ANALYSIS: Why Alfa Romeo have committed to F1 – and what it means for their driver line-up
One of Formula 1’s most famous names have committed to Formula 1, with news Alfa Romeo will continue their significant tie-up with Sauber for at least the next two years – so what does this mean for the team’s performance on track and how will it impact who lays claim to their cockpits?
Alfa Romeo see a future in F1
The Sauber-run Alfa Romeo team – along with their rivals – signed the new Concorde Agreement to race in F1 until at least the end of 2025, ensuring their presence in the medium term, but it was unclear how long Alfa Romeo would continue to hold the naming rights, having extended by a single year for 2021 after coming onboard for 2019.
But ahead of the British Grand Prix, the Milan-based marque confirmed they are here to stay after laying the foundations they hope will deliver success in the long term. A commitment of at least two years takes them up to the end of 2023, and that stability allows Team Principal Fred Vasseur to efficiently allocate resources and build the project up, while also trying to maximise the opportunity the new 2022 regulations offer.
“Alfa Romeo is not just a major partner to work with, but a brand that shows we mean business,” said Vasseur. “Continuing to work together will allow us to have a stable environment, something that shows this is a real partnership that transcends sponsorship. We are both committed to shaping the team and the marque as we go on, to bring Alfa Romeo back to the top of the motorsport family; for the team, the image boost is immense as well.”
Alfa Romeo saw the progress that the team have made since they formed their partnership in 2018, and while on paper, the results haven’t been great this year – they sit eighth with two points – they have made the biggest step over the winter in terms of performance gain and are now regularly on the fringes of the points. The team have a world-leading wind tunnel, a state-of-the-art simulator that is almost fully operational and a staff that are operating efficiently and showing progress.
That gave Alfa Romeo hope that their collaboration, both in terms of the financial upside their sponsorship brings but also the technical partnership, was bearing fruit and worth pursuing. They feel success on track in F1 will benefit their global business.
Alfa Romeo were the dominant force as the F1 World Championship began in 1950, with the Italian marque claiming a historic 1-2-3 in the first ever race at Silverstone, before claiming back to back world titles with Nino Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio.
The brand has priceless F1 heritage and pedigree and adds significant weight to the project, making the Swiss operation more attractive to potential new sponsors and additional funding, as well as to new staff.
With Alfa Romeo continuing, it makes sense that the team’s relationship with Ferrari will only continue to strengthen, the squad having run the Italian’s power unit since 2010 with that relationship having opened the door for engineer Simone Resta to briefly join from Ferrari for around a year.
What about the driver line-up?
You might think that the Swiss team can turn a greater focus to who will pilot their cars from 2022 now the Alfa Romeo deal has been signed off. But that’s not the case. Vasseur is very relaxed about the driver line-up and is in no rush to make a decision.
If anything, he prefers to wait to keep the pressure on the drivers to perform, and that means it could be months before an announcement is made.
That said, Alfa Romeo’s decision to stay will have an impact. It is believed they were very supportive of the team recruiting Kimi Raikkonen from Ferrari, with his status as world champion particularly attractive.
Keeping him on for another season would be very good for the brand, but it remains unclear as to whether the Finn wants to stay on – he turns 42 in October – and indeed whether Vasseur feels he is strong enough to stay on.
His feedback has been incredibly important to the team since he joined, and his past success has been motivational for staff, but while his performances when the car was capable of top 10 finishes were very strong, they have been more inconsistent as the car dropped back down the pecking order. And he has struggled particularly in qualifying, which in turn makes grinding out a result on Sunday much harder.
Regarding the other seat, it’s assigned to Ferrari courtesy of their close relationship. Antonio Giovinazzi, who is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, has taken that spot for the last two-and-a-half seasons. Vasseur is believed to have been impressed by Giovinazzi’s improvements this season – and has charged him with continuing that upward trajectory if he wants to keep his seat.
Keeping the same line-up makes sense if they want stability through the major regulation change, with brand new cars debuting next year, but Vasseur is also aware of the plethora of talent out there.
Callum Ilott has impressed the team in his role as reserve this season, so far driving in two free practice sessions, while there remains potential in F2, with Ferrari junior Robert Shwartzman currently third in the championship. And Alpine junior and Chinese racer Guanyu Zhou – who leads the F2 standings – could be a very attractive prospect and potentially available as Alpine currently have not openings next season.
Bringing new talent through is attractive for Alfa Romeo. They are proud to have been associated with Charles Leclerc’s F1 debut, ahead of his promotion to Ferrari, as well as giving Italian Giovinazzi his shot. A blend of youth and experience, then, would suit them nicely going forward.