2019 F1 Guide: Alfa Romeo reloaded and rising

Kimi Raikkonen. Photo: Sauber

Alfa Romeo Racing bring a new identity to the grid when they start their new era of racing beginning with the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship season opener in Melbourne on Sunday.

Plenty of fans will be on the lookout for F1 veteran Kimi Raikkonen as he embarks on a new adventure with the Ferrari sister team. The 39-year-old joins F1 rookie Antonio Giovinazzi, as the Alfa Romeo brand returns to Australia for the first time since 1985 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide.

Above all, their radical looking C38 machine aims to propel the team right into the midfield, as they work to bring the Alfa Romeo name back into the Formula 1 winners’ circle.

Alfa Romeo as an actual constructor has had illustrious F1 experience but in an era that has little or no significance to their current involvement. Nevertheless, the brand has the ability to inspire a big following as racing pedigree is not lacking.

The Ferrari connection inevitably labels them a B-team of sorts, but this will serve only to motivate the troops at Hinwill who are being ably marshalled by their relatively new General.

With what appears to be a handy chassis a bid for Best of the Rest – fourth place in the championship – is not out of the question and would crown a remarkable turnaround for a team that not long ago teetered on extinction.

Antonio Giovinazzi, Frederic Vasseur and Kimi Raikkonen. Photo: Alfa Romeo

Frederic Vasseur: The Frenchman acts as Sauber’s managing director and CEO while also being team principal of Alfa Romeo Racing, which replaces the Sauber name in 2019.

The 50-year-old comes from a junior category background, running the highly successful ART Grand Prix team in GP2 during Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton’s championship years in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

The team has changed signifcantly under his charge which began in July 2017, putting order to chaos that characterised Monisha Kaltenborn’s time at the helm. Vasseur’s first order of business was to terminate the Honda agreement that his predecessor had inked and then to further align the operation with Ferrari.

The rewards could well be reaped this year with veteran Raikkonen back in the fold to spearhead their campaign for the next two years. Meanwhile, they bring Giovinazzi up to speed on behalf of Ferrari as they did for young Charles Leclerc.

Kimi Raikkonen. Photo: Alfa Romeo

Kimi Raikkonen: The Finn astounded the F1 world when, shortly after his dismissal by Ferrari, he announced a two-year deal to race for the team that took a gamble to give him a break in the top tier almost two decades ago.

Sauber took a long shot bet on a precocious kid who had only 23 car races on his CV before he climbed into an F1 cockpit and the rest is history.

In a twist of fate or Karma (or call it what you will) Raikkonen is back at the Swiss outfit albeit older, wiser and with a world title to his name as well as 21 victories. His mere presence in the team signals their intent and ambitions.

While Raikkonen is one of the cleanest drivers in the field, this season he will toil in the mid-grid area where the same cannot be said of his rivals.

If and how he survives the havoc that often prevails in the midfield will be riveting viewing. Uncomfortable in wheel-to-wheel combat situations, too many prangs with these new wide-winged cars might tempt the Iceman to go on another boozy binge or, more likely, simply walk away.

That would be the worst case scenario, and although not unlikely it would also not be outrageous to predict that with a decent car and his experience he will do well and even score a podium on occasions.

Right now Kimi is in a good place, he has regained his good humour, is still always up for a party as the FIA Awards evening proved. We are lucky to have him on the grid, and will be luckier still if he has the equipment to end his illustrious career on a high over the next two seasons.

Whatever the case the driver of the number seven car remains the most popular driver of this era, and perhaps even one of the most appreciated of all time even, at 39.

Antonio Giovinazzi. Photo: Alfa Romeo

Antonio Giovinazzi: The 25-year-old has raced in F1 twice already, the first time at the 2017 Australian Grand Prix when he substituted far injured Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein. Considering the short notice the Italian did a good job that weekend qualifying 16th with only an outing in FP3 to prepare. He then went on to finish 12th.

Two weeks later was a totally different story as he crashed the Sauber twice in the same place in qualy and then a day later in the race. His shares plunged, and as a result he dropped behind Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA) pecking order.

Hence Leclerc’s first season with Sauber last year, while Giovinazzi watched from the sidelines. The Monaco Kid’s promotion to the Scuderia opened the door for the Italian to step up and strut his stuff on the big stage.

Thankfully for him, Ferrari kept the faith and persisted with him. Since then he has had a number of FP1 sessions under his belt making him as ready as any modern day rookie can be for his debut season. However, as unkind as it may seem, it has to be said: keeping it out of the barriers will be Giovi’s priority.

And of course sharing a garage with a veteran like Raikkonen, with vast experience on tap, can only be good for the Italian if he is the kind that looks and learns.

Interesting times lie ahead for Alfa Romeo – reloaded and rising.

Big Question: Can Alfa Romeo be the Best of the Rest in 2019?

Additional Sources: Australian Grand Prix Media Office