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Why Alfa Romeo is convinced its 2021 pain is worth it

When Alfa Romeo took the decision in January to switch off development of its 2021 Formula 1 car, it knew that it could face some downsides in the short term.

Robert Kubica, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

For with it well entrenched in that ultra-close midfield pack, any small pace advantage that rivals gained as they pushed on with their current cars risked shuffling the Hinwil-based operation down the order.

Sure enough, with most of the grid bringing at least some major developments early in the campaign, it's been perhaps a tougher than expected year on track for Alfa's chiefs.

For despite the great progress it has made in pace terms – slashing down the advantage to the front in overall lap time – that has not manifested itself in a bigger points haul.

And with Williams benefiting the most from the Hungarian GP chaos, to nab 10 valuable points, Alfa Romeo looks all but set to come home ninth this year as it knows that it won't be bringing any more upgrades to its challenger.

Although now pretty much in no man's land – clear of Haas behind it in pace and points terms – and too far adrift of Aston Martin and maybe even Williams ahead, Alfa team boss Fred Vasseur has absolutely zero regrets.

Sure there are frustrations about their competitive chances – as Kimi Raikkonen voiced over the team radio after the British GP – but in the long run, Vasseur is convinced this is a case of short term pain for long term gain.

"I would love for the team to score more points," Vasseur tells Autosport.

"We've made some big efforts inside the team, but the main reason that we are losing a little bit in performance from the beginning of the season is because we decided to switch, from January, to 100 percent on 2022.

"When I see the updates from the other teams, even if they all say that they switched to the 2022 car, they have updates every single weekend!

"But when we took the decision I knew that if you switch 100 percent to the next year's car, then you won't develop the 2021 car. And that's the case.

Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Photo by: Motorsport Images

"But I think it was the right decision for us, because where we were last year, if we keep the same car and continued to invest and develop it, I'm not sure that it makes complete sense in terms of championship position.

"If you have a look at the gap to Toro Rosso [AlphaTauri] or Renault [Alpine], the gap is huge, but I'm really convinced that it was the right decision.

"We knew that there was an upside and a downside, but now you have to deal with the downside."

While Alfa Romeo's 2021 car freeze means that the team will not be developing its way up the grid over the remainder of this year, Vasseur thinks there is still plenty to play for this season.

And he reckons that the small margins the team needs to be pushing into Q3 can be found by both drivers and engineers extracting more from the current package.

"We won't go back into the windtunnel for sure, and the engine is frozen," said Vasseur. "But as a team we have plenty of room for improvement.

"If you have a look at the comparison of our drivers, one is more performing in qualifying, the other one in the race. And we have to get the best from both of them.

"With track operations, I'm sure we have room for improvement, just like in terms of tyre management, set up of the car and on every single topic that you have to deal on track.

"This is important for me, because all the improvement that we will do as a team on this side, it's also probably what you can carry over for next year.

"We have room for improvement and we are not speaking about seconds. Very often between P8, P9 and P14 you have just a couple of tenths. I want to keep everybody under pressure and continue to push in the same direction."

But the reason Vasseur accepts the current pain is because he senses the chance for a decent step forward next year.

As well as the head-start he hopes that Alfa Romeo has got on the 2022 car regulations, the further pull back on the cost cap and a change of F1's prize money structure leaves his team in a potentially pretty happy place.

"This is why we decided to move very quickly and very early on the 2022," he explains.

"Even if we have the cost cap this season, we know perfectly that the current cars were developed before that [came in].

Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C41,Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C41,Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Photo by: Erik Junius

"2022 will be the first season with the car developed under the cost cap, from scratch.

"I would say that we are still so far below the cost cap, and I'm hoping to be at the cost cap next year. It's a real opportunity for us.

"I'm considering it as an opportunity that will play to us; when the majority of the other teams will have to reduce the size of their team or change the approach or do it differently.

"We are still in the direction to increase the size, the capacity, the headcount. It means that we are still with a positive dynamic.

"The cost cap, for us, it's just the next step. And with the better prize fund distribution, it's also an opportunity for us. On the global picture I am more than positive.

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"What is also very important is the team stability. We renewed the deal with Alfa Romeo, and I think that on every single area of the company we have the green lights.

"But, you know, it's not enough for me. I know perfectly that you have to do a good car, to have a good [driver] lineup, to do a good job on track. At the end it's racing, it is not just a matter of numbers."

Just how much gain Alfa Romeo gets from its early 2022 investment will only become clear next year.

Until then, Vasseur knows there is likely to still be some frustrations from his drivers and team about how difficult a job they face this year.

But, he takes such angst – like Raikkonen showed over the team radio after Silverstone – as a positive sign that people are fully motivated to do better.

"I think when you are a racer, and Kimi is a racer and all the team is made of racers, the reaction, when you are struggling, and you're just out of the points, because two laps before the end we are P10... then the frustration is there," said Vasseur.

"We need to have a better car. We need to make the car quicker for sure. But we took a decision and it's not on the aero development that will still happen.

"But we have some topics to improve on the car, the setup or tyre management, to be quicker.

"You understand perfectly the frustration from the driver when he is in the car and he wants to do a better job.

"And I think it's a proof of motivation for me. So I'm okay with this."

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