In the third installment of this series we reviewed Ferrari’s three Drivers Championships; with the 312T in 1975 and 312 T2 in 1977 with Lauda and again with the 312 T4 in 1979 with Scheckter, plus four Constructors Championships in 1975, 1976, 1977 and again in 1979. Ferrari’s fortune changed. The 1980 season ended in disaster with a mere six points for Villeneuve and two points for Scheckter while Ferrari would finish in a dismal 10th in the Constructors Championship. As this column will show, the 1980s would see ever-increasing sponsorship funding an explosion of technology. Turbocharging, massive boost pressures, honeycomb construction, carbon fiber, Harvey Postlethwaite and Bernie Ecclestone would all be F1 game changers. Ferrari’s ever- evolving 1.5 liter turbocharged V6s allowed the under-body-space for all-important Venturi tunnels and ground effects, but Ferrari would fail miserably in the battle to best use aerodynamics efficiently.
In the pre-1966 F1 series the dominant English engine had been the ever-evolving 1.5 liter Coventry Climax FPF L4 and the FWMV V8. When the switch to 3.0 liter engines for the 1966 season was proposed, the fear was that not enough manufacture’s would build new 3.0 liter engines for the 1966 season. It was assumed that Coventry Climax would build a supercharged version of the 1.5 liter L4 or V8 and so the 1.5 liter forced induction engine option was born. That fear was unfounded as Ferrari, Repco, Maserati, Weslake, Honda and Cosworth all met the 3.0 liter challenge while Coventry Climax unexpectedly ended race engine production.
A decade later Renault would take a different path. Being French, the team’s obsession was to first win at Le Mans and then repeat that success in Formula One. In 1976 a single Garrett turbocharged 2.0 liter Renault- Alpine A442 entered the Le Mans 24 hrs. The Renault was fast, but dropped out with engine failure before mid-race. For the 1977 race the Renault Sport team fielded three team cars plus a privately entered A442, all DNFed. At Le Mans in 1978 the works Renault team entered three cars, an old A442, renamed A442A, the bubble-canopied A442B, and the A443, with all-French-drivers. The A443 was the rabbit, and while it broke in the 18th hour, it reached an impressive 236 mph on the Mulsanne Straight! The A442B inherited the lead, finishing four laps ahead of the second-placed Porsche. Following the 1978 all-French victory at Le Mans, Renault withdrew from sports car racing to concentrate their efforts in Formula One.
The bright yellow Renault RS01 had first appeared at the 1977 British Grand Prix, as the first turbocharged 1.5 liter F1 car, and the first F1 car to use radial tires, supplied, of course, by France’s Michelin. The RS01 was a test car driven by Jean-Pierre Jabouille and raced in only the last five races of 1977, in England, Holland, Italy and the US, but DNFed in each and failed to qualify in Canada. By 1978 the single RS01, now with twin turbos, entered fourteen of seventeen races, qualifying 3rd twice with a best finish of a 4th at the US GP at Watkins Glen. For 1979 Renault entered one car for Jabouille and a second car for new driver Rene Arnoux, winning their first pole position at Kyalami in South Africa. The much improved ground-effects RS10 was introduced in mid-season 1978, giving Renault its first 1-2 in qualifying and Renault’s first win, for Jabouille, at the French GP! Arnoux then finished 2nd at both Silverstone and at Watkins Glen. In 1980 Renault won in Brazil, South Africa and Austria. F1’s future would be turbocharged.
Ferrari’s first Turbo F1 car, 126 CK s/n 047, with 520 hp @ 11,500 rpm, was tested and used in practice by Villeneuve for the 1980 Italian GP. While fast in a straight line, turbo lag was immense, handling was, at best, questionable and the aerodynamics were a disaster. For the 1981 season only three teams, Ferrari, Renault and Toleman would run 1.5 liter Turbo engines. Villeneuve won lucky back-to-back victories at Monaco and Spain, plus several podium places, but poor handling and poor reliability ended Villeneuve’s 1981 Championship hopes. The late season arrival of English engineer Harvey Postlethwaite at Ferrari determined that the 126CK’s poor handling was caused by horrid aerodynamics, giving only a fraction of the downforce of the Williams or Brabham, coupled with a rock-hard suspension causing the car to slide into corners, overusing its tires. The extremely stiff springs needed to maintain a constant ride height, needed for the fixed-skirts, left the suspension virtually solid. Additionally, substantial turbo lag followed by a massive power burst continually upset the balance of the cars. Their drivers were now ensconced in the front of explosively powerful turbo cars that literally pounded down the track. In 1981 Ferrari had the most powerful engine with 560 hp @ 11,500 rpm. Villeneuve and Pironi would lead packs of better handling, naturally aspirated F1 cars on very fast circuits but became mobile chicanes in the twisty bits. Ferraris focus had always been on their engines, but the days of pure power as the path to the podium were replaced by aerodynamic ground effects, combined with low drag, as the winning factor.
In 1981 sliding skirts were banned, replaced by fixed, but slightly flexible plastic or rubber skirts, and ground clearance was now 6 cm or 2.36 inches. Gordon Murray, the engineer at Brabham, devised a hydraulic suspension to drop the Brabham BT49C closer to the ground for more downforce and therefore better aerodynamics, giving Brabham’s driver Nelson Piquet the 1981 Championship and the first of his three Championships. The 1981 season also saw the John Barnard designed McLaren MP/4 introduced as the first F1 car to use an all-carbon-fiber tub or chassis, which offered far more driver protection and chassis stiffness. Villeneuve would finish a lowly 7th, Pironi 13th and Ferrari 5th in the Constructors Championship. For those into number spotting, seven 126CKs were built for the 1980 testing and 1981 race season, 126CK s/n 047 and 126CKs s/n 049, 050, 051, 052, 053 and 054. Only s/n 047, the prototype, (which Ferraris-online sold to a Swiss client in Dec. of last year) and s/n 52, at the Galleria museum, survive.
Click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHY6wv0VlsU for Villeneuve’s improbable victory at the
Spanish GP at Jarama, 21 June, 1981. It would be Villeneuve’s last victory.
The 1981 F1 season was also a major political game-changer as Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone and the FOCA (Formula One Constructor’s Association) outmaneuvered Jean-Marie Balestre of the FIA-FISA to put F1 on course to become a profitable business, thanks to high-dollar sponsorship and television rights. The FOCA was made up of a dozen English teams, while Renault, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Talbot-Ligier, the manufacturer “works” teams, (plus Osella and Toleman) were aligned with the FIA-FISA. Under the Concorde Agreement of March, 1981, all teams had to lodge entries for the entire championship and rules were standardized for every race, while the FIA-FISA would set the prize monies. The FOCA was given the right to televise F1 races and that right was “leased” to Formula One Promotions, a company created and owned by one Bernard (I’m now a billionaire) Ecclestone. The FOCA had, in effect, become a powerful “trade union”, run by, and for the benefit of, uber-capitalist Ecclestone. All teams had to build their own cars, but were allowed to purchase engines and gearboxes from independent manufacturers.
The following 1982 season was marked by tragedy, greed and great racing, starting with a drivers strike, the ongoing FISA-FOCA war, the deaths of Gilles Villeneuve and Riccardo Paletti and the career-ending crash of Didier Pironi. Ecclestone’s Brabham team joined the turbo club thanks to 4-cylinder BMW power, while Alfa Romeo started to switch to a 1.5 liter V8 turbo. The Concorde Agreement allowed the return of sliding skirts and rock-stiff suspensions for 1982, giving even higher cornering speeds and higher g-forces, putting enormous strain on the drivers and the cars’ suspensions. With 580 hp @ 11,500 the 126 C would literally slam over any bumps, with pounding so severe that the drivers had blurred vision and exhaustion. All the FOCA teams, excluding Brabham, using the Cosworth DFV, were at a significant power disadvantage versus the turbocharged engines. Because cars were weighed before and after the race, and oil and cooling liquids could be refilled before the final weigh-in, the British teams added water tanks to cool the brakes, but in reality the water was dumped as soon as the car left the pits, giving the now-lighter Cosworth-powered cars a small advantage. The minimum weight of the cars was reduced from 585 kg (1,290 lb) to 580 kg (1,280 lb) and a “driver survival cell” cockpit was now mandatory.
The 1982 season opened in South Africa with a drivers’ strike over the FIA’s new Super-license, which was eventually resolved. The high altitude Kyalami track suited the turbocharged Renault team, which qualified 1-2 and finished 1st and 3rd, proving the turbos’ reliability. Between Long Beach and San Marino the FOCA teams water tanks were banned, resulting in a FOCA-team strike, leaving the San Marino GP a Renault-Ferrari battle. With Ferrari in the lead team boss Mauro Forghieri held out a SLOW sign while Villeneuve was leading. Pironi then passed Villenueve, which set off a team race. When Villeneuve again passed Pironi he slowed, and Pironi again passed Villeneuve. Pironi won. After the race Villeneuve said that he would never speak to Pironi again. Adding to the variables, in 1982 Goodyear, Michelin, Pirelli and Avon all supplied tires, including super-sticky two or three lap qualifying tires, limited to two sets per weekend. Drivers had only two chances to qualify well and so were forced to take dangerous risks in qualifying, hoping for a clear track, with no other cars on their cool-down or pit-in lap. That would prove to be deadly.
Only two weeks later, on 08 May, at the Belgium GP at Zolder, Villeneuve went into qualifying on his second set of tires, but on his flying lap he failed to better Pironi’s time. Instead of heading back to the pits, Villeneuve continued, came over the rise after the first chicane and caught Jochen Mass on a cool down lap going into a left-sweeping corner. Villeneuve moved to the right to pass at the same instant that Mass also moved right to let Villeneuve through on the racing line. They collided, Villeneuve’s 126 C2 s/n 058 was thrown into the air and disintegrated on landing, killing Villeneuve. Ferrari withdrew from the race, which John Watson won for McLaren. Only a month later, on 13 June, tragedy struck again at the Canadian Grand Prix. Pironi qualified on pole, but stalled at the start. His stationary car was rear-ended by the Osella of young Italian Riccardo Paletti, competing in only his second race in F1. Paletti suffered severe internal injuries and his car caught fire as the track marshals tried to extract him from his vehicle. He was pronounced dead upon arrival in the hospital. Pironi had earlier taken a 2nd at Monaco and went on to score a 1st in Holland, a 2nd in England and 3rd in France to lead the 1982 Championship, but on 08 August, in Germany, in 126 C2 s/n 060, he crashed heavily with Prost’s Renault. Pironi survived but he would never again race in Formula One.
The 1982 season saw eleven different race winners in sixteen races, with no driver scoring more than two victories. Five drivers scored their first ever Grand Prix victory: Patrese, Tambay, de Angelis, Rosberg, and Alboreto. Keke Rosberg became the first driver since Mike Hawthorn in 1958 to clinch the championship having won just one Grand Prix. Ferrari replaced Villeneuve with Patrick Tambay and Pironi with 1978 World Champion Mario Andretti, with Ferrari scoring enough points to secure the Constructors’ Championship, finishing five clear of McLaren with Renault third. On 16 Dec., Lotus team owner Colin Chapman died of a heart attack. The 1982 season saw 126 C2s s/n 055, 056, 057, 058, 059, 060, 061 and 062 all campaigned, only s/n 61 survives today. After Villeneuve’s death Ferrari crushed almost all of the surviving 126C turbo cars.
Ferrari had started the 1981 season with a traditional aluminum skin riveted over cast aluminum bulkheads, with the V6 as a fully stressed chassis member, and a beefed-up transversale transaxle carrying the rear suspension. The heads and block were only three-cylinders long, making for a short, stiff block able to take 500 + hp. Brembo brakes were used for the first time in an F1 car. Thanks to English engineer Harvey Postlethwaite, the 1982 126C2 featured a much stiffer tub, made from folded aluminum honeycomb, and the 1983 126C3 featured a completely redesigned carbon composite monocoque. Another redesign was needed when, on 03 Nov., 1982 the FIA demanded that all cars in the 1983 championship had to be flat-bottomed, with the Scuderia running modified 126C2 chassis s/n 063 and 064 in early 1983 while the new 126C3 was re-designed with 065 and 066 as the first of the all-new flat-bottomed cars.
The 1983 season was thankfully drama free, in part due to a ban on ground effects, pioneered by the Lotus 78 in 1977, and the introduction of mandatory flat bottoms for all cars. Turbo-teams now included Ferrari; Williams with Honda’s RA163 V6; ATS with the BMW M12/13; Lotus with the Renault EF1 V6; Alfa with the 890T V6; Tolman with the Hart 415T and Spirit with the Honda RA163 V6. Most engines now put out 800hp for qualifying and 650hp for the race. The Drivers’ Championship saw a four-way battle between Brabham-BMW driver Piquet, Renault driver Alain Prost and the Ferrari duo of René Arnoux and Patrick Tambay. Thanks to 620 hp @ 11,500, Ferrari drivers Patrick Tambay and René Arnoux scored four wins between them and were both in contention for the world championship throughout 1983, but late unreliability cost them both. Prost led the championship from the Belgian Grand Prix in May until the final race in South Africa in October, where a turbo problem forced him to retire and Nelson Piquet in a BMW powered Brabham was able to take the title.
The Gordon Murray-designed and 4-cylinder BMW powered Brabham BT52 had one less turbo, two fewer cylinders and eight fewer valves than its V6 Ferrari and Renault opposition, giving lower frictional losses. A distinctive dart-shaped profile and very skinny, short sidepods, gave less drag on circuits with long straights, which allowed for a larger rear wing. With 70% of its weight on the rear wheels and a massive rear wing the BT52 could put the power down quickly coming out of the corners. Because re-fueling was re-introduced, the BT52 used a small fuel tank, giving a weight advantage, and the first F1 Championship for a turbo-powered car. Thanks to Tambay’s win at San Marino and Arnoux’s wins in Canada, Germany and Holland, Ferrari again won the Constructors’ Championship. 126 C2Bs s/n 062, 063, 064 and 065 were used early in the year while 126C3 s/n 066, 067, 068 and 069 were used in the 1983 season. Only s/n 064, s/n 065 and s/n 068 survive today.
The 1984 season saw Ferrari’s new 126C4 decline to a mid-pack runner because of their poor downforce, partially offset by the massive rear wings needed to overcome the poor aerodynamics. While the 126C4’s engine at 850hp for qualifying and 680 hp @ 11,500 in race trim were the equal of the BMW and Renault engines, and more powerful than McLaren’s TAG-Porsche engines, the 126C4 produced little downforce compared to its main rivals. Both Alboreto and Arnoux protested season-long that the car lacked grip. This also had an effect on the cars’ top speeds at circuits such as Kyalami, Hockenheim, and Monza, as the cars were forced to run with as much wing as possible in order to have grip. At the season’s second race at Kyalami in South Africa, the Ferraris were 25 km/h (16 mph) slower on the long straight than the BMW turbo-powered Brabhams, primarily due to the increased drag from high wing settings. Because re-fueling was again banned, and cars were restricted to just 220 liters per race in 1984, the high wing settings also hurt fuel consumption, with both Ferrari drivers often having to ease off the power to finish races, making the races fuel-economy runs. In an effort to improve safety and slow the cars down, fuel tanks had to be mounted between driver and engine, fuel capacity was limited to 220 liters, re-fueling was outlawed, and all drivers now had to have an FIA super license to compete in F1.
In the 1984 season McLaren introduced their extremely successful MP4/2 car, which was far more effective than the 126C4 and dominated the season, with a title battle between McLaren drivers Alain Prost and Nicki Lauda, which Lauda won by a mere ½ point. The 126C4 won only once in 1984, at the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder, where Villeneuve had been killed in 1982, with new Italian driver Michele Alboreto. Ferrari ultimately finished 2nd in the Constructors’ Championship, a staggering 86 points behind the dominant McLarens. The 1984 season saw nine new 126C4s, s/n 070, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76 and 78. Only 72, 73, 74, and 77 survive.
From 1981 to 1984 the 126C series F1 cars won 10 races, took 10 pole positions and scored 260.5 points. Twenty-nine 126 CK, C2, C2b, C3 and C4 cars were built with s/ns from 047 to 077 (s/n 048 was the last T5). S/n 047 is the 1st of only 10 remaining 126 C F1 cars, they are s/n 047, 052, 061, 064, 065, 068, 072, 073, 074 and 077. All other 126 Cs were destroyed in racing accidents, test sessions or crushed by Ferrari.
In the 1970s the Cosworth V8 had leveled the playing field, with over fifty different teams joining the F1 circus. Second-level teams had to race their way into the show. As the Turbo-era evolved, an alliance with a manufacturer became a necessity, and entries slowly shrunk to the point of being under-subscribed. Thanks to all-new-levels of horsepower, setting fast lap times changed from carrying momentum through a corner to simply being able to get hard onto the throttle quickly. Front wings were minimal but insane three-and-four-level rear wings were needed to generate the rear downforce now necessary to get ever closer to 1000 hp through the tires and converted into speed to the next corner. Turbo cars could spin the rear wheels at any speed and when the driver lifted off the gas pedal at 150 mph the drag retardation from the rear wings was about 1G, before touching the brake pedal! Because of big intercoolers and turbo bodies, turbo lag was a serious issue, but packaging (and two turbos on 1.5 liters) helped minimize lag. The real skill was in managing turbo lag. Drivers had to slow the car, get it turned, and try to get on the throttle before the apex to start building the boost. Trying to use the torque to rotate the car mid-corner wasn’t easily repeatable due to the lag and the violent power delivery. If the car was reasonably straight at the apex, they became a point-and-shoot machine. Getting the turbo on-boost earliest and with the least wheel spin meant fast lap times. While spring-pressure waste gates were standard equipment, overrun blow-off valves to keep turbo speeds up were not yet part of the package.
Ever-stiffer monocoques were necessary to create a sufficiently rigid chassis structure, to cope with the massive downforce the suspension loads derived from aerodynamic and tire technology advances. The best suspension, geometry and dampers are only as good as what they hang off. The 1970s car had used 4” or more of total (compression and rebound) suspension travel and spring rates in the 500 inch-lbs rate. At that time many of the tracks were not yet baby-bottom smooth, and the effective spring rate goes infinite when the suspension bottoms out. In the mid-to-late 70s many teams went to push rod/pull rod suspensions, which both cleaned things up aerodynamically and allowed geometrical rising rate springing. Turbo power, massive wings and ground effects changed all that. Total suspension travel was now closer to an inch and spring rates climbed to the 1,500 inch lbs rate. Suspension arms and tire sidewalls acted as shock absorbers. Because of their stiffness, cornering was inconsistent and ground effects were lost when the cars hit a curb. Driving over a crack in the pavement was a serious whack. Drivers now had to make a leap of faith; a certain corner could be taken at 90mph on mechanical grip or 120mph with the tunnels working, but could never make it at 110mph. You had to make the leap.
In conversation with a client who owns both a Ferrari F1 turbo car and a 1990s Ferrari F1 V12, but with minimal racing experience, who owns both a Ferrari F1 turbo car and a 1990s Ferrari F1 V12, he says that he much prefers to track the turbo car. It needs only one supporting mechanic, starts easily, idles smoothly and has adequate torque at very low rpm, has lots of cockpit space (for those under 5’9” and 160 lbs) and is very track-friendly. He can enjoy the huge surge of power once comfortably through the corners and knows that no matter how fast he goes into a corner, the car is capable of far more speed and performance than he will ever use. He bought his turbo car nineteen years ago, when it was priced below a Daytona coupe, had the engine rebuilt by the factory upon purchase, keeps the boost down to 2-bar, (as opposed to 4.0 bar plus used in period), and has used it at track events for nineteen years without problem! Unless the reader has years of racing experience at very high levels, any F1 car is faster than you are.
The 126C s are unquestionably the best priced Ferrari F1, cars and are eligible for multiple race programs. The Boss GP series https://www.bossgp.com is a competitive pan-European series that runs at many of Europe’s most famous tracks while the British https://www.fastest.club is an example of a non-competitive series for drivers to exercise their cars. In the US, sanctioning groups such as SVRA https://svra.com or VSCDA www.vscda.org have multiple F1 cars of all eras at their events. The 126 series are, of course, also eligible for Ferrari’s F1 Clienti program and would be more than welcome at any Ferrari-focused event.
Any of the few surviving 126 series will sell in the low seven figures and the few race-winning cars, fifty percent more, if and when they come to market. Their computers are minimal, they can be operated with the help of a single mechanic and will run forever if the boost is turned down to 2-bar. This author argues that since only ten cars survive, they are a bargain as user-friendly interactive art in a world where a pop-artist such as Damien Hirst can sell a stainless steel medicine chest filled with 6000 painted pills, labeled as “Lullaby Spring”, for a staggering $17.1m at Sotheby’s London sale in 2007! For those who track just some of the sales of stainless steel medicine cabinets sold as art, Hirst also sold “Memories of / Moments with you” for $4.130m; “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” for $4.670m; “the Void” for $5m; “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way” for $6.5m; “Lullaby Winter” for $6.5m; “Fragments of Paradise” for $8.260m and “Lullaby Spring” for $17.1m. There’s no lack of insanely overpriced medicine cabinets masquerading as art!! For those who would rather have a selection of Ferrari 126 F1 cars that ran in the 1981-1984 Championship seasons (for much less than a stainless steel medicine cabinet by Damien Hirst), drop us an e-mail.
The 126 series had been a Drivers Championship failure in the 1981-1984 seasons because of Villeneuve’s death, Pironi’s injuries, poor reliability and inadequate aerodynamics. The 126 series had featured the turbos in the engine Vee and had reached 680 hp @ 11,500 rpm by 1984. For 1985 Ferrari would rely heavily on computer-aided design thanks to Aermacchi, an Italian aerodynamics company and Gould computer systems together with an all-new 1.5 liter engine with conventional turbo placement. McLaren, Honda and Renault would all find more power. Renault would introduce pneumatic valves which would ultimately give 19,000 rpm engines, while Ferrari would be very late to the pneumatic valve revolution. Over the next four years boost would go from unlimited to 4.0 bar to 2.5 bar and then, in 1989, to a new 3.5 liter atmospheric engine formula. Like the 126, the 1985-1988 Ferrari 156 turbo cars were not championship winners, but that story will be part of the following column. Stand by for the 1985-1988 Turbo-era.
Thanks to the following, in alphabetical order: John Amette, (Ferrari Newport Beach Classiche); Arnaud Blanfuney; Ross Bowdler; Andy Dayes; Scott Drnek, (Virtuoso Performance); Trevor Griffiths; Alastair Henderson; Kevin Kalkhoven (Cosworth Engineering); Mike Matune; Paul Osborn (Cars International); Nigel Petras; Thor Thorson (Vintage Racing Motors) and Matthias Urban (f-register.com).