Alfa Romeo officials announced this week that the brand was extending its partnership with the Sauber Formula 1 team.
Brand CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato said that though EV production appears to be the inevitable future of car companies—sooner rather than later in many cases—the hybrid roar of Formula 1 is still a smart platform to promote a brand.
The CEO plans to stay out of driver discussions with the F1 team that carries the Alfa Romeo name.
This week, two big announcement's rocked new Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato's office in Turin, Italy, within a about a 48-hour stretch.
One bit of news was that Alfa Romeo was extending its partnership with the Sauber Formula 1 team. The other was the news that the European Union had advanced legislation seeking to phase out internal combustion engine-powered cars by 2035 as part of a greater climate initiative.
Just another week in the life of a car company boss—one who just happens to have signed the deal to keep the company name at the forefront of a Formula 1 team.
"When I joined the team at the very beginning of 2021 January, my first priority was not this one," Imparato told Autoweek in video call from Alfa Romeo headquarters in Turin, Italy, on Friday. "I said I will not (make a decision about Formula 1) until Q2.
"While we were working on (the Formula 1 deal), immediately in parallel, we had inside information coming from everywhere, the last one being two days before, about the European guidelines around the 2035 potential ban on ICE and the minus 55 percent (cut in CO2 emissions) by 2030.
"If it is confirmed that in 2035 you have a potential ban of ICE in the world or Europe and probably other regions, including your region (the U.S.), it will be something that will change everything in the way we conduct our job. I’m 55 years old, and I’ve been working in this sector since 1990. It’s one century of development and technology and everything changing in 10 years. It's not only EV, but it’s also connectivity, software, everything."
Imparato, formerly the vice president at Peugeot, said that though EV production appears to be the inevitable future of car companies—sooner rather than later in many cases—the hybrid roar of Formula 1 is still a smart platform to promote a brand and send the world a message loud and clear.
While Formula 1 is not EV, it promotes a strong message of efficiency. That message resonates with the consumer, Imparato says.
"We ask what is the best way for us to support our changes, and it was very quick for us to say (that) the best motorsport in the world to support an efficiency message is Formula 1." Imparato said. "I started with product plan (for the future), and we joined the conclusion that we wanted to support our new life with something based on efficiency, and Formula 1 was the right answer."
That was the sales pitch that Imparato made to his boss, Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis—the parent company to the Alfa Romeo brand.
"The return on investment is what I needed to justify when I asked my president Carlos (Tavares) that I need some millions to extend our agreement (in Formula 1)," Imparato said. "And you know with Carlos, it is precise in terms of return on investment.
"At that point, it was a second question. Is there a conversion between the awareness of Formula 1 and Alfa Romeo? I asked the question. When you receive the figures for Formula 1 in the world, in terms of awareness, it’s incredible. You are known everywhere. Everywhere. In terms of return on investment, efficiency, plus awareness, it was quite obvious to focus on Formula 1 to support my strategy."
That marketing strategy, for now anyway, does not include rolling out new Alfa Romeo programs in other major series, including IndyCar—a series rumored to be on Alfa Romeo's radar as a possible challenge to IndyCar constructors Chevrolet and Honda.
"The decision to go and extend the agreement (in Formula 1) is not a light one for Alfa Romeo," Imparato said. "It is something serious because it costs—even if it is reasonable and convergent—it costs a lot. It is not something that I play with. If I go for Formula 1, I focus on my energies and resources of Alfa Romeo on Formula 1. It means that I have to select my investments. For the moment, now, I said only Formula 1, only Formula 1, only Formula 1.
"I don’t know if I’ll have other opportunities. I will never close the door."
Of course, show Imparato the money, and he'll show you a manufacturer willing to slap Alfa Romeo stickers and technology in plenty of other series.
"If you give me the cash, my friend, give me all of the cash, and I will give you 360 degrees. I'll take everything—the WEC, Formula 1, motobike, everything—because I love engines. But I have to be reasonable. So, for the moment, I select the highest efficient discipline I think in motorsport."
And for now, that's Formula 1.
Before we let Imparato get back on the Turin-to-Silverstone shuttle for the F1 British Grand Prix, we had to ask about Alfa Romeo's driver situation for 2022. Namely, who will ultimately make the call as to whether or not the team will welcome back current driver Kimi Raikkonen next season. Raikkonen, who turns 42 in October, may or may not be in Alfa Romeo's plans for next season. That decision, the car boss said, will go to Alfa Romeo F1 team principal Frederic Vasseur.
You can leave Imparato out of that discussion.
"I know how to sell cars," Imparato said. "I know how to manage a brand. Frederic knows how to manage a team. We cannot have two bosses in the same type of decision. I am humble on that point. There is one guy who decides. It is Frederic Vassuer. He will decide at the appropriate time in terms of drivers.
"I can have a personal view, and I can imagine so many things, but we want one guy. If you make confusion, you end up with a mess. And we don’t want that."