This F1 teammate battle takes an unexpected turn
An Alfa Romeo Formula 1 driver is a 33-year veteran with 10 Grand Prix victories.
The other is a sophomore with just six career points and someone who – as much as he has made a good impression in his rookie F1 season – can hardly be seen in the context of a junior resume more humble than that of many is his peers.
In this context, a cursory glance at the results of the Bahrain Grand Prix would not have caused shocks. Eight places apart, Valtteri Bottas the only points scorer. Zhou Guanyu’s target position was admittedly artificially lowered when Alfa Romeo pitted him late to deny Alpine the fastest lap point – but even before that he was half a minute behind Bottas.
But if that was a picture of the F1 opener, it wasn’t the full picture. And Saturday’s qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah brought the point further home. Something interesting is happening here.
“Actually, I think he was two tenths faster than me. And I felt [at the] End of my lap I couldn’t find it,” Bottas said in Jeddah on Saturday when asked by The Race about the single lap trend compared to his teammate.
“Well, he’s really in, or there’s a difference, I don’t know,” he added, chuckling.
“I really felt like I was making the best of it.
“He was super-consistent in every session. Definitely a step further than last year.”
No, Zhou didn’t get into Q3 – both he and Bottas retired in the second segment – but he beat his teammate by 0.207s, which team representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi described as “an excellent job in the cockpit”. And it didn’t come out of the blue – it came.
Bottas vs. Zhou, 2023 best round comparisons
FP1 – Zhou 0.114s ahead
FP2 – Zhou 0.223s ahead
FP3 – Zhou 0.449s ahead
Q1 – Bottas 0.111s ahead
Q2 – Botta’s 0.030s ahead
FP1 – Bottas 0.016s ahead
FP2 – Zhou 0.215s ahead
FP3 – Zhou 0.400s ahead
Q1 – Zhou 0.275s ahead
Q2 – Zhou 0.207s ahead
“The feeling isn’t that bad. Only the stopwatch doesn’t show a nice lap time,” said Bottas after qualifying in Jeddah.
That – the fact that he doesn’t feel particularly comfortable in the car, although Zhou compares this well – is a great credit to the Chinese driver.
Granted, Zhou’s junior resume suggests he’s a pretty good qualifier. Three poles in European F3 and one pole in each of his Formula Two seasons, the latter coupled with a generally credible single lap record in F1’s main feeder series.
But Bottas has 20 F1 poles. He was a real challenger to one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time on Saturdays – let alone Sundays – during his five years as a teammate. “He’s very good, especially over one lap,” described Zhou Bottas earlier this month.
And indeed, Bottas treated Zhou in qualifying in early 2022. But – as Alfa Romeo lost competitiveness against its rivals – that gap closed and Zhou ended the season with back-to-back qualifying defeats to Bottas in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
And if two weekends fail to produce a conclusive trend, the sample size is clearly larger and growing, even as Bottas clinched a very narrow win in Bahrain – which, notably, was aided by a lock-up from Zhou put him “two-tenths compared to the.” Preliminary round” cost. He even considered Q3 an outsider bet, while for Bottas the phrase was “definitely out of reach”.
“It’s a good starting yardstick for the start of the season,” Zhou said upon arriving in Jeddah. “Last year I was maybe more than six tenths [off].
“It definitely gives me confidence, it also shows progress, the feeling you get when you push the pace on a lap. It was a good starting point, but I probably expected a bit more.”
The “something more” came this Saturday. And Zhou’s goal of “always fighting closely” with his team-mate is clearly achieved in qualifying. In fact, the evidence from preseason – it whispers – speaks in his favour.
Points will be awarded on Sunday and Bottas can be expected to remain the more effective Alfa Romeo points-scorer well into the season even if the one-lap trend continues.
But that kind of movement is usually predictive when it comes to a junior/experienced F1 lineup. First you see the swing in action. Then – with an offset because it’s experience that helps bring together the best lap times – it shows up in qualifying. And while it’s not a guarantee, there’s a good chance it will then translate into the Grand Prix itself.
Maybe Bottas will make more of his starting position than Zhou in the race. Even if he does, Alfa Romeo’s second division side don’t have to look far to find a huge positive result.