As Sauber look to their Audi future, can Alfa Romeo build on their best year in a decade?

2023 F1 team preview

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Over 30 years since they first joined Formula 1 as one of many plucky privateer teams of the early 1990s, it’s hard to think of a more exciting time for the Sauber team than they enjoy right now.

Off the back of their best season in a decade, grasping onto sixth place by their fingernails, Sauber head into their final year as Alfa Romeo already well on the road to their destiny of becoming Audi’s factory team for 2026. And the impact of that transition is already being felt heading into 2023, over three full seasons before the advent of the new power unit formula.

Change comes at the very top of the team this year. Since 2018, Sauber has run under the steady stewardship of Frederic Vasseur, achieving a range of results varying from solid to unspectacular. Now, Vasseur has been summoned eastwards to bring his calming influence to a chaotic Ferrari team, leaving Alfa Romeo and Sauber under new management for 2023.

In comes former McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl, who does not step into Vasseur’s role but instead assumes the more senior position of Sauber’s CEO. Seidl has history at Hinwil dating back to Sauber’s tenure as BMW’s factory team in the mid-2000s and is appointed with the team’s future as Audi squarely in mind.

Alessandro Alunni Bravi , Sauber, 2023
Alunni Bravi takes over team principal duties
Rather than name a new team principal, Sauber have instead revealed managing director Alessandro Alunni Bravi into their newly-created role of ‘team representative’. Carrying out all the duties expected of a team principal at race weekends – such as being interrogated by the media on Saturdays and attending major meetings – Alunni Bravi assumes the helm of a team that feels very much on the ascendency, carried by the momentum of a successful 2022 season.

As the only team to replace both drivers last season, Alfa Romeo took a risk entering into F1’s ground effect era. But it was a gamble that paid off immediately when Valtteri Bottas outqualified the very Mercedes he had only vacated just months prior and secured nine points in the opening race in Bahrain with sixth place – scoring almost as many points as the team had scored across all of 2021.

Bottas arrived at Alfa Romeo neither bitter nor disillusioned from losing his drive at the front of the field but willing to fully embrace the challenge of leading a more modest team. Over the first half of the season, Bottas raked in the points for Alfa Romeo, helping them a high enough tally that would ultimately secure them their eventual sixth place and – vitally – the millions of dollars’ worth of prize money that came with it.

He also played no small role in helping his rookie team mate, Zhou Guanyu, find his feet in his first season in Formula 1. Zhou took a point on debut and showed he had more than enough pace to earn a second season in 2022, but his first year was blighted all-too-often by his car or power unit breaking down on him during races. As he gained experience, Zhou’s confidence grew and he began regularly beating Bottas on Saturday afternoons, although could not always keep pace during race days.

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Heading into 2023, there are three clear areas for improvement. First, Alfa Romeo must arrive at the pre-season Bahrain test with a car that is much more reliable than its predecessor. Beyond the all-too-common retirements during races, Bottas in particular lost hours of track time sitting out practice sessions as his mechanics were forced to work on fixing problems with his car with alarming regularity.

Secondly, addressing the team’s woeful performance at race starts is critical. No team lost as many positions in the opening metres of races last season than Alfa Romeo. When the midfield is as competitive as it was last season, giving away more easy places at the start this season could prove even more costly when it comes to their championship position.

(L to R): Valtteri Bottas, Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo, Circuit Zandvoort, 2022
Bottas and Zhou worked well together in year one
Finally, Alfa Romeo will have to do a better job of keeping pace in the development race over the season. While they enjoyed the best form the team has had in years over the opening rounds of 2022, the team fell behind their fellow rivals so quickly as the season progressed that they scored just four points in total over the final 11 rounds of the year, including a painful 10-race stretch between Silverstone and Austin where they scored just a single point.

Fortunately, the team’s late-season upgrades package for that Circuit of the Americas weekend proved effective enough for them to snatch three vital points over Mexico and Brazil that ultimately secured them their finishing position ahead of Aston Martin. But despite a difficult second half of the year, Bottas says his team are well aware of what they must do to improve this season.

“We know as a team there’s a lot of work to do,” Bottas said after the season came to a close. “We’re still a bit inconsistent and want to get better results and at least we have some millions now more to spend on the car development and hopefully some more people. But overall, it’s a good step and we go from here.”

Speaking to RaceFans prior to the end of the season, Zhou revealed that Alfa Romeo had not spent as much of their budget on car development over the year as many of their rivals – going some way to explaining how they had been swallowed up by them as the season progressed. It begs the question of where else that money had gone to – and if their 2023 chassis had benefited from it.

With Sauber unveiling their final car to carry the Alfa Romeo name tomorrow, the answer to that question is not far away from being answered. While the team clearly took a big step up the order in 2022, doing the same again this year would be a tall order. But with the long-term future for Sauber looking increasingly bright, simply consolidating their position in the midfield is a worthwhile enough target for 2023.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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7 comments on “As Sauber look to their Audi future, can Alfa Romeo build on their best year in a decade?”

  1. Sauber had a good start to the season because they were the only team within the weight limit. Then they had zero follow-through for the rest of the season as most other teams caught up and they lost that advantage, which doesn’t bode well for their 2023 campaign.

    Also, they have a quasi-retired #2 driver and a pay driver in their cars and no one cares what they do for the next three seasons.

    I see them in #8 or #9 in 2023.

    1. Sauber had a good start to the season because they were the only team within the weight limit.

      Yep, they built their car to the minimum weight allowed by the regulations – and then some other (much larger and more politically powerful) teams decided that since they didn’t/couldn’t, the regulations should be changed.
      Says a lot about F1, really.

      1. Definitely true that some teams have more power, but then again those that don’t are often quick to submit. Long gone are the days when teams would withdraw their cars because they didn’t like how the sport was being run. There are probably dozens of lawyers who’d jump on even a hint of such a protest to remind Sauber, or any other such team, that their sponsorship deal is for a full F1 season, and any deviation from that comes with financial consequences.

        Anyway, disagree that “consolidating their position in the midfield is a worthwhile enough target for 2023”. The average finishing positions of Bottas (10th) and Zhou (13th) in 2022 was rather lackluster. Any team spending dozens of millions would presumably be aiming higher than scraping together a meager 1,3 points per car per race.

  2. It always seems to be forgotten that Ferrari needed to detune their engines – that also applied to the engines in the Alfa Romoes, so part of the performance drops was of course due to this.

  3. Last season was almost a disaster for Sauber. Left field design, car was pretty rough though crucially under the weight limit, reliability was poor, updates were scarce. The only reason they scored was because the race team is competent, they made the most of the reliability they got. To the naked eye the build quality of the williams the Aston and the Sauber was on a lower level than the rest of the grid.

  4. Archibald Bumfluff
    6th February 2023, 13:31

    how much brand value this is for Alfa Romeo now, when Audi is signed to take over the team in a few years?

    I am sure that during the coverage of every Grand Prix, Audi will be mentioned at least once when talking about the Alfa Romeo / Sauber team.

    If I was Mr. Alfa or Mr. Romeo I wouldn’t be very happy about that.

    1. The funny part about this is that Volkswagen has repeatedly tried to buy the Alfa-Romeo brand from Fiat, and if that had gone through, Alfa-Romeo would have been added to Audi’s stable of Italian sub-brands.

      Instead, Fiat are now paying Volkswagen, the newly-minted part-owner of Sauber, for the privilege of putting the Alfa-Romeo name on Audi’s future F1 team.

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