The 2019 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season is all set and ready to go with the Australian GP in Melbourne on 14-17 March. After the long off-season, fans have had their appetites whetted by the two pre-season tests at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain.
The Sauber F1 team has benefited from the strategic, technical and commercial partnership in 2019 with Alfa Romeo. The association with Alfa Romeo which is a subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the parent company of Ferrari, has led to the Hinwil-based team acquiring financial stability. After the two previous dismal seasons, the team moved up the ladder to eighth position with an impressive 48 points in 2018.
The team is closely associated with the Ferrari team now and is functioning as the Italian team’s junior team. Charles Leclerc, a Ferrari Academy driver, after an impressive debut season for Alfa Romeo Sauber has moved to the Ferrari team for 2019. In a surprising move, veteran Kimi Räikkönen replaced young Leclerc at the Alfa Romeo Racing team. The team then signed Antonio Giovinazzi to replace Marcus Ericsson for 2019.
Giovinazzi will be driving his first full season in F1. The Italian will be up against the most experienced driver on the grid in Räikkönen. The battle between the consummate veteran Kimi Räikkönen and the newcomer Antonio Giovinazzi is eagerly anticipated.
#7 Kimi Räikkönen
291 GP Starts | 1 Championship | 21 Wins | 18 Pole Positions | 46 Fastest Laps
The Sauber and McLaren Years
Räikkönen, in his seventeenth season in Formula 1, returns to the team he made his debut with in 2001 this season. The Finn made an impressive debut with the Swiss-based privateer team before he moved on to McLaren. Räikkönen was edged in points by his German team-mate Nick Heidfeld in that first season (9 points to 12 points). But his impressive speed and raw talent earned him a place at a top team like McLaren.
The young Finn replaced a fellow Finn and two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen in 2002 at the Woking-based team. Over the next five seasons, Räikkönen partnered with the veteran David Coulthard and then Juan Pablo Montoya. Though he was beaten by his team-mate in his first season at McLaren, he proceeded to decisively beat his team-mates in the next four seasons. In that first season with McLaren, he suffered 11 DNFs due to reliability and other issues.
But the Finn was fast acquiring a reputation for being fast and furious on the track and laid-back and ice-cool off it. Soon he earned the nickname of “Iceman” and was seen along with Fernando Alonso as the main challengers to the great Michael Schumacher. From 2002-2006, the Finn amassed 36 podiums that included nine wins.
The First Stint at Ferrari
Räikkönen’s impressive five-year stint at McLaren soon earned him a drive with Ferrari in 2007. In his three-years at Ferrari, Räikkönen partnered with Felipe Massa. The first year at Ferrari earned the Finn his only World Drivers’ Championship, ironically beating the duo of drivers (Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso) from his old team McLaren by a solitary point. In 2008, the Finn was beaten by his Brazilian team-mate Massa who lost the drivers’ title by one point to Hamilton.
In 2009, Räikkönen’s enthusiasm for the sport was flagging and there were persistent rumours that he was on his way out at Ferrari. He finished the season beating Massa (48 points to 22 points), ending his first stint at Ferrari with 26 podiums that included nine wins before pursuing rallying and NASCAR.
The Lotus Years
The Finn returned to F1 in 2012 with the then Lotus F1 team where he would remain for two years, partnering with Romain Grosjean. Räikkönen was consistent in a car that was not the fastest on the grid and added two wins and a further 15 podiums to his career record. The results started tapering off at the end of the 2013 season. Räikkönen left for greener pastures with a return to his old team Ferrari for the 2014 season.
Räikkönen’s Second Stint at Ferrari
Räikkönen started the V6 1.6 L Hybrid-Engine era at Ferrari in 2014 with the formidable Alonso as teammate. The Spaniard was in his fifth season at the Maranello-based team at that time. The team and car were built around Alonso. In a season, when the Ferrari team was off the pace and did not have a single race win or pole position, Räikkönen fared rather poorly against Alonso. The Finn finished twelfth compared to Alonso’s sixth position in championship. He scored only 34% of the points that the Spaniard scored.
Sebastian Vettel, the four-time world champion, replaced Alonso as Räikkönen’s teammate in 2015. Ferrari made giant steps that season compared to the previous winless season. Even as Vettel scored three race wins and ten podiums, Räikkönen had no wins and three podiums only. He scored 53.9% of the points tally of Vettel.
Even as Ferrari took a step back in 2016 and had another winless season, Räikkönen’s performance improved and his performance in points and podiums was much closer to Vettel. He scored four podiums and 87.7% of the points tally of Vettel.
The Last Two Years At Ferrari
In 2017, team-mate Vettel challenged for the drivers’ championship. Räikkönen was not in the title fight, but the 2017 car seemed to suit the Finn better. The statistics that season did not reflect the improved performance from Räikkönen. He scored seven podiums and 64.7% of the points tally of Vettel.
In 2018, the final year at Ferrari saw Räikkönen amass 12 podiums which included a win at the United States GP. The Finn was beaten again by his team-mate, but scored 78.4% of the points tally of Vettel. The second stint at Ferrari saw Räikkönen beaten by his team-mate every season. But he ended on a strong note last season as he clinched his first win since 2013.
In compiling an outstanding record in F1, the Finn has scored 103 podiums, 21 wins (1816 points) and 18 pole positions.
#99 Antonio Giovinazzi
2 GP Starts
His Brief Career
Giovinazzi started his single-seater career with the title in the Formula Pilota China series in 2012. The Italian further enhanced his reputation as he finished second in the British Formula 3 championship the next year. In 2015, Giovinazzi finished runner-up in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship. This was followed by another second-place finish in his first year in the GP2 championship in 2016.
The Italian’s impressive progress through the lower categories earned him a seat as Ferrari’s simulator driver and then a third driver role in 2017. An opportunity came unexpectedly that season, as he was asked to replace the injured Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber for the Australian and Chinese GP. Gioninazzi finished twelfth in his first Formula 1 race. But he crashed out in the rain during qualification and the race in China.
Giovinazzi, as a junior Ferrari driver, has driven in testing and free practice sessions for Ferrari, Haas F1 and Sauber teams.
Räikkönen vs Giovinazzi in 2019
Räikkönen is an experienced competitor and will give no quarter in his battle with young Giovinazzi. The Finn is also averse to playing politics and mind-games. But Giovinazzi will be up against a formidable opponent in terms of experience and race craft. A very potent combination indeed!
The 2019 Alfa Romeo Racing C38 challenger powered by Ferrari performed well in the two pre-season tests. The team is well-led by Team Principal Frédéric Vasseur and Technical Director Simone Resta. Resta was the Chief Designer at Ferrari, before he joined Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 mid-season in 2018. There is no doubt that the Swiss-team is on an upward trajectory in terms of performance.
The Alfa Romeo Racing team will start the season in the thick of battle with the midfield teams like Renault, Haas F1, McLaren and Toro Rosso. We could see a close battle between veteran Räikkönen and a very promising young driver in Giovinazzi.
Can Giovinazzi Beat Räikkönen?
Qualifying has been the Achilles heel for the Finn for many seasons. But in 2017 in Monaco, Räikkönen finally clinched that elusive pole position, the first time he was on pole since the French GP in 2008. In 2018, a famous pole position at the Italian GP in Monza followed
The only hope for Giovinazzi is to qualify ahead of Räikkönen consistently. Even then, finishing ahead of the veteran driver on Sunday could be a tall order. Consistent performances with great race craft and overtaking skills are Räikkönen’s forte.
Antonio Giovinazzi has his work cut out for him. Looking at career statistics, it appears to be a David vs Goliath battle. But if the Italian can beat Räikkönen over the 2019 season, it would be a huge feather in his cap. So we have a recipe for a gripping battle, if both drivers deliver. The Alfa Romeo Racing team will hope this will help them climb further up the ladder in 2019.