F1 Teams A-Z: Alfa Romeo

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The second episode in the series explores the story of Alfa Romeo in Formula 1, both as a works team and engine supplier.

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Pre-War History

Founded in Milan, Italy in 1910 by Alexandre Darracq, Ugo Stella and Nicola Romeo; Alfa Romeo enjoyed considerable success in 1924 with its standard-setting P2 – Antonio Ascari winning the car’s first race.

This car was so dominant that Ascari was able to eat and drink during pit stops. Tragically, Ascari was killed whilst leading the 1925 French Grand Prix in his P2, in what appeared to be a promising season for him.

Alfa Romeo built on the momentum of the P2 with the P3 (or Tipo B) in 1932. Between 1932 and 1934, Rudolf Caracciola and Tazio Nuvolari steered the P3 to victory in every race it entered. Alfa then withdrew from manufacturing to assist Enzo Ferrari.

During the Second World War, designer Gioacchino Columbo secretly built the Alfa Romeo Tipo 158 for a smaller racing class. However, post-war changes to motorsport regulations allowed this car to be used in Grand Prix racing and, as a result, this car dominated for the remainder of the 1940s.

The Tipo 158 enjoyed a twenty-six-race victory streak on its way to winning all but three races between 1946 and 1949.

Formula 1

Alfa Romeo took to the grid for the start of the inaugural season of the F1 World Championship in 1950. Its two drivers, Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio, took three wins each with Farina winning the championship. The following year, the Tipo 159 took Fangio to the first of his five world titles.

Following this success, Alfa Romeo took the decision to withdraw following increased competition from Ferrari and refusal from the Italian government to fund a new car design. Instead, Alfa continued in F1 as an engine supplier to Cooper, LDS and De Tomaso Modena during the 1960s.

By the end of the decade, the newly-developed Alfa Romeo V8 engine was tested in the Cooper T86C by Lucien Bianchi, before Alfa briefly returned in 1970 with a V8 sportscar unit in the back of a third McLaren driven by long-time Alfa driver, Andrea de Adamich.

This was an unreliable and uncompetitive combination, which failed to improve in 1971 with a similar arrangement with the March F1 Team. Alfa then fully withdrew from the sport to concentrate on sports car racing, winning the manufacturers’ title in 1975 and 1977.

Niki Lauda driving the BT46B ‘Fan Car’ – given its name due to the large fan below the rear wing. Photo: jpslotus.org

Seeing potential in the Alfa power unit, Bernie Ecclestone negotiated a deal for the Italian outfit to supply Brabham in 1976, replacing the Ford Cosworth DFV engines. The Brabham-Alfa Romeos enjoyed two victories at the hands of Niki Lauda in 1978, with the BT46B, before the team reverted back to Cosworth the following year.

Meanwhile, Alfa designer Carlo Chiti persuaded the team to grant Autodelta, Alfa’s competition department, to develop an F1 car during the 1977 season. Named the Tipo 177, it made its inaugural, and rather unsightly, appearance two years later at the Belgian Grand Prix in the hands of Bruno Giacomelli.

Alfa Romeo’s second attempt at achieving Formula 1 success between 1979 and 1985 never really went to plan. Giacomelli was joined by Patrick Depailler for the 1980 season, who was tragically killed during testing in Hockenheim. Giacomelli led the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen that season but ultimately, that was the peak of Alfa’s year.

1981’s line up of Giacomelli and Mario Andretti achieved a 4th place finish each followed by a podium finish for the former at the Caesar’s Palace Grand Prix. Andrea de Cesaris secured a third-place finish at Monaco in 1982. 1983’s all-Italian line-up of Cesaris and Mauro Baldi saw two 2nd place finishes, whilst 1984 brought one podium finish for Riccardo Patrese.

Riccardo Patrese driving the 1984 Alfa Romeo 184T with the green Benetton livery. Photo: flickr.com

Alfa Romeo failed to win a single race during its second spell and as a result, the team pulled out as a constructor following their worst season in history in 1985. From 1983 to 1988, it continued to supply Osella. This was equally as unsuccessful and by 1988, the Alfa name was prohibited from the engine and simply named the ‘Osella V8’. When this partnership ended in 1988, Alfa Romeo had left the sport for good.

Rumours are circulating of yet another return to F1 for Alfa Romeo, supplying engines to McLaren, on top of long-running speculation of a sister team to join Ferrari, similar to Red Bull/Toro Rosso. Whether any of this comes to fruition will need to be seen.

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