Zhou’s improving form is asking more questions of Bottas

2023 F1 team mate battles

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To realise the step backwards Alfa Romeo has taken since last year, and the change in the balance of power between their two drivers, you need only look at their scores.

Zhou Guanyu has taken four points to date, just two fewer than he managed during his rookie campaign last season. But team mate Valtteri Bottas’ tally of six compared much less favourably to the 49 he tallied last year.

When Alfa Romeo started the season strongly last year, Bottas did most of their points-scoring while Zhou found his feet. By the second half of the year Zhou had raised his game and over the final 10 races the qualifying scoreline between them was even. But by then points were harder to come by.

Having beaten Aston Martin to sixth place in the championship last year by the narrowest of margins, soon after 2023 began the team realised it could forget about beating them again this year. Barring a post-summer break miracle, seventh place looks like the limit of its ambitions for now.

When Zhou got the nod for a 2022 drive some questioned why he had found a seat more easily then fellow Alpine junior Oscar Piastri who had just won the Formula 2 title. Piastri’s first half-season with McLaren this year has gone well, but Zhou has also begun to sway the doubters by getting on terms with his experienced, race-winning team mate.

Bar the odd dip, Zhou’s qualifying performance have measured up well against his team mate’s. He’s raced well too and only scored one point less. Half of those came in Melbourne, where he benefited from staying out of trouble in the mess at the end of the race, and arguably deserved to score more highly.

While Bottas still retains an upper hand, it’s not of the order which might be expected from a driver with such a successful CV. To demonstrate he deserves to return to a top team, or remain at this one when it transitions into Audi’s works outfit, he needs to assert himself over his increasingly impressive young team mate.

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Bottas Q

Unrepresentative comparisons omitted. Negative value: Bottas was faster; Positive value: Guanyu was faster

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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23 comments on “Zhou’s improving form is asking more questions of Bottas”

  1. I’d wish Bottas would go enjoy his life doing something else. His head isn’t in it and he was a nr2 driver to begin with. Might as well give a young guy a chance to fullfill their dream.

    As for the team, I can imagine some corporate alarm bells are starting to ring pretty soon. Audi wouldn’t want to be seen with this kind of lack of performance. They need to make some major signings of top personell pretty soon to improve the team in time for the development rush of the 26 car. The more defined the chassis regulations become, the more work can be done. They need a better engineering team in place well before that point.

    1. Bottas’ deal with Alfa Romeo was touted as “multi-year” but surely expires before 2026. I would imagine Audi would turf out both of them even sooner than 2026 if they got any senior figures appointed to the team before then.

      Agreed on the development point. Sauber have never been good at nailing new tech regulations IIRC, they need to be doing the work now and not in 2024/5.

      1. Sauber (in its forms in 2009, 2014, 2017) kind of became backmarkers every time new regs popped up tbh. BMW F1-09 was a shambles with only a few great strategy calls saving the season… 2014 was very anonymous even compared to 2013… and 2017 was that year when they kept crashing and were the slowest car. Only time they did decent in these reg changes was the 2022 one and anyway as the competition got their act together they fell down. Their current slump is a direct result of a reg change in all honesty. Am I saying this will be the case into 2026 new car zone? No. But your statement is factually incorrect. Unless you were being sarcastic/ironic then I apologize.

    2. you need to go look at the data for both qualfying gap & race gap. Bottas gap over Zhou is actually improving this year. I would agree Zhou got closer last year but data is showing Bottas having a growing qualifying advantage & race gap as the season goes on.

  2. Coventry Climax
    7th August 2023, 17:12

    I wouldn’t ask questions of Bottas, but more solid results, more of a fight. Ofcourse, I only judge from what I get on the TV, but I feel he’s been very lacklustre sofar this year. Frequently, he’s plain invisible. Even if the car isn’t helping, it doesn’t feel like it’s all due to just that.

  3. Valtteri got what he wanted when he left Mercedes – a more comfortable environment with a long-term contract that didn’t put excessive pressure for immediate performance. But he’s not really delivering much on it. I would be expecting him to be beating a solid-if-not-fantastic driver better than this.

  4. Bottas should be miles ahead of Zhou, but he’s not, they are very evenly matched.

    If he starts being being beaten on the regular by Zhou, ther is no reason to keep him in the team. A good Chinese driver is a manufacturer’s wet dream in terms of publicity in China. It’s the worlds biggest car market!

    Bottas doesn’t have that publicity factor that Zhou has. He’s not going to sell as many cars, so if he doesn’t get better results, why keep him in the car?

    1. I don’t think Zhou is a good driver (relative to others competing in F1). I think it is Bottas who is declining and not really into it. It’s impossible to tell with F1 (which kinda makes it a bad sport, even if fine entertainment), but my gut tells me Zhou is close to Stroll in terms of pace, nothing more.

  5. I can’t remember being as positively suprised by a driver stepping up to F1 as I have been with Zhou. Having taken 3 years to reach a peak of 3rd in F2 I was expecting a pay driver no better than Mazepin. But after 1 and half years he’s a very solid midfield driver, he’s shown he can learn and improve and I can’t remember any big rookie mistakes in that time. Factoring in the big china marketing bonus he has I honestly believe he would be a perfect number 2 driver at Ferrari.

    Bottas may not be a perfect benchmark but there’s no denying on Saturday he can be one of the quickest out there, unfortunately I also believe he has the worst racecraft on the grid. Honestly a mentor role at midfield team is probably the best he can hope for.

    1. Agreed, Zhou has been very solid, hasn’t done anything silly and has been much closer to Bottas than I suspect most people expected. While I doubt any of the big teams will ever want to sign him, for a team like Sauber basically waiting for 2026, he’s a pretty good pick.

    2. I also agree yeah. Did not expect too much of him when he came in. But he’s shown he has pace, he has shown race craft and he had a solid streak of good races already.

  6. I think it’s plainly obvious what’s happening to Bottas. He has so many other distractions now, outside of F1–his coffee shops, his cycling, his charity, his alochol/gin production etc etc. He’s simply not as focused on F1 any more. Plus, he’s no spring chicken. 34 yrs old.

    Leave Bottas be. At least he never failed to get into Q3 5 times in a row when in a dominant car.

    1. Leave Bottas be. At least he never failed to get into Q3 5 times in a row when in a dominant car.

      😂😂😂 Love it!

    2. Haha.. true that. Bottas might be slacking but he’s not the walking disaster Sergio is.

  7. Valtteri Bottas could make a good teamate to George Russell

  8. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    7th August 2023, 21:34

    A lot of people, including the information in the article has not really mentioned Bottas’s bad luck this year, which is heavily responsible for making zhou looking close or better than him.

    Here is a list of times bad luck badly effected Bottas’s weekend, and it is extremely often and none has been his fault:

    Saudi Arabia: Damage on lap 1 – Damaged floor.
    It was Piastri’s front wing that wrecked his floor. That would have been impossible for any driver to avoid.

    Baku: Damage on lap 1 – hit from the side and behind – Damaged diffuser and bodywork.
    He was on the outside of Turn 2 with Piastri on the inside of him, then Albon also went down the inside, hit Piastri and then Piastri lost control and hit Bottas which damaged his diffuser and bodywork.

    Spain: Floor damage –
    The team found significant damage to the floor after the race, which is highly likely the reasoning behind Bottas being nearly an entire minute behind Zhou, who was in the points. The team think it was from damage on lap 1. I think it is possibly from debris from Norris’s front wing when he and Hamilton made contact.

    Austria: Damage on lap 1 (Broken front wing)
    It was Tsunoda’s end plate that came flying Bottas’s direction and while it was stuck under the car for a few seconds, Bottas really had to fight with counter-steering to keep his car on track. Then he had the damaged front wing until he pitted, and quite possibly floor damage too. This was what lost him the positions this race.

    Britain: Disqualified from qualifying due to no fuel sample and also could not take part in Q2 due to the teams error.
    While it did not effect him in the race, it was yet another weekend where bad luck hit him.

    I’ve also unconvinced that is it is just a coincidence that Zhou happened to beat Bottas in 3/5 of these occasions. He also did better in Baku too until he retired. To me, Bottas having damage has almost always been the reason why Zhou has done better on race days.

    Zhou has improved / bottas the opposite in qualifying though. But it is certainly down to Bottas’s luck during the races this year that is making them look close. Bottas has looked pretty comfortably on top every time his car hasn’t been damaged pretty much every weekend. Australia was the only weekend where he had no bad luck and he clearly looked worse than Zhou on race day.

    It’s typical of me to defend bottas, but to be fair, I think very few have realised the luck he’s had this year just because none of it has resulted in a DNF and has just resulted in it looking like he’s struggling and slow instead too often.

    1. Very illuminating. Thanks for that and this is what I would expect of the article writer to put these type of facts down so you can judge based on rhe full picture.

    2. I think there is also a large element that even when you take into all those things, Bottas has still consistently outperformed Zhou yet the points will not reflect the difference due to the performance of the car not being a top 10 car without other issues in the race as a rule so limited chances to score more points.

      At the end of the day we know Bottas is nothing more than a solid driver so the fact Zhou isn’t beating him speaks volumes.

      1. It’s very true that points don’t give an accurate picture when you are not regularly in the top 10. A driver who consistently finishes 11th would be beaten on points by a driver who finished last in every race but one, where he lucked into a 10th place finish.

        I don’t think this article is very fair to Bottas at all. Even with the bad luck he’s suffered (as listed by @thegianthogweed), Bottas is still beating Zhou significantly in both Qually and Races. If the car was a bit faster, he would be thrashing him on points again.

    3. Bottas has had a decent season other without those misfortunes.

      Bahrain: 8th
      Monaco: 11th
      Canada: 10th

      And in the last 3 races he has been 12th in the 8th/9th best car. When nothing goes wrong for Bottas, he’s fine.

  9. If I remember correctly, Zhou also had several bad luck moments. In the Canadian qualifying race, Zhou’s car malfunctioned and he didn’t have much time to impact lap speed. The pace of qualifying in Spain seemed good, but it was interrupted by Bottas’ red flag and could not further improve the results. In Belgium, due to the poor timing of the appearance, the final lap was congested with traffic and unable to impact the perfect lap.

    1. Hungary, after Sauber’s best qualy in years, and Zhou’s car needs to be reset on the starting grid.
      Admittedly this effectively took both of them out of the points, with Bottas right behind needing to take avoidance measures that pushed him back a few places.

  10. It must also be mentioned that in terms of tire changing time, the time for bottas to enter the station for tire changing is almost always shorter than the time for Zhou. Considering that many racing cars have similar competitiveness this year, the tire change time will seriously affect the driver’s final ranking.

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