Owner's Club News
Alfa Romeo's Formula One Efforts
edited by Bernard Martin
Alfa Romeo has participated many times in Formula One. The brand has competed in motor racing as both a constructor and engine supplier sporadically between 1950 and 1987, and later as a commercial partner since 2015.
The company's works drivers won the first two World Drivers' Championships in the pre-war Alfetta: Nino Farina in 1950 and Juan Manuel Fangio in 1951. In 1952, facing increased competition from their former employee, Ferrari; Alfa Romeo, a state-owned company, decided to withdraw after a refusal of the Italian government to fund the expensive design of a new car to replace their 13-year-old workhorse.
During the 1960s, although the company had no official presence in the top tier of motorsport, several Formula One teams used independently developed Alfa Romeo engines to power their cars. In the early 1970s, Alfa provided Formula One support for their works driver Andrea de Adamich, supplying adapted versions of their 3-litre V8 engine from the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3 sports car to power Adamich's McLaren (1970) and March (1971) entries. None of these engine combinations scored championship points.
In the mid-1970s, Alfa engineer Carlo Chiti designed a flat-12 engine to replace the T33 V8, which achieved some success in taking the 1975 World Sportscar Championship. Bernie Ecclestone, then owner of the Brabham Formula One team, persuaded Alfa Romeo to supply this engine free for the 1976 Formula One season. Although the Brabham-Alfa Romeo's first season was relatively modest, during the 1977 and 1978 World Championships their cars took 14 podium finishes, including two race victories for Niki Lauda.
In 1978 Carlo Chiti developed the Alfa Romeo 115-12 3.0 F12 engine for the Formula 1 constructor Brabham-Alfa Romeo Team. Niki Lauda won two races in a Brabham BT46 with the Alfa engine in the 1978 season. Brabham designer Gordon Murray persuaded Chiti to produce a flat V12 engine to allow ground effect to be exploited by the team.
1978 was the Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT46B Fancar, designed by Gordon Murray. Its fan, spinning on a horizontal, longitudinal axis at the back of the car, took its power from the main gearbox. The car avoided the sporting ban by claims that the fan's main purpose was for engine cooling as less than 50% of the airflow was used to create a depression under the car. It raced just once, with Niki Lauda winning at the Swedish Grand Prix. The car's supreme advantage was proven after the track became oily. While other cars had to slow, Lauda was able to accelerate over the oil due to the tremendous downforce, which rose with engine speed
When aerodynamic ground effect became important in 1978, it was clear that the low, wide engines would interfere with the large venturi tunnels under the car which were needed to create the ground effect. At Murray's instigation Alfa produced a narrower V12 design in only three months for the 1979 season
Alfa-Romeo’s sportscar-derived flat-12 engine had a capacity of 2995 cc and employed fuel injection and electronic ignition. The engine featured a cast magnesium alloy engine block with aluminium alloy crankcase and magnesium or aluminium cylinder heads. There were four gear-driven valves per cylinder. In Formula One form by 1978 it delivered about 520 bhp at 12,000 rpm, about 50 bhp more than the Cosworth DFV engines used by most teams, as well as a peak 324 lb-ft of torque (439 N·m). However the power came at the expense of greater size, increased fuel and oil consumption and about 40 kg more weight
A flat-12 is a 12-cylinder internal combustion engine in a flat configuration. Rarer, wider, and less tall than a V12, the flat-12 design was used in Formula One and endurance racing and some exotic sports cars.
Flat-12 engines are generally not horizontally opposed engines (boxers), but rather 180° V-engines. A true boxer has one crankpin journal per piston, while in the 180° V-engine, two opposing pistons share the same crankpin journal. The engine also has a naturally lower center of gravity than a V12.
The company's sporting department, Autodelta, returned as the works team in 1979. This second period as a constructor was less successful than the first. Between the company's return and its withdrawal as a constructor at the end of 1985, Alfa works drivers did not win a race and the team never finished higher than sixth in the World Constructors' Championship. The team's engines were also supplied to Osella from 1983 to 1987, but they scored only two World Championship points during this period.
In December 1979 Alfa Romeo revealed its Formula One race car for the 1980 season. The company named Patrick Depailler, Vittoria Brambilla, and Bruno Giacomelli as its drivers. The racer was nearly identical to one driven by Giacomelli in the 1979 Italian Grand Prix. It was a wing car design with a V-12 engine that generated more than 520 hp (388 kW). Alfa Romeo announced that it was working on a 1,500 cubic centimeter turbocharged engine which was to begin track testing in a Formula One car in the summer of 1980.
The Alfa works Formula One project was never truly successful during its existence from the middle of 1979 until the end of 1985. During this period Alfa Romeo achieved two pole positions, Bruno Giacomelli led much of the 1980 United States Grand Prix before retiring with electrical trouble, three 3rd places, two 2nd places and one fastest lap. They also endured tragedy when their driver Patrick Depailler was killed testing for the 1980 German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring.
In 1981 they had the services of Mario Andretti but continued to be dogged by poor reliability. After a restructuring of Autodelta, the team operations and design of the car were outsourced to Euroracing in 1982, with the works engines still being supplied by Autodelta. The team's best season was 1983 when the team switched to the turbocharged 890T V8 engine and achieved 6th place in the Constructors' Championship, largely thanks to two second-place finishes for Andrea de Cesaris.
While the turbocharged 890T proved competitive in 1983, more powerful and fuel-efficient engines from BMW, Ferrari, Renault, TAG-Porsche and Honda, plus the FIA imposed 220-liter fuel limit with no re-fuelling allowed during pit stops during 1984, saw the decline of the Euro racing Alfa Romeo team as a competitive force in Grand Prix racing.
The 890T (the only turbo V8 engine used in GP racing at this time) was very thirsty and suffered badly at fast circuits- particularly both of Alfa's home circuits of Imola and Monza. To temporarily rectify this problem, the team had to run with less boost to save fuel- which made the engine underpowered, and this proved to be a severe hindrance at fast circuits- the kind of circuits where they almost always had to do that.
The engine was developed but the fuel consumption problems were never really rectified. Riccardo Patrese's third-place finish at the 1984 Italian Grand Prix being the last podium finish for the team, with both Patrese and Eddie Cheever often failing to finish races throughout 1984 and 1985 due to running out of fuel- Cheever ran out of fuel 5 laps before the end at Alfa's home Grand Prix at Monza- close to Alfa's headquarters in Milan.
The team's 1985 car, the Alfa Romeo 185T proved to be so uncompetitive that the 1984 car, the 184T was re-called into service mid-season. After being updated to 1985 specifications the car, now dubbed the 184 TB, was an improvement over the 1985 car, but results were still not forthcoming. In an interview he gave in 2000, Riccardo Patrese described the 185T as "the worst car I ever drove".
In 1980, Andrea de Cesaris was picked up by Alfa Romeo for the final events of the 1980 World Championship, replacing Vittorio Brambilla who had, in turn, replaced Patrick Depailler when he was killed testing at Hockenheim. At just 21 years old, his first race in Canada ended after eight laps because of engine failure. In his second race, at Watkins Glen in the United States, he went off at the Ninety corner on the first lap at the start and crashed into some catch fencing at the Junction corner on lap two. photo courtesy Robert Murphy
Alfa Romeo pulled out of Formula One as a constructor following the final race of the 1985 season in Australia.
The Alfa Romeo logo returned to Formula One in 2015, appearing on the Scuderia Ferrari cars. In late 2017, Alfa Romeo announced that they were to become title sponsors for Sauber from 2018, and had entered into a technical and commercial partnership with the team. Alfa Romeo returned to the sport as their team when Sauber was renamed at the beginning of 2019.
Alfa Romeo Formula One 2019 and beyond
In January 2019, Sauber announced the team would rename to Alfa Romeo Racing, but unlike BMW Sauber, the ownership, Swiss racing licence and management structure would remain unchanged. Alfa Romeo's challenger for the 2019 season was the C38, continuing the naming convention from previous Sauber Formula One cars.
The C38 included unique aerodynamic design elements in comparison to its rivals and predecessors, particularly at the front of the car as a result of regulation changes for the new season. 2007 world champion Kimi Räikkönen and former Sauber reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi were hired as the team's drivers. Giovinazzi briefly led the Singapore Grand Prix for four laps, the first Alfa Romeo driver to lead a lap since Andrea de Cesaris did so at the 1983 Belgian Grand Prix.
The team's best result of the year came at the chaotic Brazilian Grand Prix, where Räikkönen and Giovinazzi were classified 4th and 5th respectively. Alfa Romeo finished the year in 8th place in the Constructors' Championship with 57 points.
Alfa Romeo entered the 2020 season with an unchanged driver lineup. In January 2020 the team announced that they would enter a title sponsorship arrangement with Polish oil company PKN Orlen and that Robert Kubica would join as a reserve driver.
Alfa Romeo Racing would remain as the team's name after Sauber and Alfa Romeo had reached an agreement.
Raikkonen is due to retire, while Giovinazzi will depart the team at the end of 2021. The team signed Valtteri Bottas and F2 driver Guanyu Zhou for the 2022 season.
Fellow Three Rivers Alfisti member Robert Murphy has been photographing Racing since the early 1970's. He has an absolutely amazing collection of photography that he shares on his Facebook page and several groups. Be sure and check out Murph's photos!.
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