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Marchionne: Alfa Romeo F1 team could nurture young Italian drivers

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Ferrari president and Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne remains open to bringing the Alfa Romeo brand into Formula 1, believing it could help to nurture the next generation of Italian drivers.

Marchionne has previously raised the idea of Alfa Romeo returning to F1, with its name having not graced the grid since the 1980s.

Marchionne spoke about a possible return during his annual pre-Christmas media lunch, saying that Alfa Romeo could act as a B-team for Ferrari’s young drivers.

“Alfa Romeo could become a fine breeding ground for young Italian drivers,” Marchionne is quoted as saying by La Repubblica.

“The best one, [Antonio] Giovinazzi, is already with us, but there are others besides him, and they are struggling to find space.

“Alfa Romeo, more than our customer teams [Haas and Sauber], could offer them that space.”

Besides the recently-signed Giovinazzi, Ferrari also has Charles Leclerc, 19, and Antonio Fuoco, 20, on its books, who are both poised to race in GP2 next year for Prema.

However, Marchionne did stress that Alfa Romeo needed to focus on its road car operations before an entry into F1 could be seriously considered.

“There is room for an Alfa Romeo return, possibly as a collaboration with Ferrari,” he said.

“Not yet, though, because Alfa must first make money through sales of the Giulia and the Stelvio [cars].”

The last driver to come through the ranks with Ferrari support and reach F1 was Jules Bianchi, who raced for Manor in 2013 and 2014 before his death at the age of 25.

Recently-signed Williams racer Lance Stroll, 18, was previously part of the Ferrari Driver Academy before parting company with the Italian marque at the end of 2015.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.