The Top-20 #F1 Constructors who Failed to win a Championship – 13th Alfa-Romeo

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: BlackJack’sBriefs

As with my series on drivers, I started with the Wiki ‘List of Formula One Constructors’ and quickly reduced 136 to 43 eligible constructors by removing the Champions, and those hopefuls who failed to last beyond two or three seasons, and also those who only competed before 1958. [See Part-20 – Intro for details.]

“Shane… Come back, Shane!”


Alfa Romeo

In the Intro. I mentioned a slight problem with Alfa Romeo because their involvement in F1, before 1958, was very successful, and would have won a World Championship, or two… but…

In the 60’s and 70’s several teams tried running with Alfa Romeo power, without success, until Bernie did a deal to use the new flat-12 sports-car engine in his Brabhams – a real ‘Bernie Deal’, because the units were apparently free.

A guiding light throughout most of this time was engine and chassis designer, Carlo Chiti, undoubtedly one of the all-time greats.

Born in 1924, in Pistoia, Carlo joined Alfa Romeo from university, until the Alfa racing division closed, and moved to Ferrari (where he is reputed to have convinced Enzo of the need for rear engines), and then became part of the breakaway group that formed the ill- fated ATS team, after the ‘Palace Revolution’. Ferrari, meanwhile, shrugged it off, and carried on as normal…

Barely pausing for breath, let alone to take stock, Chiti formed Autodelta, which was quickly taken under the Alfa Romeo wing (before being taken over) and used to bring Alfa Romeo back to the forefront of motorsport… first in GT and sports-cars, and as a F1 engine-supplier… before Chitti launched them onto the F1 stage.


The ‘177’ (designed in 1977, for 1978) didn’t appear until the sixth race, at Zolder, 1979, where it qualified 14th, in the hands of Bruno Giacomelli (after just half a dozen races for McLaren in 1977-78) but, in the race, he collided with Elio de Angelis’ Shadows. The team missed Monaco but, at Dijon, Bruno qualified 17th, and finished 17th, five laps down. Then they disappeared again, for four races, but returned at Monza with two cars: a new ‘179’, powered by a new V12 engine, for Bruno, and the original car for Vittorio Brambilla, back after his accident in the 1978 Italian GP. Bruno qualified 18th, with his teammate 22nd but, as Bruno spun into retirement on lap 28, Vito finished 12th, a lap down.

Canada somehow created a stir by requiring the Alfa Romeos to pre-qualify, which they refused to do, and an odd compromise was effected that allowed Vittorio to qualify (18th, before retiring) while Bruno’s entry was scratched… This was missed by most of the media who had concentrated on the abrupt retirement of Niki Lauda, during practice. At Watkins Glen, Vittorio failed to qualify. Bruno qualified 18th (out of 24) and spun into retirement on the first lap after being hit by Keke Rosberg, who was recovering from a spin.



After that ‘exploratory’ first season the Alfa Romeo/Autodelta team was renamed Marlboro Team Alfa Romeo and, with the same ‘179’, Bruno was joined by Patrick Depailler, who had had five promising years with Tyrrell, finishing 4th & 5th in the Championship in 1976 & 1978, and performed well in a Ligier in the first half of 1979 before a hang-gliding accident sidelined him.

In his first eight races for Alfa Romeo Patrick retired in seven, and was unclassified in the other, but he qualified 3rd at Long Beach, and usually out-qualified Bruno. During a testing session at Hockenheim prior to the GP a suspension breakage caused his car to hit the barriers, and to slide for some distance along the top of the barrier, before flipping over. Patrick Depailler died at the spot from head injuries. A talented, and often very quick driver, Patrick might not have ever fully recovered from his leg/ankle/foot injuries of the previous year but he was no slouch and could have lasted for several more years as a valuable No.2.

Meanwhile Bruno was pushing hard and managed to bring the car home 5th in the opening event in Argentina, but dropped to 13th in Brazil, followed by six retirements, another 5th place, in Germany, and five more retirements.

In Holland and Italy Depailler was replaced by the irrepressible ‘Monza Gorilla’ (Brambilla), who impressed no one (qualifying 22nd at Monza when Bruno managed 4th) and was replaced for the last two events by Andrea de Cesaris making his F1 GP debut. Bruno and Andrea were 4th & 8th on the grid in Canada, and both retired, as also in America, where Andrea acquired his nickname, ‘Crasheris’ on just the third lap. However… Bruno surprised the F1 world by putting his car on pole… eight-tenths of a second ahead of Piquet – Bruno’s only pole, and Alfa Romeo’s first since 1951.

Bruno took off like a rocket and nobody could stay with him, After twenty-one laps he was 10 secs. ahead, and 12 secs. ahead on lap 30 when Alan Jones managed to get clear of the flock and start a charge. Two laps later the Alfa Romeo pulled off the track with electrical woes. Perhaps not many people were surprised (given Alfa Romeo’s record), but I’m sure many were as disappointed as Alfa Romeo and Bruno on that day.
Alfa Romeo ended the season in 11th place, with just 4pts. – though that can be compared with the 11pts. scored by McLaren, for 9th, and the 8pts. scored by Ferrari, for 10th place. Yes, just 11 and 8 points, respectively.



Bruno stayed for a third year, still with, basically, the same, ‘179’, and was joined by 41-year-old, 1978 World Champion, Mario Andretti, after a further two years with Lotus had proved less successful,. Maybe everywhere else was full, or Mario was following his Italian heritage… but he surely couldn’t have been hoping for a second Championship here.

Nevertheless, at the opener at Long Beach Mario and Bruno qualified 6th & 9th and, although Bruno had a coming together with Jacques Laffite, Mario finished 4th, behind the two Williams, and Piquet’s Brabham…
Then, at the end of the year Bruno gave the team another 4th in Canada and was on the podium (his only one), taking 3rd, in Las Vegas, just half a second behind Prost’s Renault – despite having spun out of 4th place and dropping to 10th.

But… in between was a sad saga of decent qualifying (both drivers being equally capable) followed by accidents and breakages…


Mario returned to IndyCars while Bruno signed on for a fourth year and… after a year adding to McLaren’s repair bill (allegedly he was actually withdrawn from the Dutch GP because the team were concerned about having another ‘bent motor’…) Andrea returned to the fold.

The team took the old ‘179’ to South Africa but Gerard Ducarouge (fresh from being sacked by Ligier, after considerable success at Matra) had a new ‘182’ ready and willing for Brazil. In the third event de Cesaris touched the wall during qualifying but came back at the end with a blinding lap to put himself on Pole, ahead of Lauda, Arnoux, Prost, and Bruno. In the race de Cesaris led for 15 laps before being baulked by a back-marker, and losing concentration while waving his fist (from a man who was renowned for not moving over when being lapped) allowing Lauda an easy pass… but he hung on for another fifteen laps before his brakes began to fade… and then (allegedly) smoke from the engine distracted him and he hit the wall, and wrecked one side of the car.

It was Andrea’s only career Pole, but not his last ‘write-off’… a career usually regarded as exhibiting flashes of brilliance, in race after race of humiliation.

Alfa Romeo held on to 9th in the Championship, best of the back-markers.

de cesaris

and then . . .

Bruno called it a day, and moved to Toleman, which was no better, and then had a couple of mediocre years in IndyCars, followed by a few years in WEC, and then a return to F1 in 1990 with the Life team… This team, also from Modena, was founded by businessman, Ernesto Vita (‘vita’ – ‘life’) who had hopes of making money… Did nobody tell him, the only way to make a little money in F1 is to start with a lot of money, and buy an F1 team…?

Life Racing Engines bought the plans and prototypes of a W12 3.5L engine from Franco Rocchi, who had been working on this project since 1967, with a single-module W3 of 500cc, as a prototype for a 3L W18 Ferrari engine. His engine had three banks of four cylinders, making it short like a V8 but taller than a regular ‘V’ engine.

Rocchi’s W12 was ready at the beginning of 1989 after turbo-chargers had been banned and everybody needed a normally aspirated motor. New manufacturers entered F1, such as Ilmor, Judd and Yamaha. Carlo Chiti’s Motori Moderni unsuccessfully tried to revive flat-12 engines, badged as Subaru for the Coloni team, whilst Renault and Honda developed V10 engines, for Williams and McLaren.

Ernesto tried to supply his engine to an existing F1 team and, throughout 1989, he searched for a partner without success. In the end he decided to run the engine himself in 1990. Unable to build their own car Ernesto turned to ‘FIRST Racing’, an Italian F3000 team who had built a prototype F1 car for 1989, using a Judd V8. At a test, with Gabriele Tarquini, designer Richard Divila disowned it, declaring it to have been poorly built, and unsafe, and fit only as an outré flowerpot. The car also failed the FIA crash test, and the ‘bits’ that remained were withdrawn before the opening GP.

FIRST continued in F3000, with Reynard chassis but… at the end of the year… their F1 failure chassis was bought by Ernesto and resurrected as the ‘Life L190’. One is entitled to ask: “WHY…!?” This writer would also like to ask, what actually remains of a chassis that has failed a crash test…!? although apparently FIRST had previously effected a few repairs… Even so…

Tarquini, incidentally, had appeared in F1 for five or so seasons, and scored just one point, but has been doing well in touring cars for the last twenty-three years. Divila previously penned cars for Fittipaldi, and Ligier, but this was his last F1 design. In show-business they used to say, you’re only as good as your last film…

For the 1990 season Life had one chassis, one engine (allegedly), lots of drawings, few spares… and no hope. In America Gary Brabham failed to even pre-qualify the car and, when the car only moved 400 metres out of the pits in Brazil, he was soon ‘on his toes’. Urban legend has it he was so livid, if Bambi had walked out of the woods, Gary might not have swerved to miss her…

So… after seven years, veteran Bruno dusted off his goggles and, for ten straight races, failed to even pre-qualify, being further behind the other cars than even the MasterCard Lolas would be in 1997. For Portugal and Spain the W12 was replaced by a Judd V8, for which the car had originally been designed, but which rather defeated the object of selling the W12 engine to other teams and making ‘loadsamoney’. Still failing to pre-qualify, the team withdrew from the last two races… But, the car itself was stunningly beautiful.



De Cesaris was now joined by Mauro Baldi, a successful F3 driver, from Reggio Emilia, who had just shown some promise with a year at Arrows, and Alfa Romeo turned out their new, t/c, ‘183T’ but, in the first event, in Brazil, de Cesaris failed to stop for a weight-check and was excluded from qualifying and thus the race. There was apparently an empty fire-extinguisher onboard the car. Alfa Romeo blamed Ducarouge, who was fired again… but this time was promptly snapped up by Lotus to, in effect, replace the recently deceased Colin Chapman. I suspect he had his set-squares packed, and laughing all the way to the drawing board, before the race was over…

By the French GP the two cars were qualifying, around 7th – 10th and, at Monaco, Mauro scored his first point. At Spa it was Andrea’s turn to shine as he qualified 3rd and also recorded the fastest lap before mechanical problems intervened. He had also led from the start, and pulled away, before a fumbled pit-stop allowed Prost to pass. At Silverstone the team had an unusual double finish, 7th & 8th, with Mauro just ahead.

On to Hockenheim and Andrea again started from third, behind the two Ferraris, with Mauro seventh and, this time, after Tambay fell by the wayside, Andrea kept it going to finish 2nd. In Holland it was Mauro’s turn to score, in 5th, followed by a nice 4th place for Andrea at Brands Hatch and, to suggest it was no fluke, in the last race of the season, in South Africa, Andrea went from 9th on the grid to another 2nd place.

Although their best year, 18pts. only gave Alfa Romeo 6th in the Championship – again the best of the lower rank.

For a year or two the team had been suffering internal politics between Alfa Romeo and their racing division, Autodelta, perhaps mostly caused by Chiti who seemed to be a ‘driven’ man and not one to be content following corporate policies. I suspect he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and the company was State owned, and losing money and, many would say, was poorly led and ill-advised.

Somewhat in desperation, and perhaps in an attempt to ‘muzzle’ Chiti, the board brought in the Euroracing team who updated the ‘182’ to the ‘183T’. The main advantage of this had been the arrival of Ducarouge but, as he was quickly fired from Euroracing, by Alfa Romeo, the overall effect was limited. It had also been claimed Euroracing would save them money but there is no evidence that having Euroracing running alongside Autodelta (with Autodelta staff also working for Euroracing) made anything more efficient.



Nevertheless, still hoping for better things, Alfa Romeo introduced the ‘184T’, penned by Mario Tollentino and Luigi Marmiroli and, along with new sponsor, Benetton, a new driving team. De Cesaris moved to Ligier, and then, in turn, Minardi, Brabham, Rial, BMS, Jordan, Tyrrell, and Sauber, but none of these eleven years would be better for him than 1983 (Andrea holds two records: 208 races without a win, and 137 retirements. He later had success as a currency trader, and as a windsurfer…), and Baldi went to Spirit, which was pretty much the worst thing anybody could have done… but he did subsequently have a better time in sports-cars.

After seven years in F1, two GP wins, and two poles (as well as ten more seasons ahead of him), Ricardo Patrese arrived to help put Alfa Romeo on the Championship map, joined by Eddie Cheever, who obviously was not to know that his previous year, and 7th Championship place, with Renault, would be the best of his career.

Despite, or because, of all these changes, it was to be a disappointing year, with Patrese scoring only one podium (3rd) finish in Italy, and both he and Eddie taking a 4th place each in the first two races. Having tried a new chassis designer, and let him go, Alfa Romeo also replaced Chiti as head of engines who, still refusing to be thwarted for long, formed ‘Motori Moderni’. At the end of 1984 Marmiroli also left, to join Lamborghini, and John Gentry (after four years with Toleman) was hired to re-model the car as the 185T, but he quickly went to Renault and so Tolentino was suddenly alone. The ‘185T’ was not a success (Patrese later called it the worst car he ever drove) and the old ‘184Ts’ were brought out to replace it at mid-season. Neither car received any development work throughout the year and the Alfa Romeo board (and/or the Italian government) had probably already decided. The team scored no points and at the end of the year Alfa Romeo announced their immediate withdrawal from F1.

When the company was later ‘handed over’ to FIAT it was obvious they would never run another F1 team alongside Ferrari. The Alfa engine was used briefly by Ligier, and also Osella, where the heavy, unreliable, underpowered, and thirsty unit was subsequently re-badged as an Osella and continued to disappoint until 1988.

It might seem that, for many years, Alfa Romeo had been poorly managed from the top, and unable to survive the international economic situation (especially in the auto industry) of the 70’s, typified by the Alfasud failure. The guiding light at Autodelta, Carlo Chiti, was perhaps not best suited to committees within large organisations, let alone at government level. Without him Alfa Romeo possibly wouldn’t have re-entered F1 and, without him, seemed ill-equipped to survive.


Alfa Romeo Logo


14th Sauber

15th Arrows

16th Stewart

17th BAR

18th – Surtees

19th – Lola

20th – Dallara

8 responses to “The Top-20 #F1 Constructors who Failed to win a Championship – 13th Alfa-Romeo

  1. Really enjoyed this one BJ. I love that they’d reuse chassis and introduce new ones mid season, wonder if the 2012 McLaren would be as fast as the current model. Poor Alfa, though, such pretty cars and such hopeless reliability. Thanks again for improving and edifying my Sunday.

  2. Alfa Romeo, what a constructor. To this day I have a soft spot for the organisation, a team that before mass production in the 50’s was the equivalent of Ferrari today, the supercars of the rich and famous.

    I sold Alfa and Abarth’s for a while and even now their customer support is unflinching, and I never really understood why. As to F1, that Benetton liveried one was always stunning, I still remember the Piquet/ Patrese crash in Monaco in 1985.

    Thanks again BJF, your writing is as exquisite as ever.

  3. Tremendous write-up, as usual.

    They don’t seem to have been as successful as say, sauber, though I don’t dispute your facts.

    Enjoyed the Life tangent. I’m only half joking, but how about a bottom 20 constructors and drivers list!? I think your writing would lend itself very well to some of those stories…

    • “I’m only half joking, but how about a bottom 20 constructors and drivers list!?”

      Imagine if you could get the 20 worst Formula 1 cars of all-time driven by the 20 worst drivers of all-time? That would be a race worth watching!

  4. I still miss Patrick today, one of my heroes growing up. Still think there is so much more I could learn about him, and Vittorio.
    Seems to be so little to read of them around the web.

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