“Sergio Marchionne wants Alfa Romeo back in F1 and so do I! Who is Sergio Marchionne, though?”
Well, he’s the CEO of Fiat Chrysler, who own Alfa Romeo, and, unsurprisingly, he’s a man who knows what he wants and tends to get it. Witness the turn around in Ferrari fortunes following the changes he effected when he took control from Luca di Montezemolo.
I doubt many of today’s fans are fully aware of Alfa Romeo’s distinguished motorsport history, which began in 1911, or of what a worthy addition to today’s F1 they’d make. In the 1920s and ’30s, up to the 1934 advent of the allconquering Mercedes-benz and Auto Union teams, the P2 and P3 Alfa Romeos were mainstays of the grand prix scene, driven by superstars such as Antonio Ascari (father of Alberto), Achille Varzi, Rudolf Caracciola and the legendary Tazio Nuvolari. Enzo Ferrari racked up some wins for Alfa Romeo, too, before he founded Ferrari as Alfa’s works team.
With the P2, Alfa won the 1925 constructors’ world championship, and the subsequent supercharged straight-eight P3 was the class of the field. In one of them, at the fabled Nürburgring in 1935, the great Tazio Nuvolari beat even the supposedly superior German Mercedes-benz and Auto Unions at one of the greatest grands prix of all time.
But it wasn’t just in grand prix racing that Alfa Romeo shone. They won the Le Mans 24 Hours for four years in a row, as well as the prestigious Targa Florio, Mille Miglia and Spa 24 Hours. Then, pre- and post-wwii, came one of the greatest race cars ever: the supercharged straight-eight Alfa Romeo 158, which dominated pre-war Voiturette events and won the 1950 and 1951 F1 drivers’ championships with Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio at the wheel. I was lucky enough to attend the first ever F1 race in 1950 at Silverstone, and I’ll never forget the imperious way the 158s commanded the race to finish first, second and third.
Alfa withdrew from F1 at the end of 1951 and made a lacklustre return in the mid-1980s, but successfully continued in sportscars and touring cars. So they can be proud of their competitive past. Why then does Sergio Marchionne want them to stick their neck out and re-enter the F1 fray with all the potential grief and cost? Partly, I reckon, because Alfa Romeo road-car sales aren’t exactly booming and because association with F1 would do the brand’s sporty image a power of good. But maybe also because having Alfa in the F1 fold would give Marchionne’s already powerful negotiating position within the sport, thanks to his Ferrari role, even more clout.
In which case, how could Alfa re-enter the sport? By buying an existing team? By creating an all new organisation that goes it alone? Or by following the successful Haas team model of buying permissible listed items from Ferrari? Marchionne has already rubbished rumours of purchasing Sauber, and of the other two alternatives the Haas route seems a no-brainer.
Whichever way they choose to go, Fiat have the resources and experience to create a new Alfa Romeo team in the shortest possible time. I would love to see it happen and for Alfa to build on their great past. They would be an exciting new manufacturer with every chance of success, which I’m sure the fans would welcome with enthusiasm and which could create great potential benefits for road-car sales.
I’m not so sure Bernie Ecclestone would be over the moon though…