END OF YEAR REPORT: Alfa Romeo's 2023 was disappointing but can a technical reshuffle provide hope?
Alfa Romeo’s final season as Sauber’s title sponsor was one to forget with a stark drop off in form the story of the campaign. Last year the team enjoyed a sixth-place finish in the constructors’ standings – their best for a decade – but it was only ninth this time around with just 16 points.
To put that decline into perspective Valtteri Bottas scored 39 points less in 2023 than in 2022. With a new identity as Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber coming for 2024, here’s how their end of year report looks…
Valtteri Bottas – 8th in Bahrain and Qatar
Bottas scored eighth in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix but just three more points finishes would follow for the Finn throughout the rest of the season. There were 10th places in Canada and Monza as well as a joint-best eighth in Qatar.
While much of the campaign may have been largely forgettable for the former Mercedes man, he can look back at that Qatar performance as something to be proud of in 2023 – calling it a “really rewarding” finish.
He had started ninth for the race that day, before gaining one spot in a Grand Prix that saw the drivers battle with hot conditions as well as tyre safety measures that led to more pit stops than usual.
Valtteri Bottas 15–6 Zhou Guanyu*
*Bottas made it to Q2 for the British Grand Prix ahead of Zhou but was disqualified after his car was unable to provide a 1.0 litre sample of fuel
The head-to-head battle in qualifying is very firmly in the favour of the team’s more experienced driver in Bottas – he also made it to Q3 five times compared to Zhou’s two ventures into the final stage of qualifying.
But the disparity between the pair isn’t as stark as this would suggest. Much of the time Zhou’s placings were in and around Bottas’s – often no more than two or three places in it – and the 24-year-old also had the honour of grabbing the team’s highest grid slot all year with fifth in Hungary.
Valtteri Bottas 13-9 Zhou Guanyu
Coming to the race head-to-head and you can see Zhou has been much more of a match for his team mate with the results on Sunday. The Chinese driver impressed plenty during his second year in F1 and his team were similarly very happy, announcing he was re-signing for another year alongside Bottas on the eve of the Singapore Grand Prix weekend.
The points disparity between the pair was also not huge, Bottas earning 10 thanks to his aforementioned points finishes while Zhou claimed six courtesy of three ninth-place finishes in Australia, Spain and Qatar.
In a year with just a few highpoints to count on, the much-needed double points finish in Qatar was the shining light for Alfa Romeo in 2023. While Bottas’s eighth place earned four valuable points, Zhou can be especially proud after charging from 19th on the grid to an eventual ninth – aided in part by Red Bull’s Sergio Perez picking up a third time penalty for exceeding track limits in the race.
That performance was dubbed by Zhou himself as ‘something quite special’ and marked the only Grand Prix in which both Alfa Romeos finished in the points. Considering they also finished just four points ahead of last-placed Haas in the constructors', they were essential in keeping them off the bottom.
Just three races after that high point, Brazil gave Alfa Romeo their low point of the season. While their drop off in form in Hungary – after a stellar fifth and seventh in qualifying – is another candidate for this, both Bottas and Zhou were forced to retire in Sao Paulo with technical issues.
What made this particularly irksome is that points were very much on the table here with a promising start to the race. Bottas had been running in the top 10 when his team mate was called in, before the Finn also joined him in the garage a few laps later.
“I think we had the opportunity today to score but it seems like some competitors, they will score, so it’s not a good day,” said Bottas after that result, summing up the frustration many in the team would have felt that weekend.
There’s a short answer to this section in that, with Alfa Romeo now departing the sport after a six-season association with Sauber, the team need to get better – everywhere.
The slightly longer answer is that the team are well aware of this. Team Representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi was very open about this following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, saying: “Tonight’s race reflected our season in full: in the end, the constructors’ championship position corresponds to the pace we were able to show.
“We need to keep our heads down, knowing we need to work hard and make use of the lessons we learnt to improve. The biggest one is that we need to work as a team each day, having confidence in our people and in our work, but knowing that nobody will give us anything for free.”
Change is definitely afoot with Sauber. There is, of course, the tie up with Audi to come in 2026 and their new team name for 2024, but there are also hopes that a technical reshuffle at Hinwil will soon bear fruit.
James Key has taken over as Technical Director following his exit from McLaren and there are hopes that this will trigger a change in fortune next year. Both drivers are also pinning their hopes on next year’s car with Bottas saying it “looks interesting.”
What is certain is the team will be exploring every avenue they can to come back stronger and give their fans a more memorable 2024.