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While Alfa Romeo’s first half of the season is nothing like its campaign last year, when the team finished sixth in the constructors’ championship, it is hardly a surprise to see it down in ninth in the first half of 2023.
Last season, Alfa Romeo had a fantastic opening few rounds, scoring 51 points in the first nine races of the year. In contrast, so far in 2023 the Swiss outfit has only scored nine points. This is hardly surprising, considering the fact that for the remaining thirteen races of last year’s campaign they only scored four points and fell down the pecking order.
Consistently close to points
Despite scoring points on just four occasions, Alfa Romeo has been consistently close to the top ten, more so than any of its direct opponents; Williams, Haas and Alpha Tauri. In fact, the team’s leading driver each race has finished worse than thirteenth only once, at Baku, where Zhou Guanyu suffered the team’s lone retirement of the season.
The team’s best result came in Bahrain, where Valtteri Bottas finished eighth. The next top ten came finished came in the hands of Zhou Guanyu, who finished ninth in the chaotic Australian Grand Prix, as well as the Spanish one. The fourth and last points finish came with the Finnish driver, who was tenth in Canada.
Undoubtedly, Alfa Romeo’s best lost opportunity came in Hungary. There, both drivers shocked the paddock on Saturday, as Zhou qualified fifth, two spots ahead of his teammate. But it all turned into a disaster within the first meters of the race. Zhou’s car went into anti-stall and he lost ground, causing a multi-car crash in the first corner too. A bad opening lap cost Bottas too, as he dropped outside the top ten and couldn’t recover.
An all-around solid car
As the consistent results easily prove, Alfa Romeo have got a car that performs at the same good level no matter the layout. That comes with benefits and drawbacks though.
The positive aspect is that a good base for the car will make things simpler when it comes to upgrading it. In addition, the fact that Alfa Romeo is always there or thereabouts means that it is bound to benefit in a more chaotic race with lots of retirements for the faster cars.
However, getting to the top ten is very, very difficult, so point scoring opportunities are few and far in between, considering the six top teams usually occupy the points scoring positions. That becomes quite clear when looking at the standings, since the bottom four teams have scored just 34 points among them, a very low amount in comparison to past seasons.
This approach is contrasting to the one taken by Williams, for example. The British team have committed to a low-drag design for this season, which has helped the team achieve great results on merit on races at suitable tracks, such as seventh in Canada and eighth in Silverstone.
Bottas with the slight edge in the teammate battle
While this season has been an improvement for Zhou Guanyu, who is in the midst of his second season in Formula 1, Valtteri Bottas still holds the advantage. Of course, just a single point splits the pair in the standings, with each finishing in the top ten twice.
When it comes to the head-to-head battles, the score is 7-4 in favour of the Finn for both qualifying and the race. In terms of the starting positions, the gap is always close and they rarely are more than three positions apart in the very competitive midfield. The Chinese driver is the one with the best result though, which came in Hungary with fifth on the grid.
In the races, both drivers perform well and, in fact, that is where Zhou has made the biggest step forward in comparison to last season. He is yet to finish worse than sixteenth, in a season that has seen plenty of races end with all twenty cars on track. Bottas, on the other hand, has had three very bad races, but he has finished eleventh or twelfth on five occasions, including the three races leading into the summer break.
Preparing the ground for a much different future
The short-term future for Alfa Romeo is much different to their long-term one. Audi’s involvement in the team will gradually increase over the next few years, so there is a lot to be decided. But the fight for this season is still on.
The battle for seventh
A fight between four teams is brewing at the bottom of the standings and could go all the way to the end. Williams and Haas on eleven points, Alfa Romeo on nine and Alpha Tauri on three are the contenders.
The British team is looking on best form and more likely to score on the tracks that suit it. What is going to help Alfa Romeo in the battle is the fact that the team has two very capable drivers to take advantage of misfortune for the faster cars and score some points, aided by the fact that they often are on the fringes of the top ten.
Big changes on the horizon
A lot is about to change for Alfa Romeo, including its name, as the Sauber squad will become the works Audi team in 2026. While its engine deal with Ferrari will continue up to that point, the partnership with Alfa Romeo for the naming rights of the Italian manufacturer will come to a conclusion at this season’s end.
The structure of the team is also set to change. Ex-McLaren team principal, Andreas Seidl has already joined the team, and more high-profile figures are expected to join the team, as Audi will start making an impact.
On the driver front, Valtteri Bottas has a contract in place for 2024. The other seat is up for grabs though, with two main contenders. Zhou Guanyu has been driving well and his financial backing gives him the advantage, making him the favourite. The other name mentioned is the one of Theo Pourchaire. The Formula 2 championship leader is part of the team’s academy and a strong finish to the season will surely benefit him in his quest to join Formula 1.
It is worth mentioning that, despite rumours regarding Carlos Sainz and an agreement to join the Swiss squad, that does not concern either party’s 2024 plans, as the Spaniard has a contract with Ferrari for next season.
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