[F1 2019 VIDEO FEATURE] ALFA ROMEO RACING: AN EMERGENT FORCE

It’s a new year and new identity for F1’s Swiss privateer outfit. Sauber rebranding as Alfa Romeo Racing, despite there being no change in its ownership, management or in its independence.

And it’s an exciting time for the squad, one that’s in stark contrast to its recent lean years – which were turned around by new owner Longbow Finance; with strong direction from revered racing brain Frédéric Vasseur.

The Frenchman defecting from Renault in 2017 - for what he should have had at Enstone: a clear mandate, which at Sauber was to return the team to the head of the midfield.

… his first job – to dissolve the Swiss team’s future Honda power unit deal, then re-signing and strengthening its partnership with Ferrari.

SOUNDBITE (English) FRÉDÉRIC VASSEUR,
TEAM PRINCIPAL, SAUBER:
“The most obvious development was to get the engine of the year [Ferrari], the first point, but we know perfectly that we have to work on every single area, and every single department of the company. We are mainly focused on the aero, because it’s the key topic for the performance, but we are recruiting in every single department of the company.”

2018 dawned with a new title partner in Alfa Romeo, the collaboration the brainchild of the late Sergio Marchionne; returning the iconic Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brand to the F1 grid after a 32-year absence.

SOUNDBITE (English) FRÉDÉRIC VASSEUR,
TEAM PRINCIPAL, SAUBER:
“Alfa Romeo is not just a matter of sponsorship, it’s much more a partnership. It means we’ll be much more attractive for everybody, for the media and for the sponsors also but it’s also a mainly huge motivation for the team to have an iconic brand with us.”

Across 2018, the team punched above its weight, with Charles Leclerc a standout, beating Marcus Ericsson 17-4 in qualifying and 6-3 in the races when they could be compared. He also scored 30 more points.

For 2019, the Swiss team has again upped the ante for its first car under former Ferrari chief designer Simone Resta’s watch.

And the Italian technical director has significant resources at his disposal, Hinwil’s facilities a reflection of its works team past with BMW…which was in the V8 era, from 2006 to 2009.

Behind the wheel, 2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen, who returns to the team he made his debut with in 2001. And he’s the first world champion at Sauber since Jacques Villeneuve in 2006.

Alongside Räikkönen is Antonio Giovinazzi, who will start his first full year in the sport after two fill-in races for Sauber in 2017.

The 25-year-old actually got his start in China with Formula Pilota, winning the 2012 title; before moving to European F3, his best result second in 2015. He won the F3 Masters, before being runner-up in GP2 in 2016.

It’s a strong line-up; the first for an Alfa Romeo branded team since 1985 – when Euroracing ran the Italian marque’s program, with Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever behind the wheel.

…all of which fires up expectations for pre-season testing next week.

And the debut of Alfa Romeo Racing, despite it coming at the cost of the Sauber name – one that has been on the F1 grid since 1993.