Written by: Danny Jones Edited by: Haneen Abbas
Alfa Romeo’s recent re-signing with Sauber, now gives them the opportunity to control who they place in both of their seats, unlike previously, where Ferrari would place a Driver Academy member in that place. Since 2019, Ferrari placed Antonio Giovinazzi in that space, and to the surprise of many, retained his seat for 2021, alongside Kimi Raikkonen. However, Giovinazzi’s performances have started to come under scrutiny. The Italian has struggled to make his mark in the sport thus far, only racking up 4 points in the 2020 season, and a sole point in Monaco in 2021. Giovinazzi has yet to fully wow anyone in the F1 paddock, but neither is a driver who is consistently struggling. 2021 is a year that Giovinazzi is required to improve, to show Alfa Romeo bosses that he deserves to keep the seat, if he wants to continue his stay in F1.
Kimi Raikkonen is in his 19th season of F1 in 2021, and with the regulation changes forthcoming, a retirement for the Iceman is on the cards, and Alfa Romeo boss Frederic Vasseur, has not ruled out the possibility of making 2 driver changes for 2021. A main contender to take an Alfa Romeo seat is Robert Shwartzman. The Russian, currently competing in F2, racked up the most wins of any driver in 2020, as he finished 4th in the championship, while winning the constructors championship with PREMA. He is one of the favourites for the 2021 drivers championship, and with his 2 wins in Silverstone and Baku so far this season, his 3rd place in the championship, certainly keeps him in the title mix, at the midpoint of the F2 season.. He was in the money for a Haas or Alfa Romeo seat in 2021, but never came to fruition, but 2022 could be the year that Shwartzman moves to F1. If Shwartzman does win the title, or is able to prove competitive again, Alfa Romeo would certainly have an eye on the Russian.
If Alfa Romeo were to look elsewhere, they have numerous options. Theo Pourchaire is the only Sauber academy member in single seaters, who is currently competing in F2. However, Pourchaire is only 17, and has little single-seater experience, albeit very talented. It is unlikely that he would be competitive in his 1st season of F2, so a 2nd season in 2022 may be logical for him, with a potential seat in 2023. Frederic Vasseur has also expressed that Pourchaire would not be ready to step up in 2022.
Possibly their most logical choice would be signing another FDA member, most probably, in Callum Ilott. The Brit was unfortunate not to receive an F1 seat in 2021, despite finishing 2nd in F2, and gained the role of Ferrari reserve. Ilott is set to compete in GT World Challenge Europe in 2021 but is likely to do testing with Ferrari on a regular basis. An ex-Sauber academy member, Ilott has proved his speed multiple times in F2, and would be a worthy candidate for that Alfa Romeo seat. Additionally, Ilott has done practice sessions with Alfa Romeo in Portugal and Austria, and has strong links with the team.
Alfa Romeo could also look towards Valtteri Bottas, who looks likely to leave Mercedes at the end of 2021. Reports have recently been floating around that Alfa are having a serious look at the Finn for a 2022 seat, and Bottas does have plenty of experience, whilst still being in his ‘prime years’. It would be a logical choice for Alfa Romeo, as Bottas would be able to support any rookis, such as Ilott or Shwartzman, if they were promoted alongside him. Additionally, Mercedes have said they would help Bottas find a seat if he were to leave the team, and with spaces running out quickly, Alfa Romeo would be a probable path for Bottas to go down.
With Kimi Raikkonen’s time in F1 looking likely to come to an end in 2021, and Antonio Giovinazzi’s performances unlikely to improve to the point where he looks a genuine shot for future F1 success, a double change for Alfa Romeo is on the cards. The experience available in Valtteri Bottas would mean he would be an almost certain move for Alfa Romeo, if he were to become available, and would bring huge benefits as F1 enters its new regulations. Alongside him, Shwartzman’s excellent performances in F2 over the last 2 seasons would be difficult to ignore, and if he continues to impress in the championship, there is a strong chance that he will line up for the Swiss team in 2022.