Part 53 – A New Formula: Ferrari in Formula 1

The History of the Italian Automobile

Part 53 – A New Formula: Ferrari in Formula 1

By: David Cavaliere

One of my passions for many years has been the top level of motor racing – Formula One. Although the races contested are called Grand Prixes, that race designation precedes F1 by many years. The first Grand Prix was in France more than a century ago in 1906. The race was won by a Renault, with Felice Nazzaro driving a F.I.A.T. in second place. Formula One, or F1 began in 1950. The only team that was there at the beginning that is still with us today is Scuderia Ferrari; although to be honest the team missed the first race of the championship (due to a dispute with the race promoter over starting money). The team debuted in the second race of the 1950 season – the Monaco Grand Prix.

This past weekend marked the opening of the 67th F1 season. The 20-race campaign began in Melbourne, Australia. I had the chance to walk the circuit after the race in 2000, the year that Ferrari began its dominant run of five consecutive championships. Following a Ferrari 1-2, the prancing horse flags of the Scuderia flew in the city’s vibrant “Little Italy” for days following the race. After three years of Mercedes dominance, Ferrari not only took the fight to the Silver Arrows, but claimed the top step of the podium. This was the first time that the team has won the opener since 2007, which was also the last time the team had a driver win the championship. Yes, there is a long way to go, but this season has seen a raft of changes that may well help the boys from Maranello. The cars are wider, grippier, faster and tougher to drive. This month also saw the passing on March 10th of John Surtees. He was the 1964 World Champion who later operated his own team; but it was while driving a Ferrari that he gained his greatest success (on four wheels). Given these recent events, I thought it appropriate to write a retrospective of the cars driven by the Ferrari F1 champions.

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The first driver to win the F1 championship for the Scuderia was Alberto Ascari in ’52 and ’53. During those two seasons, he won nine consecutive races, a record that was not tied until 2013. The second Ferrari driver to win a championship was the great Juan Manual Fangio in 1956. Late in the 1955 season, the Ferrari team purchased the Lancia team’s D50 chassis after Lancia pulled out of the sport. Fangio, Peter Collins and Eugenio Castellotti raced the D50s successfully in the ‘56 season. Collins had two wins, but Fangio won three races and his fourth championship. For 1958, Carlo Chiti designed an entirely new car for F1 – the Ferrari 246 Dino. The team drivers were Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins and Luigi Musso. That year, Musso died at the French Grand Prix and Collins died at the Nürburgring in Germany. Sterling Moss had won four races to Hawthorn’s one, but the Ferrari driver won the World Championship and soon after announced his retirement. Although terminally ill with kidney disease, he died 95 days after his last F1 race when his Jaguar skidded on a wet roadway at high speed. Years later, a witness to the accident, privateer F1 owner Rob Walker, admitted that he had been racing with Hawthorn at the time of the incident.

The last front-engine F1 car to win a driver’s championship was in 1961. In that season, new rules limited engines to 1500 cc. The team’s drivers were Phil Hill, Wolfgang Von Trips and Richie Ginther. Another Chiti-designed car was débuted – the Ferrari 156, forever known as the “sharknose.” Hill and Von Trips fought for the championship through most of the season. Tragically, during the season’s penultimate race, Von Trips crashed and perished at the Italian Grand Prix, claiming the lives of 14 spectators. Hill went on to become the first American to win the championship.

For the 1964 season, Ferrari ran the 158 model designed by Mauro Forghieri, featuring a V8 engine designed by Angelo Bellei. John Surtees, a former three-time motorcycle champion, became the only man to reach the sports pinnacle on two and four wheels. Surtees won two races and although the Ferrari was slower than the Lotus of Jim Clark, its vastly superior reliability made the difference. In the last two races in North America, while Enzo protested against the sporting authorities, the Ferrari’s were entered by private team NART and painted in the U.S. color-scheme of blue and white.

It would be another 11 long seasons before Ferrari won another Driver’s Championship. The team came close in 1970. The Scuderia raced an all-new flat-12 engine (actually a 180° V12 configuration), which would be used by the team for the next ten seasons, but a Driver’s Championship wouldn’t come to the team until 1975, with Niki Lauda behind the wheel of the 312T. It used a traverse gearbox, and with Lauda’s extraordinary development skills, he easily won the championship. He was on pace to repeat in 1976, but his fiery crash at the German Grand Prix almost cost him his life. Despite five wins for the season, he famously lost the title by a single point to James Hunt of McLaren, when he pulled out of the last race of the season, a miserably rainy day at Fuji in Japan. The competiveness of the two men was wonderfully depicted in Ron Howard’s 2013 film “Rush.” Lauda returned to win his second championship in 1977 with the Ferrari 312T2. In order to comply with the revised aerodynamic rules, the car no longer featured an airbox behind the cockpit. Instead, NACA shaped air intakes were incorporated into the cockpit sides, feeding air into each bank of the engine. The wheel base was also extended by 1.5 inches.

In 1977-1978, the F1 world was aerodynamically turned upside down when Bernoulli’s principle of fluid dynamics was applied to create “wing cars.” This principle placed Ferrari at a disadvantage, due to the width of its flat 12 engine; nonetheless, the team won the Driver’s Championship with Jody Scheckter in 1979. The car was entirely uncompetitive the following year and as Formula One entered the turbo era of the 1980s, Ferrari came close in 1982, winning the Constructor’s Championship. But that year saw the death of its driver Gilles Villeneuve (whom Enzo Ferrari nicknamed “the Prince of Destruction”) and a career-ending injury to Didier Pironi. The Driver’s Championship continued to elude the Scuderia throughout the decade. The 1990s brought driver’s aids to the forefront and although it was Ferrari that introduced the now ubiquitous paddle-shifting system to the world, it was a decade where active suspension and aerodynamics advances left the Scuderia just a touch behind the top teams. Their titantic battles against Williams, Benetton and McLaren are legendary, but it was not until 2000 that F1’s “Dream Team” of drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, designer Rory Byrne, team principal Jean Todt and technical director Ross Brawn won its first of five consecutive Driver and Constructor Championships. Schumacher won his first title with the team driving the F1-2000, followed by the F2001, F2002, F2003-GA and F2004. Ferrari dominated the 2002 F1 season, winning 15 out of 17 races. In 2004, Schumacher won 13 of the 18 races and 12 of the first 13 of the season – both F1 records.

A few years later, Finnish driver Kimi Räikkönen drove the F2007 to the championship for the Scuderia. He is the last Ferrari driver to win the championship. The following year, Felipe Massa was “champion” for about 40 seconds, having won the final race and needing Lewis Hamilton to finish sixth or lower. As rain fell late during the race, Hamilton – an exceptional wet-weather driver, was able to move into fifth place on the last corner of the last lap, to take his first championship, leaving Massa one point shy. In 2010 and 2012, it was Fernando Alonso who narrowly missed winning the driver’s title. With the new cars for 2016, could this be the year that Ferrari reclaims the championship? Only time will tell.

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