Barring an unexpected twist, the Fox Formula 1 manufacturer will exit the grid again in 2024.
The Sauber deal, launched in 2018, upgraded in 2019 and finally concluded this year, is one of the most valuable for Alfa Romeo and a truly smart, efficient and valuable way to go about the F1 sponsorship hunt.
Alfa Romeo gave a new twist to the tried and tested F1 approach: it replicated the title sponsorship in the form of a car company. This created the image of the manufacturer being involved in Formula 1 was An F1 team when it isn’t and isn’t.
It was possible because Alfa Romeo made the deal early and because Sauber was the right kind of group to target – a neutral, congenial identity, a rich owner, but a rich owner who didn’t use their bottom pockets heavily, so the money came. Useful too.
At a time when F1 was generally undervalued, Alfa Romeo managed to ride the crest of a wave from 2021 through 2022 and 2023, when others wouldn’t have thought twice about emerging via Sauber.
The initial sponsorship turned out to be great value for money for Alfa Romeo, which managed to become an F1 team for a cut-price sum of €20 million a year (at least initially), got a full team identity, lots of activation, and – so it’s been said – some Sauber for Alfa Romeo road cars. Technical support.
Sauber feels the „business partnership” was a success, but it created a tension once Audi decided to buy the team, and the deal was always over once the bit-by-bit acquisition turned Audi into just another car manufacturer and partner. .
„Alfa Romeo has not really been active in racing in the last few years,” said Sauber team representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi.
„And I think Formula 1 has provided a platform that’s unparalleled. We’ve seen all the activities we’ve done around the world with their dealers since the first year.
„But we tried to transfer everything we learned on the track to the road cars. Thanks to Sauber Technologies, we developed important projects for them. We are acting as Alfa Romeo’s R&D department.
“Our partnership has been successful for me both on track and off track. We introduced a different business model to essentially be a car manufacturer in Formula 1.
“They have been instrumental in the development of the team. Don’t forget I teamed up with Fred Vassar in 2017 [ex-Sauber CEO and team principal]Having no sponsor, getting Alfa Romeo to join us with a long-term plan, extending the contract with Ferrari for a long time, all this helped us present Sauber as a reliable team of partners for the drivers. People who join our team to work with us.
With 2023 being the end point for the Sauber relationship, the same deal is not on the table for Alfa Romeo to stay elsewhere in Formula 1. Not until the end of 2023, anyway.
There were discussions with Haas, so Alfa Romeo wanted to find something that would work. However, it would be naïve to believe that the same deal didn’t appeal, so it got away – which is exactly what Alfa Romeo wanted.
The idea seemed to be to rename Haas and not pay so much for it.
Of course the market price cannot be given. What is missing compared to Sauber is the opportunity to help with technical projects that Bravi mentioned.
Haas was willing to do anything, but it wasn’t as desperate as a MoneyGram title sponsorship hit. It became clear that both sides were far from respecting such an agreement.
Remember, Haas is a team that not only recently sold its title sponsorship to MoneyGram, but has had to fend for itself financially over the last few years due to Gene Haas’ apathy and unwillingness to pay. The group said that it should actually be more competitive.
If there’s any team that looks like the best candidate for Alfa Romeo to stay involved in Formula 1, as Sauber was a few years ago, it’s Haas. But Alfa Romeo doesn’t put its money where its mouth is. It is now considering alternatives in other categories to create this feeling, it is involved in motorsport (when in fact it is not), and happily argues that it got everything it needed from F1 and does not want to do the same again. .
Ultimately, Alfa Romeo created a new way for a manufacturer to 'enter’ F1. It wants to rent a racing program and offer it on its own. Now to scratch that itch, find something in the World Endurance Championship. And it’s good that F1 won’t have to worry about it anymore.
Although harmless enough on the surface, given how good it is for a brand like Alfa Romeo to be involved in F1, this type of deal is not in the interests of a profitable, successful F1.
It detracts from the serious commitments of actual work projects and mocks group identity for fans. It would obviously have been stupid to have F1 in the situation the Alfa Romeo team entered next year, but it really is a different team from the last few years. And in retrospect, 'Alfa Romeo’ compiled race start and points figures are disappointing, as it wrongly elevates Alfa’s own F1 heritage, while detracting from Sauber’s.
Of course, there would have been advantages to Alfa Romeo sticking around. There was certainly genuine enthusiasm from CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato, who was seen embracing senior Sauber figures at the last race of the partnership in Abu Dhabi. Saber certainly got something out of this deal.
„When the conditions are right, we’ll be back to cheer our fans on again,” Imperado announced in November.
But if Alfa Romeo really wanted to stay involved in F1, it would have done so. There was a chance, though it hadn’t quite been done yet.
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