Almost exactly three decades since the Alfa Romeo name was last seen on the Formula 1 grid the historic brand’s name is finally returning to the pinnacle of motorsport having today signed a multi-year technical and commercial partnership agreement with Swiss Sauber F1 Team.
According to a press release issued by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles today: “The single-seaters will sport the distinctive colours and logo of Alfa Romeo, the team's Title Sponsor, and will be equipped with 2018 Ferrari power units.
“The scope of the agreement includes strategic, commercial and technological cooperation in all applicable areas of development, including access to engineering know-how and the expertise of Alfa Romeo technical staff,” the announcement continued. “This partnership will provide additional opportunities for the two organisations in both Formula 1 and the automotive sector in general. The official name will be Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team.”
Alfa Romeo has an historic association with F1, having won the first two FIA sanctioned World Championships (in 1950 and 1951) with Guiseppe Farina (Alfa 158) and Juan Manuel Fangio (Alfa 159), respectively.
The team then withdrew in 1952 and it would be 1979 before Alfa Romeo returned to F1 with a team bearing its own name.
During the intervening period Alfa Romeo participated as engine supplier to several F1 teams, most notably with the Brabham outfit which visited victory lane using Alfa Romeo power.
Following its return as a constructor in 1979, Alfa Romeo didn’t enjoy any wins before pulling out at the end of the 1985 season. There were poles, race leads and podiums though and the highlight came in 1983 after the team claimed sixth place in the constructors' championship.
Plans to almost immediately return as an engine supplier with the Ligier team quickly fell through, however customer outfit Osella continued to use the outgoing 1.5-litre 890T turbo engine without any success until the end of 1988 at which point the brand disappeared from F1, that is until now, albeit so far this is simply a branding exercise and the engines will continue to be badged by Ferrari.
This arrangement means a much closer relationship with Ferrari which has been suppling Sauber with engines on and off since 1997. This year the cash strapped Sauber team, which has struggled financially ever since BMW sold out, used 2016-specification Ferrari F1 engines in a bid to save some costs.
Having come to an agreement earlier in the year to swap to Honda units for 2018 this arrangement was quickly ripped up and a new multi-year deal singed with Ferrari in July that would see it using up-to-date engines in 2018.
The closer relationship with Ferrari means the Sauber team will use at least one of the Prancing Horse's roster of junior drivers, Charles Leclerc, next year. It is currently weighing up retaining Marcus Ericsson, who is reportedly close to the team's current Swedish owners, or replacing him with another Ferrari junior, Anotinio Giovinazzi, for next year.
"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,” Sergio Marchionne, CEO of FCA, said in a statement today. “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.
“The Alfa Romeo engineers and technicians, who have already demonstrated their capabilities with the newly-launched models, Giulia and Stelvio, will have the opportunity to make that experience available to the Sauber F1 Team,” Marchionne continued. “At the same time, Alfa Romeo fans will once again have the opportunity to support an automaker that is determined to begin writing an exciting new chapter in its unique, legendary sporting history."
Pascal Picci, Chairman of Sauber Holding AG, said: "We are very pleased to welcome Alfa Romeo to the Sauber F1 Team. Alfa Romeo has a long history of success in Grand Prix racing, and we are very proud that this internationally renowned company has chosen to work with us for its return to the pinnacle of motorsport. Working closely with a car manufacturer is a great opportunity for the Sauber Group to further develop its technology and engineering projects. We are confident that together we can bring the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team great success, and look forward to a long and successful partnership."
In 1970 Peter Sauber founded his company and designed his first racing car in the cellar of his parents' house. The race team grew steadily and enjoyed its first major international successes in the late 1980s.
As the Mercedes works team, Sauber celebrated a one-two victory in the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1989 and back-to-back Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles in the World Sports Car Championship in 1989 and 1990.
In 1993 Sauber entered Formula One. Among the team's F1 highlights have been a fourth-place finish in the Constructors' World Championship in 2001 as an independent team and - in partnership with BMW - a one-two finish in the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix on the way to third place in the constructors' standings that year.
In 2010 Sauber became an independent outfit once again. 2012 was a decent year for the Sauber F1 Team, headlined by four podium finishes, 126 World Championship points and sixth place in the constructors' standings. The 11th October 2012 marked a milestone in the history of the team - the day when Sauber stepped down as Team Principal and passed on the baton to Monisha Kaltenborn.
Between 1993 and the end of 2016 the team contested 424 grand prix in Formula One. In 2017 the Sauber F1 Team celebrates another milestone: it is the 25th Formula One season in the teams' history. The fourth oldest Formula 1 team starts together with its new owner, Longbow Finance S. A., into a new era.
In 2017, Frédéric Vasseur was named as the new Managing Director and CEO of Sauber Motorsport AG, and Team Principal of the Sauber F1 Team. Sauber has its headquarters in Hinwil, in the Swiss canton of Zurich. The team's state of the art factory houses manufacturing facilities and offices spanning an area of 15,600 square meters and boasts one of the most advanced wind tunnels in F1.