CONSTRUCTORS: ALFA ROMEO
Name: Alfa Romeo
The Anonima Lombardo Fabbrica Automobili company was established in 1909 by Italian aristocrat Ugo Stella, who had previously been involved with the French Darracq company in Italy. He arranged for ALFA to take over Darracq's factory at Portello, in the suburbs of Milan and began to manufacture cars produced by chief engineer Giuseppe Merosi. As the company grew so it began to consider motor racing and Merosi designed a 4.5-liter Grand Prix car in 1914 although it was never raced.
During the war years ALFA was taken over by Neapolitan businessman, academic and politician Nicola Romeo and became known as Alfa Romeo. In the years that followed the war, engineer Giorgio Rimini found himself in charge of racing activities. The Alfa Corse team raced sportscars with much success in those early years with drivers such as Giuseppe Campari, Antonio Ascari, Ugo Sivocco (who was also chief of the test department) and Enzo Ferrari.
Ferrari, an Alfa Romeo dealer, was to play an important role in the company's sporting activities for the next 15 years. It was he who suggested that the company hire Luigi Bazzi in 1923, after he had fallen out with FIAT's racing management. At the time Merosi and his engineers were working on the Alfa Romeo P1 racer. This appeared for the first time at the Italian GP in September 1923 and two cars were entered for Ascari and Sivocco for the Italian GP at Monza. In practice Sivocco crashed and was killed. Alfa Romeo withdrew.
Bazzi suggested that Alfa Romeo should try to hire a young FIAT designer called Vittorio Jano. He was recruited and quickly designed the Alfa Romeo P2. This appeared for the first time at the French GP in 1924 with drivers Campari, Ascari and Frenchman Louis Wagner. Campari dominated. At the Italian GP Ascari won. Such was the success of the P2 that FIAT decided to pull out of racing at the end of the year to avoid further humiliation at the hands of its upstart rival.
The P2 continued to be the dominant car of 1925 but in July that year Ascari crashed and was killed during the French GP at Montlhery. Alfa Romeo continued racing until the end of the year with Gastone Brilli-Peri and Campari but then the P2s were locked away. The company remained active in sportscar racing while allowing Campari and a few others occasional outings in P2s. Alfa Corse would return to Grand Prix racing in 1929 with Achille Varzi and Brilli-Peri scoring wins in P2s in Alessandria, Tre Fontana, the Coppa Ciano, the Italian GP, Cremona and at Carthage in Tunisian. In 1930 Varzi was joined by Tazio Nuvolari. In the course of the year, however, Enzo Ferrari gradually took over the running of the Grand Prix cars while the factory continued to run sportscars.
1931 saw Ferrari increase his control on the Grand Prix program while the factory team suffered a distressing setback with the death of Luigi Arcangeli in the Italian GP. In the course of the 1932 season Alfa Corse designed the P3 which made its debut in June in the hands of Nuvolari. This remained in the hands of the factory team. The opposition from the German car companies was such that at the end of the year Alfa Romeo decided to disband the factory team again and the P3s were locked away.
That year Alfa Romeo came under Italian government control and a new boss Ugo Gobbato showed little interest in racing. Jano was transferred to aero-engine design and it took several months of campaigning before Ferrari was allowed to run the P3s. In the late 1930s, however, Grand Prix racing was dominated by the Germans and the Ferrari-run Alfas rarely scored any good results, although Nuvolari's victory in 1935 at the Nurburgring stands out as a remarkable achievement.
In March 1937 Alfa Romeo decided to bring its racing program back in-house and bought 80% of Scuderia Ferrari. The project came under the control of Spanish engineer Wifredo Ricart. Enzo Ferrari was taken on as Racing Manager but he and Ricart were soon battling for control with parallel design projects in Portello and Modena (where Ferrari was based). Things came to a head in January 1938 when Ferrari's project - the Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta - which had been designed by Gioacchino Colombo - was taken out of his hands. The factory tried to run the cars but one disaster followed another. At Pau one of the cars suffered a broken fuel tank and Nuvolari was sprayed with petrol and badly burned. He swore never to race for Alfa Romeo again. To make matters worse Mimi Villoresi was killed testing the car and his brother Gigi Villoresi also announced that he would not race Alfa Romeo machinery.
At the end of 1939 Enzo Ferrari was dismissed after a long political battle. Ricart had won but it was irrelevant as war swept over Europe. The Alfa 158s spent the final years of the war hidden in the village of Melzo to the east of Milan and were soon in action again once the fighting was over.
Alfa Romeo's new Competition Manager was Giovanbattista Guidotti who quickly put together an impressive driving team of Varzi, Nino Farina, Count Felice Trossi and Frenchman Jean-Pierre Wimille.
The Alfettas raced but failed on the streets of St Cloud in Paris, however they were dominant in the Grand Prix des Nations in Geneva a month later. The season was marked by disputes between Farina and Varzi over which of them should be team leader although it was becoming clear that the fastest driver was actually Wimille. At the end of the year Farina was dropped.
The 1947 season saw Wimille maturing to win several races but he was forced to give way on several occasions to Varzi.
In 1948 the international season began at Berne in Switzerland at the end of June. In qualifying for the race Varsi crashed and was killed. Wimille became team leader and won most of the races but allowed Trossi - who was dying of a brain tumor - to win the Swiss race. But in January 1949 Wimille was killed while racing a Simca-Gordini in Buenos Aires. Alfa decided it would be best to sit out the 1949 season and prepare for 1950.
The Alfa Romeo factory team returned to action in 1950 with cars for Juan-Manuel Fangio, Farina and Luigi Fagioli and the team scored a clean sweep of the Grands Prix that year with Farina becoming the first World Champion. In 1951 the new Alfa Romeo 159 appeared but the basic design - by then nearly 15 years old - was fading. Fangio won the World Championship but Enzo Ferrari's team became a stronger rival and at the end of the season the Alfa Romeo factory withdrew from Grand Prix racing again.
The company continued to compete in sportscars through the 1950s with much success, notably with the famous Disco Volante and in the early 1960s the company's chief engineer Orazio Satta gave the go-ahead for the design of a new flat-12 engine for sportscar racing. Once designed this was handed over to a new competition department called Autodelta, which had been set up by former Ferrari engineer Carlo Chiti and Alfa Romeo dealer Ludovico Chizzola in the village of Settimo Milanese, to the west of Milan.
Initially Autodelta raced modified production cars with success but in 1967 moved into sportscar racing with the Tipo 33. At first the cars were unreliable, both Jean Rolland and Leo Cella were killed in testing accidents and there was another setback in 1969 when Lucien Bianchi was killed testing at Le Mans, but in 1974 Autodelta began to score some good results with Arturo Merzario, Jacques Laffite, Derek Bell and Henri Pescarolo. Alfa Romeo won the title the following year and continued to be competitive until 1977 when it won a second title. The flat 12 Alfa Romeo engine had attracted the interest of F1 teams in 1975 and in 1976 Autodelta supplied Brabham with the engine. The cars were not very reliable but in 1978 Niki Lauda won the Swedish GP in the controversial Brabham "fan car". He won again at Monza that year. The deal continued into 1979 but by then Alfa had built its own 177 F1 car. This was raced by Bruno Giacomelli at the Belgian and French GPs. For the Italian GP Giacomelli had a new 179 with a new V12 engine and featured ground-effect aerodynamics developed by Frenchman Robert Choulet. Vittorio Brambilla took over the 177 for the final races of the year.
The 179 was revised for 1980 and sponsorship was found from Marlboro Italy. The team employed Giacomelli and Patrick Depailler and the Italian scored the team's first points with fifth place in Argentina. There were no more points scored before Depailler was killed in a testing crash at Hockenheim in August but after that Giacomelli finished fifth in the German GP and went on to take pole position and lead the US Grand Prix for half the race before the car retired. Depailler was replaced by Brambilla and, for the last two races, by Marlboro Italy protege Andrea de Cesaris.
Giacomelli stayed on in 1981 to be joined by Mario Andretti with the 179 being run in "C" form. It was a disappointing year and in the midseason the team recruited French engineer Gerard Ducarouge after he was dropped by Ligier. Ducarouge's development work made the car quite competitive and Giacomelli scored the team's first podium with third at Las Vegas at the end of the year.
For the 1982 season Ducarouge designed a completely new 182 with Giacomelli and de Cesaris driving. The youngster was third at Monaco and sixth in Canada while Giacomelli managed just one fifth place in Germany.
At the end of the season Alfa President Ettore Massacesi decided that the design of the chassis should be taken away from Autodelta and given to Paolo Pavanello's Euroracing team in a new factory at Senago. Marlboro sponsorship continued and de Cesaris was retained. Giacomelli moved to Toleman and was replaced by Euroracing's Mauro Baldi. The 183T was an updated 182 fitted with Alfa Romeo V8 turbo engine and fitted with a flat bottom according to the new regulations. The team did well, scoring two second places in the hands of de Cesaris. Early in the season Ducarouge was fired, the scapegoat for an incident in which the team was found to be running an empty fire extinguisher. He was replaced as technical director by Luigi Marmiroli. Mario Tolentino became chief designer.
Marlboro departed at the end of the year and was replaced by Benetton with Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever being hired to drive Tolentino's 184T. It was a disappointing year with Patrese scoring only one podium finish in Italy. Chiti was replaced as head of the the engine program by Giovanni Tonti. He left Autodelta to form Motori Moderni. At the end of the year Marmiroli left the team to join Lamborghini and British engineer John Gentry was hired to rework the car as a 185T. He quickly left to join Renault and so Tolentino became technical director and finished the car. The 185T was not a success and the 184Ts reappeared at mid-season. The team scored no points and at the end of the year Alfa Romeo withdrew from Grand Prix racing again.
Alfa continued to develop the engine with test driver Giorgio Francia doing many laps at the Alfa Romeo Balocco test track. The engine was briefly used by Ligier but the relationship was a disaster and when Alfa Romeo was taken over by FIAT it was decided that only Ferrari should represent the company in F1. The Alfa V8 engine, badged as an Osella, continued to appear in the back of that team's cars until the end of 1988.
Alfa Romeo went back to touring car racing...