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Alfa Romeo in Grand Prix Racing

Ferrari's 2015 Formula One car carries Alfa Romeo badges on the back of its side pods, which marks the end of a 28-year hiatus of the Italian manufacturer's name in Grand Prix racing. We are looking back on its history in GP competitions.

Illustration for article titled Alfa Romeo in Grand Prix Racing

Of course, the Alfa badge the Ferrari SF15-T is sporting for 2015 is nothing more than cross-advertising within the Fiat group. Until this year, these Ferraris were carrying Fiat decals. Either way, neither of these have had anything to do directly with the Ferrari F1 program, the same way as Infiniti is represented on the Red Bull cars or Lotus on the - well - Lotus cars (along with Lada a few years ago).

Still, an Alfa Romeo badge on a Formula One car is something very-very special and now we are looking back on the brand's over 100-year history of motor racing, focusing on the Grand Prix aspect.


Alfa Romeo (or as A.L.F.A. back then - Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, i.e. Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company) was founded in Milan in 1910 from a complicated deal with the French and started racing in 1911, first at the famous Targa Florio. The Italian marquee quickly ventured into all sorts of motorsports - sportscars, touring cars, Grand Prix cars, rallies - as there weren't very many differences between these categories back in the day.

Alfa's first real successes came only after World War One, especially from 1923 when the firm came out with their Grand Prix car, the P1. At the same time, the super speedway of Monza was opened, just a few kilometres off Alfa's headquarters, making the track a permanent home of the Italian Grand Prix and virtually a home track to Alfa. Alfa Romeo won the first ever World Manufacturers' Championship in 1925, a direct predecessor of the Formula One Constructors' Championship.

Son of Hungarian immigrants in Italy, Vittori Jano was a mechanical genius and worked for FIAT for a few years before being seduced by Alfa Romeo's Enzo Ferrari. His successful P2 defined the motor racing scene of Europe - along with Bugatti - for the remainder of the 20s, scoring many victories in the Italian, French, Belgian and Tunisian Grands Prix, just to name a few.


In 1932, however, a real hit came out of the Italian-Hungarian designer's hands. The P3 was the first purpose-built Grand Prix car, a single-seater, powered by a supercharged straight-8 engine with displacement increased from 2.6 litres to 3.2 over the years, winning its debut race in 1932 by the legendary Tazio Nuvolari at the Italian Grand Prix of 1932 and won a total of 46 races over four seasons it was entered.

In 1933, Alfa Romeo was struck by financial difficulties and shut down on its racing program, handing all assets to Enzo Ferrari - who had been running his own racing team for four years up to that point - making Scuderia Ferrari the de facto Alfa Romeo factory team.


Scuderia Ferrari was thriving with the P3 car. With Nuvolari at the wheel, the combination seemed impossible to beat up until the German invasion of 1934 - the silver arrows of Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz ripping up the racing scene all over the world. Regardless, the P3 still scored a great deal of wins, but time slowly closed on the model as the monsters of German engineering seemed to be overwhelmingly superior.

Illustration for article titled Alfa Romeo in Grand Prix Racing

In the late '30s, Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini realized the 'marketing' value the Germans' silver arrows cars had in representing engineering supremacy and reformed Alfa Romeo's factory racing team as Alfa Corse. Alfa acquired the shares of Scuderia Ferrari, but Ferrari left shortly after the outbreak of World War Two and formed his own constructor company. Alfa released him on the terms that he would not be using his name on his cars for four years, which - with the war looming - went completely unnoticed as there were no racing activities in Europe. The separation meant the final time Alfa Romeo and Ferrari working together on a racing car.

As the war ended, racing in Europe was quickly reformed and new types of cars were built according to Formula A rules (later dubbed as Formula 1) and the first race with Formula One cars was held in the streets of Nice, France in April, 1946 with Alfa Romeo at the starting line as well. It wasn't until four years later a World Championship for such cars were introduced, turning motor racing into a massive showbusiness.

It was a stellar start for the Italian team with its drivers winning the first two seasons in the World Championship (Giuseppe Farina in 1950 and Juan-Manuel Fangio in 1951) with the supercharged, straight-8-powered 158 and 159 respectively. A constructors' championship was introduced in 1958 only, rendering Alfa never winning a title as they pulled back from Formula One as a team at the end of the '51 season.

Alfa returned to the series as an engine supplier in 1961 with the championship now reverted to cars of Formula Two rules. For fifteen years they weren't able to score a single point, although through the first five years they only had four tries in four races with eight different teams. Their contractors through this 'pointless' era included De Tomaso, Cooper, McLaren, March and even a dubious attempt of an "Alfa Romeo Special" by a private entrant.


It was in 1976 when Alfa Romeo gained a major boost by signing a deal with Brabham Racing's owner, Bernie Ecclestone about supplying engines to the - originally - Australian team. The flat-12 engine arrived the final moment when it could still make use of its power, as later years' development in turbocharging and aerodynamics rendered the layout outdated. Gordon Murray's design, the BT45, though, helped the Italians score their first points in a quarter of a century and Hans Joachim Stuck even reached the podium twice in 1977.

Illustration for article titled Alfa Romeo in Grand Prix Racing

The BT45 was carried over to the next season partly, but the BT46 was now the real deal with Niki Lauda's arrival with his sponsor, Parmalat replacing the iconic Martini livery. The duo of Lauda and John Watson took the Brabham team and Alfa Romeo to third place in the Constructors' championship in 1978 with Lauda winning two races in Italy and earlier in the year in Sweden with the infamous, one-off BT46B 'fan car'. The Italian Grand Prix was the final win for Alfa Romeo in Formula One in any shape or form (note: this was the race where Ronnie Peterson dies as a consequence of a crash due to a melee at the start and where Mario Andretti secured his world title)

The 1979 season proved disastrous for the Brabham-Alfa collaboration, they finished 8th in the standings, Lauda and Piquet scored points only three times during the season, consquently Ecclestone ditched Alfa at the end of the year.


By this time, however, Alfa Romeo had its own factory team once again, after 28 years, encouraged by their results with Brabham in 1978. They entered only a handful races during their maiden season with the 177 car, retiring at most of them, finishing at the back of the rest. The 179 was more successful. Rolled out at the end of '79 - showing full (but admittedly not much) potential through the following three years - this model sported a V12 engine instead of the old flat-12 one to make space for air channels on the underside of the car for improved ground effects. The team was now sponsored by Marlboro, which made them nearly impossible to tell apart from the McLaren cars.

From 1983, Alfa Romeo switched to turbocharging and put on the colours of Benetton, passing down its old V12s to the small team of Osella Squadra Corse. The new engine, too, proved to be highly unreliable, retiring more often than not, but still managed to score two second-place finishes in 1983 and a thrid place at the 1984 Italian Grand Prix. Ironically, the race at Monza (Alfa's home turf) marked the final time an Alfa Romeo-powered car got on the podium, a bitter farewell to top success.

Alfa went on and raced in 1985 with serious reliability issues, barely finishing a race, ending up 12th in the standings. At the end of the year, the team pulled out of Formula One once again, closing the doors on a great tradition of the sport. The Osella team went on using Alfa Romeo engines (the V8, turbocharged ones), and they even scored points in 1984, but the team was a small one, never meant to achieve great successes. After the Alfa team's retirement they used their engines until the end of 1988, scored the best result to the Alfa Romeo name in their absence with an 11th place at the 1986 Austrian Grand Prix. In 1988 they renamed the engine 'Osella' and they even got to as far as a 9th place with their one-car effort, but they got rid of the engine at the end of the season, which marked the final remains of Alfa Romeo being swept out of Formula One and Grand Prix racing in general.


In 2015 the Alfa Romeo name returns as an advertisement piece on the Ferrari cars, which enables us to draw some statistics. It's been

  • 27 years since an Alfa Romeo engine was last run in F1
  • 28 years since the 'Alfa Romeo' name was last used in F1
  • 31 years since Alfa Romeo or an Alfa Romeo-powered car last scored points in F1
  • 31 years since Alfa Romeo last reached the podium in F1
  • 32 years since Alfa Romeo last ran a fastest lap in F1
  • 33 years since Alfa Romeo was in pole position in F1
  • 37 years since an Alfa Romeo-powered car last won a Grand Prix
  • 64 years since Alfa Romeo last won a Grand Prix
  • 64 years since an Alfa-Romeo driver last won a World Championship title
  • 76 years since Alfa Romeo and Ferrari last collaborated
  • 78 years since a Scuderia Ferrari-Alfa Romeo last raced and won a race
  • 80 years since a Scuderia Ferrari-Alfa Romeo last won a Grande Épreuve Grand Prix (in contemporary analogy: an F1 race counting in the World Championship; then the European Drivers' Championship), the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring by Tazio Nuvolari.

With the German Grand Prix most likely to miss out this year, the future of the Autodromo Nazionalde Monza looking bleak - and to a lesser extent Alfa Romeo's as well - what are you going to do this September?

Illustration for article titled Alfa Romeo in Grand Prix Racing

All we need now is a Ferrari at one of the tarmac rallies counting towards the FIA R-GT Cup, sponsored by Lancia.

Ferrari SF15-T image source

Rest of the images are under Creative Commons licence

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