Alfa Romeo's colourful F1 history

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Political and superficial it may be, but the return of the Alfa Romeo name to Formula 1 is a nice touch. Setting aside the obvious political implications of Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne strengthening his bargaining hand, the linking of the famous marque with Sauber brings a certain feel of tradition that does no harm.

Alfa Romeo's competition history runs deep, even if the last incarnation between 1979 and 1985 was mildly embarrassing for this proud name. Alfa Romeo was winning races when Enzo Ferrari was a lad; indeed, Ferrari would cut his managerial teeth running a team for the car manufacturer in the days before the World Championship.

When the Commendatore went off to do his own thing, Ferrari and Alfa would engage in titanic battles, Juan Manuel Fangio later referring to the Alfa Romeo 159 as a sentimental favourite thanks to winning his first championship in 1951. This would be the second in succession for Alfa, after claiming the inaugural title with Giuseppe 'Nino' Farina.

With money in short supply and Ferrari's challenge strengthening, Alfa Romeo withdrew at the end of 1951, returning to the F1 paddock two decades later as an engine supplier, primarily with Brabham. Despite a glorious noise from their lusty flat-12, Alfa enjoyed just two wins, and one of them -- Sweden 1978 -- was under controversial circumstances due to Gordon Murray's ingenious Brabham fan car.

The rebirth of Alfa Romeo as a complete team in 1979 was good to see, even if the highlights were patchy and frequently curious. Out of the blue, Bruno Giacomelli put his 179 on pole for the US Grand Prix and comfortably led the final race of the 1980 season until the black box, supplied by Magneti Marelli, packed up and the V12 died. The team were distraught.

This was in the days when the podium was open to anyone with a brass neck. Hardly a race would go by without the Magneti Marelli representative -- a chubby, cheerful little man in yellow overalls -- waving to all and sundry from the rostrum. Strangely, he was nowhere to be seen when the race ended that day at Watkins Glen.

Electrics would also do for Alfa Romeo at a chaotic Monaco in 1982 when a disbelieving Andrea de Cesaris found himself in the lead on the last lap before coasting to a halt. Worse was to come at Spa where de Cesaris -- again, against all odds -- led convincingly for 18 laps until the engine blew up.

That failure was impossible for Alfa to deny and made life difficult for a team that did not like admitting to faults in their prized power units. After one particular race, a retirement was attributed to an oil leak. When questioned further by the legendary F1 journalist Denis Jenkinson, chief mechanic Ermanno Coughi (a former Ferrari man and friend of Jenkinson) said: "Si, si. Oil leak...through big 'ole in the engine."

In the final two years, the cars did not seem like Alfa Romeos at all since the firm's deep red had made way for bright green in deference to Benetton, the team's principal sponsor. Sixth and eighth in the championship summed up a lack of progress that did little for the mood, particularly between two drivers who disliked each other intensely.

If you think the atmosphere between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg was toxic at times, it was but a lovers' tiff when compared to Eddie Cheever and Riccardo Patrese. On-track collisions were frequent. On one occasion, I made the mistake of asking Cheever about his teammate. "Teammate!" he snapped. "What teammate? D'you mean that ***hole in the other green car?"

Somehow, it's difficult to imagine anything quite so colourful at Alfa Romeo Sauber in 2018. But welcome back, nonetheless.