(Reuters) – Alfa Romeo’s Formula One ties to Ferrari will remain close despite the replacement of Italian driver Antonio Giovinazzi with China’s Guanyu Zhou next season, according to team boss Frederic Vasseur.
Ferrari provide Alfa’s engines and Giovinazzi came through the Italian team’s academy.
His departure means the Swiss-based team will have no Ferrari-backed driver for the first time since 2017, when Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson and Germany’s Pascal Wehrlein were there.
Alfa, the team who were Sauber before the rebranding, gave a debut to Ferrari protege Charles Leclerc in 2018.
Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion who is retiring at the end of this year, joined from Ferrari in 2019 – a return to the team he started out with in 2001 – in a swap with Leclerc.
Raikkonen is being replaced by compatriot Valtteri Bottas from Mercedes, while Zhou has come through Renault-owned Alpine’s academy.
“When we built up the relationship it was a clear situation, we had Charles who was already doing some FP1 (Friday free practice sessions) and then Antonio was in the pipeline,” said Vasseur.
“But to block one seat for an academy, it doesn’t matter which, is a bit unrealistic because an academy can’t have a good driver each year. It would even make no sense for them at the end,” he added.
Vasseur said there was a general misunderstanding that the engine supply was linked to the team’s driver choice but there was no obligation there.
He said he remained “more than open” to future collaboration with Ferrari on young drivers and would discuss the matter likely this weekend at the Qatar Grand Prix.
Mick Schumacher, the son of seven times champion Michael, is in his rookie season with Ferrari-powered Haas and staying there for 2022.
“We are very keen to develop this side of the partnership but it’s not an obligation at all,” said Vasseur.
Giovinazzi has spent three seasons at Hinwil and has started 59 races in total with the team, scoring a best result of fifth in Brazil in 2019. His departure leaves Formula One without an Italian driver.
(Editing by Shrivathsa Sridhar)