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2023 Performance Review: Alfa Romeo

Written by Meghana Sree, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri


The 2023 F1 Season ended in November, and ever since, our Formula One writers have been hard at work, reviewing the drivers’ performances and rating them across a scale of ten. Our next review looks into the story of Alfa Romeo’s final season in partnership with Sauber in 2023, one that unfortunately wouldn’t go down as the Hinwil team’s finest in their history. 


Image Credits: Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images

Overview 

Ahead of a fresh start with a new outfit in 2024, and an even bigger revampment in store for 2026 with Audi, everyone at Alfa Romeo was hoping to wrap the 2023 season on a high. However, this year proved to be one of their worst years on track, evident by their drop from 6th in the Constructors’ Championship last year to 9th in 2023. 


For the casual viewer, Alfa Romeo seemed almost invisible on race days, attracting attention only in the event of a dramatic crash, or a quippy radio message from Valtteri Bottas. Their forgettable season is certainly one the team is hoping to put behind, as they set their sights on a promising future as Stake F1 Team next year.


Alfa Romeo came into the season with the same driver line-up as 2022, and after Bottas and Zhou Guanyu drove the C43 in Bahrain for the season opener, they came away with an 8th place finish, and the fastest lap. A good omen, however, the subsequent rounds would quickly prove that their car was far from worthy of competing with rivals. 


As the season closed out, Bottas remarked: “We never quite had enough raw pace to put up a decent challenge and constantly achieve points finishes.”


And sure enough, the team only had six other Grand Prix points finishes, two of these being at the Qatar Grand Prix. Here, both drivers finished in the points, amassing over 30% of their total 16 points in the final standings, after a well-executed race under extreme conditions. 


Qatar was the saving grace of an otherwise lost-cause season, but after the highs of this round, the fall back down seemed even steeper. 


Image Credits: Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images

A double retirement in São Paulo after engine failures provides an apt marker of the team’s run on track this season. Things didn’t pick up after that either, and Alfa Romeo finished their dismal year lower than ever before. 


The team is desperate for a return back to form, and their new identity as Stake F1 Team comes with hopes of a better 2024 season that would pave the way for the Audi transition. Bottas and Zhou are set to continue driving for the team next year, with 2023 Formula 2 Champion Théo Pourchaire adding another year in his experience as reserve driver.


Having a seasoned driver like Bottas leading the line-up, a promising talent in Zhou, and Pourchaire eagerly waiting in the wings for his shot at F1, the team is all set in the driver department for 2024.


But stepping back to 2023, let’s take a look at how these drivers fared this season.


Cumulative Rating: 3.7/10 


Valtteri Bottas 


Image Credits: Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Bottas has on numerous occasions, proven himself to be the unmistakable leader of the team on track. He has a number of years in Formula One under his belt, contributing to the quality of his skills. But with a car as unsteady, and so far behind in development as the C43, these skills seemed to fall short, with Bottas doing his best to salvage the situation.


The head-to-head data shows the Finn being the clear victor compared to Zhou, and qualifying being his strongest area of performance relative to his teammate. Bottas scored ten of the team’s 16 points, approximately 62% of the total. His largest haul of points came from the Bahrain and Qatar Grands Prix, but his best performance was in Qatar. 


After qualifying 9th, he was determined to capitalise on what looked like the best chance for Alfa Romeo to knock some points off their competitors. After a fortunate Safety Car, Bottas improved up to 8th to finish the race that truly put all drivers to the test.


However, Bottas’ misfortunes throughout the season were taller stacked up against his fortunes, as on various occasions his race was compromised because of Turn One tussles and the subsequent damage he picked up. Jeddah and Las Vegas stand out as examples of blown chances, especially the latter where Bottas qualified 8th but was set off by Fernando Alonso’s spin at the first turn, after which he tumbled down the order to finish 17th.


Overall, Bottas’ season this year has been much like his team’s — forgettable and bordering on invisible. On most occasions he kept it clean, but his clear weakness was that he never quite punched above his weight to extract every last bit from the car. The Bottas of 2023 seems like a mere shadow of the Bottas of early seasons, and we never got to witness the depth of his racecraft on track. 


Cumulative Rating: 4.85/10

Best Race: Qatar Grand Prix; marked by his feat of finishing 8th after qualifying 9th, in a tough race for all drivers punctuated by 18-lap limits on tyre stints during the race. 


Zhou Guanyu


Image Credits: Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

It was Zhou’s second year in F1 and on paper, his 2023 season is almost identical to his rookie year at Alfa Romeo — both seasons ended with exactly six points, and 18th in the Drivers’ Championship. Throw in the lone fastest lap from Japan last year and Bahrain this year, and it may seem like there’s been absolutely no change in the Chinese driver’s performance.


However, when looking at the finer details, it’s clear that Zhou has improved his form, and is more confident with pushing the limit on track. Most noticeably, his racecraft and comfort with the car have certainly been worked on. 


Commendably, he out-qualified Bottas on six occasions, and also earned the team’s highest starting position, fifth at the Hungarian Grand Prix. His true strengths and potential this year were displayed during this qualifying session where, despite being on the backfoot with a slower car, he pushed the limits when it counted most.


During this qualifying, Zhou topped the timing page in Q1, crucially ahead of both Red Bulls. He then finished Q3 in 5th ahead of Bottas in 7th, the highest starting position of his F1 career. 


But his Saturday glory was thrown out the window come Sunday, a slow start off the line, and a costly ram into the rear of Daniel Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri after the race start, destroying Zhou’s race. He picked up a penalty for the incident, and subsequently finished 16th.


For much of the season, Zhou had an average run of results. He earned points in Barcelona despite being pushed off track by Yuki Tsunoda, and a good recovery drive from 19th to 12th at the Singapore Grand Prix followed a messy crash in the wet conditions of Zandvoort. 


These wet conditions brought out the flaws of Zhou’s driving style, as throughout the wet races this season, he couldn’t get the car to be where he needed it to be. 


Amidst the many setbacks, Zhou’s best race was certainly Qatar. After qualifying last, Zhou pulled off a strong and controlled drive at Qatar to finish 9th, just one place behind his teammate. 


After this round though, he faded into the background and failed to produce any defining drives to help the team in their battle against the rest of the midfield teams.


Despite having more lows than highs this season, Zhou, like Bottas, did the best he could to manage the car they had. Although his sophomore year in F1 has not been remarkable, the team clearly see something in him, and have elected to extend his contract into 2024. Their support of Zhou over Pourchaire indicates their confidence in Zhou’s abilities, which he would hope to sharpen next year. 


Cumulative Rating: 4.77/10

Best Race: Qatar Grand Prix; executed a confident drive from the bottom of the grid to bring home the best weekend for Alfa Romeo in 2023.

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