Alfa Romeo seems to be in decline: after the success in the 1950s, the Italians no longer found the magic.

Alfa Romeo seems to be in decline: after the success in the 1950s, the Italians no longer found the magic.


Alfa Romeo has been operating in the first class since the beginning of Formula 1. The team has had several successes, but also did not participate in the championship for a long time. Currently, the Sauber team runs under the name Alfa Romeo Racing, but that will come to an end in 2023. Audi announced that it will work with Sauber from 2026 and so Alfa Romeo looks set to disappear from the sport.

Basically, Formula 1 has been around for longer than 1950, but since then the sport has become an official championship. Alfa Romeo was already a good team for that year, as it already had a successful history in Grand Prix racing. These good results continued until 1950. With drivers Giuseppe ‘Nino’ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​front-end. the first of which was already launched in 1938.

In 1950 there was no constructors’ championship yet, but it was clear which car dominated. Of the seven calendar races that year, Alfa Romeo won six. The other was Indianapolis, where Formula 1 teams did not participate. The champion that year was Farina and half of the team’s victories. The scoring that year was also very different from what we are used to now, because only the best four results were counted. Winning three times and finishing fourth once, Farina was higher in the championship than Fangio. As an Italian, the Argentine won three races, but did not finish or participate in any other races.

Great resistance, but still skillful

The following year, Alfa Romeo was no longer the sole ruler, as the Italian racetrack faced a strong rival from the same country, Ferrari. Excluding Indianapolis, there were seven races and despite the increasing battle, Alfa Romeo again won more than half of the races with Fangio and Farina again. This time Fangio came out on top and won the championship that year by ten points more than the second player who rode in Talbot-Lago.

Alfa Romeo launched the Alfetta 159 in 1951, which was a revolutionary car. The car had a double compressor and the engine was increased to more than 425 hp at 9600 rpm. That was a great power at the time. At Monza that year, the final Grand Prix, the team even introduced another new car, the 159M. The ‘M’ stands for Maggiorata, which in Italian also means ‘extended’.

Budget is very little reason to leave

However, at the end of 1951 it was announced that Alfa Romeo would not participate in Formula 1 for another season. The production of a new car, the Alfa Romeo 160, had already begun, but when it became known that the Italian government would no longer work. sponsoring the team, development was halted. The team itself had a limited budget and therefore could no longer bear the costs. It’s still a shame considering the Alfetta 158 and 159 could be considered the most successful Formula 1 racing cars of all time.

Success turned out to be more difficult than expected

The period after that was Alfa Romeo’s mainly long periods of absence. The team briefly returned as an engine dealer in 1961 and supplied small teams with inline 4 engines, but without much success. This was followed by years without the Italian brand, until the team began to supply engines again in 1970 and 1971 to McLaren, among others, but the V8 was unsuccessful.

A few years later, from 1976, Alfa Romeo became the most successful distributor. Until 1979 Brabham used the twelve cylinder boxer engines of the Italian racing stable. This partnership has led to several victories and is therefore Alfa Romeo’s greatest success as an engine supplier, but it was still not ideal. The engines were big and therefore a lot had to be changed in the car, which made the car very slow.

Alfa Romeo returns as works team: ‘You mean the bastard in another green car?’

In 1979 Alfa Romeo returned as a team when driver Bruno Giacomelli made his debut with an Alfa Romeo 177 during the Belgian Grand Prix. Between 1979 and 1985 the team achieved several successes, such as two poles, five podiums and the fastest lap. but worse luck followed bad luck. For example, Giacomelli was popular in the United States in 1980 and was leading for a long time until his car broke down. Andrea de Cesaris also managed to start from pole in 1982, but was unable to finish the race due to an accident.

The following years got worse. The team’s drivers failed to get points in 1985 with the car which was green thanks to the Benetton sponsor and which looked like an Alfa Romeo. The drivers who drove for the Italian firm that year, Eddie Cheever and Riccardo Patrese, could vomit each other. That led to collisions on the track and very bad conditions. Maurice Hamilton, a writer who has been in the game for a long time as a writer, among other things, asked Cheever about his teammate and driver getting burned. ‘Teammate?’, he shouted. ‘Which teammate? You mean the bastard in the other green car?’ The result ensured, among other things, that after taking over Fiat, the factory team was reliably released.

Engine provider again, but conflicting interests lead to failure

However, Alfa Romeo was still the engine supplier in the following years. From 1983 to 1987, the Italians distributed Osella’s sub-team. Alfa Romeo even made technical comments about the chassis, for example. However, the lack of success and negative publicity meant that Alfa Romeo decided to stop working with the team.

In between, Alfa Romeo also supplied the inline four engine to the French team Ligier. Something that Fiat was not happy about, because Ferrari is also a Fiat and therefore did not want the two to fight in Formula 1. An outburst from René Arnoux, who tested the Ligier car, about the poor quality of the Alfa Romeo engine eventually caused the early termination of the contract.

Alfa Romeo’s future in Formula 1 is uncertain

After decades of absence, the Alfa Romeo name has been prominent again in Formula 1 since 2018. A year before it was announced that Sauber would drive under the Italian marque’s name. Initially, this was a two-year contract, but it was extended in 2019. The first three years with Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Räikkönen were not very successful with eighth place in the championship two years in a row and ninth in 2021. This year, however, progress is seen with sixth place at the moment with drivers Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu.

Although the partnership will last until at least 2023, Alfa Romeo has confirmed that this will also be the last year. Sauber will start working with Audi from 2026. At this time, Alfa Romeo will therefore do everything in its power, but again the future of the Italian brand in Formula 1 is not guaranteed. Still, the team can look back on the success of the first two years with ten wins and pole positions and two world titles.