The start of the season saw an Alfa Romeo proceed in alternating current, strong in Bahrain, more in difficulty in Saudi Arabia. The eighth place conquered by Valtteri Bottas in Sakhir, with Zhou Guanyu on the edge of the top ten before setting the fastest lap to “steal” the additional point from the Alpine, had left positive sensations for the Alfa team.
The goal was to confirm the fight for the upper area of the midfield also in the following stages, starting from the Jeddah appointment, even if the latter presented different characteristics from Bahrain. However, the weekend of the Swiss team proved to be much more complex starting from Friday, the day dedicated to testing to extract further potential from a substantially new single-seater.
The team has combined the new chromatic look, with red contrasting with the opaque dark gray, with a renewed aerodynamic aspect which particularly involved the side panels. The team has in fact decided to abandon the high bellies in favor of a solution that takes up the Red Bull shapes of 2022.
“We had some difficulties on Friday. We were doing some testing, trying to explore different areas of the car’s setup to see if we could get more out of it. We have seen improvements in some areas, but we have lost too much in others,” explained Xavi Pujolar, the team’s head of track operations.
In Saudi Arabia, in fact, the team had presented a front and rear wing revised in the design of the mainplane in order to improve top speed in a straight line, one of the problems encountered in Sakhir compared to the main competitors. Over the course of the weekend, the team played with load levels, carrying out tests both with and without the gurney flap, but then it was decided to take a step back and return to characteristics in terms of set-up more similar to those used in Bahrain.
“Then we went back on Saturday. In terms of performance, I would say that in qualifying we were equal or even a step ahead of Bahrain. We were close to Q3 on Saturday and everyone was very close. Also on Saturday, I would say that challenging McLaren and getting closer to the Alpine, we could see potential and beat the other competitor. Haas was generally quick in a timed lap, but then struggled more in race pace. We therefore thought that our race would at least be in battle with McLaren.”
Telemetric comparison between Bottas’ best lap in qualifying in 2022 and 2023 in the Saudi Arabian GP.
Photo by: Gianluca D’Alessandro
Analyzing the telemetry of Valtteri Bottas’ fastest lap in qualifying, it emerges how compared to last year, when the C42 showed up in Saudi Arabia with very loaded wings, the new single-seater managed to improve its top speed, but without worsening cornering performance significantly.
Undoubtedly the overall time of the first sector verges in favor of the 2022 single-seater, but in a first sector where the difference is above all the balance in the faster corners, having managed to maintain similar performance with less loaded wings seems to be a sign positive. In fact, it should be remembered that one of the weak points of last season’s car lay precisely in its speed in fast sequences, which is why they worked hard during the winter to improve its characteristics.
In the meantime, however, the other teams have also managed to take a considerable step forward, reducing the delta in terms of weight from the car Alfa Romeo could count on at the start of 2022, when it had the lightest single-seater in the group.
If in qualifying this approach actually paid off, managing to find better top speed on the straights, the price paid for itself in the race, especially in dirty air. Although Jeddah isn’t a particularly aggressive track in terms of tire wear, once you find yourself in the slipstream, the tires start to slip and lose grip, an aspect that was also seen at Ferrari.
In fact, after a good start, Zhou found himself in traffic, also losing his position to Kevin Magnussen, who in the meantime had stopped to put on the hard compound, anticipating his stop. The entry of the Safety Car further penalized the Chinese driver, allowing Yuki Tsunoda and Alex Albon to exit in front of him after the pit stop.
Well aware of the difficult situation, with positions already lost without being able to fight, the Alfa Romeo engineers had decided to change their plan, calling Zhou himself back to the pits to mount another medium tire and differentiate the strategy from the rivals, getting rid of that hard compound with which they hadn’t found the right feeling.
“In the race we struggled a little more with grip, more than we expected. Everyone is so close that as soon as you lose a bit of pace it’s hard to get back to fighting for points,” explained Pujolar pointing to the difficulties highlighted by Zhou once he entered the traffic.
Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo Racing C43
Photo by: Alfa Romeo
“The pace we had today was not as good as yesterday in qualifying. So we need to understand if it’s a problem of grip, power, we need to analyze the competitors and see what we can do. But at the moment I don’t think we need to worry too much. Everything is still very tight and even if we are out of the points, it doesn’t take long to get back into the points next week. So we are confident we can come back to Melbourne and fight for points.”
Valtteri Bottas’ race was more complex, penalized by a not exciting qualifying session, as well as by damage to the car which created excessive rear wheel spin, penalizing tire resistance.
If in Bahrain the performance over the long distance had turned out to be better than that over the flying lap, a factor which had already been seen in part last year, in Saudi Arabia the opposite situation arose, for which one wondered whether , in tracks of this kind, it may be more convenient to sacrifice part of the wheelbase to favor qualification.
Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo Racing C43
Photo by: Alfa Romeo
“It can change from race to race, but here in Jeddah I would say our race was not as good as we wanted. I think in qualifying we had better performances, but the way the race went or the pace we had today was not expected that way. We should have had better pace and better grip today, we need to understand why that didn’t happen, but we will find a solution,” added the team’s head of track operations.
As with Ferrari, the Alfa Romeo team also encountered difficulties in making the harder compound work, highlighting excessive sliding which forced it to return to average for the final stint. However, remaining in traffic as the laps went by, the hard began to suffer from less fuel consumption and became more competitive, leaving Alfa Romeo in no man’s land.
“(After the first stop) we lost the position to Magnussen and we were sliding too much on the hard tyres. For this reason, we decided to change the averages to try and understand if we could go back to fighting for points. It wasn’t possible today and we need to understand why.”
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