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Alfa Romeo started the 2022 Formula 1 season with a new driver pairing. How did the new chapter begin with Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu as drivers?
At the end of the 2021 season, Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi left the team from Hinwil. Ex-Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas and rookie Zhou Guanyu from China completed the Swiss team as new drivers for the 2022 season. Zhou is the first Chinese Formula 1 driver, and expectations were high for the now 23-year-old.
The team stated: “The feeling of readiness as the season starts is something special: as exciting and holding promise as the first day of school; as inebriating as a genepy after a day in the Alps; as loaded with mystery and expectation as a sealed envelope holding a secret.”
As well as new drivers, Alfa Romeo had a new name. The team became known as Alfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen. But this name will already be phased out at the end of 2023. Alfa Romeo ended the partnership with Sauber.
The course of Alfa Romeo’s season
Alfa Romeo had a stronger season than 2021. Last year they finished in the penultimate place with a total of 13 points – P9 in the Constructors’ Championship. In 2022, the team found new hope, and Alfa Romeo fought to sixth place with 55 points.
Best team result
Alfa Romeo enjoyed their best season result at Imola in April. Valtteri Bottas scored two points in the sprint race and made up further places during the Grand Prix to finish the race in P5. The Finn scored a total of 12 points.
💚🤍❤️ Italy suits you well @ValtteriBottas 🙌#ImolaGP pic.twitter.com/JPj5Dt102i
— Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN (@alfaromeoorlen) April 24, 2022
But Imola isn’t the only race worth mentioning. The opening race in Bahrain was special for Alfa Romeo. Zhou and Bottas scored double points for the team in the season opener. A total of nine points was already on the team’s tally.
Zhou was one of the 66 drivers who scored points in their first Grand Prix. For him, the race was “so intense, not physically, mentally”.
Overall, the first half of the 2022 Formula One season for Alfa Romeo was a positive experience. The team achieved points regularly, so they quickly climbed the constructors’ table.
However, the technical problems and the Ferrari engine playing tricks on the team caused a few DNFs. The second half of the season was marked by the fact that the development of the C42 was insufficient to prevail against the other drivers and teams.
Whilst Bottas and Zhou collected 51 points in the first half of the season, only four followed in the second half. The contrast could not have been more jarring.
In general, the team was often on a good course but was beset by mechanical defects, so some races were over quickly. Zhou was on track to achieve his best result in Baku but could not finish the race.
Highs and lows
When people think of Alfa Romeo and the 2022 season, the season opener in Bahrain, the race in Imola and the Canadian Grand Prix are the most likely to pop into their heads. Bottas and Zhou brought home double points for the team for the second time this season in Canada.
Bottas said at the time: “My race was quite straightforward. I started on the hard tyre and then everything went perfectly for me. The timing of the Safety Car was ideal, I was like ‘happy days!’ It felt really good to be out there, and I’m happy for Zhou as well. He had strong pace and he can take a lot of confidence from this weekend.”
But adverse events also shook the team from Hinwil. No one will forget the first lap of the Silverstone Grand Prix.
After contact with George Russell, Zhou’s Alfa Romeo was turned upside down shortly after lights out. It skidded across the track and a gravel trap and landed between a tyre barrier and the catch fence to the grandstand, which is at the end of the first straight of the circuit.
Thanks to the halo, Zhou survived the forceful impact without severe consequences. Nevertheless, the safety of the Formula 1 cars was improved again as a result. From 2023, the roll hoops will have to withstand more pressure than before – the roll hoop could not resist the force and broke during Zhou’s accident.
Valtteri Bottas coped well with the change from Mercedes, a top team, to Alfa Romeo throughout 2022. He started the season strongly and got everything he could out of the C42. Bottas finished the season in 10th place in the Drivers’ Standings with 49 points. His results even put him ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo.
But Bottas also had low points in the 2022 season, with three DNFs in a row in Hungary, Belgium and the Netherlands. In total, Bottas failed to finish six races.
Bottas’ teammate Zhou also started the season on a high. A first points finish in Bahrain was just the beginning. In Canada, Zhou achieved his best career finish. He ended the race in P8. The F1 rookie shared his happiness about his Canadian Grand Prix result. Zhou said:
“I obviously didn’t have much experience on this track, but we got the job done in tricky conditions yesterday and today we had strong pace: I knew that we would be able to fight for points, and we did. I am super happy for everyone here and back at the factory, we really deserved this result for the work done and the progress achieved over the past few weeks. I’m really looking forward to continuing in this vein in the next races.”
Overall, Alfa Romeo has made a big scrap forward, especially in the first half of the season. Despite some low points and dips in performance, the team knows where it stands and what it can achieve:
“It’s been a long season, started in the crisp winter mornings of Barcelona, on days when our world felt crumbling as the C42 was off in the worst possible way; a feeling that turned to elation in a matter of weeks, as we opened our tally with a double-points finish in Bahrain, the season opener. It’s been a season of ups and downs, dizzying the former, demoralising the latter: to its credit, the team, not even in the worst moments, ever lost sight of its targets, ever let go of its motivation, ever lost the belief in its capabilities.”
It’s particularly nice to see Valtteri Bottas well-received and flourishing in his new team. Zhou can also be proud of his rookie season. The team has developed a good dynamic – to the extent that Bottas gives Zhou hints during the races. When Bottas was behind his team-mate in Brazil, he analysed the fight between Zhou and Latifi.
He radioed the pits: “Tell Zhou to attack him into turn 10. Latifi is braking early.”
With the two already having formed a strong partnership, 2023 could be promising for both Bottas and Zhou.
The future of Alfa Romeo
Even though the development of the C42 has slowed down over the season, Alfa Romeo has been able to experience many surprising moments. In particular, the double points finishes in Bahrain and Canada showed the team they could attack. But the shock moments are not forgotten either – a total of 11 DNFs and Zhou’s accident at Silverstone overshadow some of the team’s successes.
With the departure of Fred Vasseur and the welcoming of McLaren’s former team boss Andreas Seidl, Alfa Romeo has made a good catch. Seidl built up quite a bit at McLaren – a precursor for Alfa Romeo and Sauber? However, they still don’t have a team principal.
But, overall, the team exceeded their expectations. They worked hard to move up from P9 to P6 in the Constructors’ Championship and the results rewarded them.
It remains to be seen whether even more will be possible next year. The battle for 2023 is on!
Image Credit: Cesar Gomez/Jam Media via Getty Images