Alex Pennington starts his five-piece preview set, kicking off with Haas and Alfa Romeo, about what we should expect from teams in the upcoming season.
With the season approaching its end – even with many battles far from over – Formula 1’s teams have already turned their attention towards next year, and the sport’s much-anticipated new regulations. As we head towards the conclusion of a thrilling title battle, it’s worth doing the same, looking ahead to what we can expect from the teams next year.
Over a series of five articles, I’ll examine each team’s 2021 season, and what we should look for from them and their drivers next year. They’ll run in reverse championship order (at time of writing) and, importantly, should be read as a (undoubtedly contentious) bit of fun. So, without further ado, let’s get started; don’t forget to set a reminder for this time next year to tell me just how wrong I was.
Of all the teams heading into next year, Haas seem to be in the most uncertain, and possibly weakest, position. It’s hardly been a positive couple of seasons for them, and unfortunately that seems unlikely to change in the immediate future.
The American outfit is the only team this year yet to score any points, despite some of the chaotic, mixed-up, and wet races the calendar has seen: barring any true miracles, this looks unlikely to change before the end of the season. Hardly ending the era on a high, then.
They also seem to have the biggest financial struggles of any team, taking that mantle from Williams in the last couple of years. Gene Haas still funds some of the team personally, and the rest is now done by Nikita Mazepin’s father, via his company Uralkali. This has, of course, helped to plug the gap, and the budget cap coming in for 2022 will also go some way to mitigating the issue. The fact remains though that Haas’ financial viability is linked to one of its drivers remaining with the team. Budget cap or not, it’s hardly an enviable position.
So, what about the drivers? For the avoidance of major controversy, let’s just say that one of the two has had mixedPR results for his new team. Aside from that issue, there is that of experience. Heading into completely new regulations, they have only one year apiece in Formula 1. Of course, all of the teams are in the dark heading into the new regs, but most teams have at least one more experienced driver who knows how to give development feedback and has been with their team for several years. Haas may have dedicated all its 2021 resources to next year, but throwing money alone at an issue will not be enough.
Do I think Haas will be as far off next year as they have been next year? No. If they are, I think there is a risk of them dropping off the grid as their risk/reward calculations start to turn out some concerning answers. I see their 2022 spent in a similar position to Williams and Alfa Romeo this year – not quite able to fight with the big midfield names, but not always a million miles away.
Speaking of Alfa Romeo, what can we expect from the Swiss outfit next year? Well, it’s not an Andretti takeover, but it is an exciting – if controversial – new driver line-up, and the promise of big things from boss Frederic Vasseur.
Alfa Romeo currently sit 9th in the standings with 11 points, 12 behind Williams, with only three races to go. This, compared to their expectations at the start of the year, will be disappointing, given Williams’ weakness in the last few seasons and Alfa Romeo’s lower-midfield consistency.
They do however have reason to be optimistic in 2022. Alfa Romeo recently renewed its financial commitment to the Sauber team, and they also have new financial support in the shape of Guanyu Zhou – but more on the driver line-up soon. The team has doubled its number of personnel over the last 2-3 years according to Vasseur, and has operated for years underneath F1’s newly introduced cost cap. This means that it has to make no adjustments to its spending at all, as opposed to famously big-spending Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull who have had to deal with major organisational changes, as well as the challenge of developing the new car.
Valtteri Bottas will also be a valuable addition to the team. He is now an experienced, proven entity in F1, someone capable of beating Hamilton on his day, and with invaluable development experience. Alfa Romeo could not have asked for a better replacement for Kimi Raikkonen. There is, of course, the matter of newly announced Guanyu Zhou. His appointment has been controversial, but with multiple F2 wins and a title challenge still underway, he is anything but slow. He will need a season to bed in and adapt, and I expect a Tsunoda-esque year from him next year, but with all the drivers starting from square one with their new machinery, he couldn’t be joining at a better time.
Compared to Haas, Alfa Romeo have reason to be optimistic. A small, efficient operation with a potentially strong driver line-up could see a decent step forward, and it would be unsurprising to see them challenging for seventh in the constructors, fighting in the upper midfield on a good day.
So, there’s the rundown on where F1’s current bottom two teams stand ahead of 2022. The second article in this series, out next week, will tackle two of motorsport’s biggest names – Williams and Aston Martin – and how they will be looking to change their mixed fortunes in F1’s new era.