Alfa Romeo Sauber confirms F1 seats for Leclerc, Ericsson

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ARESE, Italy (AP) — The newly rebranded Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 team announced Saturday that its 2018 driver lineup will consist of Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson.

Formula Two champion Leclerc, who is a product of Ferrari's junior program, had been expected to make the step up to F1, and it was confirmed that Ericsson will retain his seat.

Ferrari chairman and FIAT Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne made the announcement at a news conference at the Alfa Romeo museum to launch the new partnership with Sauber.

"I am happy to be able to say that the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 team will also give young drivers the chance to show what they can do," Marchionne said. "That has always been the case in the history of Sauber: you just need to look at the fact that two champions of the caliber of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa both debuted with Sauber."

Raikkonen won the title in 2007 while Massa was second behind Lewis Hamilton in 2008.

Leclerc, who turned 20 in October and is from Monaco, became the youngest F2 champion last season, dominating the title race and eventually winning by 72 points.

The 27-year-old Ericsson has been at Sauber since 2015. His best finish was eighth in his first race for the team.

Antonio Giovinazzi, another Ferrari product, will be the team's third driver.

Leclerc and Ericsson unveiled the team's livery, pulling back covers to reveal a red and white showcar, with a large Alfa Romeo logo on the engine cover. Next year's car will also be equipped with Ferrari power units.

Alfa Romeo has joined up with the Sauber team for a return to Formula One after an absence of more than 30 years.

"I believe today is a special moment not only for us but for all of Italy," Marchionne said.

The Alfa Romeo name last appeared in F1 in 1985, although its biggest achievements came during the series' first two years, when Giuseppe "Nino" Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio won the 1950 and 1951 titles, respectively.

The significance of Alfa Romeo's return to the sport was highlighted by the presence of F1 chairman Chase Carey and FIA president Jean Todt.

"It's a very important agreement for F1," Todt said. "We have big challenges ahead of us and having the contribution of Alfa is essential for the future of F1."

Sauber finished bottom of the constructors' championship last season and team principal Frederic Vasseur is hoping the partnership with Alfa Romeo will push it swiftly up the standings.

"We've got a long way to go to catch up and succeed," Vasseur said. "But Mr. Marchionne is not the most patient so we have to speed things up."

Indeed, Marchionne said he was expecting results on the track.

"It has a Ferrari engine and in Leclerc and Ericsson two drivers with exceptional talent," he said. "We don't have high expectations for the first year but I think we can definitely improve the position from last year."

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