Ferrari F1, #5, The Turbo Era, 1985-1988

Where we left off
In the fourth installment of this series we reviewed the explosion of technology in the early 1980s, thanks to ever-increasing sponsorship. Turbocharging, massive boost pressures, honeycomb construction, carbon fiber tubs and Bernie Ecclestone had all been F1 game changers in the early 1980s. As by far the best funded team in the F1 Championship, Ferrari’s 1981-1984 126 C Turbo cars should have been dominant, but abysmal aerodynamics disastrous driver losses, mechanical failures, and endless internal squabbles doomed the team, winning only the 1982 Constructors’ Championship. Although Ferrari had all-new cars and new engines for the 1985-1988 season, Ferrari simply wasn’t in the running; out-engineered by TAG Porsche and Honda engines; trounced by the aerodynamically superior McLarenP4/2B, MP4/2C, MP4/4 and the Williams FW11B and out-driven by legendary drivers Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna.

1985, a good start to a bad season
Mauro Forghieri was replaced by Ildo Renzetti from Fiat, who switched from the alloy block used in the 126 to a steel block in the 156/85, to deal with the 5.5 bar qualifying boost. Fuel tanks had gone from 250 liters in 1983 to 220 liters in 1984 to 195 liters in 1985, all in a failed attempt by the FIA to freeze power in the 500-550hp range, but five-bar boost was good for 780 hp @ 12,000 rpm in qualifying in the Ferrari 156/8,5 and even more from the all-dominating Tag McLaren, the Honda-powered Williams, BMW-powered Brabham and the Renault-powered Lotus. Fuel economy would be a key to success, although boosts were turned up for qualifying and down for the race. Many powerful personalities known to today’s readers, such as Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Keke Rosberg and Stefan Bellof, (with Niki Lauda, in his last season), would make 1985 one of the all-time favorites for F1 fans. Ferrari’s Michele Alboreto started the sixteen-race season strongly with wins in Canada and Germany, and had a total of eight podium finishes, but Ferrari faded badly in the second half of the season, retiring from four of the last five races, while Ferrari driver René Arnoux was replaced by Stefan Johansson. Both Alboreto and Ferrari would finish 2nd in the Championship. Thanks to the TAG Porsche-powered McLarenP4/2B, Alain Prost would win his first of four titles by a 23-point margin. Both Tyrrell’s Stefan Bellof and the RAM’s Manfred Winkelhock were killed only weeks apart in World Endurance Car races. For those into number spotting, Ferrari built 156/85s s/n 078, 079, 080, 081, 082, 083, 084, 085 and 086. All survive except s/n 080.

Click on for the 1985 San Marino GP, which became a fuel economy race, when Senna’s Lotus, Johansson’s Ferrari, Nelson Piquet’s Brabham and Thierry Boutsen’s Arrows all ran out of fuel, handing the win to Alain Prost’s McLaren Tag, which ran out of fuel just as he crossed the finish line. Prost was later disqualified for being two kilos underweight, giving the win to Elio de Angelis. Boutsen finished second and Patrick Tambay finished third, both ran out of gas, pushing their cars across the last few yards to the finish line.

1986, fast, but not fast enough
By 1986 the 3.0 liter atmospheric engine was eliminated, replaced by only the 1.5 liter turbos, with no limits on the number of cylinders, the revs or the boost, making the 1986 Turbo cars the most powerful GP cars ever built! Qualifying engines with 1,200 to 1,350 hp in a 540 kg (1,190 lb) chassis and qualifying gearboxes were good for only two to four hot laps, replaced with boost-restricted engines and two-hour gearboxes for the races. For 1986 the Scuderia returned to the iron block 120° V6 and the KKK Turbos were replaced by Garretts. It did not help. Both Alboreto and Johansson stayed with Ferrari for 1986 with the hope that Harvey Postlethwaite would be able to make the 156/86 aerodynamically competitive. Although it was among the fastest cars in a straight line, the F1/86 was constantly outpaced by the better aerodynamics of the Williams-Hondas, McLaren-TAGs, Lotus-Renaults and Benetton-BMWs. While the 156/86 scored five podiums during the year, four with Stefan Johansson and one from Michele Alboreto, the 156/86 failed to score a single win, pole position or fastest lap.

The careers of Jacques Laffite and Marc Surer also ended during 1986, both through serious injury: Laffite at the British Grand Prix, and Surer in a rally crash in Germany. Brabham BT55 driver Elio de Angelis died in a testing accident at the Circuit Paul Ricard, when his rear wing detached, causing him to cartwheel over a trackside barrier, with the car bursting into flames. De Angelis couldn’t escape the fire and died of smoke inhalation. He remained the last driver to die in F1 until Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna were both killed at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. After the needless death of de Angelis, the FIA mandated that FIA medical staff and a medevac helicopter were required at both test sessions and the races.

Williams had exclusive use of the Honda RA166E 1.5 V6t which easily powered Prost to the Championship with 72 points over his teammate Nigel Mansell with 70 points while Johansson finished 5th with 23 points and Alboreto 8th with only 14 points! In the Constructors’ Championship Ferrari finished 4th with a mere 37 points compared to Williams-Honda with 141 points, McLaren with 96 and Lotus-Renault with 60 points.

Up until 1986 traditional engine valve springs had an upper rpm limit of about 12,500 rpm. Jean-Pierre Boudy, Renault’s head of engine development, introduced pneumatic valve springs on their 1.5 liter EF 15B “type-B” engine, a system that would ultimately allow 20,000 rpm engines. A small tank at app 150 bar (2,000 psi) would supply nitrogen gas at app 6-8 bar (90-115 psi) to pressurize the valve train, replacing coil wire valve springs with air pressure, eliminating both valve float and bounce. Ferrari would be very late to the pneumatic valve game.

In mid-season desperation Ferrari recruited former ATS and RAM designer Austrian Gustav Brunner to design the all-new F/87, powered by an all-new 90° 1.5 liter turboV6. Ferrari also recruited English designer John Barnard, then technical director at McLaren, in an attempt to catch their rivals in 1987. For those into number spotting, Ferrari built s/n 087, 088, 089, 090, 091, 092, 093 and 094 for the 1986 season. All survive except for s/n 087, 090 092.

1987, faster, and a late-season winner.
The Gustav Brunner designed F1/87 was a clean-sheet design powered by an all new Tipo 033 1.5 liter 90° turboV6. In an effort to slow the cars down, the FIA mandated pop-off valves which limited boost to 4.0 bar, still good enough for 950 hp for qualifying and 880 bhp for races from the Tipo 033 engine. The FIA also mandated that only 3.5 liter normally aspirated engines would be allowed beginning in 1989, and added two other Championships to the 1987 season, the Jim Clark trophy for drivers with 3.5 liter engines, and the Colin Chapman trophy for constructors with 3.5 liter engines. Only Tyrrell used the 3.5 Cosworth DFZ for the full season in their DG016, winning both the Colin Chapman Trophy and the Jim Clark trophy for driver Jonathan Palmer.

Gerhard Berger replaced Stefan Johansson in the F1/87, which showed early season potential, leading some races and scoring a 4th for Berger at Brazil and a 3rd at San Marino and Monaco for Alboreto. Reliability fell off a cliff mid-season. Berger had nine dnfs and Albereto had ten dnfs. By seasons-end reliability returned, with Berger on pole in Portugal, Japan and Australia; finishing 2nd in Portugal and winning the last two races, in Japan and Australia, with Alboreto 2nd in Australia. Berger’s wins gave Ferrari the first back-to-back wins since the late Gilles Villeneuve won at Monaco and Spain in 1981. Ferrari would go into 1988 as one of the favorites for the championship.

Nelson Piquet won the Championship, thanks to his Williams-Honda FW11B, with teammate Mansell 2nd and Senna 3rd in a Lotus-Honda 99T. Berger would finish 5th and Alboreto 7th. Ferrari would finish 4th in the Constructors’ Championship. For those into number spotting, Ferrari built s/n 095, 096, 097, 098, 099, 0100 and 101 for the 1987 season. All survive except s/n 096, destroyed at Monaco.

1988, the best of the rest
For the last year of the turbo-era the FIA limited boost to 2.5 bar and fuel to 150 liters, making the season a fuel economy challenge. John Barnard had recommended they re-map the engine to compensate for the loss in power, but Barnard’s relationship with the team was strained, as he didn’t work out of Maranello, but instead at the Ferrari Technical Office he had set up in Guildford, England. Barnard had also banned wine from the team’s lunch table at both testing and races, not the best way to endear oneself to the la dolce vita lifestyle of the Italian mechanics. Barnard’s advice was ignored and the team struggled with fuel consumption. It was not until the ninth race of the sixteen race season at the German GP that the engine management system was updated, although the Ferrari V6 was still thirstier than Honda’s V6.
McLaren was far more focused, with the best chassis and, thanks to Honda’s then-massive $50m budget, the best engine, teamed with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, arguably the then-best drivers in F1. McLaren was absolutely dominant, winning fifteen of the seasons sixteen races, As the best-of-the-rest, Berger qualified 3rd with Alboreto 4th at Monza for the Italian GP, behind Senna and Prost. From the start, Prost’s Honda had a misfire. Assuming that the misfire was bad enough that he wouldn’t finish the race, Prost turned up his boost and gave chase to Senna. On lap thirty-five Prost’s championship hopes seemed to evaporate when his Honda V6 had a very rare blow up.
Prost had, in turn, forced Senna to use too much fuel, requiring Senna to back off over the last sixteen laps to ensure a finish, which allowed the Ferraris to close the gap to a mere five seconds, with two laps to go. Senna came up to lap the Williams of Jean-Louis Schlesser, diving under Schlesser’s Williams at the chicane rather than waiting for the long, fast Curva Grande that would follow. Senna took his normal line while Schlesser moved over to give Senna room to pass. The Williams locked its brakes in the marbles and slid wide. Schlesser regained control and turned the Williams to avoid the sand trap but Senna had not left room for Schlesser, who T-boned the right rear tire of the McLaren, breaking its rear suspension and destroying any hopes of a perfect winning season for McLaren. The Tifosi erupted as the only remaining McLaren was out of the race; Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto inherited 1st and 2nd, finishing only half a second apart. As the first Italian Grand Prix since Enzo Ferrari’s death, both drivers and team dedicated the victory to the “old man”. The Italian GP would be the only double DNF in McLaren’s perfect year. Senna would win the Championship with eight wins and 90 point over Prost with seven wins and 87 points. Berger would be 3rd with 41 points while Alboreto would be 5th with 24 points. McLaren scored an awe-inspiring 199 points over Ferrari in 2nd with 65 points. Ferrari built only s/n 102 (the Italian GP winner, sold by Ferraris Online last year), 103 and 104 for the 1988 season. All survive.

Click on for Ferraris 1-2 victory at the Italian GP

What went wrong?
How could Ferrari have been so un-competitive throughout the entire turbo-era? Analyzing the response to the 1988 season’s boost reduction to 2.5 bar and 150 liters of fuel offers an partial explanation. To comply, Ferrari merely modified its 1987 engine’s combustion chamber and piston top shape to raise the compression ratio, and so Ferrari gained little in rotational speed, running to a 12,500 rpm maximum, just 500 rpm more than in ’87 and 1,500 rpm down on the Honda. The Ferrari had either comparable power or comparable fuel economy to the Honda, but nowhere near both, simultaneously. Although the F/88 could qualify with around 650bhp (well clear of the 3.5 liter atmos), at the more fuel-demanding tracks, Berger and Alboreto were forced to short-shift and brake early to save fuel, able to use only 550bhp during the race.

Honda, under the leadership of Osamu Goto, was far more aggressive. For the 1988 season Honda’s technical team kept the 80 degree angle of the V6 cylinder block, but little else. The all-new RA-168E engine reduced the bore from 82mm to 79mm for a smaller combustion chamber, as there was less fuel to burn. With a smaller bore a longer stroke was needed, meaning a very different block. The smaller combustion chamber also allowed a higher compression ratio from 7.4:1 to 9.4:1, to gain in rpm what it had lost in boost. A new red-line of 14,000 rpm easily exceeded the 1987’s 4-bar’s 12,000 rpm. Flat piston tops reduced piston surface area, minimizing heat build-up. With less fuel available, smaller and lighter valves allowed higher rpm, with better fuel economy. Each side of the block had its own water pump, with water galleries welded to the outside of the block, to absorb less heat. The coolant was then pumped to the cylinder head where temperatures are higher, eliminating cool-hot-cool flows, giving more even temperatures, eliminating hot spots. A heat exchanger pre-warmed the fuel, giving better atomization for a more explosive fuel mix. Combustion consistency and efficiency minimized the unstable combustion and/or misfiring then common with a high boost/high revs combination. The all-new RA-168E engine gave a 30% thermal efficiency, much better than both Ferrari and Honda’s 4-bar 1987 motor. The RA-168E began the season with a solid 640hp in race trim, improving to 685hp by the season’s end, with over 700bhp, thanks to no fuel restriction for qualifying. the torque curve of the RA-168E was a driver friendly 295ft/lb from 8k rpm to 12k rpm!
The Honda RA-168E engine also featured a tiny but tough clutch, which allowed the crankshaft to be lowered, and the oil pumps were moved from the bottom to the side of the block, for a “shorter” block. The lowered engine allowed McLaren to use a step-up gearbox with the diffuser sweeping upward, for far more rear downforce than was possible on the Ferrari. Significantly more power and more downforce than Ferrari gave the McLaren-Honda MP4/4 an advantage of around 1.5sec per lap over the Ferrari. No driver could overcome that differential.

Ferraris 3.5 liter V12
Only McLaren and Lotus, with Honda power, Ferrari, Arrows, Zakspeed and Osella had used the 1.5 liter engines in 1988. All other teams switched to the 3.5 liter normally-aspirated Judd CV or Cosworth DFV in preparation for the 1989 season. John Barnard had started the design and testing of Ferraris new 3.5 litre, normally-aspirated V12, semi-automatic, Tipo 639 F1 car, in the hope that the V12 car would make its race debut in 1988. It was not to be. Ongoing problems with the semi-automatic gearbox would haunt the team during the first half of 1989, or more specifically, problems with the electrical system that controlled the unique 7 speed box, meant the team was forced to use the F1/87/88C for all of 1988.

The market for Ferrari 156 Turbo cars
Like the 126Cs, the 156 turbo cars are by far the best priced Ferrari F1 cars simply because they are eligible for fewer race programs. They are not eligible for the European or US Masters series because of their explosive top-end power, rigid suspensions and speed differentials with the Cosworth powered cars. They are eligible to run up the hill at Goodwood and in Ferrari’s F1 Clienti program, but few turbo cars are ever run, as many would-be owners are intimidated by their explosive power and manual shifters. While they have more or less the same power as the modern cars, aerodynamically they are barn doors which slow rapidly when the driver takes his foot off the gas, let alone start to brake! 156/85 s/n 078 used both traditional round gauges and an electronic light bar to show rpm to the driver, by the end of 1988 the F/88 would feature an all-electronic dash. Any of the few surviving 156 series will sell in the very low seven-figures and the few race winning cars, fifty percent more, if and when they come to market. They can easily be operated with the help of a single mechanic and will run forever if the boost is turned down to two-bar. Even better, lower boost makes the turbo cars much more user-friendly and the boost more progressive. This author argues that since only twenty-two cars survive, they are a bargain as interactive art in a world where pop artist Jeff Koons can sell a ten foot tall, stainless steel Balloon Dog (Orange) statue for a staggering $58.4m! For those who track Jeff Koons Balloon Dog statues, there are five, in blue, magenta, orange, red and yellow, not to mention his Balloon Swan, Balloon Monkey, Balloon Rabbit and more. Drop us an e-mail if you would rather have a warehouse full of Ferrari F1 cars rather than a stainless steel balloon dog, swan, monkey or rabbit!

The next Chapter
Starting in 1989, Ferraris 3.5 liter V12 powered 639, and later 640s, would be driven by Nigel Mansell, in his first season with the team, and Austria’s Gerhard Berger. The John Barnard designed 639 and 640 were the first of the “Coke Bottle” Ferraris, with a sharp nose and a narrow tub, with bulging radiator side-pods, to maximize downforce. Power came from Ferrari’s Tipo 035/5, which would put out to 660 hp by the season end, without the turbo’s miserable fuel consumption. The transaxle featured the very first semi-automatic gearbox seen in F1, but its lack of reliability would end both Ferrari’s and Mansell’s Championship hopes. The new 639, 640 and 641 series were not successful, but would feature major aerodynamic understanding and improvements, but that story will be part of the following column. Stand by for the 1989-1994 3.5 liter era.

Thanks to the following, in alphabetical order: John Amette, (Ferrari Newport Beach Classiche); Arnaud Blanfuney; Ross Bowdler; Andy Dayes; Trevor Griffiths; Alastair Henderson; Mike Matune; Paul Osborn (Cars International); Nigel Petras; Thor Thorson (Vintage Racing Motors) and Matthias Urban (