Ferrari F1, #7, 1996-1999: The Early Schumacher Years

Where We Left Off

In the sixth installment of this series we reviewed the John Barnard designed 639 and 640, the Steve Nichols and Jean-Claude Migeot designed 641 and 642, the Jean-Claude Migeot designed F92 and F93, and the John Barnard and Gustav Brunner designed 412 T and 412 T2. None were successful. As the best funded team with two of the best drivers of the era, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost, Ferrari’s 1989-1995 V12 F1 cars should easily have been dominant, but internal turmoil, mechanical failures, obsolete engine technology, inept management and poor aerodynamics doomed the team, with a best finish of only a 2nd in 1990 in the 1989-1995 Constructors’ Championships.

Technology moved to all new levels. All teams now used CAD (Computer Aided Design) which allowed the entire car to be designed on computer. The CAD was linked to machine tools thanks to CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) allowing on-screen components to be manufactured virtually independent of human intervention. FEA (Finite Element Analysis) was able to predict and analyze the structural components of all body and mechanical components throughout the design, for maximum strength with minimal weight. CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) allowed the aerodynamic performance of all components to be predicted and changed as needed as the car was designed and built. Wind tunnel testing now used laser beams to “visualize” turbulence and measure airflow for maximum downforce with minimal drag. The net result was an amazingly strong tub that weighed a mere 35 K or 80 lbs and cars that were built underweight so that ballast could be strategically placed for weight distribution!

1996: New Drivers, New Designers, But Not Enough

Ferrari changed their driver line-up for the 1996 Formula One season, replacing Berger and Alesi with former Jordan driver Eddie Irvine, and former Benetton driver and two-time defending world champion Michael Schumacher, for a salary of around $30 million a year!

Ferrari’s powerful but thirsty and complex 3.0 liter Tipo 044 V12 was replaced by the more compact, less complex and less thirsty Tipo 046 3.0 liter V10 engine for 1996. The F310 was the first Ferrari to carry most of the driver’s information and read-outs in the steering wheel, with a backup dashboard.

The F310 proved to be a front-running car, but Schumacher was only able to win three Grands Prix. The F310’s shortcomings were exemplified by Irvine’s eight straight retirements, most of them mechanical, as well as three straight double retirements.

The Patrick Head and Adrian Newey designed Williams FW18 had the driver sit lower in the cockpit, for a lower center of gravity. The FW18 also responded well to set-up changes, being that rare car that was competitive on all types of circuits, complementing Damon Hill’s smooth driving style. The Renault V10 powered Williams, with Damon Hill and teammate Jacques Villeneuve, dominated the field, with both Hill and Villeneuve each winning four races and the duo sharing six 1-2 finishes! Hill and Villeneuve fought for the title, which was decided in Hill’s favor at the final round in Japan when Villeneuve’s FW18 lost its right-rear wheel. Hill scored 97 points with Villeneuve in 2nd with 78 points and Schumacher 3rd with 59 points, while Irvine scored a mere 11 points. Williams won the Constructors’ Championship with 175 points over Ferrari’s 2nd with 70 points.

For those into number spotting, Ferrari built F310s s/n 165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170 and 171. All survive.

1997: Schumacher Versus Villeneuve

For the 1997 season safety continued to improve, all cars had an onboard ADR (accident data recorder) to analyze evolving safety measures and the FIA had to approve all chief medical officers and medical centers prior to every race. As an example, at the 1997 British GP fifty doctors were on duty around the track and in the medical center, supported by twenty-five ambulances and their crews.

Thanks to the addition of Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, the 1997 F310B would be much more reliable, with the season featuring a mano a mano between two-times F1 Champion Michael Schumacher in the improved F310B versus the 1995 CART and Indy 500 Champion Jacques Villeneuve in the Renault V10 powered Williams FW19. Villeneuve would win in Brazil, Argentina, Spain, England, Hungary, Austria and Luxembourg (held at the Nurburgring); Schumacher would win at San Marino, Monaco, Canada, France, Belgium and Japan. The championship was decided at the last race of the year, the European Grand Prix at Jerez, Spain when Schumacher (in s/n 178) deliberately rammed Villeneuve as Villeneuve made an inside pass. Schumacher managed to punt himself into the gravel trap which saw him stripped of his 2nd place in the championship by the FIA as punishment for an obviously avoidable accident. Villeneuve won the 1997 F1 Drivers’ Champion with 81 points and Williams won the Constructors’ Championship with 123 points over Ferrari in 2nd with 102 points. This author was at a Ferrari Club of America F1 race-watch party (and the token Canadian in the group) cheering for Villeneuve when Schumacher ran into Villeneuve, ending his day parked in the kitty litter.

For those into number spotting, Ferrari built F310Bs s/n 172, 173, 174, 175, 176, 177, 178, 179 and 180. All survive.

1998: Schumacher Versus Häkkinen

The 1998 season’s Rory Byrne designed F300 had to be built around significant technical changes made to reduce cornering speeds and aid overtaking. The first was the reduction of the car’s track, from 2 m (6.6 ft) to 1.8 m (5.9 ft), The second was the introduction of grooved tires rather than slicks: the fronts would have three grooves, with four grooves on the rears. Grooved tires would remain in Formula One until the reintroduction of slicks in 2009. Tire tethers were also introduced to keep wheels from bouncing free in accidents.

The F300 featured a Willem Toet designed “up and out” periscope exhaust which kept heat away from the gearbox, allowed the shorter exhaust needed for the high-revving V10 engine, and allowed a “tighter” rear body. The F300 was both competitive and reliable, with only three DNFs each for both Schumacher and Irvine, although the F300 was aerodynamically inferior to the McLaren MP4/13. Ferrari nevertheless had a strong season, highlighted by a 1–2 finish in France, their first since 1990, with Eddie Irvine holding off Häkkinen to finish 2nd behind Schumacher.

Häkkinen in the McLaren MP4/13 built up a clear championship lead, but a strong mid-season resurgence from Schumacher saw a hat-trick of wins in Canada, France and England, and later wins in Hungary and Italy to put the two title contenders equal on points going into the penultimate round at the Nürburgring. Schumacher took pole but Häkkinen ultimately had the race pace and won.

In the season ending race at Japan, Schumacher took pole but then stalled on the grid. He fought back relentlessly from the back of the pack, getting to 3rd, but a puncture on Schumacher’s F300 handed Häkkinen the championship with 100 points over Schumacher’s 86 points. David Coulthard, Häkkinen’s teammate, was 3rd with 56 points. Irvine finished 4th with 47 points. McLaren won the Constructors’ Championship with 156 points over Ferrari with 133 points. The previous year’s champions, Williams, had lost both Chief Designer Adrian Newey and Renault engines, giving Williams a distant 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship and reigning Drivers’ Champion Jacques Villeneuve a winless season and a pair of 3rds for 5th in the Championship with 21 points.

For those into number spotting, Ferrari built s/n F300 s/n 181, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188 and 189. S/n 182 was not built and the others all survive.

1999: A Häkkinen Repeat

For the 1999 season the FIA now required a minimum of four trackside medical intervention cars and an FIA doctor car. The ADR had to be in operation during testing and an extractable driver’s seat was now mandatory. Rory Byrne would build the F399, an update on the 1998’s season F300, with only minor evolutionary changes. The season started well with Irvine winning the opening round in Australia, while Schumacher collected podiums along with wins at Imola and Monaco, making the F399 a serious threat to both Häkkinen and Coulthard’s Mercedes powered McLaren MP4/14. Racing was close with Häkkinen, Irvine, Coulthard and Heinz-Harald Frentzen all having a chance at the title at various stages. Irvine followed his win in Australia with wins in Austria and Germany, while Schumacher won at San Marino and Monaco but broke his leg at the season’s 8th race in England in F399 s/n 192. Telemetry showed that the rear brakes failed at 307.5 kms: he locked the front brakes at 204 kms and hit the barrier at 108 kms. Mika Salo took Schumacher’s place for the next six races.

Schumacher returned for the 15th and penultimate race, the inaugural Malaysian Grand Prix. Irvine was 1st with Schumacher 2nd but both were disqualified due to an infringement on their bargeboards.. Ferrari was reinstated on appeal, giving Irvine a four-point lead before the final race in Japan. Häkkinen won the race and the Drivers’ Championship. Schumacher was 2nd with Irvine 3rd, not enough to beat Häkkinen, but enough to give Ferrari the Constructors’ Championship, their first since the 1983 season, and paved the way for the Michael Schumacher era of Ferrari dominance from 2000 to 2004, with Schumacher retiring at the end of the 2006 season.

For those into number spotting, Ferrari built s/n F300 s/n 190, 191, 192, 193, 194, 195, 196 and 197.

How Many “Schumacher” Cars?

Today’s buyers are Schumacher–obsessed. We find it necessary to explain to would-be-owners that Schumacher tested or raced at Ferrari from very late 1995 to the end of 2006 and drove about ninety two different Ferrari F1 test and race cars, starting with a 412 T2, probably s/n 163, then F310 s/n 165, a test car, and F310 s/n 166 which he raced at Brazil in 1996. The last car he drove was probably s/n 258, an F2007 test-only car built in late 2006. Schumacher raced approximately 50 different Ferrari F1 cars in the Championship winning years, and tested most of the rest, so there’s no lack of Schumacher-driven Ferrari F1 cars. While some drivers have “lucky cars” and stick with one main car for a season, Schumacher drove multiple different cars every race season, so it’s very hard to say that any specific Ferrari F1 car is a Championship winner, but instead simply one of the cars driven in one of the Championship years from 2000 to 2004.

The Cost of Ownership

Any of the V10-era Ferraris move to a whole new level of mechanical, electronic and operating complexity. Software and computers are proprietary, Ferrari trained mechanics are mandatory. Engines must be preheated before starting and the quick-release steering wheels and the driver’s information interface got ever more complicated. Neutral, pit radio, radio acknowledge, pit in, pit lane speed, color shift point LED lights and rotary controls for brake balance, ignition timing, oil transfer and clutch bite point were all controlled from the carbon fiber steering wheel. Today, F1 drivers make multiple adjustments per lap, while enduring as much as six-G’s of cornering force for two hours, with every lap’s time separated by mere fractions of a second. Any F1 driver dedicates his life to simulator test sessions, in-car test sessions, public “PR” events and high-energy workouts in the gym. They are very highly paid professionals, the best drivers on the planet. Any F1 car is not for those who haven’t had many years of high-level racing under their belt.

While any of the Schumacher-era F1 cars will start at $3m “ish” and go rapidly up from there, a comparable Jordan, Sauber, Arrows, Benetton, Tyrrell and other makes can be bought for under $500k and will offer the same performance. All are eligible for multiple VARA events in the US or the Boss series in Europe. Cosworth now has a heritage engine program and will reverse-engineer virtually any V8 or V10 engine. Judd will supply a 10,000 rpm 4.2 liter enduro engine with comparable horsepower, far more torque and five times the engine life for not much over $100k. Alas the 4.2 liter torque strains a fragile F1 drivetrain made to be driven on low torque, high power and high revs. There is no lack of US based shops that can maintain these non-Ferrari cars; the only thing missing is the Ferrari red racing suit with the horse on the back, the great Italian catering and the high cost.

The Market For 1996-99 V10 Cars

The F310, F310B, F300 and the F399 have always been in demand with today’s Schumacher–obsessed buyers. They are one of the more affordable (a relative term) weapons of choice to run in Ferrari’s F1 Clienti program and are fast enough to run with any of the new cars. Any of the 1996-1999 V10s will sell for in the low seven-figures and the few race winning cars, fifty percent more, if and when they come to market. This author argues that with 31 cars surviving (although a few survive as display cars only) they are user-friendly, relatively easy to operate (for an F1 car) and an absolute bargain as awesome interactive art in a world where a piece of colored canvas, such as Jasper Johns “Flag”, painted by Johns in 1954, when he was 24 years old, sold for a stupendous $36 million at Sotheby’s New York in November, 2014. Johns’ “Flag” is one of over forty works by Johns based on the US flag, which shows the flag in the form it took between 1912 and 1959, with 48 white stars on a blue background representing the then-US states (excluding Alaska and Hawaii), and with thirteen red and white stripes. For any “deeper meaning” on Jasper Johns and his art work, Google can give you endless analysis

The Next Chapter

Schumacher, partnered with Rubens Barrichello from 2000 to 2005, would win five consecutive drivers’ titles from 2000 to 2004, thanks to the dominating Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne designed cars! In 2002 Schumacher won the title with a record six races remaining and finished on the podium in every race. In 2004 Schumacher won twelve out of the first thirteen races and went on to win a record 13 times as he won his final title. Fernando Alonso, in 2005, driving Renault’s reliable R25 in the 2005 season and R26 in 2006, would take the Championship in both years, with Schumacher retiring at the end of the 2006 season. Stand by for the 2000 – 2004 Schumacher 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 Petas; Glen Smale (Porsche Road & Race); Thor Thorson (Vintage Racing Motors) and Matthias Urban (