Updated: Feb 9, 2022
Written by Morgan Holiday, Edited by Tanishka Vashee
Alfa Romeo is one of four teams on the current Formula 1 grid that could potentially have a completely new driver line up next season, along with Williams, Mercedes, and Alpha Tauri. However, unlike any of those teams, Alfa Romeo only has full control over who gets one of their seats. Kimi Raikkonnen’s seat is theirs to fill, but who sits in Antonio Giovinazzi’s place is a decision that belongs to Ferrari, the team’s engine supplier.
Ferrari have supplied the Alfa Romeo Sauber team with engines since 2010, and have a strong relationship with the team. Charles Leclerc occupied the designated junior driver seat in 2018, before graduating to Ferrari itself and being replaced by Antonio Giovinazzi. Giovinazzi’s performance throughout his first three seasons has been underwhelming, showing flashes of brilliance and good performances on occasion but remaining largely anonymous. His seat was rumoured to go to one of two Ferrari junior drivers for 2021: Mick Schumacher or Callum Ilott. Surprisingly, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo retained Giovinazzi for another season, while Schumacher went to Haas and Ilott was signed as their reserve driver.
While Giovinazzi has managed a more standout start to the 2021 season thus far, finishing in the points in Monaco and managing to finish in the top 15 in the first 7 rounds. But with all the talent currently in the Ferrari Driver Academy, talk is still flying about who could replace him at the end of this season.
Despite never winning a championship at any point in his career, Callum Ilott is a highly rated driver in the Ferrari Driver Academy. After a second place finish in the 2020 Formula 2 season Ilott moved to GT World Challenge Europe, racing with Iron Lynx. He has maintained his position as a Ferrari junior driver, and is their official test driver along with his position at Alfa Romeo. It’s clear that despite Ferrari not giving him an F1 seat for 2021, the team still has plans for him at some point. If Giovinazzi doesn’t manage to improve throughout the 2021 season, it may be time they give Ilott a chance.
The other Ferrari junior driver with a decent shot at the Alfa seat is Robert Schwartzman, who is currently in his second season of Formula 2 with Prema. The 2019 Formula 3 champion had a strong start to his rookie year in Formula 2, but ultimately his performance faded and he finished 4th in the standings. He went into the 2022 Formula 2 season a favorite for the championship, but barring a sprint race win in Baku his results have been lacking. Should he go on to have better races and finish at the top of the championship, he could be fighting with Ilott and Giovinazzi for a seat at Alfa Romeo.
The other Alfa Romeo seat currently belongs to Kimi Raikkonen. He’s open about his nonchalant view of racing these days, saying it’s “more of a hobby” for him. After being replaced in Ferrari by Charles Leclerc for the 2019 season, Raikkonen went back to the team he began his Formula 1 career with, and how long he will stay remains a mystery. While retirement is definitely an option, Raikkonen has made it clear he still loves the sport, so sticking around to test out the new regulations in 2022 isn’t out of the question. Should he choose to retire at the end of this season, the most likely candidate to replace him is Theo Pourchaire.
Pourchaire is a Sauber junior driver, racing in his rookie season of Formula 2 with ART. After an incredible season in Formula 3 in 2020 where he was crowned the vice champion, hopes were high for Pourchaire coming into Formula 2, even as ART’s second driver (a notoriously tricky seat to fill). And he has not disappointed, becoming the youngest ever pole sitter and race winner in either F2 or GP2 in Monaco.
Although Alfa Romeo team principal Fred Vasseur has admitted he doesn’t want to rush Pourchaire into Formula 1 too soon, he has also praised the 17 year old driver very highly, and fairly so. Whether or not Raikkonen will retire for 2022, no one can say. But if he does, and Pourchaire continues to have an impressive rookie Formula 2 season, Vasseur may choose to promote him regardless of his very young age.
The question of Alfa Romeo’s 2022 drivers is one of the more ambiguous on the grid, with no one knowing for sure whether Raikkonen will decide to stay or whether Ferrari will decide to keep Giovinazzi. It’s the only team on the grid that could likely sign two rookie drivers, just in time for the new regulations. Nothing is set in stone, and a lot will depend, not on Alfa Romeo, but on Ferrari and the performance of quite a few junior drivers.