Fiat Chrysler CEO and Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne has been given another task, turn Alfa Romeo into a global brand. Last week he declared that Alfa Romeo must consider a return to Formula 1. Marchionne told Gazzetta dello Sport, “In order to re-establish itself as a sport brand, Alfa Romeo can and must consider the possibility of return to race in Formula 1.” Such a venture would obviously be done so in collaboration with Ferrari.
On the face of it, this is good news. More Italians in F1 is always a good thing. Or is it? In my opinion, this is not the route Alfa should consider. For starters, Ferrari already has its own “B” team in the form of Haas F1. Haas has dumped considerable time and resources to being a Ferrari partner and I doubt they’d like it very much if Ferrari brought in another team to compete directly with them. Additionally, F1 is at a crossroads. Some teams are barely able to stay afloat. The new hybrid power units are hugely impressive but the vast expense is pricing some teams to the brink.
Even if Hass was ok with having a sister “B” team is this really in the best interest of the Alfa Romeo Brand? Best case scenario is Alfa rides around in the middle of the pack with the occasional podium. Is that what you want? I know F1 is an enormous global entity, but it also requires an equally enormous budget. I just don’t see them selling enough cars to gain any significant return on investment. Frankly, if Fiat Chrysler wanted to throw those sums of money around they would be far better suited to go the LMP1 Hybrid route in the World Endurance Championship. They could modify existing components from Ferrari’s F1 program to suit an LMP1-H car. This would give Alfa Romeo the opportunity to race for Overall wins all around the globe. Racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans alone would garner enough attention to make the whole enterprise worthwhile.
The problem with racing an LMP1-H the WEC is it is also hugely expensive. Yes, having parts, specifically the engine from Ferrari’s F1 program, would reduce some of the cost. However, the power plant would need extensive modification to meet the demands of endurance racing. While intriguing the WEC isn’t the best direction for an Alfa Romeo Racing program. Another interesting option is going GT racing. The Giulia Quadrifoglio is a perfect platform to get started. All major GT racing series implement Balance of Performance so it is conceivable they could be competitive relatively quickly. The GT3 spec is truly a global platform, which would fit in perfectly with Alfa’s globalization plans. Plus GT3 cars are so close to GTE-spec cars that they could theoretically make the car fit both classes. Doing so would bring Le Mans back into the equation. Major GT racing is hugely competitive, and to get up to pace with the established brands is no small task, just ask Lexus. The RC-F GT3 has been a giant swing and miss so far.
Ideally, Alfa Romeo would want to get in a class where they could do minimal R&D, get brand awareness and do so in a major market. The market in question would preferably be somewhere they don’t currently have a presence but is big enough to drive significant sales. Somewhere like the United States of America. Alfa is coming back to the states and a racing program would announce their return with authority. The racing series in question? The IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship. Specifically IMSA’s top class for 2017, Daytona Prototype International (DPi).
DPi is based off the WEC’s 2017 LMP2 regulations. in 2017 LMP2 will see some major changes designed by the FIA & ACO to control costs. Only 4 constructors will build chassis and there will be only 1 spec engine supplier. These regulations were jointly developed with input from IMSA with one major difference. While IMSA has adopted the 4 constructor policy, they have left the supplier is open, meaning any engine manufacturer can enter IMSA’s top class. There is one caveat, the Engine supplier has to develop unique brand specific body work. Enter Alfa Romeo, according to numerous sources they have already spoken to IMSA officials regarding the specifics of the engine/bodywork regulations.
An individual close to the discussions, who asked to have their name withheld told dailysportscar.com: “Alfa Romeo has very ambitious plans in the United States. They’ve made it clear that racing is part of their heritage, and part of what they plan to carry forward. So it’s not that big of a stretch to say that if they are going to go be involved in racing in the United States, it’s going to be IMSA, so the most logical place for them to land is Prototype.”
Unlike in the WEC’s LMP2, manufacturer involvement is encouraged in DPi. Mazda, Cadillac, Bently and Nissan have all shown interest in IMSA’s top class. Manufacturers appear to love the idea of racing for overall victories in a major market for a fraction of the cost an LMP1-H program would cost. In my opinion, this is the perfect situation for Alfa Romeo. They will get their brand awareness, they will compete for wins, and it won’t cost an absolute fortune. Then again we are dealing with the Italians so things like logic are often displaced by passion and enthusiasm. All things considered, I’d be stoaked to see Alfa Romeo racing in any form. Call me selfish, I’d be most stoaked to see them racing at the top level of my favorite racing series.