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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No Alfa mileage for Schumacher in 2020 – Vasseur

Alfa Romeo team boss Frédéric Vasseur has dismissed awarding any testing mileage to Mick Schumacher in 2020.

As a member of Ferrari’s Driver Academy, Schumacher was given F1 seat time earlier this year in Bahrain, both with the Scuderia and with Alfa Romeo.

While the Hinwil-based squad remains affiliated with the House of Maranello and the most probable entry point for Schumacher in F1 after his second campaign in Formula 2 in 2020, Vasseur insists there will be no track time allocated to the young German next season.

“There will be no additional tests next year,” Vasseur told Blick’s Roger Benoit.

“First of all, Mick has to win Formula 2 or perform well but that is incredibly difficult given the conditions and the pressure.

“We are following his path and progress,” along with Ferrari.

Alfa has retained both Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi for 2020. But there were initially doubts about the latter’s fate because of his late confirmation, a delay which kept Giovinazzi on his toes.

“Ten years ago, the teams wanted to announce their drivers in February,” said Vasseur.

“We were never in a hurry, so we were able to keep up the pressure on the team and on Antonio.”

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Vasseur sees 'no need to panic' over Alfa Romeo race pace

Alfa Romeo Racing boss Frédéric Vasseur isn’t overly worried by his team’s recent lack of results on Sunday given the relative performance of its C38 in qualifying.

Alfa Romeo only has two top-ten finishes on its books since the end F1’s summer break, with both results courtesy of Antonio Giovinazzi.

The young Italian just missed the Q3 cut in Japan, but neither Giovinazzi or teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who hasn’t finished in the points since Hungary – finished in the top ten at Suzuka, with both drivers hampered by their car’s pace on Sunday.

“I don’t think we need to be a lot faster to be in the fight,” Raikkonen said.

“We had a new package a few races ago, we need to understand if that’s the reason or if it’s something else.

“It’s only a few races ago that we brought the big package. It’s not like we don’t do anything because in the end, they help us for next year.”

Vasseur highlighted the C38’s speed over one lap, but insisted that small margins led to big consequences on race day.

“There’s no need to panic, each time it’s a different scenario,” he told Motorsport.com.

“I would be very worried if we were one second off in quali, but it’s not the story. The race might be difficult to manage, but it’s more easy to find the pace in the race than in quali.

“In Spa for example we were P5 in Turn 1, in Monza we were in Q3. Sometimes for one tenth, plus or minus, you can have the feeling that the situation is completely different. We always have to be very careful with this.

©AlfaRomeo

“We’ve moved from seventh or eighth [-best team] in quali, but this is one tenth. Perhaps we could do a better job by one tenth.

“In Suzuka the quali pace was OK, we were in the middle of the pack, in front of the Renaults, in front of the Racing Points.

“Antonio was two hundredths from Q3, or something like this. Sometimes you are two-hundredths in front, and you are the star.”

Vasseur also pointed to tyres as another factor that has impeded Alfa’s quest for consistency.

“It’s difficult to know what’s wrong. We are struggling to be consistent over the race, and I think that was the issue over the last two or three events.

“I think it’s more about consistency over the stint with different compounds than on the pure pace.

“Sometimes you are in the right window, sometimes not, depending on the track layout or the track temp or so on.”

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Alfa's Zehnder calls Monza 'biggest mistake in 25 years'

Alfa Romeo team manager Beat Zehnder says that the blunder over Kimi Raikkonen’s race tyres in Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix was the worst mistake he’s made during all his time in F1.

And Zehnder certainly knows what he’s talking about, having been with the Sauber team ever since 1994 – a total of 455 Grand Prix events in charge.

“That was my biggest mistake so far in 25 years,” he said of the incident at Monza, which resulted in Raikkonen receiving a ten second stop-and-go penalty during the race.

The problem arose from a misunderstanding of the rules relating to a pit lane start. Raikkonen had provisionally qualified in tenth place, but damaged his car in a subsequent accident.

As a result of the car having to be modified under parc ferme conditions, the Finn was required to start from the pit lane. However he did so on a set of medium tyres rather than the soft compound that he had set his best Q2 time on as he was required to.

“I don’t explain the penalty, I don’t know the rules,” Raikkonen fumed after the race. “Somebody f****d up somewhere but it just happened. Plus that f*****g set was completely useless.”

Since the team hadn’t changed the safety cell on the car after the accident, they weren’t actually allowed to change the tyres in the start. Zehnder admitted that it had been his responsibility to ensure that the proper rules had been followed.

“I should have known that we would have had to start with the soft qualifying tyre for the final,” he told the Swiss German-language daily newspaper Blick.

Despite starting from the pit lane, Raikkonen had improved to 15th place by lap 10, only to slide all the way back again following the penalty.

After that, he was able to claw his way back to 15th place by the finish, but never had a chance of contending for points.

“If there hadn’t been that mistake over the tyres today, for sure we would have finished much higher,” Raikkonen said on Sunday.

Beat Zehnder (SUI) Alfa Romeo Racing Manager in the FIA Press Conference.

Zehnder suggested that without the penalty, Raikkonen was almost certainly on course for 13th place or better.

“I hope that in the next 25 years, such a flop never happens again,” he said.

At least there was some consolation on the other side of the Alfa Romeo garage, with Antonio Giovinazzi battling his way to two points for ninth place.

It’s the Italian’s best result so far, coming just a week after he crashed out of the points on the penultimate lap of the Belgian GP.

“With this achievement, he has made up for his mistake in Spa,” noted Peter Sauber, the former team principal who was Alfa’s guest of honour at Monza.

“I’m just glad that Antonio finally showed his talent,” said current team principal Frédéric Vasseur. “It repays the faith everyone in the team has put in him.

“Sadly Kimi didn’t have as memorable a race,” Vasseur added. “Coming back from a pitlane start was always going to be a tough task, but as we put the wrong tyres onto his car his hopes of points were put to an end.”

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