Alfa Romeo's Formula One past 19 Apr 2006
A look at the team that started Enzo Ferrari's career
At this weekend's San Marino Grand Prix in Imola the heart of almost every Italian will be with Ferrari, for what is effectively the first of the national team's two home races.
Yet despite being the longest-established Formula One constructor, Ferrari is a relative newcomer by the standards of Italian race teams - with the country's racing heritage stretching back to the very dawn of motorsport. Indeed, the great Enzo Ferrari himself started life working for Alfa Romeo.
Of all the famous racing names, none out-plays Alfa Romeo - not least as the company still produces road-going cars to this day. Originally established as early as 1909, Anonima Lombardo Fabbrica Automobili began life manufacturing Italian versions of the French Daracq. After the First World War the company was taken over by Nichola Romeo and his surname incorporated into its title - with the Alfa Corse race team soon established to build the brand's reputation on the track.
Enzo Ferrari began his career at Alfa as a driver, before moving gradually moving into the role of racing manager. He had barely arrived at the team before he persuaded the company to hire Luigi Bazzi, who had already proved his genius as an engineer and designer with Fiat, in 1923. Together with another Fiat exile, Vittorio Jano, he was responsible for creating the Alfa Romeo P2, which quickly came to dominate the Grands Prix of its day - obliterating the competition and even being credited with persuading Fiat to retire from racing at the end of 1924 to avoid further defeat.
In 1925 the P2 remained the car to beat - but ace driver Antonio Ascari (father of future Formula One world champion, Alberto) had a fatal accident in one at the French Grand Prix of that year, and at the end of the season the team withdrew from racing for the first time.
By the early 1930s, Ferrari was running the Alfa Grand Prix team, while the factory continued to compete in sportscar racing. The P3 proved another strong challenger, but as the German teams (backed by huge investment from the Nazi government) came to dominate racing, so Alfa's fortunes faded. Investment by the Italian Government was unable to bring regular victories back to Alfa, with the notable exception of Nuvolari's amazing victory at the fearsome Nurburgring in 1935.
Just before the Second World War broke out, Enzo Ferrari split acrimoniously from the team, after it had bought control of his Scuderia Ferrari and then attempted to take control of the cars he had designed from him. From then onwards the two teams were to become bitter rivals - with Alfa's decline in stark contrast to Ferrari's rapid rise to the fame it enjoys today.
1950 was to be Alfa's swansong - running Giuseppi Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio and dominating the season with a run of brilliant performances, and Farina emerging as world champion. But it was soon clear that the aged design of the Alfa, which was still closely related to the pre-war cars, was unable to compete with more modern rivals, and the team withdrew from racing again.
In the late 1960s, Alfa re-entered sportscar racing, with its innovative flat-12 engine attracting the attention of Formula One teams due to its compact packaging and low centre of gravity. In 1976 Brabham began to use the engine, and it went on to power the team's controversial fan car of 1978, which Niki Lauda used to take victory at the Swedish Grand Prix. Alfa then returned to Formula One as a constructor, and although the team suffered from poor reliability in the seasons that followed, they did score a couple of notable results: Bruno Giacomelli taking third in the 1981 USA Grand Prix in Las Vegas and Andrea de Cesaris managing second in both the 1983 German and South African Grands Prix.
As the decade drew on, the team was ridden with increasingly bitter factional disputes and results pretty much dried up. After the company was absorbed by Fiat in 1985, it was decided that all Formula One effort would be concentrated on Ferrari, and Alfa withdrew from the sport for the final time.