Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Simran Kanthi
Alfa Romeo, formerly known as Sauber, have had it rough in the last couple of years, with the team falling towards the back of the field, even in the presence of world champion Kimi Räikkönen. Having suffered a dismal 2021, where they fell to ninth in the constructors' standings with just 13 points to their name, Alfa, like all other midfield teams, pinpointed this year's regulations change as the turning point in their fortunes. That didn't look to be the case after suffering a lot of reliability woes in testing, but come the first race of the season, the C42 could very much hold its own amongst F1's midfield rollercoaster. The team quietly went about scoring as many points as they could, Imola being the highest point of the year, where the car arguably had the pace for a podium. By the start of summer, Alfa found itself in a comfortable sixth place, having also recorded their first double points finish in two years in Canada. What followed was a massive drop-off in performance. That's not to say they were nowhere, with multiple 11th-place finishes in the second half of the season, like Austria and Singapore, but it became clear that the car was no longer benefiting from being the only one under the weight limit and had been comprehensively out-developed by rival teams. On top of this, they proved to be the most unreliable, with a total of 12 DNFs between the drivers. The only positive from Alfa Romeo's second half of the year was that it gave Formula 2 star Theo Pourchaire, who is part of the Sauber academy, an FP1 appearance in Austin.
Of course, some blame falls on the drivers making errors and the odd bad strategy call, but overall it was clear that Alfa had been comprehensively out-developed by its rivals in the second half, just holding on to that sixth place from a resurgent Aston Martin. Still, this was their best championship finish in ten years and with a promising driver line-up, as well as a deal with Audi on the horizon and McLaren's Andreas Seidl coming in as CEO, the future looks bright for the iconic Swiss team.
If you used a diagram to describe the performance of Valtteri Bottas and Alfa Romeo this year, it would basically be two identical lines peaking at the start of the season and falling very sharply from the midpoint onwards. The Mercedes refugee said he felt less pressure with a multi-year contract and enjoyed having greater influence in what was going on inside the engineers' room. This was evident from the start, with the Finn securing strong points finishes in Bahrain, Imola, arguably his best performance where despite finishing fifth he felt he could've even been on the podium, Spain, Miami, and a couple of other Grands-Prix, something that saw him comfortably stay in the top 10 in the standings. Bottas also showed his qualifying prowess more than ever in 2022, placing his C42 challenger high up on the grid in several instances, the most memorable being in Mexico, where he managed to split the two Ferraris. But the Finn stopped troubling the top 10 once the pace of the Alfa Romeo disappeared, scoring just three points from the Britain round onwards, while also being quite often outshone by his young rookie teammate, who we'll get to in a bit. The odd mistake also didn't escape Bottas, when he went wide in Miami allowing both the Mercedes through, or when he beached his car in the gravel in Austin while running in the points. Still, he did just enough to secure tenth in the drivers' standings and proved that he is a crucial asset to the team, scoring 49 of their 55 points.
Best race: Imola, where Bottas managed to finish fifth, spending the last part of the race chasing the Mercedes of George Russell. Without a bad start and a slow pit stop, he could've been fighting for a podium.
A lot of hate and criticism had surrounded the young rookie when he was announced back in late 2021 as the replacement to Antonio Giovinazzi, many labelling him nothing more than a pay driver, due to the money Alfa Romeo received, thanks to his lucrative sponsorship. Zhou Guanyu quickly dismissed those rumours, finishing a solid tenth in the Bahrain season opener. From there, he showed some moderate pace and often fell just short of a points finish. His best weekend overall has to be in Canada, where he beat his teammate in a wet qualifying session and stayed relatively close to him throughout the race, finishing a place short of him in eighth. This race also began the trend of the Chinese out-qualifying and out-racing his much more experienced teammate quite often. Sadly for him, his improvement as a driver came mostly in the second half of the season, by which time the Alfa Romeo had stopped being a regular point-scoring threat, meaning a lot of his better performances went under the radar. If Alfa Romeo manage to make a competitive car again in 2023, Zhou will want to make sure he's remembered more for his on-track performances and less so for an impressive save at Monaco and being flipped upside down at the start of the British Grand Prix.
Best Race: Canada. Zhou out-qualified his experienced teammate, who's at his best on Saturdays, in wet conditions on a track he'd never raced at before. He proceeded to finish only a place behind Bottas, in eighth, following a penalty for Alpine's Fernando Alonso.
The pressure was off Valtteri Bottas' shoulders coming into 2022 as he departed Mercedes after five seasons with them, and with an unfancied Alfa Romeo outfit, the key expectation for the Finn was to perform comfortably against rookie teammate, Zhou Guanyu. And Bottas impressed us all with a successful start to the season, picking up 46 points in the opening nine rounds, suggesting signs that he could become the leader of the midfield. However, a barren run between Great Britain and the United States would eliminate any chances of this, as Alfa Romeo were out-developed by key competitors like Alpine and Aston Martin. His impressive start to the season does not go unnoticed though, and after criticism from his spell at Mercedes, Bottas very much proved that he very much deserves a spot on the F1 grid, as he quietly, but effectively went around his business. All things considered, a respectable season, but would be unable to perform the miracles he did at the start of the season once development ground to a halt.
Best Race: Imola is a simple choice for Bottas, claimed a strong P7 in the sprint, and rounded off his impressive weekend with a P5 on Sunday, pressuring Russell until the chequered flag.
Zhou Guanyu was the only rookie on the 2022 Formula One Grid, as he became China's first Formula One driver. Replacing the unremarkable Antonio Giovinazzi, the 2022 season was all about finding his feet in Formula One and putting to bed any pay driver claims that came his way. Similarly to Bottas, the start of the season boded well for Zhou, picking up points on debut, and a personal best P8 in Canada. However, the only points finish until the season's end would be a solitary point in Monza, as Alfa Romeo slipped down the pecking order. Although on paper he was no match for Bottas, Zhou's pace picked up just when Alfa Romeo's didn't, as he out-qualified his vastly experienced teammate eight times across his 2022 campaign. Overall, a fairly quiet season, but performed consistently enough to warrant another opportunity for next season, albeit where improvement will be expected if he wants to be a regular challenger for points across the season.
Rating: 5.5/10 Best Race: His rookie outing in Bahrain was particularly impressive, taking advantage of the misfortunes of others, to pick up an unlikely point to kickstart his Formula One career.
Coming in from a high-pressure environment at Mercedes, one that saw him forced to play second fiddle to seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas finally got a chance to express himself in 2022. His performances during the early stages of the season gave us a hint of what Bottas was capable of doing for the Swiss outfit. Seven points finishes in the first nine races saw Bottas sit on a lofty 46 points and looking strong to challenge for ‘best of the rest’ across the season. Unfortunately, as Alfa Romeo were out-developed by their rivals, Bottas' performance was tailed off too, resulting in a barren run of ten races outside the points. Yet, Bottas still shone amidst this rough patch, putting in yet another sterling qualifying performance at Mexico to split the Ferraris, before taking the final point on offer in 10th, following it up with another relatively underrated drive to ninth at Brazil. His points were crucial to Alfa Romeo retaining their lofty sixth place in the standings. With a good start to his stint at Alfa Romeo, he will be looking to challenge for higher placings come 2023, should the Swiss outfit be able to match their competitors' rate of development.
Driver Rating - 7/10
Best Race - Imola was arguably his best weekend of the season. Qualifying eighth in a wet Q3 session, Bottas drove to seventh in the following day's sprint race, closing up to sixth-placed Daniel Ricciardo at the flag. And on race day, he made his way through incidents at turns one and two, showing pace good enough for a podium at one point, before a slow pit stop saw him settle for fifth, harrying George Russell at the end of the race.
Coming into 2022, Zhou had a lot of doubters to prove wrong. He finished a strong third in F2 in 2021 but made his way into the top tier of motorsport ahead of eventual champion Oscar Piastri, who had a dominant rookie F2 season. While this move saw many view him as a “pay driver” in F1, it was no secret that Zhou, the first Chinese driver in F1, definitely proved his critics wrong. A points finish on debut at Bahrain, a strong weekend at Canada which saw him make Q3 for the first time and finish a strong eighth, another tenth at Monza, and his maiden fastest lap in a soaking race at Suzuka were the strengths from a solid rookie season. He out-qualified his veteran teammate Bottas on eight instances too. A total of six points doesn't give us the entire story as Zhou was close to the points on numerous occasions. He was a victim of poor engine reliability, incidents on track, and a heart-stopping crash at Silverstone. Nonetheless, a solid rookie season by his standards and he will be looking to use his experience from 2022 to finish in the points more often in 2023.
Driver Rating - 6.5/10
Best race - His weekend in Canada could be considered a breakthrough weekend. In a qualifying session of changing weather, Zhou made it into Q3 for the first time in F1, out-qualifying more experienced teammate Bottas. A solid drive in the race saw him finish ninth on track, promoted to eighth after Fernando Alonso's penalty.