until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

The ‘more robust’ F1 driver spearheading Alfa Romeo’s season

by Edd Straw
5 min read

Antonio Giovinazzi’s strong start to the 2021 Formula 1 season was rewarded with Alfa Romeo’s first point for 10th place in the Monaco Grand Prix. As head of trackside engineering Xevi Pujolar put it, the 27-year-old is now a “more robust” driver than before and now delivering more consistently across both qualifying and the race – making him an effective performer for the team.

The Ferrari-contracted driver’s F1 future remains unclear, especially with the Sauber team’s future with Alfa Romeo also uncertain, but he is at least making a stronger case this year to remain in F1 having performed erratically throughout 2019-20.

Giovinazzi has outperformed veteran team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying this season, only ending up behind him on Saturday once this season – at Imola after his final Q1 run was disrupted by Haas driver Nikita Mazepin attacking him at the start of the lap.

May 31 : Our early verdict on F1's big driver moves

Prior to Monaco, Giovinazzi has suffered from misfortune in races, with pitstop problems in Bahrain and Spain and a visor tear-off caught in a rear brake duct at Imola, which has distorted his results relative to Raikkonen – who remains a consistent performer on Sundays. But given he had the disadvantage in Monaco of starting on softs thanks to reaching Q3, Giovinazzi did well to come away with a 10th place finish.

“Really good, very very strong,” said Pujolar when asked about Giovinazzi’s performance level.

“Last year, he was starting to get strong in qualifying and then [there were] some good races, but now is strong in all qualifying and all the races.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Sunday Monte Carlo, Monaco

“So he is learning a lot as a driver. He is consolidating and getting to be a more robust driver.

“We could see at the start of the race on lap one [in Monaco] gaining a position, and then managing and fighting all the way through. So he is getting to be a strong driver.”

Given the Alfa Romeo is only the ninth-fastest car on average this year, fractionally behind Williams, Giovinazzi’s point is a crucial one in the battle for eighth in the constructors’ championship.

While Alfa Romeo is more competitive than it was last season and able to reach Q2 more consistently than in 2020, there is still a performance deficit to the top seven teams. However, on its stronger weekends, Alfa has been able to do battle with Aston Martin and Alpine on weekends when those teams have struggled.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Spanish Grand Prix Race Day Barcelona, Spain

Alfa Romeo does have a crucial advantage in the battle for eighth in that it has a stronger race car than the erratic and wind-sensitive Williams. Although George Russell has managed to get Williams into Q2 in all five races so far this year, he has only put it ahead of the lead Alfa Romeo twice. On Sundays, Russell is still yet to finish ahead of the lead Alfa this year. With Haas firmly established at the back, this makes Alfa favourite to take eighth – a minor prize, but a significant one.

Giovinazzi appears to be key to Alfa Romeo’s chances of holding onto the position, as despite Raikkonen’s decent race form the Italian has qualified two to four places ahead on the grid in the four races excluding Imola, where Q1 did not play out representatively. That’s a critical advantage in terms of track position, even though Raikkonen has generally gained ground on opening laps.

But Raikkonen’s experience means he can be relied upon to deliver consistent race performances and be in a position to pick up points if the opportunity arises.

“Antonio is getting stronger, it’s not like Kimi is not strong,” said Pujolar.

“They were both in Q2 [at Monaco] and the differences are very small. It’s just that at the moment, Antonio seems to find these extra tenths in qualifying.

“But we’ve got both drivers pretty much there.”

Giovinazzi is confident of maintaining his recent run of form, and has talked optimistically about his expectations for Baku – a circuit where Alfa Romeo has enjoyed success in the past with Charles Leclerc’s sixth place in 2018.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Azerbaijan Grand Prix Practice Day Baku, Azerbaijan

“Now it’s Baku, another street track that I really love, one of my favourites,” said Giovinazzi.

“It’s just a good feeling to go there with this car. Of course, it will be a different track because it’s much longer straights there and the power unit will be really important, but we have showed the speed is there. We just need another strong weekend.”

Giovinazzi has good reason to regard Baku as one of his favourite circuits. There, at the European Grand Prix event in 2016, he achieved one of only seven double victories in the history of GP2/F2, passing Raffaele Marciello for victory in the feature race then overtaking Prema team-mate Pierre Gasly on the last lap to win the sprint race.

He finished 12th in the 2019 Azerbaijan GP on his sole F1 outing at the circuit, as well as having a good junior record on street circuits in general with F3 wins at Pau and the Norisring, but despite his optimism about doing better this year, it will be a tougher weekend for Alfa Romeo.

While the Alfa Romeo C41 has proved to be a relatively consistent car that works across a range of conditions, the Ferrari power unit remains a weakness. Although Ferrari has made gains this year compared to 2020, it remains at a disadvantage on power-sensitive circuits. That both the works team and Alfa Romeo performed well at Monaco, the least demanding circuit of the year in terms of peak power, is revealing.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Sunday Monte Carlo, Monaco

Despite that, Pujolar is optimistic of a competitive showing. This could potentially be aided by the fact that Alfa Romeo is among the teams understood to have a particularly effective rear wing in terms of taking advantage of flexibility to reduce drag, which could mitigate a power disadvantage at a circuit like Baku.

Team principal Frederic Vasseur has hit out at the changes to the rear wing load tests that will be implemented at Baku, complaining about the cost to eliminate something that he argues is not a significant performance advantage. Pujolar hasn’t ruled out being able to take the fight to Alpine and Aston Martin on the fringes of the top 10.

“If you look at race one to race five, we’ve been quite consistent,” said Pujolar.

“It will be a track where the power sensitivity is quite high but we have to see with the conditions. We expect that we should be in the mix again and we could see more fluctuation [in performance] with teams like Alpine and Aston Martin.

“We just need to push and try to be ahead of them. It’s possible.”

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks