Kimi in an Alfa! It’s F1’s dream team Ferrari tech, Kimi Räikkönen and a car as fast as it is pretty? We’re cheering Alfa on this season.
Wait. Is Kimi Räikkönen smiling? It’s 4.30pm, Spanish time, on 18 February, and the notoriously gloomy 2007 world champion actually looks happy.
He has good reason. Along with Antonio Giovinazzi, his team-mate at Alfa Romeo Racing (formerly Sauber), Räikkönen has just completed over 100 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya in the first session of pre-season testing. Both drivers have clearly enjoyed exploring the new car, the striking-looking C38.
‘For an old guy it’s a bit hard,’ says the 39-year-old ‘Iceman’, whose move from career began with Sauber before moving on to McLaren and then Ferrari. ‘I’m very happy actually. Straight away I don’t feel an awful lot wrong with the car. Obviously there are some areas of the package that need work, but it’s positive. I tried the old car from Sauber and this is a big step.’ While Ferrari is comfortably the fastest on day one of testing (and the most stable as CAR watches from the fastest corner on the Barcelona circuit), the Alfa and Renault have both shown the potential to be the best of the rest behind the familiar front runners from Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull.
The C38’s front wing has set paddock tongues wagging with its unusual design, an unexpected interpretation of this season’s new aero rules. The car’s been overseen by technical chief Simone Resta, Ferrari’s former lead designer. Although the team is renamed Alfa Romeo Racing, its ownership, management and Swiss base remain the same. Last year’s car was technically original and it improved more than any other during the season. As before, Ferrari is the engine supplier.
Alfa is shaping up to be a strong junior team to nurture drivers for Ferrari’s Formula 1 team in the same way that Toro Rosso is a B-team for Red Bull. But the aim is to jostle with the A-teams for podiums, not just compete to be the quickest losers. Interesting times ahead, with the new season starting in Melbourne on 17 March.
F1 2019 A BLUFFER’S GUIDE
Red Bull get a proper engine
It’s safe to use the H word again. Honda got a lot of stick for its under-performance during its McLaren partnership, but the Honda engine being used by Red Bull in 2019 (having done well powering the Toro Rossos last year) worked a treat in Barcelona testing – powerful and reliable.
New Brits storm the grid
Lando Norris, 19, driving for McLaren alongside Carlos Sainz, is Britain’s youngest ever F1 driver. F2 champion George Russell joins Williams with Robert Kubica, who’s returning to a full-time F1 schedule for the first time since his rally crash eight years ago. Alexander Albon is Thai, but was born and raised in Britain; he’s at Toro Rosso with Daniil Kvyat.
Everything looks rosy for Ferrari, marking 90 years since the Scuderia was founded. New team principal Mattia Binotto (tech chief under the departed Maurizio Arrivabene) and his crew clearly didn’t waste the winter, as both Sebastian Vettel and new boy Charles Leclerc flew in the SF90 during Barcelona testing. Leclerc impressed at Sauber last year, finishing sixth in Azerbaijan.
New rules, same old promise
You’ve heard it before, but here we go again: the aero rules have been tweaked to make overtaking easier. Higher, wider and simpler wings have been introduced to help the cars follow one another more closely without a battle-stymying loss of downforce. Meanwhile the minimum weight has increased, so drivers no longer need starve themselves.
Räikkönen (left) with Giovinazzi: 14 years between them, but only a split second on track at Barcelona. Alfa’s last F1 car bowed out in Australia in 1985; 34 years on, the new one is ready to race in Melbourne.