Model history: With just two victories as an engine supplier, Alfa Romeo's return to Grand Prix racing had not (yet) lived up to the high expectations. The 1950 and 1951 World Champion struggled to keep up with the rapid pace of development in Formula 1. The 179 F1 campaigned by 'Autodelta' from 1979 was continuously updated for the better part of three seasons but without noteworthy results.
To change the odds in Alfa Romeo's favour, the Italian manufacturer had obtained the services of Gerard Ducarouge halfway through 1981. The talented French designer had previously been responsible for the Le Mans winning sports racers and, more importantly, the Grand Prix winning Ligiers. He started with making further changes to the 179 but, despite clinching a first podium finish, he quickly realised a clean-sheet design was needed for 1982.
Appropriately dubbed the 182, Alfa Romeo's latest Formula 1 car was a response to the latest development; the introduction of carbon-fibre composite chassis by McLaren early in 1981. Like McLaren, Autodelta did not have the in-house capability to produce such a sophisticated chassis and instead relied on a British supplier. The first carbon tub had actually been constructed in 1981 along 179 lines and the new 182 was visually very similar.
Used as a fully stressed member was Carlo Chiti's fabulous three-litre V12 engine. In its latest guise this high revving unit produced around 540 bhp. Although very impressive, it was no match for the new generation of turbo-charged engines on raw power. This deficit became increasingly difficult to compensate with smoother power delivery, and better reliability and mileage. It was mated to either a five- or six-speed gearbox.
Massive 'ground-effect' tunnels dominated the underside of the 182. With sliding skirts now banned a very stiff suspension was required to maintain the 'seal' with the road. Despite the many mechanical changes, the first 182 looked just as bulky as its predecessor. Fortunately it was not quite as big or heavy as it looked; the 182 tipped the scales at just 5 kg over the newly established 580 kg minimum weight.
An interim 179 was used for the season opener in South Africa. Two months later the new 182s lined up for the second round in Brazil. The pace wasn't quite there yet and neither was the reliability. At Long Beach Andrea de Cesaris scored a surprise pole in the 182's second outing. He warranted his dubious reputation by crashing out. He did eventually record the 182's first finish when he scored an impressive third at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Back in Italy, Chiti was busy developing a V8 turbo with hopes of bridging the gap to the top. Meanwhile the 182 was further refined; a narrower 182B was launched in Belgium and towards the end of the year a 182D with a slimmed down monocoque was used. A sixth for De Cesaris and a fifth for Bruno Giacomelli were small rewards for all the efforts. Alfa Romeo ended the year 10th in the constructor's tables with just 7 points.
All hope for 1983 was pinned on the new V8 engine that had been tested during the 1982 season in both a 179 and a 182. Ducarouge's new 183T had some encouraging results but again no victories were scored. Especially in its final guise, the 182 was certainly not a bad looking machine and the V12 had a glorious note. Unfortunately it proved to be too little, too late.
This was the first of six 182s built by Autodelta and used during the 1982 season. It was allocated to Bruno Giacomelli in the opening races of the year. He struggled with poor reliability in the races but did manage to place it fifth on the grid at Long Beach where team-mate De Cesaris was on pole. After eight races without a single finish, the chassis was retired. Today it resides in the fabulous Alfa Romeo Museo Storico at the company's Arese, Italy headquarters.
The final 182 built, chassis 182/6 was used by Andrea de Cesaris in the final five races of the 1982 season. Despite benefitting from almost a year's worth of developments, the 182D still proved no match for the top running teams. It was, however, by far the most reliable of the 182s; De Cesaris reached the finish three times. After its period racing career, chassis 182/6 was sold off. It is now owned by a Swiss enthusiast, who has lovingly kept it in full running order. The final V12 engined Alfa Romeo F1 car is seen here during the 2010 Goodwood Festival of Speed, where Alfa Romeo's centenary was celebrated.
By the time the cars of this era were on the track, I had already been following F1 for more than 15 years...so I well remember my enthusiasm for them. Maybe it's case of -- like the drivers of the time say -- "We didn't know any better...but, man, those drivers (and their feet and legs) were SO exposed with that far-forward driving position! Astonishing to see it now...in hindsight.