Vasseur: Alfa Romeo must make better use of opportunities

Alfa Romeo principal Frederic Vasseur says that his team must do better to exploit any opportunities that arise on track during “chaotic’ races in 2020.

The team had its chances last season, only to see them slip away on several occasions leaving them stuck in eighth place in the final constructors championship standings.

“The season could have been completely different,” Vasseur told Motorsport.com. this week. “But that’s true for all ten teams.”

Kimi Raikkonen finished in the top ten in the opening four races of the year, including Baku where he was forced to start from pit lane due to the front wing of his C38 having to be changed under parc ferme conditions.

Antonio Giovinazzi didn’t pick up his maiden championship point until Austria. Both drivers subsequently missed out on points finishes in Germany when the team was hit by a double penalty for using banned driver aids at the start of the race.

“We missed two big opportunities,” Vasseur said. “One in Baku when Antonio had to start from the back and Kimi from the pit lane, then in Hockenheim where we were penalised.

“It would have been a completely different championship,” he pointed out, explaining that without these incidents Alfa could have been 16 points to the better heading into the summer break.

That in itself would have put them on an equal footing with Racing Point for seventh in the championship. Instead, they had to wait for Brazil for their breakthrough performance and best result of the season, with Raikkonen finishing fourth and Giovinazzi right behind in fifth.

“During the season we had three chaotic races: Baku, Hockenheim and Brazil,” Vasseur said, explaining that these had represented Alfa’s best chances of success in 2019 because of a high level of retirements.

“It makes no sense to lead the group if 100 per cent of the cars finish the race, because you score the points for seventh and eighth, or seventh and tenth,” he said. “But if you are the top of the group, and then you have crashes, then you can score 20 points!”

Having squandered those opportunities in the first two races, Alfa’s points haul from Brazil was indeed the single best for any of the ‘midfield’ teams all season long. Only Toro Rosso managed to go a single point better all year at Hockenheim, thanks in large part to Daniil Kvyat’s podium.

Despite everything, Vasseur felt that Alfa had done better last season than was generally appreciated by the fans and the media.

“Sometimes the results you are getting on track is not reflecting the performance or the pace,” he suggested. “On a performance basis I think we did a good job.

“What is important for me is that we closed the gap compared to the leaders drastically compared to last year,” he added.

“It’s a good step forward and we have to do the same [again this year]. We have to keep the same motivation, and so on.”

Alfa heads into the new season with an unchanged driver line-up, despite Vasseur’s admission that Giovinazzi had come close to losing his race seat with a last lap crash in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Robert Kubica has been added to the team’s line-up as reserve driver following his departure from Williams at the end of last season, but is unlikely to get any track time at Grand Prix weekends.

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Giovinazzi F1 future was called into question after Spa crash

Alfa Romeo team boss Frédéric Vasseur says that Antonio Giovinazzi’s late crash in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa almost put the Italian’s F1 future in jeopardy.

Giovonazzi endured a difficult first half of 2019, with only a meager P10 finish in Austria to show for his efforts.

However, his fortunes appeared to be set for a turnaround in Belgium where a solid drive by the young Italian had put him on course for a 9th place finish. But a mistake on the penultimate lap quashed that prospect, and his team’s hopes.

“It was a big shock for everybody in the team because it was a good opportunity,” Vasseur told Motorsport.com.

“Antonio came back from nowhere, and on one of the last laps he had the crash.

“We had a tough discussion with Antonio, because these kind of things can decide your career. We were thinking about the future.

“We had to sit down the week after and we had to discuss about the situation, and he had a very good reaction.”

Indeed, despite massive pressure to perform, Giovinazzi made up for the blunder a week later at his home race in Monza where the 26-year-old raced as high as sixth and finished ninth.

The result – which coincided with Alfa’s own upturn in form – impressed Vasseur and went a long way towards securing his future with Alfa Romeo for 2020.

“A lot of pressure, tons of guests, Alfa Romeo’s home race, he had the press conference so plenty of questions about Spa,” remembers Vasseur.

“I think he did a very good job, the pressure was there. In my mind it was very important how Antonio reacted in Monza, that was the real push.

“The issue for Antonio was we were down on performance when he was on top.

“You can be in front of your teammates but [it is noticed less] if it’s for P14 or P15. If it’s sixth or seventh, everyone’s speaking about you.

“One thing is to show to the team and the other one is to score points because for you, for the paddock, everybody is just focused on results.”

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Ferrari want to see more from Giovinazzi

Mattia Binotto has said Antonio Giovinazzi could become a Ferrari driver, but needs to show more improvement with Alfa Romeo in 2020.

Giovinazzi returned to the grid in 2019 to partner up with Kimi Raikkonen, but had a slow start back to life as a Formula 1 driver with just one points finish in his first 13 races.

But, the Italian did put together a stronger second half of the campaign which culminated in a P5 finish in Brazil.

With one seat potentially becoming free at Ferrari for the 2021, Binotto still wants to see more from his junior driver if he is to put himself in contention.

“At the moment it is too early to talk about it,” Binotto told Gazzetta dello Sport about Giovinazzi’s chances of joining the senior team in 2021.

“We had a positive discussion with him because he did show signs of growth throughout the year and remember it was two years since he competed.

“In the second part of the season he was often very close to or ahead of Raikkonen. I believe that the mistakes or difficulties he had in races at the beginning of the season very slowly went away. So he’s growing.

“Antonio can be a Ferrari driver, but let’s see how he develops again in 2020. If I have to judge only on 2019, then no [he is not ready]. We need to see a further step.”

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F1i Team Reviews for 2019: Alfa Romeo

We continue our look at how each of the ten teams on the grid fared in 2019, including our thoughts as to how each of them may perform next season.

Alfa Romeo

The team picture

  • Constructors standing: P8, 57 points

Things had been looking up for Alfa Romeo in its previous guise as Sauber. After several seasons bumping along at the bottom and making up the numbers at the back of the grid, there was a real sense of optimism within the team at the end of 2018.

Rebranding as Alfa Romeo came with closer ties with Ferrari and the latest engine spec for 2020. They had to give up Charles Leclerc, but they got the veteran Kimi Raikkonen in his place to balance the rookie talents of Antonio Giovinazzi. It looked like a strong strategy for success in 2019.

In fact the progress has been minimal. While they scored nine points more than last year they still finished in the same place in the standings, and actually fell further behind those teams ahead. A large proportion of their points came from a single race (Brazil), and they lost out on a double top ten success in Germany due to penalties for using driver aids at the start.

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Alfa Romeo Racing with Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA) Alfa Romeo Racing on the drivers parade.

Head-to-head

  • Kimi Raikkonen: P12, 43 points
  • Antonio Giovinazzi: P17, 14 points

You’d expect the experienced Kimi Raikkonen to come out on top in any comparison of the Alfa Romeo drivers, and you’d be entirely correct. The Finn secured 43 (75%) of the team’s championship points. Along the way he beat Giovinazzi in qualifying on 13 occasions, and 14 times in final race classifications.

But that rather hides the underlying trend. Giovinazzi was essentially a rookie this season (despite two prior race outings with Sauber at the start of 2017 subbing for an unwell Pascal Wehrlein) and so it was obviously going to take him some time to get used to the car and to racing full time in F1.

Once he did, he was applying increasing pressure on the Finn in the second half of the season. After taking his maiden point in Hungary, he was in the top ten again in Italy and Singapore while Raikkonen was struggling. After Hungary he failed to score at all until Brazil, where he and Giovinazzi claimed their best results of the whole year in fourth and fifth respectively.

Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA) Alfa Romeo Racing C38.

Looking to the future

It’s looking harder and harder for Alfa Romeo to find a way off the plateau on which they currently find themselves. Nor can we see where the necessary inspiration is going to come from, with Frédéric Vasseur perhaps taking too much upon himself in a sparse management structure following the in-house promotion of chief aerodynamicist Jan Monchaux to the post of technical director.

Far from providing the team with fresh leadership and direction, the 40-year-old Raikkonen has appreciably waned over the course of the last 12 months. With 312 Grand Prix starts to his name, the Iceman is F1’s senior citizen. But hopefully won’t drive like one in 2020.

While he’s made solid progress over his first full season in F1, Giovinazzi is currently no Leclerc ready to assume the mantle of team leader. It was touch and go whether the team even kept him on for a second season. He’ll need to do much more to prove himself in 2020 now that he’s got some proper experience under his belt.

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Giovinazzi aims to learn from 'bad memories' in 2020

Antonio Giovinazzi had a challenging maiden season in Formula 1 in 2019, with the Alfa Romeo team also struggling to find its feet as a whole.

But the driver, who turns 26 today, says that he will draw on the tough times he’s faced so far to emerge stronger and faster next season.

“I think you need bad memories to learn from them and I can come back stronger next year,” he said.

“There’s many things I can take from this season into next season,” GPToday.net reported him as saying last week. “I think it will be important for me and Kimi to work really hard this winter.

“We will try to work as hard as we can to have a good car, and I think that is the most important thing for us and the team.

“Starting with Melbourne next year, I will be more ready,” he insisted. “I just want to focus on 2020, and [following] our tests [last] Wednesday try to work really hard in the winter to be better for next season.”

Giovinazzi made his F1 debut back in 2017 as a last-minute stand-in for the injured Pascal Wehrlein, when the team was racing under the Sauber name. But he had to wait for two more years before he got a full-time race seat with the rechristened squad.

Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA) Alfa Romeo Racing C38.

Despite being paired with the experienced Kimi Raikkonen, Giovinazzi had to wait until the ninth race of the season in Austria before finally picking up his maiden championship point, with tenth place at the Red Bull Ring.

After that he finished in the points again in Italy and Singapore before achieving his best finish of the season with fifth place in Brazil just after he had signed an extension to his Alfa contract for 2020. Unsurprisingly these were the races that he rated highest from his rookie year.

“I think Monza and Singapore, but also Brazil was the best result for us,” he confirmed. “I think these three are really good memories. If I think of bad memories, I think Spa.”

That was where he suffered a needless shunt at Pouhon in the final laps that spun him out of what had looked to be a solid ninth place. There was also the ignominy of both Alfa drivers being booted out of the points in Germany due to a hefty post-race penalty for using illegal driver aids at the start.

Giovinazzi was particularly disappointed to finish off the season out of the top ten in what proved to be a particularly tough race at Abu Dhabi for the team.

Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA) Alfa Romeo Racing.

The team was 1.8s slower in qualifying at Yas Marina than Sauber had been 12 months earlier, with Giovinazzi describing the C38’s pace as “really sad” coming on the heels of their success at Interlagos.

“It was for sure a difficult race,” Giovinazzi acknowledged of the season finale as a whole. “We tried different strategies [between myself and Kimi].

“I started on the softs and we had a good few first laps. But after that I was one of the first to go onto the hard tyres, and then got stuck behind the Williams with no DRS,” he sighed. “It was just a difficult race and the pace wasn’t really there.

“It’s been a season in which I learnt a lot of lessons,” he continued. “It will all help me when I get back to the start line in Melbourne.

“I am happy of the way I improved during the year, both in qualifying and the race, and I am looking forward to taking the next step forward.

“We will work hard this winter, understand where we can improve, and do our best to have an even better season in 2020!”

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Alfa Romeo to decide Giovinazzi’s future ‘soon’

Alfa Romeo boss Frederic Vasseur says the team will reach a decision soon on whether or not to retain Antonio Giovinazzi for 2020.

After a difficult start to the season Giovinazzi is now starting to find his feet and has largely outperformed team-mate Kimi Raikkonen since Formula 1 resumed after the summer break.

Raikkonen is already confirmed for 2020, and even though Nico Hulkenberg is rumoured to be sniffing around Giovinazzi’s seat, as a Ferrari Academy driver, they are believed to have a say on Giovinazzi’s future at Alfa.

But whatever happens, Vasseur says that Giovinazzi’s future will be confirmed soon.

“We will take the decision quite soon but honestly, if you have a look at the last event I think that Antonio is doing a very strong job, that he was matching Kimi in the last six or seven qualifyings in a row,” he said in the Friday press conference at Suzuka.

“He was in front in Sochi. OK, the first lap was not a good one for us but he’s doing the job and he’s improving step-by-step but this morning we had an issue on the car and he was not able to show the pace but he’s doing the job, he’s improving and I’m very confident with Antonio.”

The team have been in a slump since the summer break, with Giovinazzi’s three points scored in that time the only ones which have come Alfa’s way.

Vasseur therefore is paying attention to the finer details as he looks to decide the 2020 driver line-up.

“It’s small things and small details honestly. If you compare with Sochi that we were, with Antonio, we were P13 in Quali but we were two tenths off compared to P7 in Q2 and it’s very, very tight and for small details sometimes you can be completely out of the classification, but we have to take care when you are doing the analysis,” he explained.

“But it’s true also that we made too many mistakes over the last three or four weekends – teams, drivers, everyone in the same basket – but at the end of the day we have to wake up a little bit and to come back to the pace and top score points in the last four events.”

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Giovinazzi eager to nail down 2020 seat

Now that he is finally starting to feel more comfortable during races, Antonio Giovinazzi is confident he can secure his Alfa Romeo race seat for 2020 by continuing his recent good form.

After nearly two full seasons on the sidelines, Giovinazzi finally landed his first full-time seat in Formula 1 with the Hinwil-based squad.

It wasn’t the smoothest of starts as he struggled to match his more experienced team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

However, he finally got his first point on the board at the Austrian Grand Prix and continued that form after the summer break as he was P9 at Monza and P10 in Singapore.

Alfa Romeo are yet to confirm the Italian for next season, but Giovinazzi feels “nobody can take his seat” if he continues to perform well.

“I think I still need to push. [It was] two good positive weekends, Monza and Singapore, but we need to still push,” he told Crash.net.

“Like I say all of the time, I think if I continue with these results, and with this speed, nobody can take my seat for next year.”

After competing in two races at the start of the 2017 season, Giovinazzi was forced to spend the bulk of the last two campaigns in reserve and simulator roles.

And he admits it was never going to be easy to make the step up, but he is starting to settle in.

“The speed in qualy was always there compared to Kimi. We were always really close in terms of performance, sometimes in front of him, sometimes behind him, but always really close,” he said.

“But then the race was the main problem, the management of the race in general. Bu for two years I just did two races in F1 plus one Le Mans last year. So to come back in F1 with the best category with the best drivers was not easy.

“But I think now I’m more comfortable in the race. The pace is also a lot better, and I hope to continue on this way, and I think we are on the right way.”

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Giovinazzi downplays Singapore crane penalty

Penalised for driving too close to a crane under a Safety Car in Singapore, Antonio Giovinazzi says he felt he had done nothing wrong.

The Safety Car took to the track three times during the Marina Bay race, the first incident being for George Russell’s retirement.

With a crane out on track to recover the stricken Williams, the drivers were told to “stay on the right, Turn Eight”.

Giovinazzi, though, was deemed to have driven too close to the crane.

In the wake of the grand prix it emerged that he was under investigation, putting his point-scoring finish at risk.

Giovinazzi was handed a 10-second penalty but held onto P10 as he was 16s up the road from Romain Grosjean.

Speaking about the incident, he told RaceFans.net: “They said I was too close to the tractor that was recovering Russell’s car.

“To be honest maybe from outside can look [that way].

“But you are in the street track, really tight track, and I was on my target.

“For them I was too close but for me it was to be honest quite safe. But they are the stewards.

“At least nothing changed on my result.”

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Alfa dilemma: Hulkenberg or Giovinazzi?

Alfa Romeo are rumoured to be in a dilemma over their 2020 drivers with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg now on the market.

Kimi Raikkonen is already confirmed for one side of the garage having signed a two-year deal from the beginning of the 2019 season following his release from Ferrari, but his team-mate for the 2020 campaign has yet to be confirmed.

The rumour in Monza was that Antonio Giovinazzi was all signed up for next season and all that was missing was official confirmation.

But, according to Motorsport.com in Italy, Alfa Romeo boss Frederic Vasseur is not completely satisfied with Giovinazzi and is interested in signing Hulkenberg as his replacement.

Hulkenberg is being replaced with Esteban Ocon next season and the German finds his 2020 options very limited as Red Bull are set to confirm either Alex Albon or Pierre Gasly as Max Verstappen’s team-mate.

However, the major sticking point in Hulkenberg signing with Alfa Romeo is Ferrari’s influence within the team. If they were to try and sign Hulkenberg then they are risking their working relationship with the Scuderia.

Ferrari provide Alfa Romeo with their engines and both are part of the Fiat Group, while Ferrari themselves do currently have one seat available to them at Alfa Romeo to help develop their academy products.

While Vasseur may well be interested in Hulkenberg, the safer option for the Alfa Romeo team as a whole will be to stick with Giovinazzi.

The Italian has secured back-to-back points finishes for the first time this season following a valiant effort at the Singapore Grand Prix, a race he momentarily led due to the strategic games taking place between the top six.

He is now up to four points for the season, with his far more experienced team-mate Raikkonen currently on 33.

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Hulk to Haas is off, Giovinazzi in danger?

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto says Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi needs to “feel the confidence of Ferrari” with Nico Hulkenberg linked to his seat.

The Scuderia gave Giovinazzi a drive with the Alfa Romeo team for 2019 alongside Kimi Raikkonen, but the Italian has struggled to reach the heights of his team-mate, scoring three points while Raikkonen has collected 31.

Giovinazzi has shown signs of improvement recently though – he crashed out of P9 at Spa in the closing stages of the race, but a week later at Monza he was able to claim that P9 to record his best finish in Formula 1.

However, the issue for Giovinazzi now comes in the form of Nico Hulkenberg – the German was expected to sign for Haas after announcing he would depart Renault at the end of 2019, but they have instead retained Romain Grosjean for 2020.

Hulkenberg remains confident of being on the grid in 2020, but Binotto has urged Giovinazzi to prove himself in the remainder of 2019 with Ferrari’s full support.

“There was a mistake in Belgium which undoubtedly penalised him, but he was in the points, and then confirmed himself in the top 10 also at Monza,” Binotto told Autosport.com.

“Antonio is growing, but he also needs to be supported as he deserves.

“At the moment I don’t think he’s as calm as he should be, so I think it’s right to make him feel the confidence of Ferrari, as he’s one of our drivers.

“Now Antonio has important races ahead of him in which he can confirm his growth.

“It’s not a test, but it’s an opportunity to prove what he’s already shown in his last races.”

Giovinazzi served as a Ferrari development driver before being promoted to Alfa Romeo for 2019, a Ferrari-owned team.

Prior to this he made two starts in Formula 1 for the team’s previous incarnation Sauber back in 2017, and Binotto admits that such a long period of inactivity was bound to take a while to shake off.

“This season he has not yet had the opportunity to show his full potential, but there are several aspects to take into account,” Binotto explained.

“The first, and I think the most important, is the one related to the two years of inactivity on the racetrack.

“We have seen how Antonio’s performance in qualifying has progressively improved, coming very close to Kimi’s performance, while in the race he still pays something, especially wheel-to-wheel.

“I think it’s due to the lack of confidence that can be linked to the two years of forced absence, but what really matters is the positive trend.”

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