Is 2021 Alfa Romeo the right F1 car for 'crucial year'?


There was plenty of confidence at the launch of Alfa Romeo's C41 F1 car, as the team set out its strategy to become top of the midfield runners. Here's how it hopes to do it

2021 Alfa Romeo team photo

Alfa Romeo

Twenty years ago, Kimi Räikkönen arrived at the Sauber Formula 1 team with just 23 car races under his belt. There were plenty of people asking what he was doing in grand prix racing.

Today, the same questions are being asked about the same driver, the same team and its title sponsor, as the modern Alfa Romeo Formula 1 team heads into its third season.

Eighth last year and well adrift of the midfield battle, its 2021 car, the C41 must show that Alfa and Räikkönen are capable of considerably more.

“We want to improve,” said team principal Frédéric Vasseur at the car’s launch. “The whole team, we have to step by step come back at the top of the midfield but we know that it’s a long path.”

“Ferrari will recover a large part of the issue that we had last year.”

Considering the front of the midfield consists of McLaren and Aston Martin, it’s a big ambition for the small Sauber squad, which was renamed Alfa Romeo as part of a sponsorship deal in 2019.

It began promisingly, with Räikkönen recording points finishes in the first four races of the season and finishing fourth later that year. Team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi showed improvement in his rookie season too.

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There were high expectations for 2020, with the addition of a new simulator and technical director: the promoted Jan Monchaux, bringing fresh impetus for the team.

But its hopes of disrupting AlphaTauri and Renault were laid low as Ferrari’s engine troubles became apparent. With the same engine powering Alfa, the team finished 2020 eighth, with eight points: 99 behind AlphaTauri in seventh.

Antonio Giovinazzi was arguably the invisible man on the grid; difficult to place at any point during the season, except for at Spa, where he spectacularly crashed out, taking George Russell’s Williams with him but missing Räikkonen who was close behind.

The one high point was Räikkkönen’s historic first lap at Portimao: the most remarkable of his record-breaking 332 grand prix starts.

He ended the first lap sixth after beginning in the 16th grid spot. Onboard footage shows him carving through the field with split-second precision, using his shrewdly chosen soft tyres.

The euphoria didn’t last long though: 12th place was the best that Räikkönen could manage at the finish.

Alfa will be hoping that it was more a year of hibernation than regression and you don’t have to be a diehard Kimi fan to believe this is the case. After all, it wasn’t uncommon for the Alfas to be running with the Ferraris last year, suggesting that there was nothing wrong with the fundamental design; pace was limited by the engine.

From the archive

Vasseur expects the power unit to be more competitive this year, saying: “Ferrari will recover probably a large part of the issue that we had last year.”

There was noticeable confidence in the new car’s design too. Its two development tokens have been spent on improving the aerodynamic performance at the front, with a revised nose and front wing.

Monchaux said the setup is more effective at pushing the dirty air from the front wheels away from the side of the car so that the bargeboards and vanes around the sidepods can work more effectively.

He also highlighted work on the floor and rear diffuser where regulations have forced changes intended to reduce downforce. As with rival teams, Alfa is confident it has regained much of that loss.

The smirk on Vasseur’s face said it all as he said: “The FIA decided to change the regulations to slow down the car and I think we came back at a decent level.”

2021 Alfa Romeo C41

New nose has been the focus of Alfa’s development tokens


Alfa needs to come back at a decent level. Its Alfa Romeo sponsorship deal ends this year and it would no surprise if the carmaker didn’t renew after a year of disappointing sales and scaled-back plans – despite all of those Räikkönen ads.

A strong performance is not just vital to make its case to sponsors, but it will also enable the team to switch focus to its 2022 car as soon as possible.

A new era of chassis regulation offers the opportunity for teams to bake in an advantage at the very start; a rare chance to alter the running order.

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“It’s a great opportunity for us as a relatively small team to try to catch up with the rest of the field,” said Monchaux. “It’s going to be a crucial year for us.

“Its a trade-off we have to do and every team will have to do between how much we spend on the car we just presented and how much will go to next year’s car.

“We do plan to have evolutions in the first races and we will see how the season unfolds: if we are forced to do a bit more than we were hoping or if we can start a touch earlier.

“Most of the team will have an eye on 2022 because of the budget cap, we simply cannot afford to envelop two cars in parallel.

“What we give to this year’s car is lost to next year’s car, and next year’s car is an important milestone. It will be an opportunity to close the gap to the rest of the field.”

2021 Alfa Romeo C41

A stable team will help. Giovinazzi may have had a quiet season, but he matched his Raikkonen in the points standings (with four apiece) and was just ahead in the qualifying battle (9-8), even if his race pace wasn’t as impressive as that of his experienced team-mate.

Monchaux has also had a full season in his new role and Alfa will finally start to get usable data from its driver-in-the-loop simulator.

Delays, partly due to Covid meant that it wasn’t possible to set the complex kit up in time to help with this year’s car, but the team says that it will be able to correlate the simulator with race data this year, and begin to test aspects of the crucial 2022 car as well.

What comes next is down to the development work underway now.  There could be an Alfa Romeo or Sauber badge on the car; there may be an all-new driver line-up (Raikkonen and Giovinazzi are on a single-year deal); and the team may well find itself fighting among the pack.