The confirmation that Alfa Romeo will continue with an unchanged driver line-up for the 2021 Formula 1 season has closed a door on a possible opening for Mick Schumacher. 

Ahead of this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, Alfa Romeo announced that it would be retaining the services of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi for a third straight season, leaving just four teams - Haas, AlphaTauri, Red Bull and Mercedes - yet to officially confirm their full line-ups for next year. 

The move came as a surprise to some given that Ferrari Academy Driver Schumacher was heavily-tipped to join Alfa Romeo next season, having been set to drive for the Swiss squad during practice in Germany before poor weather put paid to those plans. 

What does Alfa’s decision mean for Schumacher?

As the current Formula 2 championship leader heading into the final four races of the 2020 season, Schumacher is expected to graduate to F1 next year, but it now won’t be with Alfa Romeo. 

There are two vacant seats at Haas, and given its close ties to Ferrari, the US squad appears the most likely landing spot for Schumacher in 2021, providing he does indeed beat fellow Ferrari junior Callum Ilott to the F2 crown. 

Fellow F2 frontrunner Nikita Mazepin - who boasts significant financial backing thanks to his billionaire businessman father Dimitry - has been heavily linked with the other seat at Haas after it decided to drop both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen to freshen things up for next season. 

Should Ilott overturn the 22-point deficit to Schumacher and beat the German to the F2 title, it would provide Ferrari with a real headache over what to do with its two up-and-coming stars, particularly as Ilott has already indicated he does not have the funds to continue in F2 for a third campaign. 

However, given the added marketing and sponsorship value that bringing the Schumacher name back to the F1 grid would have, one would assume that it would be Mick who gets the nod over Callum for the Haas seat regardless of who triumphs to the title. 

That would potentially leave Ilott out in the cold without a drive for 2021, though Ferrari could offer some form of test capacity role as either a development or reserve driver for next season with the view to promoting him full-time in 2022. 

Ferrari also has 2019 Formula 3 champion Robert Shwartzman in its talent pool but appears to feel the Russian would benefit from a second season in F2 despite his impressive rookie campaign. 

Haas team principal Guenther Steiner was coy on the prospect of Schumacher driving for Haas next season when he faced the media ahead of this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola. 

“He’s a Ferrari driver and there’s always a lot of things going on, but he’s their driver not my one,” he explained. 

“My plan is that we will still announce our drivers before the end of the season. For sure the fans want to know what’s going on but also internally, the drivers are the most important person in the team, so to have a good team spirit we need to tell the guys as soon as we can. I’m very confident we can do it before the end of the season.” 

Why has Kimi decided to race on at 41?

Raikkonen - who already holds the record for most grand prix starts in F1 - is set to embark on a remarkable 19th season in F1 in 2021 after agreeing to continue with the team for a third campaign. 

Considering that Alfa Romeo is enduring a difficult season and Raikkonen has only managed to finish inside the points on one occasion so far this year, it would not be unjust to question the Finn’s motivation for remaining in F1 only to be mixing it up towards the back of the field with Williams and Haas. 

But Raikkonen has shown this year that he still has the desire - and the speed - to continue to race on at 41 years old. He is motivated by Alfa Romeo’s project and aims to capitalise on the incoming 2022 regulation overhaul and is enjoying his spell at the team with which he made his debut back in 2001. 

Raikkonen said it was an easy decision to make and has stressed that he has no intention of hanging up his helmet while he still enjoys his racing and so his continuation is a win-win for Alfa Romeo and F1. 

“Alfa Romeo Racing is more than a team to me, it is like a second family,” Raikkonen said. 

“So many of the faces that were around me when I made my Formula 1 debut in 2001 are still here and the unique atmosphere of this team is what gives me that extra motivation to keep going in what will be my 19th season in the sport, next year.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe in the team’s project and in what we feel we can achieve together. This is a team that values hard work over words and this fits well with my style: I am looking forward to next year and hopefully making some steps forward towards the front of the midfield with the team.”

Alfa and Ferrari keep the faith in Giovinazzi 

Giovinazzi’s future had been uncertain, but Alfa Romeo and Ferrari have shown enormous faith in the Italian by deciding he was the best option to partner Raikkonen for 2021. 

After a difficult opening half to the 2019 campaign, Giovinazzi has made enough progress to convince Alfa Romeo that he should be retained. Giovinazzi has been able to consistently challenge - and sometimes beat - Raikkonen on Saturdays and his performances on Sunday have improved too. 

Despite finishing behind Raikkonen in most races this year, Giovinazzi has actually outscored his more experienced teammate thanks to top-10 finishes in Austria and Germany to help keep Alfa Romeo ahead of rivals Haas in the fight over eighth place in the constructors’ championship. 

The 2016 GP2 runner-up’s improved form, coupled with his strong relationship with Raikkonen, has ultimately swayed Alfa Romeo and Ferrari to come to an agreement to extend Giovinazzi’s tenure at the Swiss squad for at least one more year. 

“The team has put a lot of faith in me and I have done my best to repay this confidence with hard work and commitment,” Giovinazzi explained. 

“We have achieved some good results and I feel I have done my part to make the team progress, but the road ahead is still long and there is much more we want to achieve together.”

 

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