There has been a fair amount of talk in recent days about whether or not it is a good idea for Alfa Romeo to enter Formula 1, following remarks by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles boss Sergio Marchionne, who also happens to be head of the now-independent Ferrari. Marchionne says (in essence) that if Alfa Romeo is to hit the kind of sales figures it is aiming to hit, it needs to make itself a great deal sexier than it currently is. Alfa Romeo boss Harald Wester said not so long ago that he has no plans for any high profile motorsport programmes because he needs all of his money to get new cars out into the market, in the belief that they will sell themselves if they are good enough. Having said that, if Marchionne says something is a good idea, it is wise for his lieutenants to listen. As The Financial Times described him some years ago, Marchionne is “ruthless for all his public amiability”. He likes to get what we wants and it seems that he is saying that he wants an Alfa Romeo F1 programme. “They must consider returning to Formula 1” is a fairly clear statement, isn’t it?
It is also clear that this can be done on the cheap. Logically, the company would want to have a works presence, because unless it builds its own engines, it has little to sell to racing teams. Thus a partnership with Red Bull, for example, is not very likely. It is more likely that Alfa Romeo would step in and save the grumpy Dietrich Mateschitz some money by taking Scuderia Toro Rosso off his hands. Toro Rosso’s other partner – Aabar – disappeared from the equation about 18 months ago, which means that we may not see Cepsa and Nova Chemicals any longer because they were both owned by Aabar’s parent IPIC, an Abu Dhabi government-controlled investment fund. It probably does not help that the oil price is hurting Cepsa.
Buying Toro Rosso would give Alfa Romeo an instant Italian-based team with Ferrari engines, and two fine young drivers in Carlos Sainz Jr and Max Verstappen. All that would really be little more than a slap-on-the-stickers kind of deal that could then be developed into bigger things in the longer term. They could parachute in some leftover Ferrari staff (there are a lot floating about) and the whole thing could be up and running in a matter of weeks. The truth is that if the average car buyer sees a racing car with Alfa Romeo written all over it, they will tend to think that it is an Alfa Romeo. And besides, if Alfa Romeo owned Scuderia Toro Rosso, the cars would be Alfa Romeos. There would not even be a problem with a chassis name change because I believe that the cars are legally called STRs, rather than Toro Rossos and so they could become Alfa Romeo STRs overnight. You just have to think up a new acronym that fits the bill. All that would then be required would be to teach Verstappen and Sainz to say “sono multo contento” and “nessun problema” and the job would be half done.
Alfa Romeo is not the only car company that needs to sex itself up a bit. Aston Martin wants to do the same, but is still looking for a way to do a deal with Diageo to take over Force India, while BMW might also take a look at trotting back to Hinwil to do another deal with Sauber. In the last month BMW has dropped to third place in the fight for global luxury car sales. Mercedes has leap-frogged into the lead in the segment with monthly sales of 150,814 cars. Audi is now second with 143,150 and BMW is bringing up the rear with 133,883. All three companies are reporting growth in the segment, but BMW is not keeping up. Their analysts will be trying to work out why this might be the case, and perhaps they will conclude that it has something to do with Mercedes AMG Petronas…