Wednesday, 21 February 2018 09:00

Alfa Romeo 177: an all-Italian Alfa F1

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Originally written by Roberto Motta and published at velocetoday.com, reproduction after permission

Modified by Angelos Fotsinos

Even though many people have not heard of it, the Alfa Romeo 177 is one of the most important cars in the long racing history of Alfa Romeo.

The 177 took part in only four races without achieving a win or even a significant result, however it signaled the return of Alfa Romeo to the Grand Prix World, with an all-Italian project which encompassed the car, the chassis, the engine and of course, the driver. 

Alfa Romeo withdrew from Grand Prix racing in 1951 after winning the World Championship with Nino Farina in 1950 and with Juan Manuel Fangio in 1951 driving the Tipo 158/9 Alfettas.

During the '60s, several minor teams used Alfa Romeo engines but it was in 1970-1971 when the firm officially returned to F1 circuits, only as engine provider to McLaren and March, though.

 

Brabham Alfa Romeo

In 1976 Alfa Romeo agreed to supply engines to Brabham until the end of 1979 season.
However, the temptation to return to Formula One with a car built entirely by the italian marque was very strong for the Milanese management.
So, in 1977, Ettore Massacesi, the general manager, gave the order to Autodelta to develop a new F1 car.
Autodelta was the racing department of Alfa Romeo and its new workshop was situated at Settimo Milanese, a small town near Milano.
Carlo Chiti was chosen as the technical manager for the development of the new Alfa Romeo racing project.

 

Alfa 177 Test

The new car was powered by the Chiti designed Alfa twelve-cylinder boxer engine used by Brabham in 1976.
This engine, called Type 115-12, in its last version was able to produce 520 hp at 12000 rpm.
The chassis used an aluminum monocoque with the engine mounted in a semi stressed configuration.
The front suspension was composed by unequal length wishbones, and a balance arm connected to vertical groups of shock-absorber was combined with progressive coil springs inside the body.
The rear suspension also used upper and lower wishbones, with a set up very similar to the front.
Adjustable anti-roll bars were used front and rear.
The car used four ventilated disc brakes, with Lockheed double-piston brake calipers and Ferodo pads.
The front discs were mounted at the wheels and the rear mounted inboard near the differential.
Weight was just at 600 kg (1322.77 lbs.), the chassis had a wheelbase of 2740 mm (107.87 in), front wide track of 1660 mm (65.35 in) and rear track of 1610 mm (63.38 in).
Two fuel tanks were mounted in a lateral position, and held 200 liters.

 

Alfa 177 Test 2

When it was designed, the 177 was unquestionably an advanced single-seater.
Unfortunately the only chassis built, serial number 177-001, was not ready until May 1978 and for a number of reasons was not able to make its debut until the 1979 season.
In that same period, Colin Chapman introduced firstly the Lotus 78 and secondly the 79, cars that established the use of the ground effect design.
This completely changed the engineering of Formula 1 cars, and the Alfa Romeo 177 became virtually obsolete before its debut; the reason why the car did not make any significant impact.
Despite of being upstaged by the new Lotus, the first entirely new in-house Alfa car since 1938 would serve to ensure the return of Alfa to Grand Prix racing.
The development continued and on May 30 , 1978, the 177 was tested at Balocco, the Alfa Romeo’s test track, with Vittorio Brambilla at the wheel.
In this first test the body was still unpainted and used Pirelli tires.

 

Lauda Alfa 177

In August of the same year the Pirelli tires were substituted by Goodyear ones while testing in Paul Ricard, with Vittorio Brambilla and Niki Lauda.
Autodelta hoped that the car would be able to make its debut at the Italian GP, held on September 10.
However they found the results were negative and the debut was postponed.
Brambilla participated in Monza, driving for Surtees.
During the race, his TS20 was involved in the multi-car accident which took the life of Ronnie Peterson and caused severe injuries to the ''Monza Gorilla'' – the Alfa test driver could not be able to race for almost a year.
So, during the winter season, the development of 177 continued with Giorgio Francia and later with the young Bruno Giacomelli, who both did not have experience in Formula 1.

 

Giacomelli Belgium 1979

Finally, the car made its debut at the Belgian GP on 13 May 1979.
Giacomelli recorded a 1.23.15 and qualified 14th.
Unfortunately, during the 21st lap, the Shadow DN9/B of Elio de Angelis arrived too fast in the corner and crashed into the rear end of Giacomelli's 177, resulting in retirement.
About six weeks later on July 1st 1979, the team took part in the 2nd race for that year, the French GP.
Engine problems during the qualifying limited Giacomelli to 17th place.
After a disappointing race, the Italian finished in the same position as he had started.

 

Giacomelli Dijon 1979

 

Some time later, Brambilla returned in action at a private test hosted at Hockenheim, with encouraging results.
However, the team was not present at the official practice.
On the 9th of September 1979, Alfa Romeo participated in the home race at Monza with 2 cars, with the 42-year-old Brambilla restarting his career on the same track where, an year before, he had been seriously hurt.
During the weekend, the Italian fans gave to the team and the 2 compatriot drivers an unforgettable reception.
Brambilla took part with the 177, qualified 22nd and finished at the 12th place.
Autodelta entered the brand new 179 for Giacomelli, with which the Italian started 18th but retired.

 

Brambilla Italy 1979 2

A week later the 177 ran its last race at Imola in a non-championship Grand Prix at Imola, dedicated to the memory of Dino Ferrari.
During the qualifying, Giacomelli and Brambilla took turns with the 177 but for the race the car was driven by Vittorio, as Giacomelli ran with the 179.
At the swansong of 177, Brambilla started from 6th place and finished ninth, a lap behind the winner.
The first Alfa F1 car after the return to the sport was not successful, however it established the base for a project that unfortunately, was not properly developed.

 

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