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F1: Could Alfa Romeo be 2019’s dark horse?

2019-03-01 07:37

Charlen Raymond

Alfa Romeo F1 inside

Alfa Romeo F1 inside

The first of two Formula 1 pre-season tests concluded earlier in February and if anything, it created more questions than answers among fans.

Ferrari seem to be the early favourites, as Mercedes-AMG boss, Toto Wolff, believes Ferrari is about 0.5 seconds ahead of his team.

Engine supplier, Honda, seems to be in the best shape since its return to F1 in 2015 and its new customers, Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso, are in good positions, too.

Though it was Ferrari who led the conversations and silent mumbling on 'team to beat', Alfa Romeo Racing was in the mix too with their 2019 challenger.

It's clear from the off that the battle upfront will still be between Mercedes, Ferrari, and (maybe) Red Bull, but it would be unwise to discount Alfa Romeo as a contender for best of the rest.

A team overhauled

In 2018, Alfa Romeo Racing was still known as Sauber; the team founded by Peter Sauber in 1993. Though Sauber cut his involvement in F1 at the end of 2017, his name continues to be a part of the sport and saw a new driver in the form of Charles Leclerc join the team in 2018.

Leclerc made his way to the sport with substantial backing from Ferrari and he repaid the fabled Italian team’s trust in him with stellar performances throughout his rookie year. So impressive was his performance that he was promoted to Ferrari for 2019 to partner Sebastian Vettel in place of Kimi Raikkonen.

The latter started his F1 career at Sauber in 2001 and in 2019 returns to the team where it all started for him on a two-year contract that’ll see him in the sport until the end of 2020.

Raikkonen and Leclerc basically swapped seats.

READ: Kimi Raikkonen and Charles Leclerc - more than just humble F1 beginnings?

At 39-years-old Raikkonen is the oldest driver on the 2019 grid and will be partnered by 25-year-old Antonio Giovinazzi. To put the age gap in perspective: when Raikkonen won the driver’s championship in 2007, Giovinazzi was 13-year-old nearing the end of grade 7.

Sauber 2019 also sees more changes as the team will be known as Alfa Romeo Racing. It also means that the team is basically Ferrari’s B-team and will, because of it, benefit directly from Ferrari’s expertise and technical know-how in this high-octane sport.

Pre-season performance

From 18 - 21 February, all teams gathered at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain for the first test. As mentioned, it was Ferrari that was competitive from the off but on the third day of testing everything got turned on its head when Raikkonen set the fastest time during testing.

Though his time was eclipsed by other drivers, it still raised very important questions as to Alfa Romeo’s position in this year’s championship.

On the third day, Raikkonen set a time of 1min17.762, making him the first driver to dip below the 1min18 mark. That is mighty impressive for a team that’s been fighting in the midfield just last season.

At the end of the four-day test, Raikkonen had set the fourth fastest time, eclipsing the likes of 2018 champion Lewis Hamilton and his team mate Valtteri Bottas, Leclerc and Vettel. Of course, the type of tyre that drivers set their fastest time on were different and the fuel loads are also varying, but it was the manner in which Raikkonen did his lap that had everyone talking.

The Alfa Romeo looked composed through corners, the balance under braking was stable, and the ease with which Raikkonen could drive his new racer had everyone looking at Alfa with wide-eyed interest.

Following his drive, Raikkonen said that he did not push the car and that he and the team need to see where they stand in relation to the field when they push the car to its limits. And that is encouraging, really, for a number of reasons.

One, if the car looks this competitive, imagine how it’ll be when Raikkonen and Giovinazzi go flat out.

Two, it could also mean that there might be a fourth team competing for race wins and podiums this year.

And lastly, Raikkonen will be allowed to race all-out and not play second fiddle to a multiple champion. Alfa Romeo is back in F1 and we should not discount their relevance in 2019 just yet.

The second four-day test commenced on Tuesday, 26 February, at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Charlen Raymond is the editor of Manskap.


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