Sauber’s renewal of its Alfa Romeo title partnership deal – which Reuters says has now been confirmed for 2023 – extends a unique Formula 1 deal for another season.
Alfa Romeo is a “works” F1 team in the loosest sense possible. This is an extreme take on an ad campaign – a title sponsorship with the benefits of that sponsor being a famous car brand rather than cryptocurrency or NFT nonsense.
The purpose of the way this agreement is structured is to keep options open for both parties. While Alfa Romeo’s money and prestige are obviously important to Sauber, it’s not like they shape its entire infrastructure. And if being in F1 is of great interest to Alfa Romeo, that is only the case as long as this cut-price approach holds.
The arrangement is currently working well for both parties. Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato – whose remarks reported today come ahead of any planned official announcement – is particularly pleased with what he describes simply as a “fantastic return on investment” for his company.
“It was very simple, the guide we had with Fred [Vasseur] it’s that I want to be ‘up,'” Imparato told The Race of Alfa Romeo’s demands for 2022.
“Progress. P8, P7, P6, P5, I don’t care. Up. And with the right level of return on investment in terms of Alfa Romeo exposure, compared to the investment we are making.
“Formula 1 is a fixed marketing expense. And if you want to justify to our corporate people that you’re spending a huge amount of money on Formula 1, you have to have the right return on investment. That’s key.
“So we said on the competition side, we want to be in place. And on the marketing side we want to be on top in terms of return on investment.
“I must say that I am enjoying the fantastic movement of Formula 1. The trend is positive and the return on investment [return on investment] is positive.
Sauber was kind of a gamble for Alfa Romeo. Tying yourself to a back-of-the-grid team isn’t a good look for a high-end manufacturer.
But even that level of visibility in F1 seemed to tick some important boxes at Alfa Romeo and the pitch from Sauber and team boss Frederic Vasseur was “wait, because it’s going to get better on track”.
Alfa Romeo is on an uptrend and its bet to sacrifice 2021 to focus on new technical regulations is paying off. After the team finished eighth, ninth and ninth in the Constructors’ Championship in its three years as Alfa Romeo so far, it is currently sixth in the standings with new signings Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu.
It puts him on track to score his best Championship result since 2013, before falling into the financial ruin that this era of Sauber ownership saved him from.
And Imparato says there are several reasons why Alfa Romeo decided to trust Sauber, with a mix of past loyalties playing into the decision he made, after taking over the company the year last, to renew the agreement with the inclusion of annual evaluations.
“It’s a bet,” he said. “And not just a bet, because the first time we met Fred Vasseur was probably in April or May and we had to make the decision in July.
“Sometimes in life, it’s something you feel at first sight.
“We have a good positive contact with Fred and the team. I highly appreciate the years of support from Finn Rausing. Not just with the team, but with Alfa Romeo. And I appreciate that very much.
“So in this company, Alfa Romeo, we are a tribe. We are not a brand. And a tribe is also about loyalty. So we don’t forget where we come from. We don’t forget not the guys who trusted us. We don’t forget that one day Mr. [Sergio] Marchionne brought Alfa Romeo back to Formula 1.
“That’s the key, and we highly value, highly respect that. And since we don’t want to change every morning, we consider the partnership with Sauber to be stable.
“You have to understand that I don’t want to change strategy every morning. Because the world is fragmented. Because we may be at war tomorrow morning. Because we can face huge problems in many areas of business. OK – but we want to be stable.
The flexibility of this relationship suits Imparato perfectly, who you can probably tell is dead against any kind of binding long-term deal. The same attitude that means Alfa Romeo is unlikely ever to be a true F1 constructor under Imparato also facilitated this deal (which works so well for Alfa Romeo) in the first place.
That’s why Imparato isn’t blind to the potential ramifications of Audi’s interest in, say, Sauber, but is also quite puzzled as to how it might end up killing his own company’s partnership.
The nature of the original deal means that a short-term extension is all their new commitment can be. But that’s by design.
If Alfa Romeo is to leave F1 in the next few years, it will do so after a period of great value. Imparato sees it well. That’s why the deal is said to have been reconfirmed and is taking the form it takes, with Sauber running the team and Alfa Romeo, in Imparato’s words, only caring about the ‘activation’ he can do. around F1.
“Some of our competitors are very heavily locked in,” he says.
“Sauber is not locked. We are not locked. But we work together because we love motorsport. That’s it.
“It’s another business model invented in this type of discipline that is probably different from what we did in the past.”