Antonio Giovinazzi left the Alfa Romeo Formula 1 pitwall in no doubt about his feelings after finishing 11th in the Mexican Grand Prix when he offered a sarcastic “hey guys, thanks for the great strategy” over the radio.
But having run as high as sixth early on, the team was surprised that Giovinazzi’s race was ruined by an unexpectedly slow Mercedes.
Giovinazzi jumped from 11th on the grid to sixth at the start thanks to the Turn 1 chaos after Valtteri Bottas spun.
Despite being overtaken by Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz at the restart on lap five, he held seventh place ahead of Sebastian Vettel comfortably in the opening stint. With the way the race panned out, he was potentially on course to finish seventh at that stage.
But he was called into the pits to change from medium Pirellis to hards at the end of lap 16. He rejoined in 13th place behind McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo and Bottas and was stuck there until they pitted on laps 38 and 41 respectively. This allowed Vettel, team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris to overcut him by running longer.
“I’m just really disappointed because today we had the chance to score points with two cars but on my side the strategy was completely wrong,” said Giovinazzi.
“We pitted too early but I don’t think that was the issue. The issue was when I came out I was in traffic and the strategy didn’t work.”
Giovinazzi is traditionally cautious about criticising the team, but given he appears to be on his way out of the Sauber-run operation at the end of the season despite still being an outsider for the seat that is expected to go to Guanyu Zhou he was happy to highlight the mistake.
“It’s disappointing because the team didn’t score as much as possible,” said Giovinazzi. “This is really bad for myself as well.
“It was a great first lap, but in the end it didn’t do anything for my end result. Good first lap, just disappointing…”
Alfa Romeo head of trackside engineering Xevi Pujolar said that the unexpected lack of pace of Bottas, who was being held up by Ricciardo ahead, led to this strategic misjudgement.
Without the error, Giovinazzi would likely have finished seventh, with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who finished eighth, two places behind. This would have doubled its tally from the race and left Alfa Romeo just eight points behind Williams in the battle for eighth in the constructors’ championship rather than the current 12.
“In Turn 1 with all the incidents, we lost a bit of position with Kimi but were very well positioned with Antonio, so there was still a good chance to score and everything was going to plan,” said Pujolar when asked by The Race about the strategy.
“For most people that planned the medium/hard [one-stop strategy], the question is how early do you go and how much do you extend the stint with the hard. For us, there was no incentive to stop early, but at one point Antonio started to struggle with the rear tyres and we were looking at the traffic behind.
“Kimi still had good pace and we had that group with Ricciardo and Bottas, who we knew were managing tyres. The last thing we wanted to do was have everyone compressed behind Antonio, so we decided to box him and we knew he would go with Bottas and Ricciardo.
“What we misjudged here is the pace of these two guys. We thought that their pace would be faster, as fast as Kimi, and so we went with Antonio and kept Kimi there. This was not ideal for Antonio and we didn’t expect that.
“He could not overtake and he lost time. At that point we compromised that race because of Ricciardo [who was also holding up Bottas] – I don’t know if he had some problem because even if you manage [tyres] you don’t lose that much time. At the point we boxed Antonio we knew we could get to the end of the race no problems, so it was OK.”
Ricciardo did have a small problem thanks to floor damage sustained when he was hit by George Russell’s Williams at Turn 6 on the opening lap, which Alfa Romeo could not have known at the time.
But the time loss was significant. In the 15 complete laps before Vettel pitted (laps 18-32), he gained an average of 0.944s per lap over Giovinazzi, who was stuck behind Bottas until lap 41 and sustained even more losses. Giovinazzi’s time loss to Raikkonen in the same period was an average of 0.774s per lap.
As Pujolar said, “I would not expect them going slower than us” but the signs were there when Giovinazzi was called into the pits given the time being lost by Ricciardo and Bottas, even though it’s an unusual scenario for an Alfa Romeo to be held up so much by a Mercedes and a McLaren.
Whatever the reasons for the error, the irony is that Giovinazzi ended up losing a points finish thanks to being held up by two cars that are usually significant quicker – a cruel twist of fate for a team that has already missed out on too many potential results this season.