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Are Alfa Romeo the third fastest team in F1?

The team punching above their weight the most have been Alfa Romeo with a rejuvenated Valtteri Bottas leading the way

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It’s been a dismal couple of years for Alfa Romeo but the new 2022 Formula 1 regulations have given them an opportunity to vault up the pecking order and they have built a great car.

Valtteri Bottas joined Alfa Romeo to lead the team and he’s been able to find some of his best form in the opening five events to sit in eighth place in the F1 driver standings and is just six points behind former teammate Lewis Hamilton. Who would have thought that before the season started?

Zhou Guanyu hasn’t been able to build on his strong start to life in F1 since the season-opening Bahrain GP, although he definitely has the machinery to impress in the coming races.

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Why are Alfa Romeo so quick in 2022?

We often hear about the strengths and weaknesses of the top teams, but not so much with outfits such as Alfa Romeo.

The car has similar characteristics to the Ferrari. It’s easy to drive, as shown in pre-season testing when Bottas had some impressive long runs when the car wasn’t breaking down, and it’s working well in all types of corners.

Generating downforce from the floor is the key to having mechanical grip and it’s clear the Alfa Romeo has plenty of grip in the corners, so the drivers can stand hard on the throttle on the exit of a turn.

Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou in action during testing REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Alfa Romeo are said to have one of the lightest cars on the grid as many teams struggled to get close to the 798kg limit. This has given them free time in the early part of the season as everyone else tries to shed weight.

Can Bottas regularly beat Hamilton?

Bottas must be secretly loving the prospect of being able to qualify or finish ahead of Mercedes every weekend after five years when he was put to one side by Hamilton and was forced to play second-fiddle to the seven-time world champion.

Getting the most from the tyres has always been a problem for Bottas, particularly over a race distance, but he seems to understand the new 18-inch Pirelli rubber very well which is one of the keys to being fast in modern F1.

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“The fact is that we still haven’t had a perfect race weekend,” Bottas told the press prior to the Miami GP.

“Either we’ve had issues in practice, qualifying or the race, and it is all about getting a perfect weekend.

“I think that way we can be pretty close to the podium, obviously, depending on the track, but it is a great motivation and goal for us and what we’re really, really pushing for. We just need to keep making progress and trying to be perfect.”

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas during testing REUTERS/Albert Gea

Bottas was having a perfect weekend at the Miami International Autodrome when he qualified in fifth with a stunning lap in Q3 and had everything under control until he cracked in the latter stages of the race with a mistake at Turn 17.

He wasn’t the only driver to make an error their, but it proved costly as Hamilton and George Russell slipped by.

Seventh place was a tad frustrating for Alfa Romeo, and that just shows how far they have come, as well as their hunger to get their first silverware at a Grand Prix as a constructor since 1951.

An underwhelming campaign for Zhou?

Zhou hasn’t been able to push on from his great debut outing in Bahrain, missing out on points in Jeddah and Melbourne.

He’s certainly not been awful, which some people expected when the Chinese driver was announced to join F1, but if he can be closer to Bottas and start further up the field, he will make life much easier for himself.

The margin is not worryingly big but his, on average, half a second deficit does need to close up soon.

Zhou was unlucky to be eliminated from Q1 in Miami after Alfa Romeo sent him out in traffic for his final run, which was the only lap that mattered because the track evolution was so big.

Bottas himself was nearly knocked out so it wasn’t completely Zhou‘s fault, nor was his early race retirement for a water leak.

The next three tracks are familiar for Zhou – Barcelona, Monaco and Baku – so he can really push on and it’s here where we can truly test how strong or weak the 22-year-old is.

What is possible for Alfa Romeo in 2022?

Alfa Romeo‘s best season since their return to F1 three years ago was their comeback year in 2019 when Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi scored 57 points, including a fourth and fifth at the Brazilian GP.

Keeping up in the development race will dictate whether Bottas can score more top fives, and he shouldn’t rule out a surprise podium at some point given the pace of the car.

Despite Imola being a sprint weekend, the team were bold and brought a big upgrade package to the event and it worked wonderfully. It will take that level of development to maintain their high position in the pecking order.

At the moment, Alfa Romeo have the third best car which is an outstanding effort from the team, especially after their troublesome 2021.

The big question is if Alfa Romeo can make the most of their machine because they can cause a big upset at some point in 2022 and fourth place in the constructors’ championship is on the cards.

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