Formula 1

SEASON REVIEW: 2021 Formula 1 World Championship – Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN

7 Mins read
Credit: DPPI

2021 was another weird year for Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN. The Swiss-Italian team spent yet another year near the back of the field in an uncompetitive car, fighting for the top end of the points instead of for podiums or wins. There was also the spectre of the future of its drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi hanging over the team for the entire year, something which only got heavier on everyone’s minds as Raikkonen’s retirement (and replacement by Valtteri Bottas) was announced and it started to become apparent that Giovinazzi might be bumped out of the team for the up and coming Chinese driver Guanyu Zhou and the big Chinese financial backing he brings with him. There was also the temporary blip of Raikkonen falling victim to COVID-19, forcing him to stay away from the F1 paddock for 2 weeks. Thankfully, the much-loved Robert Kubica fulfilled his duties as reserve driver well and kept the ship afloat before The Iceman was able to return.

Kimi Raikkonen waves to the fans for the last time at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi. (Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd)

Alfa Romeo also brought its fair share of its own internal drama to the discussions regarding the 2021 season. There were big rumours that Michael Andretti would buy into the team, leading to an Andretti-backed driver (most likely the young IndyCar superstar Colton Herta) getting a Formula 1 drive for 2022 as a result. This was something that whipped motorsport media all across the world into a frenzy in the hope that it could actually happen and we could see the Andretti name on the side of a Formula 1 car. Unfortunately for those who really wanted it, though, it was not to be.

Callum Ilott briefly joined the team in 2021 as a test driver, although it didn’t lead to any kind of permanent role in 2022. (Credit: Antonin Vincent / DPPI)

In a more minor role, Callum Ilott also ended up doing some work for the team in 2021 as a test driver. It was hoped that this would be a prequel to him finally getting the F1 seat that many thought he deserved. Unfortunately, that was not to be, as he’s now in the states focusing on a career in IndyCar. There was also the massive oddity of the infamous Mahaveer Raghunathan doing a private test for the team in Hungary, although that seems to have just been passed off as a moment of odd comedy and not too indicative of any serious scouting of the former Formula 2 driver.

The Highs

Perhaps the most obvious high point that came out of Alfa Romeo’s 2021 season is that thanks to the Ferrari power unit being better, the team was more competitive than it was in 2020. Whilst points finishes were still rare, they happened more often than in 2020. The team also achieved significantly better results in qualifying than in 2020, most markedly in Monaco where Giovinazzi managed to just sneak into Q3 for the first time in his Formula 1 career!

Antonio Giovinazzi managed to get into Q3 for the first time in his F1 career at Monaco. (Credit: Florent Gooden / DPPI)

There’s also the surprise high point that happened with Robert Kubica‘s return to driving an F1 car in anger. Kubica put in a more than decent performance during his unexpected return, managing to stay ahead of both of the Haas and both of the Williams drivers at Zandvoort and kept his nose clean during the (at points) rather chaotic race at Monza. His surprise return to Formula 1 was also very well-received by fans, thanks to his status as a beloved elder statesman of the sport who many believe should have won a championship earlier on in his career with the same team back in its BMW Sauber days.

The Lows

Of course, the most obvious low point for Alfa Romeo in 2021 was the announcement of Kimi Raikkonen‘s retirement from Formula 1 at the end of the year. The Iceman is such a beloved figure in F1 and it will genuinely be a bit odd at first to not see him be on the grid this year. Fans will also really miss his partnership with Antonio Giovinazzi, which was easily one of the best teammate partnerships on the grid in terms of how well they got on with each other.

The pairing of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovnazzi became one of the best and most-loved teammate partnerships on the grid. (Credit: Xavi Bonilla / DPPI)

There was also the huge issue with Raikkonen having to miss two race weekends due to becoming infected with COVID-19. Thankfully, as mentioned earlier, Kubica was able to more than make up for things in Raikkonen’s absence. As proven when Nico Hulkenberg stepped into the Racing Point RP20 last year for the two weekends at Silverstone and the one weekend at the Nurburgring GP Circuit (replacing Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, respectively), being a last-minute substitute driver is no easy task!

Robert Kubica’s surprise return to Formula 1 was very much enjoyed by the fans and he more than made up for Raikkonen’s absence. (Credit: Joao Filipe / DPPI)

It also wouldn’t go amiss to mention the huge disappointment for the team that was the double DNF at Abu Dhabi. Whilst this was massively overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the safety car restart, it still must have felt like a huge blow to the team’s overall morale when you take into account that it was the last race for both the team’s main drivers. For a driver pairing that deserved a proper send-off at the finish line (especially when Kimi Raikkonen is concerned, as he will never be returning to F1), you really can’t help but feel that the both of them deserved better than the luck they were dealt that Sunday.

Credit: Joao Filipe / DPPI

Lastly, the internal drama surrounding the Andretti buyout situation did absolutely nothing to help the team’s public perception. Whilst it was cool at the time that Michael Andretti seemed to be genuinely interested in taking on the challenge of Formula 1 as a team owner, it ultimately led to nothing and things just carried on as they were. That was a real downer to everyone who really wanted to see an Andretti F1 team. Combined the failed promises of Callum Ilott‘s hiring as a test driver and the almost surreal comedy moment that was the team giving Mahaveer Raghunathan a test, and you honestly couldn’t think of a worse way for the team’s public image to go during the course of a season.

Qualifying Battle

When it came to qualifying, Antonio Giovinazzi was definitely ahead of and more consistent than Kimi Raikkonen over the 2021 season. The now-current Formula E driver managed to get into the top 10 on the starting grid 3 times this year (a 10th place start at Monaco, a 7th place start in The Netherlands and a 7th place start at Monza in Italy thanks to the Sprint Qualifying format). Meanwhile, Raikkonen only managed a top 10 start once in Mexico. Meanwhile, when he was filling in for Raikkonen, Robert Kubica managed respectable qualifying results (considering his situation) of 16th in The Netherlands and 17th at Monza in Italy through the Sprint Qualifying format.

Race Battle

Initially, Kimi Raikkonen was the clear winner of the battle during the races, his incredible amount of experience and ability to have fantastic race starts putting him ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi. This changed a bit however after Raikkonen’s return for his COVID-related absence, with Giovinazzi having more consistent results. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, both drivers suffered a DNF during the final race of the season at Abu Dhabi.

Antonio Giovinazzi has bowed out of F1… for now, at least. (Credit: Xavi Bonilla / DPPI)

Whilst Robert Kubica‘s race results don’t initially look like anything much to write home about, you have to take into account that he managed those results after not having driven an F1 car in anger since the end of the 2019 season. To be able to achieve a 15th place finish at Zandvoort and a 14th place finish at Monza after being away from racing in an F1 car for well over a year and in a car that often struggled to reach the bottom end of the points-paying positions is genuinely an impressive achievement for him!

Season Results

RoundRaikkonen QualifyingRaikkonen RaceGiovinazzi QualifyingGiovinazzi RaceKubica QualifyingKubica Race
Austria16th16th15th14thN/A N/A
Great Britain13th (via sprint qualifying)15th15th (via sprint qualifying)13thN/A N/A
Hungary13th10th14th13thN/A N/A
Belgium18th18th15th13thN/A N/A
The NetherlandsWD (COVID-19)WD (COVID-19)7th14th16th15th
ItalyN/A (COVID-19)N/A (COVID-19)7th (via sprint qualifying)13th17th (via sprint qualifying)14th
Russia13th8th16th16thN/A N/A
Turkey17th12th16th11thN/A N/A
USA15th13th12th11thN/A N/A
Mexico10th8th11th11thN/A N/A
Brazil20th (via sprint qualifying)12th13th (via sprint qualifying)14thN/A N/A
Qatar16th14th18th15thN/A N/A
Saudi Arabia12th15th10th9thN/A N/A
Abu Dhabi18th DNF14thDNFN/A N/A

What to look for in 2022

2022 is a bit of a mystery as to where things will be with Alfa Romeo. Whilst the team will have a great and proven number 1 driver in Valtteri Bottas who could potentially pull in some great results, Guanyu Zhou (the first Chinese driver ever to compete in Formula 1!) is a bit more of an unknown. His performances in Formula 2 last year certainly do suggest that he’ll be somewhat better in his first year of F1 than Nikita Mazepin‘s were at Haas last year, but the leap from F2 to F1 is much bigger than a lot of people realise. Thankfully, Robert Kubica will be staying within the team as the main reserve driver and Antonio Giovinazzi will still be on call as a reserve too, meaning that Zhou will have several very experienced racing drivers around him to help him get used to his new Formula 1 machinery.

Guanyu Zhou will bring new talent and new financial backing for the team from 2022, as well as representation for his home country of China for the first time ever in Formula 1 (Credit: Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN)

Perhaps more importantly for the team, his big Chinese financial backing will bring much-needed money into the team. Hopefully, that cash injection from Zhou’s backers will help Alfa Romeo become a more competitive team within the next few years, as it’ll give them more money to spend on developing their cars. This, combined with Bottas’s proven ability in a top-level car from his 4 seasons with Mercedes, could help create the conditions for Alfa to manage in the 2020s what Red Bull managed in the 2000s; going from a struggling backmarker team in 2005 to legitimately being able to fight for wins by the end of the decade.

Valtteri Bottas is a proven talent in Formula 1 – could he get some great results for Alfa Romeo this year? (Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd)

Not only is all of this on the cards, but the team’s rebrand to Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN has raised a few suspicions about the Alfa Romeo brand wanting to branch out into motorsports elsewhere. Perhaps 2022 will see Alfa Romeo competing in not just F1, or making a huge announcement for something that lies outside of what’s considered to be the world’s top motorsport. We really don’t know and, whilst that can seem like a scary concept, it’s also somewhat of an exciting one.

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