Alfa Romeo  

Official Name: Societa Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili
Nation: Italy
Founded: 1909
Team Principal(s):

Gioacchino Colombo (1950-1951)
Carlo Chiti (1979-1984)
Giovanni Tonti (1984-1985)

Past Drivers: Luigi Fagioli (1950-1951): 7 races, 1 win, 6 podiums, 32 points
Juan-Manuel Fangio (1950-1951): 13 races, 6 wins, 8 podiums, 8 pole positions, 64 points
Giuseppe Farina (1950-1951): 13 races, 4 wins, 7 podiums, 2 pole positions, 52 points
Consalvo Sanesi (1950-1951): 5 races, 3 points
Pierro Taruffi (1950): 1 race, 0 points
Felice Bonetto (1951): 4 races, 1 podium, 7 points
Toulo de Graffenreid (1951): 3 races, 2 points
Paul Pietsch (1951): 1 race, 0 points
Vittorio Brambilla (1979-1980): 5 entries, 4 races, 1 DNQ, 0 points
Bruno Giacomelli (1979-1982): 49 races, 1 podium, 1 pole position, 13 points
Patrick Depailler (1980): 8 races, 0 points
Andrea de Cesaris (1980, 1982-1983): 32 races, 3 podiums, 1 pole position, 20 points
Mario Andretti (1981): 15 races, 3 points
Mauro Baldi (1983): 15 races, 3 points
Eddie Cheever (1984-1985): 32 entries, 31 races, 1 DNQ, 3 points
Riccardo Patrese (1984-1985): 32 races, 1 podium, 8 points
Driver Name (Years): races, wins, podiums, pole positions, points
First GP: 1950 British Grand Prix Best Finish: 1st
Last GP: 1985 Australian Grand Prix Best Grid: 1st
Entries: 246 Grands Prix: 110 Non-starts: 8
Wins: 10 Podiums: 26 Pole Positions: 12
Fastest Laps: 14 Points: ? Retirements: 135

1950 6 Grands Prix, 6 wins, 12 podiums, Drivers’ World Championship for Giuseppe Farina
1951 7 Grands Prix, 4 wins, 9 podiums, Drivers’ World Championship for Juan-Manuel Fangio
1979 5 Grands Prix, 0 points, Not Classified
1980 14 Grands Prix, 4 points, 11th overall
1981 15 Grands Prix, 1 podium, 10 points, 9th overall
1982 16 Grands Prix, 1 podium, 7 points, 10th overall
1983 15 Grands Prix, 2 podiums, 18 points, 6th overall
1984 16 Grands Prix, 1 podium, 11 points, 8th overall
1985 16 Grands Prix, 0 points, Not Classified

Alfa Romeo (1950-1951)

The Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili company was founded over 100 years ago by Italian aristocrat Ugo Stella, who had previously been involved in the French Darracq carmaker’s expansion into Italy. Stella arranged for Alfa to take over the Darracq factory in Milan, and so Alfa Romeo was effectively born, with the name being adopted after the First World War when Nicola Romeo took it over.

As the company grew, so it began to explore motorsport, and the Alfa Corse team raced sports cars with the likes of Giuseppe Campari, Antonio Ascari, Ugo Sivocco and Enzo Ferrari as its drivers.

It would be Ferrari who would propel Alfa Romeo’s early motorsport successes, although ultimately he would be kicked out of the organisation in 1939 after a long running dispute over the direction of the team, which saw its racing operations continually suspended and then reinstated.

After World War II, Alfa Romeo began to ramp up its motorsport activities once again, and its factory team entered the first year of the Formula 1 World Championship in 1950 with Type 158 designation cars for Juan Manuel Fangio, Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina and Luigi Fagioli. The team swept to victory in every race, with Farina becoming the inaugural World Champion.

The team introduced its new 159 model for the 1951 season and – despite the design concept being some 15 years old – Fangio showed his class and won the title, in spite of increasingly competitive performances by the Ferrari team. With the technical regulations moving towards smaller-capacity engines, Alfa Romeo threw in the towel, knowing it could not compete against Ferrari, which went on to write F1 history without its native rival…

Alfa Romeo (1979-1985)

Back on the grid

Alfa Romeo remained quiet for the next ten years until former Ferrari engineer Carlo Chiti came along, founding the Autodelta group, which Alfa Romeo quickly absorbed.

Autodelta’s main claim to fame was its first place in the 1975 sports car championship with its famous Alfa 33TT, which was piloted by the impressive combination of Derek Bell, Henri Pescarolo, Jacques Laffite and Arturo Merzario.

That success convinced then-Brabham F1 team owner Bernie Ecclestone to negotiate a deal for the supply of Alfa’s flat-12 engine. The adventure would last for four years until the end of 1979, which yielded just two Grand Prix wins and the promise of countless more ruined by reliability issues. Certainly, Alfa Romeo’s roadgoing reliability had crept into its Formula 1 engines as well…

With the relationship between Brabham and Alfa Romeo looking rocky, Chiti championed the idea of Alfa Romeo returning to Formula 1 as a fully-fledged constructor. Design work started straight away, and before the end of the 1979 season, the team’s overweight 177 challenger had made a very unconvincing debut at the hands of Bruno Giacomellli.

An updated ground-effect car, the 179, was readied before the end of the season, and it proved scarcely more competitive. All up, it was an unconvincing return, and few believed that an effort as underprepared – coupled with an engine with well-known shortcomings – could possibly challenge the frontrunners.

Faith from Depailler

It was the joint faith – of driver in team and team in driver – that saw Alfa Romeo have a more competitive stab in 1980. That result was largely attributed to Frenchman Patrick Depailler, who signed for the unproven team when he had few offers on the table. A driver with known developmental skills, perhaps he could put the team on the right path?

The season started with the same ugly N179s with which the team had ended the 1979 season, and the proved just as uncompetitive in the opening rounds, before Depailler’s engineering nous brought the team some much improved results. Often the performances didn’t last much beyond qualifying, with the cars’ still notorious reliabiity conspiring to deny Depailler and Giacomelli time and time again.

Despite lofty claims that he would be a winner before the year was out, Depailler hadn’t scored a point by the season’s halfway mark, and had worryingly suffered two unexplained accidents in practice at the French and British Grands Prix, where the car had suddenly changed direction and thrown him off the circuit.

Determined to get to the bottom of the issue, the team headed to Hockenheim for a private test session ahead of the venue’s German Grand Prix. Approaching the fast Ostkurve right-hander at almost 300km/h Depailler’s car did it again, hurling the car into the barriers and killing the hapless Frenchman. That Giacomelli was able to bring the car home in fifth place – the team’s second points finish all year – was all the more symbolic.

Depailler’s seat was taken over by Brambilla – who proved too old and slow, announcing his retirement after two outings – and then a young rookie called Andrea de Cesaris, who qualified on the fourth row on his Grand Prix debut in Canada.

Next time out, Giacomelli stunned all comers with an unbelievable pole position at Watkins Glen. Better yet, he skipped away from the pack and comfortably led. Was Alfa’s duck about to be broken? Alas no, a faulty ignition plug put paid to his chances after 32 laps, but it showed just how far the 179 had improved in over a year.

A saviour in Ducarouge?

With the impressive de Cesaris off to McLaren – a decision they would famously regret! – that left a vacancy for former World Champion Mario Andretti, who was looking for a new team he could help develop after an embarrassing fall to earth with Lotus in the two years since winning his championship crown.

The Italian-American wouldn’t express those sentiments for long. Like most teams on the grid, the further-updated 197C racer struggled to compete with that year’s revolutionary Brabham. Whatever development the team tried, none worked, and it was only the sheer torque of the V12 engine that gave Andretti his one and only points’ finish of the year, a fourth place on the streets of Long Beach,

Former Ligier engineer Gérard Ducarouge was hired in the mid-season, much to team boss Chiti’s displeasure, but the Frenchman had the car transformed before the end of the season, allowing Andretti to qualify on the third row for the Dutch Grand Prix and Giacomelli to finish third around the Caesars Palace car park.

The 1982 season would see the fruits of Ducarouge’s efforts. But first came the return of de Cesaris – coupled with plenty of extra cash from Marlboro – who had suffered a torrid year with McLaren and needed to rebuild.

Ducarouge’s 182 would perhaps give him that. Late in arriving, the team soldiered on the 179 (now D-spec) for one more race, and after a troubled debut in Brazil where nearly everything went wrong, it all came good at the next Grand Prix in Long Beach.

Giacomelli qualified fifth-fastest while an incredulous de Cesaris was on pole! Once again, the joy wouldn’t last long: de Cesaris led for the opening fourteen laps, only to lose his cool when lapping a backmarker, promptly losing the lead to the wily Niki Lauda. The Italian would bin his car in the barriers a few laps later, marking another wasted effort for the team.

The Italian made amends with a third-placed finish at a thrilling Monaco Grand Prix (a race he might have won had he not have run out of fuel on the final lap), and landed another front-row start at Detroit, but it was another year where the shocking reliability conspired to ruin weekend after weekend.

Turbo troubles

The saga continued into 1983. As its road sales plummeted, its racing arm was quickly being seen as an ever-costlier waste, particularly on account of the fact that its two F1 cars were failing almost as readily as its poorly-built road-going vehicles.

Added to that, the turbo era was well and truly alive in F1, and so Alfa Romeo followed suit with a bespoke twin-turbo V8 powerplant. Typically, the engine was an unreliable as its normally-aspirated predecessor, although surprisingly it didn’t have the kind of power band that its past versions could use to such good effect on the street circuits where the Alfas typically shone.

De Cesaris was joined by Mauro Baldi, a well-funded Italian of then-limited pedigree, who somehow managed to crash the car more frequently than his more experienced teammate. The season didn’t start well, leaving to Ducarouge being shown the door.

Baldi managed to keep out of the walls at Monaco to finish sixth place, and the next round in Belgium saw de Cesaris stage a sterling recovery drive from a botched pit stop into second place, only for the now-familiar plumes of smoke to billow a few laps from home. A pair of second-placed finishes at Hockenheim and Kyalami were some consolation.

Benetton backing isn’t enough…

Having invested for four seasons with little reward, Marlboro decided to pull the pin on their sponsorship of the team, giving Italian clothes retailer Benetton the opportunity to put its sponsorship dollar behind one of the national teams.

And so the Alfa Romeos turned green. Out went de Cesaris and Baldi, and in came Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever, both journeymen racers in need of a career rejuvenation.

With in-race refuelling now banned, the added challenge for 1984 was a capped fuel tank size of 220 litres, a limitation that repeatedly proved too tough for the ever-thirsty V8 under the cowling.

That was, of course, assuming that the Alfa engines hadn’t blown up by then. Their detonations were even more regular during qualifying, so much so that the running joke among the paddock was that you had to put down an early banker lap lest one of the Alfas came out and dropped oil from a detonating engine!

For the Alfa Romeo board, the embarrassment was becoming too much. Chiti was fired and replaced by ex-Lancia man Giovanni Tonti, but the year’s points tally of eleven points – with a lucky podium for Patrese at Monza – was very poor.

And if it could get worse in 1985, it did. While the 185T looked good on paper, nothing worked and reliability was truly diabolical, with Patrese and Cheever clocking up a mere seven finishes between them over the sixteen race season. Neither scored a point, other than pointed fingers towards Patrese for some appalling driving, particularly at Monaco.

Thus it was no surprise that Alfa Romeo finally pulled the pin on the whole sorry mess at the end of the season, continuing to supply its engines to Osella for another three seasons before quietly disappearing altogether.

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