At the Hall of Fame of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA, the international motorsport body) in Paris, France, a gallery was recently opened to celebrate the history of Formula 1 and pay homage to the heroes who made this sport great over the decades. At the same time, the Hall of Fame was created to underline the key values of the competitions: passion, excellence, innovation, integrity and respect for other competitors, so that they can inspire future motor sport champions.
Among the cars displayed at the newly established gallery is one which won the first F1 championship – the legendary Alfa Romeo ‘Alfetta’ 158. The car is part of the prized FCA Heritage collection and its presence is timely because the Alfa Romeo brand returns to Formula 1. The FCA Group brand has signed a long-term technical-commercial partnership with the Swiss Sauber F1 Team starting from the new season.
The team will be called Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, and the agreement provides for strategic, business and technological cooperation in all possible areas of development through the sharing of Alfa Romeo’s engineers and specialised technical personnel. The partnership forms the basis of additional opportunities for the two companies in Formula 1 and the automotive industry in general.
Alfa Romeo is not a new name in F1 having participated from 1950 until 1988, as both a manufacturer and as an engine supplier. At its debut in 1950, Alfa Romeo won the first Driver’s World Championship with Farina driving the 158 (which was launched at the end of the 1930s). At that time, Alfa Romeo was rising again, thanks to aviation and heavy goods vehicle production, and an increasingly appreciated automotive product.
For Ugo Gobbato, engineer and company director, the issue to tackle was racing – not in the Sports category, where Alfa Romeo was almost unbeatable, but in the Grand Prix. Alfa Corse was founded to increase competitiveness and, in parallel, a new car was designed, with a 1.5-litre supercharged engine, a category that was set to become the premier class from 1940 onwards.
The car was the GP Tipo 158, nicknamed ‘Alfetta’, which had an unprecedented inline 8-cylinder engine with twin cam timing and a Roots volumetric compressor. The gearbox and differential were a single block on the rear axle. Initially, its power was 195 hp but, in 1939, this rose to 225 hp.
With a top speed of 232 km/h, the streamlined single-seater made its debut at the Coppa Ciano in 1938, winning the first two places in front of an enthusiastic audience.
In the 1950 season, it raced in the first F1 World Championship. By then, the power output had risen to 350 hp with a top speed of 290 km/h. The 158 won 6 of the 7 races that were valid for the ranking, deserting the Indianapolis 500, as did all of the European manufacturers. Alfa Romeo remained undefeated since its debut at the Silverstone GP, winning the first 3 places in the ranking, with Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina the first champion of the newly established Formula 1.