The Roar
The Roar


Can Alfa Romeo partnership revitalise Sauber?

Alfa Romeo are returning to Formula One after a 30 year absence as backers of Sauber next year (MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
30th November, 2017

Alfa Romeo has returned to Formula One, though it remains to be seen whether its collaboration with Sauber will bear any fruit other than a convenient marketing opportunity for both parties.

The Italian manufacturer will provide title sponsorship to the Swiss outfit, to be known as the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, from 2018, yet represents more of a commercial arrangement than assuming outright control of the team, at least in the immediate future.

Sauber has cited “strategic, commercial and technological cooperation” and “the exchange of engineering and technical know-how”, as the framework for the partnership in the midst of Ferrari‘s renewed influence on the squad.

Despite registering each of the team’s five points through its 2017 campaign, Pascal Wehrlein is set to find himself without a ride next season, the German a victim of Ferrari’s input, coupled with his ties to its rival, Mercedes.

Ferrari Driver Academy member, Charles Leclerc, is a certainty to land one of the seats, while attempts are being made to oust Marcus Ericsson in favour of the Prancing Horse’s reserve driver, Antonio Giovinazzi.

The situation is complicated by the interest Ericsson’s sponsor holds in Sauber, it isn’t clear whether the Alfa deal grants Ferrari the autonomy to conclude his three-year tenure with the team, having debuted in Formula One with Caterham in 2014.

Whatever the outcome, the enhanced relationship with Ferrari provides Sauber with a nucleus to climb back up the standings, having finished last in the constructors standings for the first time in its twenty-five year history in 2017.

Notwithstanding its brief spell under BMW’s control from 2006 through 2009, when a solitary victory was achieved at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix courtesy of Robert Kubica, Sauber has failed to register a win from 371 starts.

It last visited the podium in 2012, when a record haul as an independent manufacturer of four appearances were gleaned, and has gradually slipped into backmarker status over subsequent years.


Long-time employee and team principal, Monisha Kalterborn, departed midway through last season, with her successor, ex-Renault team principal, Frederic Vasseur, charged with revitalising its fortunes.

An agreement to be supplied by Honda in 2018 was short lived, culminating in the process which has led to Ferrari’s increased authority, amounting to a notional ‘B-team’, which will be especially true if it has its way and Giovinazzi partners Leclerc.

As for Alfa Romeo itself, the famous name hasn’t graced the grid since 1985 following an underwhelming stint as a constructor from 1979, having earlier featured in 1950 and 1951. Riccardo Patrese was moved to describe its final effort, the 185T “the worst car I ever drove.”

Ferrari’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne has been vocal for some time regarding his desire to promote the Fiat Chrysler owned manufacturer, declaring the association as “a significant step in the reshaping of the Alfa Romeo brand.”

Ferrari has carried the synonymous badge on its Formula One cars since 2015, having borne its parent company’s crest for many years previously, so the increased presence with Sauber is a natural evolution.

A fully fledged return to engine supplier or even manufacturer status in the near term can be envisaged, particularly coinciding with the next set of regulations to take effect in 2021. Absorbing the Swiss outfit to achieve the former would be a logical solution rather than commencing afresh.

It would be a shame if the Sauber name eventually disappears from the sport, though so long as it doesn’t become a plaything of Marchionne’s whims, it could be for the best if it ensures the livelihood of Hinwil’s employees and produces another manufacturer on the grid.