce is important, with Baku Street Circuit (although it can be argued that aerodynamic efficiency is also important) as the biggest outlier, with points in Azerbaijan in 2019 and 2021. Such a circuit therefore seems to suit Alfa Romeo well.

When downforce is desired, Alfa Romeo scores more often. 57 percent of the times that goals were scored, this was done on tracks where a lot of downforce was crucial. Just think of the double score at the Red Bull Ring in 2019, the following year they scored again. Alfa Romeo also achieved double points at Interlagos in 2020. There are more examples (Hungaroring 2019 and Monaco 2021) of Alfa performing well when a lot of downforce matters. The aerodynamic department seems to have its affairs in order. An increase in strength could therefore significantly boost the competitiveness of the racing stable.

The problem with Alfa Romeo does not seem to lie so much with the aerodynamic department. That bodes well for the new regulations. (Photo: Alfa Romeo Racing)

Experience at Bottas, potential at Zhou?

Alfa Romeo completely changed course as far as the driver duo is concerned. The experienced Raikkonen and Giovinazzi were thanked for services rendered. Two new drivers were recruited, the first of which has had a rich Formula 1 career, with many podiums and the necessary victories. The team gets to work with a driver who knows what it takes to win races. At the smaller Williams, Valtteri Bottas did very creditably before his Mercedes term. Confidence in the new acquisition is therefore well-founded. Guanyu Zhou from F2 will take place next to Bottas.

At Alfa Romeo, Bottas is expected to win convincingly against Zhou. (Photo: Alfa Romeo Racing)

We asked the 11-member F1Maximum panel, made up of editors and executives, to shed some light on Alfa Romeo’s new driver duo and determine who will take the longest. Newcomer Zhou may have race wins in F2 to his name, but he is not expected to break any ground in his first year in F1. Terrence Riepma explains why: ‘Bottas beats Zhou this year for the simple reason that the Finn is the experienced force within the team. Frankly, I expect quite a lot from him, as he will now be the leader of the team and not have to drive in the shadows and in the service of Lewis Hamilton.”

“I thought Bottas was very good in that free role at Williams. He always managed to get that car higher than where it actually belonged. And that while Williams has been going backwards in the pecking order since 2016. Alfa Romeo has therefore brought in the right man in Bottas, given his experience in general and experience at the top. After all, he also brings the necessary knowledge of Mercedes and that will undoubtedly be well received at Alfa Romeo.’

‘I still find it difficult to predict what we should expect from Zhou. In Formula 2 he fought for the title, but he always fell short. I think that every time I fail to really connect is what will also be decisive in the duel with Bottas, regardless of the experience of his teammate. The cars will be Zhou. Mattia Binotto already said that the new cars look a bit like Formula 2 cars and there is something in that. Both cars are based on the ground effect and the aerodynamics on the car are quite simple. In addition, both cars also have the 18-inch tires and that is unfamiliar territory for the majority of Formula 1 drivers. Zhou has been driving it for two years now, although there will of course be a difference between the F2 and F1 tires. In that regard, I don’t believe that the Chinese will really have any trouble getting going, but will simply be beaten by difference in class and experience.’

Is Alfa Romeo drowning in the competition?

Various changes for the coming season suggest that there are opportunities for Alfa Romeo, but the competition obviously wants to exploit these opportunities just as well. After all, a higher final ranking is only possible when a competitor can be outwitted. The opinions of the F1Maximum panel show that little is expected from the team based in Switzerland. Led by Bottas, the majority of those polled believe that the team will classify lower than in 2021. A minority opt for a higher final classification and one polled argues that Alfa Romeo will again be stuck on a P9.

The expectations of the F1Maximum panel. (Photos: Alfa Romeo Racing)

Christian Moerman also took part in the prediction round. He estimates the chances of Alfa Romeo to be poor, for the following reason: ‘Every team will take steps in 2022. The question is therefore which team is able to take the biggest steps relative to the rest of the grid. I don’t see Alfa Romeo finishing higher than P7 in 2022, which means that the competitors to consider are already very limited. Current opponents are Williams and Haas. I think Haas, which essentially invests double in 2022, can get quite a bit out of it. In addition, I expect Williams to continue her strong form from last year.’

Alfa Romeo can count on more power from Ferrari, but that is not an advantage compared to Haas – they also drive with Ferrari power. Williams will continue to stick to Mercedes engines and will therefore not experience any disadvantage in that area. I’m not overly impressed with Alfa’s aerodynamic department, although they usually do okay on downforce-intensive tracks. It seems as if they always go for a happy medium in the design of the cars and just don’t succeed enough to be able to compete for a full season.’

‘Moreover, I think they make too many mistakes strategically and operationally. What may still cause surprises is the arrival of Bottas. Perhaps he takes with him so much knowledge and insight from his period at Mercedes that the development of the Alfa Romeo is higher than in the past, but I don’t have much confidence in Bottas either. That is why I am going for Alfa Romeo as the last of 2022, with Haas narrowly ahead. Too bad for Bottas and Zhou, but it can’t be a party for everyone.’

Do you agree with the expectations for Alfa Romeo in 2022? Leave your reaction in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter!

By: Christian Moerman | Twitter: @ChristianMoerm1


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