Alfa Romeo team principal Frederic Vasseur wants to keep driver pairing Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi “under pressure”, with the Sauber-run operation unlikely to make a decision on its 2022 driver line up for a “long time”.
Raikkonen and Giovinazzi were not confirmed for 2021 until late October last year and could face a similar wait before their fate is decided this time around.
As Vasseur points out, Alfa Romeo is down the F1 food chain in terms of driver decisions while the line-ups of both Mercedes and Red Bull are yet to be finalised, with Vasseur saying that discussions about 2022 at his team will only take place in the last part of the season.
Both Alfa drivers are out of contract at the end of this year, and the fact the team is still working on its deal to continue with Alfa Romeo support adds a further complication.
“First, I think that to keep the system under pressure is always a good thing,” said Vasseur when asked about the team’s driver line-up.
“I don’t want to commit for a long time, I don’t want to say ‘OK guys now we all relax’, I want to keep everybody under pressure. Formula 1 is all about pressure and we have to keep it like this.
“We don’t know what could happen around us in the junior series, at the top of the field and so on. We don’t have to make this kind of commitment today.
“We know perfectly that the grid will be filled from the top. Mr [Toto] Wolff will make his own decision and then Mr [Christian] Horner and then at one stage it will come to us. We are not in a rush to take this kind of decision.
“Things are moving. For sure we have a question mark around Kimi but Antonio is improving.”
If the Alfa Romeo partnership is extended, it could boost the chances for the current drivers to stay on. Raikkonen is valued commercially given his profile as a world champion.
The Finn has had a decent season on race day, picking up a point for 10th in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but his qualifying performances have been poor. This has been identified as a priority to improve by the team, hence Vasseur’s question mark.
“He had a couple of tough qualis in the last events but not always for the same reasons,” said Vasseur.
“[On Friday in Austria] he showed us that the pace could be there but he had the laptime deleted. [And he produced] a very strong lap again this afternoon.
“It’s difficult to understand but I hope that it [Raikkonen’s qualifying pace] will be able to be back soon because over the last couple of events he’s always had a very strong pace in the race.
“But we need with Kimi to start a couple of rows in front to be able to score points because starting from P18, if you did a good job, even if the pace is strong and consistent, it’s always going to be difficult.
“But I hope that he is still improving. And we will be able to help him also to correct the small details and be at Antonio’s level in quali soon.”
Giovinazzi has been much stronger in qualifying, beating Raikkonen on pace in six out of eight sessions – only finishing behind at Imola, where his final Q1 lap was spoiled by Nikita Mazepin passing him at the start of the lap, and Baku, where he crashed.
Alfa Romeo as a wider company also played a part in Giovinazzi retaining his Ferrari-controlled seat this year, with fellow academy driver Callum Ilott understood to have been a serious candidate. But having an Italian driver also suited Alfa.
Ilott had his second FP1 outing of the season for Alfa Romeo in Austria and Vasseur hopes to get him in the car “every three or four races”.
Another Ferrari-affiliated driver – Mick Schumacher – has also been linked to the team by Bernie Ecclestone.
When that suggestion was put to Vasseur, he said “perhaps he [Ecclestone] is more aware than myself”.
However, when Schumacher was asked about this possibility during a press conference on Thursday, he simply said he was focused on this season with Haas and did not explicitly rule out the possibility.
The one thing Alfa Romeo is not short of is options. And as Vasseur points out, there are also some potential F1 newcomers in contention, with Alpine junior Guanyu Zhou among those searching for a seat and Sauber junior Theo Pourchaire impressing in F2 – even if a graduation next year would likely be premature.
But as is the fate of all teams towards the back of the grid, first they must wait for the big guns to make their moves to see who is, and who is not, available.