Bottas’ Performance In Comparison To Rookie Teammate Paints Inaccurate Picture.

In 2022, Valtteri Bottas completely outscored Zhou Guanyu, his rookie teammate at Alfa Romeo. However, his “winning” margin of 49 points to 6 creates an inaccurate impression. Bottas was unquestionably the superior driver, although Zhou’s campaign did much better than the results would imply.

The course of Alfa Romeo’s season is somewhat to blame for it. Zhou didn’t receive the points he deserved although the team had a great beginning, a challenging and unsuccessful middle, and a primarily unrewarded late recovery. Bottas, meanwhile, was able to profit from his early-season presence as a Q3 regular to add up to his total points.

Bottas was typically the faster of the Alfa Romeo drivers when a meaningful comparison could be made in dry conditions with an average lead of 0.281 seconds in qualifying sessions. However, as the season went on, Zhou closed the deficit.

After getting tired of serving as the backbone of a large team, Bottas was reinvigorated by his move from Mercedes. He delighted in being Alfa Romeo’s new leader and long-term front-runner.

He didn’t go into it with the swagger of a known athlete who had fallen below his level or as a veteran stagehand looking to cash in on one more significant paycheck. That indicated that the team received value for its money from a driver eager to attempt to aid in its advancement.

Surprisingly, it was the first time in Bottas’ career that he was the more seasoned driver in a team’s lineup in his 10 seasons as an F1 driver. As for his leadership role, Bottas said: “I have enjoyed it, it was pretty natural how this situation came up because I’m not a rookie anymore, but it’s scary how time flies by!”

“I knew that at some point it would be the case that I would be the more experienced driver in a team, but I really enjoyed the responsibility of that, the authority that came with it.”

Bottas also adjusted to the requirements of the cars built to the 2022 specifications very well. He was able to accumulate a streak of point finishes owing to that, together with a Sauber-produced machine that was a strong midfielder at the beginning of the year, in part because he was within the weight requirement.

He scored seven times in the first nine Grands Prix, just losing out in Azerbaijan due to suspension issues that ruined his weekend and in Saudi Arabia due to overheating issues. Zhou struggled with both pace and results at this time.

Except for Miami, when he was within two-tenths, the gaps were often wide throughout this period of the season as he and the team established a reasonable, systematic goal of routinely making it to Q2. Positions lost or opportunities missed were a recurring theme in Zhou’s season as he struggled to get the car to perform well.

However, he did earn a point on his racing debut thanks to a skillfully performed comeback drive after momentarily being last in the Bahrain Grand Prix to begin the season.

Zhou made significant strides during this period of the season in the background, most especially when he out-qualified Bottas in the wet in Canada for the first time and achieved his best season result of eighth place.

However, Alfa Romeo’s performance declined after Canada. This was due to the struggle involved in car development, which was partly caused by its inability to generate components as rapidly as required and partially because it was unable to lose weight as quickly as other competitors because it began at a suitable fighting weight.

It was a challenging moment when unreliability, some of it due to Ferrari components, was added to the team’s string of woes. Bottas earned three of Alfa Romeo’s four points—the fewest of any team in the remaining 13 races—thanks to finishes of ninth in Brazil and tenth in Mexico.

This occurred during Alfa Romeo’s improved performance around the season’s end when tweaks to the floor and front wing turned the car back into a Q3 contender.

Given to him by Daniel Ricciardo’s tardy retirement and the absence of a safety car restart, Zhou’s last point at Monza came with a splash of good fortune. Despite initially having trouble with the improved car, he stayed consistent and beat Bottas to qualifying for the last two Grands Prix.

That was a solid way to end a season in which his ability to avoid costly errors may have stood out given that most of the events he was engaged in—including the horrifying crash at the beginning of the British Grand Prix sparked by George Russell—were not his fault.

Alfa Romeo was Bottas’ team in 2022, and although Zhou made remarkable development, he still has a long way to go before he can regularly rival his teammate. But if he can increase his speed without making additional mistakes, as well as improve his starts in a car that was challenging off the line, he will be a greater threat the next year.

Zhou gave his season a seven out of ten and said he must improve on it in 2023, but he was justly pleased with the groundwork he made this year. He told The Race that: “I think seven is a reasonable score for me because we could achieve a bit more on paper without the reliability issues, especially in the first part of the season when Valtteri was scoring points and I really felt both cars could be in the points on a few occasions,”

“But on top of that I had up and down moments, maybe some mistake at the beginning with the anti-stall understanding. But I’m happy we achieved the targets and overachieved to be in Q3.”

Bottas has now landed the leadership position he’s always wanted, though, as he demonstrated with his high moments, most notably his fifth place at Imola and with a good performance in Miami when he raced ahead of the Mercedes drivers before a mistake let them overtake him.

The question at hand is whether Alfa Romeo can make the leaps he hopes to achieve in the upcoming years with his technical skills.