Valtteri Bottas credited a floor upgrade for Alfa Romeo having the pace to reach Q3 for the first time since the August break in qualifying for the United States Grand Prix.
Bottas qualified ninth and will start Sunday’s race seventh thanks to grid penalties for Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. It’s the first time an Alfa Romeo has started so high since Bottas was seventh on the grid for May’s Spanish Grand Prix and ends a run of six races without a Q3 appearance.
Speaking after qualifying, Bottas suggested it wouldn’t have been possible to break into the top 10 without the upgrade, which included changes to the forward part of the floor, the side cutouts and the diffuser.
“It was quite straightforward, but it’s good to feel the improvements in the car with the new diffuser,” said Bottas.
“I think without it, we would be out of the top 10 so it shows how close it is in the midfield.
“And also at this kind of track with quite a few high-speed corners, which is not usually our strength, it’s good to see it.”
Bottas added that the increase in downforce has also improved the stability of the car.
He said that the performance suggests that Alfa Romeo could aspire to challenge for Q3 in the remaining races given the demands of the Circuit of the Americas.
“With the diffuser, it’s overall load in all speeds,” said Bottas when asked by The Race about the benefits of the upgrade.
“I definitely feel a bit more downforce and it just gives a bit more stability and a bit more laptime, which of course is going to help tomorrow as well.
“It’s a track with all types of sectors or corners, so I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to do that in the next races. I don’t think anyone is bringing any big upgrades anymore, so I hope so. Now we just need some points.”
Bottas’s only concern after qualifying was that he’d only been able to replicate his Q2 pace in Q3, improving by just 0.002 seconds despite the track evolution meaning the circuit was quicker. But despite that, he’s upbeat about the pace of the car.
The Sauber-run Alfa Romeo squad has only scored one point in the last eight races, with Bottas failing to finish in the top 10 throughout that run. His last points finish was for seventh in Canada in June.
Since then, Alfa Romeo had slid deeper into the midfield. The team credited this to the fact that despite making aerodynamic progress, the weight advantage it had in the first part of the year was eroded as others caught up. This latest upgrade has allowed it to return to the kind of form it showed in the first third of the season.
Bottas is confident of being able to fight for points, even if holding onto seventh place will be difficult given Perez and Leclerc should have the pace to get ahead relatively easily.
This is particularly important for Alfa Romeo given it is trying to hold onto sixth place in the constructors’ championship from the resurgent Aston Martin, which has reduced the gap to just seven points.
“It’s a good starting point and we’re definitely going to be hunting some good points tomorrow,” said Bottas.
“We need to score more than Aston Martin, that’s the most important thing and I think in the race we can fight with them.”
Team-mate Zhou Guanyu underlined the pace of the Alfa Romeo by also setting a time good enough for ninth place in Q2, only for it to be deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 12.
Zhou’s lap of 1m36.196s was 0.125s quicker than Bottas’s legitimate Q2 lap, but he slipped to 14th place based on his first-run time when the second effort was deleted. That adds up to 19th on the grid for the race thanks to a five-place grid penalty for taking his fifth V6 engine of the season.
He described himself as “very gutted”, adding that the deletion – his second of qualifying having lost a time during Q1 – came as a surprise.
“The first one, I was a bit more on the limit,” said Zhou when asked by The Race about the difficulty of judging track limits at the Turn 12 left-hander. “The second one, from my cockpit view, I was pretty much in.
“Then, looking at the onboard my front wheel was on the line so maybe the rear was out by 1-2mm. I don’t know.
“I was so surprised, more with the Q2 lap [to get] into Q3 because on the Q1 lap I was missing the apex, but that lap was quite a quiet and tidy one.”