The Sauber F1 Team has announced that it has reached a multi-year technical and commercial partnership agreement with Alfa Romeo, bringing the iconic Italian automotive brand back to F1 after a three-decade hiatus.
As part of the deal, Alfa Romeo – which is part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – will become Sauber’s title sponsor from 2018, but the arrangement will bring a lot more for the struggling Swiss team, includes a strategic, commercial and technological co-operation that enable the exchange of engineering and technical know-how and, more enigmatically, ‘provide new opportunities’ for the two organisations both within F1 and beyond. The team will be known as Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 and the 2018 race car will bear the Alfa Romeo logo to accompany its already familiar Ferrari power units, albeit upgraded to 2018 spec for the coming season. Despite speculation that the engines may be rebranded to reflect the new partnership, however, there was no such acknowledgement in the official announcement.
“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,” Pascal Picci, chairman of Sauber Holding AG, admitted, “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.”
Fully reviving Alfa Romeo’s spirit and maximising its global appeal has been one of FCA’s priorities for the brand, and its return to F1 has long been rumoured within the paddock. Founded in Milan in 1910, the Italian manufacturer took part in grand prix racing from 1950 through 1988 as both a constructor and engine supplier, and started on the highest of notes winning the inaugural world championships – in 1950 and 1951 – with Nino Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio respectively. Between 1961 and 1979, Alfa turned engine supplier for a number of F1 teams, before returning as constructor in 1979, achieving its best result in the constructors’ championship, finishing sixth overall, in 1983. The company then withdrew from F1 in 1985, and remained absent until this new agreement to return to the series as title sponsor of the Sauber F1 Team from 2018.
“This agreement with the Sauber F1 Team is a significant step in the reshaping of the Alfa Romeo brand, which will return to F1 after an absence of more than 30 years,” FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne noted, “A storied marque that has helped make the history of this sport, Alfa Romeo will join other major automakers that participate in F1, while 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 Giulia and Stelvio models will have the opportunity to make that experience available to the Sauber F1 Team. 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.”
Sauber’s renewed – and expanded – technical agreement with Ferrari means that it is likely that at least one of the Scuderia’s proteges will find themselves in Hinwil next season. Although Sauber had hoped to announce its pairing ahead of last weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, no confirmation was forthcoming, but it is expected that new FIA F2 champion Charles Leclerc will progress his recent FP1 outings into a full race programme next season. Paddock rumour also suggests that Ferrari is pushing to get 2016 GP2 runner-up Antonio Giovinazzi a seat at the team, although the Italian has also fostered links with Haas during Friday practice this season, having started the campaign by standing in for the injured Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber.
With Mercedes-backd Wehrlein set to depart, tenuously for the second seat at Williams, team-mate Marcus Ericsson’s future remains in the balance, with the Swede admitting that losing his place in the line-up would likely spell the end of his F1 career. Ericsson has close ties to the team’s current owners, however, and was included in the schedule, alongside Leclerc, for the two-day Pirelli test that followed the 2017 season finale at Yas Marina, suggesting that he may yet be retained for another year.