Why Sauber was F1’s “best deal” for Alfa Romeo

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Why Sauber was the Ultimate Deal for Alfa Romeo

The Italian GP marked the end of an era for Alfa Romeo’s six-year partnership with Sauber, and what a memorable ride it has been. As the curtain falls on this collaboration, it’s worth reflecting on why this was a match made in motorsport heaven.

First and foremost, the Italian Grand Prix was a special occasion for Alfa Romeo. The Milanese marque celebrated its home race with a striking livery featuring the iconic Italian flag, paying homage to its roots. But that wasn’t all – Alfa also seized the opportunity to unveil the impressive new 33 Stradale. This model perfectly embodies the sporty image that Alfa Romeo wanted to project through its involvement in Grand Prix racing.

So, what made the Sauber deal so golden for Alfa Romeo? To truly appreciate it, we need to rewind to its origins. This story began with the vision of the late Sergio Marchionne, the former head of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ferrari. The initial agreement saw Alfa Romeo as the title sponsor of Sauber for a single season in 2018. However, it didn’t stop there. In 2019, Alfa Romeo took over the full team and chassis name – a remarkable deal that came at an astonishingly reasonable price.

Now, car manufacturers have sponsored Formula 1 teams in the past, with names like Infiniti and Aston Martin partnering with Red Bull Racing. But what set Alfa Romeo’s deal apart was that it went a step further by essentially acquiring the team and car identity.

Why was it such a bargain? Well, when the deal was inked in 2017, Sauber found itself languishing at the bottom of the constructors’ championship. It was a team with limited opportunities, desperately needing an injection of cash and excitement.

Alfa Romeo provided not only the financial support Sauber desperately needed but also the allure of a sexy brand that could attract additional sponsors and even potential drivers. The partnership even included a seat reserved for a Ferrari protege, with Charles Leclerc being the first to take the wheel, followed by Antonio Giovinazzi.

Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until Audi entered the picture last year and acquired Sauber. With only one season left on the contract, it was impractical for Alfa Romeo to continue with Sauber for the interim years before Audi fully embraced its identity in 2026. Audi understandably had no interest in building up a rival brand’s success.

For Alfa Romeo’s CEO, Jean-Philippe Imparato, this turn of events was undoubtedly disappointing. While he moved from Peugeot at the beginning of 2021 when Stellantis was formed, he had the privilege of witnessing the remarkable benefits of the Sauber deal for the past three years.

Imparato acknowledges that the Sauber partnership was a game-changer for Alfa Romeo in terms of ROI (return on investment). It provided the brand with a high-profile presence in F1 without the exorbitant costs associated with developing its own power unit or subsidizing a full works project.

The success of the Sauber-Alfa Romeo partnership can be attributed to various factors, including the stellar growth of Formula 1 in recent years. This growth has significantly boosted the exposure Alfa Romeo received from its involvement.

Additionally, the careful management of investments and cost control by FIA and Formula One Management, under the leadership of Stefano Domenicali, played a crucial role in ensuring a favorable ROI.

Now, with the Sauber deal in the rearview mirror, Imparato faces the challenge of finding a suitable replacement. One thing is clear: Alfa Romeo remains committed to motorsport in some capacity. However, the path forward is not without its complexities.

While Haas seems like a potential candidate, it comes with its own set of challenges. Gene Haas is in F1 primarily to promote his brand, and relinquishing the chassis or team name is unlikely. Furthermore, Haas already has a solid title sponsor in MoneyGram, making a full transition to Alfa Romeo challenging.

One option could be a combined title sponsorship, such as “MoneyGram Alfa Romeo Haas,” but it would represent a step back from Alfa Romeo’s current status, where it has a complete team and car identity. There would also be no technical collaboration akin to what existed between Alfa Romeo and Sauber.

Imparato keeps his cards close to his chest regarding ongoing discussions with Haas but emphasizes the importance of Alfa Romeo’s partnership with Ferrari. This means that any F1 involvement would require access to a Ferrari engine, a crucial factor in the decision-making process.

However, if F1 isn’t the way forward, where else could Alfa Romeo’s name find a home in motorsport? Imparato expresses a keen interest in sportscar racing, a realm where Alfa Romeo has a rich history dating back to the 1960s and 70s. The arrival of Ferrari in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) has made this category increasingly attractive.

Comparing the ROI of WEC in 2023 to 2021, Imparato notes the growing appeal of the series. The connection between Alfa Romeo and WEC is further strengthened by the launch of the 33 Stradale, aligning the brand’s image with endurance racing.

Furthermore, Imparato hints at the possibility of collaboration with sister company Peugeot in WEC. This would open up an alternative avenue for Alfa Romeo in motorsport while maintaining the connection within the Stellantis Group.

In conclusion, while the end of the Sauber-Alfa Romeo era may bring tears, it’s essential to protect the best interests of both Sauber, which set the path, and Alfa Romeo. Imparato’s mission is clear: to ensure the sustainability and success of the Alfa Romeo brand, all while preserving its heritage.

His dedication to Alfa Romeo’s legacy is evident, and he emphasizes that his ultimate goal is for the brand to be recognized for its quality, leave a lasting mark on history, and remain sustainable. As for the future of Alfa Romeo in motorsport, it’s a matter of finding the right balance between ROI and staying true to the brand’s heritage – a challenge that the team at Alfa Romeo is eager to tackle head-on.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Alfa Romeo’s F1 Legacy

What was the significance of the Italian GP for Alfa Romeo and Sauber?

The Italian GP marked the end of a six-year partnership between Alfa Romeo and Sauber. It was celebrated with a special livery featuring the Italian flag and the unveiling of the new 33 Stradale, symbolizing Alfa’s sporty image.

How did the Alfa Romeo-Sauber partnership come about?

The partnership originated with the vision of the late Sergio Marchionne, who saw Alfa Romeo as the title sponsor of Sauber for a single season in 2018. This later evolved into Alfa Romeo taking over the full team and chassis name from 2019.

Why was the Alfa Romeo-Sauber deal considered a great bargain?

At the time the deal was negotiated in 2017, Sauber was struggling in the constructors’ championship, making it an affordable option for Alfa Romeo. The partnership provided much-needed financial support and a sexy brand appeal.

What changed in the partnership with the arrival of Audi?

Audi’s purchase of Sauber in 2023 altered the dynamics. Alfa Romeo couldn’t continue with Sauber for the remaining interim years before Audi’s full identity in 2026. Audi had no incentive to build up a rival brand’s success temporarily.

What are Alfa Romeo’s future plans in motorsport?

Alfa Romeo is determined to remain in motorsport in some capacity. CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato is exploring various options but emphasizes the need for a strong ROI and a connection to the brand’s heritage.

Could Alfa Romeo partner with Haas in Formula 1?

While Haas seems like a potential candidate, it comes with challenges. Gene Haas is focused on promoting his brand and is unlikely to give up his chassis or team name. Any F1 involvement would also require access to a Ferrari engine.

What is the alternative to Formula 1 for Alfa Romeo?

Alfa Romeo is considering sportscar racing, particularly in the World Endurance Championship (WEC). The presence of Ferrari in WEC makes it an attractive option, and collaboration with sister company Peugeot is on the table.

What are the key priorities for Alfa Romeo’s CEO, Jean-Philippe Imparato?

Imparato’s main priorities include maintaining the brand’s quality, leaving a lasting legacy, and ensuring the sustainability of Alfa Romeo. Motorsport plays a significant role in achieving these goals while balancing the brand’s heritage.

More about Alfa Romeo’s F1 Legacy

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