zhou and bottas f1 alfa romeo

Outside Line: Bottas made Zhou look ordinary

zhou and bottas f1 alfa romeo

Spare a thought for Valtteri Bottas who, for five years with Mercedes drove, some of the greatest Formula 1 cars ever, however over the past two seasons has had to compete with one of the worst on the grid but did enough to make younger teammate Zhou Guanyu look ordinary.

Replacing retired Nico Rosberg at Mercedes in 2017, Bottas helped the German team to five F1 World Constructors Championship titles until he was dispatched to make way for George Russell to partner with Lewis Hamilton.

The consolation for Bottas is the reality is that he might not have added to his ten F1 wins with them had he remained with Mercedes, as his departure coincidentally signalled the end of the team’s dominance and golden era.

But it’s far worse at the Sauber-run Alfa Romeo team, even sniffs at podiums would be as rare as dinosaur bones, and a struggle for points it turned out to be, 16 out of 22 GPs was a paltry return. Bottas scored ten of the team’s points. The Finnish 34-year-old also beat the 24-year-old Chinese driver 15-7 in Qualifying.

And notably, Bottas was relishing the escape from corporate Mercedes to a more laissez-faire approach to racing that Sauber tends to have. Testament to that is the nude Bottass 2024 calendar for charity coupled with his retro pornstar look and other shenanigans garnered more headlines than his on-track achievements over the past two years. Much like his fellow countryman Kimi Raikkonen with half the booze!

Bottas: We didn’t find anything big throughout the season

Bottas: We didn't find anything big throughout the season

Reflecting on the 2023 F1 season during an interview with F1.com, Bottas said: “We brought upgrades pretty consistently all through the year like any team, but some have been decent steps, some really minor.

“We didn’t find anything big throughout the season. It’s been steady progress but that’s not enough. Meanwhile, some other teams found big steps, new concepts, and innovative things. Some might be copying other teams but still, we just made steady progress but, in this sport, that’s not always enough.

“And ultimately, the biggest thing was how the car was born. It was definitely born better than last year’s car but not better enough. That’s just how it goes so there’s not one thing that is lacking.

“So, that’s why I’m really pleased that we’re trying to think a bit outside the box now, and with also all the new people we have on board and that will be coming on board,” explained Bottas.

Alfa Romeo have ended their title sponsorship this year. This means the Swiss team will spend two years in limbo, albeit rebranded while marking time until it morphs into Audi for their foray into F1 in 2026.

In two F1 seasons, Zhou has been no better than Giovinazzi whom he replaced

In two F1 seasons, Zhou has been no better than Giovinazzi whom he replaced

Looking ahead to 2024, Bottas revealed:  “The good thing is we do have a completely new car with some new ideas with new people in the team and that’s exactly what we need now. So, we need to make big steps over the winter. That’s the key.”

The veteran Finn is a solid benchmark for any F1 driver considering he was twice F1 WDC runner-up (2019 and 2020) to Hamilton and twice (2017 and 2021) he was third. In the other car, if Zhou had the potential of Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc or Lando Norris for example, he should’ve been ‘owning’ Bottas or at least matching him.

That did not happen and is unlikely to. The reality is not much better or less expensive (crashes) than the driver he replaced, Antonio Giovinazzi at Alfa Romeo. The Italian was not cut out for F1 despite the early signs; aka bent metal. Nevertheless, he spent four seasons trying to prove himself only for it to pass that his place was World Endurance Championship.

Giovinazzi was never going to win a Grand Prix, but he is a Le Mans 24-Hour winner. Zhou might find comfort in that because a third season in F1 like the one past will hardly justify him another shot in 2025. He has to raise his game, and that means beating Bottas far more often.

Big Question: Should Guanyu Zhou not be beating Valtteri Bottas more often to be considered the real deal for F1?