Alfa Romeo teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen speak ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Alfa Romeo teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen speak ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Image Credit: AFP

Alfa Romeo racers Kimi Raikonnen and Antonio Giovinazzi have had a tough season. On Saturday, they couldn’t get past the first qualifying session in Bahrain and had their top 10 dreams dashed, and Raikonnen was quick to express his disappointment with the overall results.

“It’s far from what we wanted as a team, but that’s how it turned out to be,” he said. “We’re not as happy as we wanted to be. Now we have one race to go.”

As the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix brings the Formula One schedule to a close this weekend, both teammates are reflecting on what needs to be done — not only this Sunday, but in 2021.

“It was a tough season, a different season with COVID-19, because from July to now, we actually never stopped — we have just a few weeks of rest,” Giovinazzi told Gulf News on Monday, after landing in the UAE for the F1 finale.

“This will be our last race, so after we can have just a little bit of holiday and just prepare again the 2021. To be honest, I can’t wait. Maybe the first month [of holidays] can be can be OK for us, but then you just miss too much to be able to jump again into the car. New year, we start from zero,” said Raikonnen.

“There’s a new engine coming for us. We don’t know much about it, or anything about it, apart from it’s a different engine. I think we’ll have to wait until we start testing, especially for the first race to see where we are. Hopefully we can be much more positive after the testing when we start, and be in a better shape. All those things, we can speculate and hope whatever we want, but we just need to do a good job over the winter, and then hopefully be better off when we start next year.”

But this year isn’t over yet, with one final go around the track set for Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

“I think everybody’s looking forward to the end of the year. When it comes to the championship, we have pretty much nothing to gain, but more to lose, and as a team championship, we want to stay we are. So we’ll try to do a good job this weekend,” said Raikonnen.

As for Giovinazzi, he is preparing to put his all into the grand finale.

“I want to give the maximum and I want to score points. These are my targets. I know that will be not easy, it will be hard, and our pace is what it is this year. But we will do our best and hopefully we can have a little bit of a chaotic race and be there fighting and trying to score some points on Sunday.”

“I miss fans … It was not normal”

When it comes to COVID-19 restrictions this season — whether it’s the absence of fans in the grandstand, being stuck at home or being unable to see the sights — the 26-year-old Italian racer is feeling the hit much harder than his Finnish teammate.

“I miss fans. We did the Italian Grand Prix without people and it was not I would say normal … When we came back home, there was nothing to do there. I was just staying at home, going to the gym, then back at home. So, [there was] no time to just chill out with the friends or go in some restaurant, it was really difficult. Hopefully, next year can be better. And we can come back to our normal life.”

For 41-year-old racer Raikonnen, he didn’t feel much of a difference from his previous years.

“When it comes to the race weekends, whatever happens on the track, it’s more or less the same. I haven’t found it that much different. Most of the races, we stay in the same hotels, maybe a bit more strict with the testing and there’s less people. But I have never been a guy that [goes] somewhere in the evenings to eat or the town, or whatever,” said Raikonnen.

“For me, being at the hotel or staying in the room is no different [from] what I’ve done for the last, I don’t know how many years I’ve raced … I think it depends for most people what they’re used to in the past.

“Honestly, nobody knows what will happen next year. Nobody has a clear picture of how it’s gonna be, the normal life will be, going forward. Is it gonna go back to something that we knew before COVID? Or is this the new normal? Who knows?”

“It’s not easy before the start of a race”

Much newer to the F1 world, Giovinazzi has kept an eye on Raikonnen and absorbed as much as he can from the seasoned racer.

“I’m a young driver so it’s important to have a driver like him, a fast driver with a lot experience. I learn a lot from him, especially on the race that I think is still one of the best on the grid. I’m happy also to continue next year with him,” he said.

It hasn’t been long since Giovinazzi had his first F1 race at the Australian Grand Prix in 2017.

But does he still feel nerves before getting into the car?

“If I watched myself when I did my first race in Formula One, it’s a completely different feeling. I know for sure that before I felt more, I don’t want to call it stress, but just a little bit of pressure. But now it became quite normal after a few races; the experience is the best thing that you can gain. Of course, always, it’s not easy before the start of the race, but it’s much better compared to my first race,” admitted the racer.

If he hadn’t gone down this path of professional motorsports, where does he think he’d be now?

“I just love sports. I love competition. So, I would love to just be an athlete in any sport, [whether] a tennis player or a cyclist. I love so much the competition. I love motorsports, I love four wheels, but I would like to still be an athlete and have some competition,” he said.

Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen looses his front wheel during the Austrian Grand Prix
Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen lost a wheel at the Austrian Grand Prix

A tight schedule all year round

Raikonnen, whose first F1 race was nearly two decades ago at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, hasn’t built up a pre-race ritual in that time. He hasn’t had time to.

“Ever year, the schedule, whatever happens before the race, we have the meetings, and the driver’s parades,” he explained. “And then obviously, you have to eat at some point. Basically, when all the other things have been done, there’s 15-20 minutes time to get changed and get ready before we drive the cars to the grid. So, there’s not an awful lot of time to do anything else. But I don’t have any special way of doing something before [a race] always.”

How much a part of the Alfa Romeo family do they feel?

“I don’t know, I mean, I have my own family that’s the most important thing,” said Raikonnen. “But as a team, I think, we have a good group of people, obviously Alfa Romeo is a big part of it … Every year, it doesn’t matter where you are — I’ve never felt that I’m not part of the team. For me, it’s a very normal thing.”

Asked about Lewis Hamilton’s steady momentum of success — Hamilton holds the record for most wins at 95, and shares the record for most World Drivers’ Championship wins (seven) with Michael Schumacher — Raikonnen said it would be hard for anyone to beat him.

“He’s done very well for many years already … I think it was just a matter of time, but he’s gonna get the records. I don’t know what he’s gonna do next year, but I don’t see that anything will change, with the team that’s gonna be leading and be the strongest. I doubt that anybody can challenge them consistently, every race. It’s good for him.”

Alfa Romeo racer Antonio Giovinazzi got one of the first impressions of the new Giula GTAm this year. “[We tried] the prototype of the GTAm in Balocco — this was something really cool, to see a new car and have the first feeling of this car and I can tell you that it’s a really great car and improve a lot,” he said. “It’s really nice to be part of [the Alfa Romeo] family because I’m an Italian driver … Like I say many times, I’m just really proud to be part of this family, to be part of this brand.”

Starting over and getting stronger

The new year brings a promise of a fresh start for the racers, however, and Giovinazzi seems ready to put 2020 behind him.

“It’s really hard because you want to go out and spend a little bit of time with your mechanics, with some friends, but we cannot. Hopefully [in the future] we can see fans in the grandstand, friends coming, watching a race, my family as well, so it’d be just more easy,” he said.

As for his New Year’s resolutions, he wants to “try to still improve myself and hopefully we can have a better car and like I said before, try to be more on the points, more on the top 10.”

For now, Giovinazzi is enjoying the weather in the UAE, despite stricter restrictions on going out with the introduction of the biosphere, which aims to protect against COVID-19 spread.

“I love this weather, I like the sea, so it’s the best place to spend December. It’s already three years in a row that, after the race, I spend time here in Abu Dhabi and some days also in Dubai … Unfortunately, this year, we cannot … Hopefully we can be back next season and do a few days in the sea and enjoy a little bit more,” he said.