As the Italian GP came to a close, it marked the end of an era for the Milanese brand, Alfa Romeo, whose six-year partnership with Sauber is nearing its conclusion. The special event was honored with an exclusive livery showcasing the Italian flag, simultaneously, Alfa seized the opportunity to debut their new 33 Stradale, a manifestation of their sporty image inspired by their participation in Grand Prix racing.
The challenge now facing Alfa and its parent company, Stellantis is how to build on this success. The collaboration with Sauber has undoubtedly been advantageous for Alfa. Initially conceived by the late Sergio Marchionne, then CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ferrari, the deal began with Alfa becoming the title sponsor of Sauber in 2018. Alfa eventually assumed complete ownership of the team and the chassis name from 2019, for what was essentially a steal.
This kind of sponsorship deal in F1 – where car manufacturers secure both the team and car identities -was something different. Brands like Infiniti and Aston Martin have previously sponsored F1 teams like Red Bull Racing, but Alfa’s acquisition took things to a new level. The bargain was facilitated due to negotiations in 2017 when the Hinwil team was languishing at the bottom of the constructors’ championship, with few prospects. Alfa brought more than just a financial lifeline – it brought allure that attracted other sponsors and potential drivers.
This strategy was a huge success, giving Alfa a prominent presence in F1 at a fraction of the cost of developing its own power unit or underwriting a complete works project. Initially, Alfa also had a say on one of the seats, initially occupied by Ferrari protege Charles Leclerc, and Antonio Giovinazzi thereafter.
However, Audi’s purchase of Sauber in the previous year upended the dynamics. Finishing out the contractual obligations through a single season in 2023, Alfa found it impracticable to stay with Sauber through the transitional two years before Audi assumed complete identity in 2026. Building up the Swiss organization only for a rival brand to reap the interim benefits didn’t make business sense for Audi.
This was a blow for Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato, who shifted from Peugeot at the start of 2021 when Stellantis was created. Imparato didn’t hide his disappointment but accepted the decision, stating, “At the end of the day it’s a question of [Sauber‘s] shareholders,” and adding they had to support the decision. Imparato tried to look at the positive side, saying that while the loss of the Sauber deal was disappointing, it did not diminish Alfa Romeo‘s aggressive ambition and commitment to winning.
Imparato acknowledged the immense benefits of the original Sauber deal, citing it as the “best ROI [return on investment] ever in the paddock.” Alfa had benefited substantially from Sergio Marchionne’s foresighted business model, a sentiment echoed by Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares. Marchionne’s original vision had not only facilitated Alfa’s reentry into F1, but it had also inadvertently produced significant exposure for the brand due to the sport’s exponential growth.
Imparato said, “You have all the planets aligned in this story,” and how the balance of a reasonable level of investment and the substantial progress made by FIA and Formula One Management had generated the best ROI for Alfa.
Imparato’s challenge now is to find a worthy successor to the Sauber deal, and he is adamant that Alfa should continue in motorsport. While he acknowledged that the exact future plans are not yet ready to be made public, he expressed confidence in finding an interesting business model that boasts an excellent ROI and aligns with Alfa’s history.
The potential alternatives for Alfa could be Haas in F1 or venturing into sportscar racing, a category Alfa was strongly linked with during the 60s and 70s. However, Imparato made it clear that any decision would be guided by a broader vision of Alfa’s success rather than personal preferences. “My heart is at Alfa Romeo,” he says, “one day I will leave. I want to leave behind quality cars, something for the museum in Arese, and ensure Alfa Romeo is sustainable.