Alfa Romeo Will Return To Formula 1 In 2018 In Partnership With Sauber
Alfa Romeo, arguably the most historically significant manufacturer in Grand Prix racing, is coming back to Formula 1 for the 2018 championship season.
In an agreement announced earlier this morning, the Milanese firm will be teaming up with Sauber, themselves longtime veterans of the sport, in what is being referred to as a “multi-year technical and commercial partnership.” They will officially be called the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team when they begin contesting next year, and the press release states that the cars will be wearing full Alfa regalia when they appear on the grids.
And while Sauber will certainly tap into Alfa’s engineering and technical resources alongside any commercial development of the team, the initial power units will be supplied by Ferrari, in their 2018 specifications. Sauber has been around for quite some time though, and while they’ve not been on the same pace as the front-runners for a few years now, they carry plenty of experience with them as the fourth-oldest team in Formula 1 today.
On the pairing, Sergio Marchionne, CEO of FCA, said: “This agreement with the Sauber F1 Team is a significant step in the reshaping of the Alfa Romeo brand, which will return to Formula 1 after an absence of more than 30 years. A storied marque that has helped make the history of this sport, Alfa Romeo will join other major automakers that participate in Formula 1. The brand itself will also benefit from the sharing of technology and strategic know-how with a partner of the Sauber F1 Team’s undisputed experience.”
Indeed, Sauber’s experience runs deep (they are a 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning team after all, and founder Peter Sauber began building racing cars way back in the 1970s), but no team nor manufacturer has roots in this sport that run as deep as Alfa Romeo’s.
They were the people that started racing cars less than a year after the company came to exist at all. The fertile motorsport soil from which Enzo Ferrari flourished. Alfa Romeo was a titan of early Grands Prix, winning the series’ very first World Championship in 1925 with the P2. In another first a few decades later, the team would earn the first drivers’ World Championship for Nino Farina in 1950, while the supercharged straight-eight Alfa Romeo 158 (1.5 liters, 8 cylinders) would win all but one of the races in the season. The next year was very much the same, with the Alfa 159 winning half of the season’s points races outright, and propelling Juan Maneuel Fangio to the drivers’ championship that year.
The cross and serpent’s history in the sport is not just relegated to the early years though, and for decades after leaving F1 as a constructor at the end of the 1951 season they were an engine supplier to a host of teams ranging from small outfits to the likes of Brabham, from naturally-aspirated flat-12s to twin-turbo inline-fours. The team returned as a constructor in 1979, though were typically mid-pack runners during the period between then and their eventual exit from the sport altogether in 1985.
Now, more than three decades later, they’ve returned.
There are two main ways to look at this, and I think the cynics and the optimists both have some valid points. Let’s start with the cynics’. “It’s just rebranded Ferrari power units, and Sauber is still going to be chiefly responsible for the success and development of the team. Alfa hasn’t raced anything serious in decades and it’s more than likely a branding exercise and little else.” Perhaps, but I think another rant about the tangle of sponsorships is going to be a bit stale, and in this case especially so, since any claims are unfounded at the moment.
The truth is we don’t know to what extent Alfa Romeo engineers will be working on the team’s cars, but what is definite is the fact this pairing is beneficial to the sport. Alfa carries with it a fiercely loyal fanbase for one, and that means a wave of new fans might start paying attention to F1 next year—paired with the ongoing revamp to make the premiere motorsport more accessible, we can see a very promising future that draws in more partnerships like this one, for it’s also true that this could very well build momentum for more OEMs to join the sport, depending on how well it works for Alfa Romeo in the years to come. Perhaps we will even see some filter-down of the tech in the next evolution of their road cars.
Clearly, we’re excited to see where this leads—how do you feel about the news?