It's an announcement that has been expected for a few months: Alfa Romeo terminates its partnership with Sauber F1 Team following the announcement of the purchase of the Swiss team by the German brand Audi on the same day.
The contract between Alfa Romeo and Sauber F1 Team
We will make the short history of Sauber to arrive at the Alfa Romeo partnership.
Sauber F1 Team is a Swiss team that exists since 1993. After a break with a buyout by BMW in 2005. Sauber F1 Team returns in 2011 following the purchase by its founder Peter Sauber, with Ferrari engines in the bag.
It is in 2017 that things are changing with the arrival of the Frenchman Frédéric Vasseur at the head of the team and in 2018, under the will of Sergio Marchionne, former CEO of FCA and Ferrari at that time, that the Alfa Romeo brand arrives as title sponsor of the Swiss team with a Ferrari engine and a Ferrari driver from the Charles Leclerc driver academy.
Thus, in exchange for about 10 million euros per year, the team is renamed Alfa Romeo. The fact of having a driver from the Ferrari Driver Academy + Ferrari engine is not linked in the Alfa Romeo contract but makes sense for the two Italian brands which have a common history in F1.
Signed in 2017, this contract was valid for 5 years, so until 2022.
It was then renewed for 2023 a year ago (and unofficially for 3 years) because, Jean-Philippe Imparato, current CEO of the brand Alfa Romeo, at first skeptical, said that "F1 is an excellent communication tool for to make known the sportiness of the Alfa Romeo brand around the world.
Frédéric Vasseur said at the time of the contract extension: "Sauber and Alfa Romeo are becoming more and more merged, and this brings immense benefits to both brands and soon on the track".
In short, Alfa Romeo and Sauber F1 Team, the contract should have unofficially lasted until 2025.
The arrival of Audi and Porsche changes the plans
This is a fact, F1 is becoming more and more popular around the world and car manufacturers are interested in it. It started with Aston Martin. Then, it was a rumor for several months: the German brands Audi and Porsche for 2026 on the occasion of the new engine regulations.
Except that if Porsche was getting closer to RedBull, Audi was looking to buy a team. There were discussions with McLaren, then with Williams and finally with Sauber F1 Team that there was a deal. Audi to buy 75 % from Sauberwhere Alfa Romeo was "only" title sponsor with a ticket of 10 million euros per year.
The end of the marriage between Alfa Romeo and Sauber was to be expected in 2025, but why so early in 2023 ? Simply because it doesn't make sense for Alfa Romeo to wait until the last month of the last year of support financially and in terms of image (the Alfa Romeo brand was attractive for recruitment) a team that will pass under the German flag the following year.
Will Alfa Romeo stay in F1?
Just after the official announcement of Audi's arrival in F1 in 2026 through the purchase of Sauber, Stellantis issued a press release a few minutes later announcing the end of the Alfa Romeo / Sauber partnership at the end of 2023.
Stellantis states: "as the brand's economic and industrial turnaround will be completed in 2022, Alfa Romeo will now evaluate the many opportunities that are available and decide which one will be the best to support the brand's long-term strategy and positioning."
The first thought is: what about the Sauber team in 2024 and 2025? Will they keep a Ferrari engine? Will Audi replace it as title sponsor before it legally becomes Audi in 2026? What about the current drivers? Bottas is quiet but Zhou is a Ferrari driver...
For Alfa Romeo there are two options:
Either F1 is no longer meaningful for Alfa Romeo because from 2024 the new models will be 100 % electric and the Italian brand will have a 100 % electric range in 2027. See our article: Alfa Romeo what future with F1.
Either Alfa Romeo becomes title sponsor of Haas F1 Team which, let's remember, has two trump cards up its sleeve: it is still looking for a title sponsor following the rupture with the Russian Uralkali, and it has premises in Maranello, at Ferrari...