Alfa Romeo - Autodelta AR 177-001
Belgian Grand Prix, Zolder, Belgium
May 13th, 1979
by Ulrich Zensen
The year 1979 was the year of the Alfa Romeo comeback to Formula One racing as a team.
We could have seen the Autodelta 3.0 litre V-8 engines in a McLaren in 1970 and in various March chassis in 1971.
These were engines derived from the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 sports car engines of these years.
From 1973 onward Alfa Romeo, through its sporting arm Autodelta, started to build 12 cylinder flat 3.0 litre engines for their cars in the sports car world championship. These engines were powerful and attracted the attention of Bernie Ecclestone, always on the search for an advantage for his Brabham team over the Cosworth-powered opposition and Ferrari, the only other team with an 12 cylinder engine.
The cooperation between Alfa Romeo and Brabham started in 1976 and ended in 1979 with an win for Niki Lauda in the Gran Premio Dino Ferrari at Imola on the 16th of September 1979. This was a non-championship race but most of the Formula One teams were entered. For the last two races of the Formula One season Brabham replaced its Alfa Romeo engines and in their place started with Cosworth powerplants.
The reason for the split with Brabham was the appearance of the first Alfa Romeo Formula One car since 1951, the Alfa 177.
The participation of Autodelta in sports car races ended in 1977 and Ing. Carlo Chiti intensified his thoughts about a return of Alfa Romeo - Autodelta to Formula One racing as a team.
We should not forget, however that Carlo Chiti had achieved great success in Formula One during his years with Ferrari. Winning the world championship with the Ferrari 156, well known as the "sharknose" Ferrari, was the work of Ing. Chiti.
The first test chassis of an Alfa 'Alfa' was built and tested in 1978, the car was named F 177 and only one was chassis built. Testing was carried out mostly on the Alfa Romeo test track at Balocco, driven by Vittorio Brambilla, but Niki Lauda also did some tests.
Spy pictures of the car appeared in the motoring press and showed an light blue car, the Autodelta color.
The first quite surprising race event for the car was the Belgian Grand Prix on the Zolder (Belgium) race circuit on 13th of May 1979.
And I was there!
Years before, I had the chance to see the Alfa Romeo March cars of Andrea de Adamich and Nanni Galli at the German Grand Prix 1971 and the Autodelta touring car squad at the Zandvoort European touring car championship race in 1972 but I never saw Autodelta cars at the sports car races and regret this up to this very day.
But now comes Formula One.
I had read rumours about an possible Alfa 'Alfa' start at Zolder in the British specialized press (I subscribed to Autosport and Motoring News during these years) but nothing was certain.
I went to Zolder together with an friend... we used my friend's VW Beetle which had the ideal color to celebrate a possible return of Alfa Romeo Autodelta to Formula One...light blue.
The race started and the Alfa 'Alfa' was there! The car was red, nearly without sponsorship.
It looked quite large in comparison to the other cars but driven by the young Bruno Giacomelli it did well indeed.
Giacomelli qualified on position 14, one place behind Niki Lauda in the Brabham Alfa Romeo.
The race ended with an collision with Elio de Angelis in an Shadow Ford who missed his braking point and hit Giacomelli.