Last week we covered how the Ferrari F150 was now in fact the F150th Italia, the result of a legal move by Ford.  Their best-selling series of pick-up trucks goes under the F-150 name, a trademark the American carmaker was keen to protect.  Keen enough, in fact, that the car isn’t called the F150th Italia anymore either.

Ferrari’s consistently barmy Horse Whisperer column tells it like this:

“It might seem like a Kafkaesque scenario, but the affair relating to the name of the car with which Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa will tackle this year’s Formula 1 World Championship saw its final and decisive episode played out these past few days with the concomitant withdrawal by Ford of the summons.  Therefore common sense has prevailed.

“In order to avoid the slightest risk of anyone confusing a Formula 1 car with a pick-up truck, for their part, the men from Maranello have decided that the car will lose the F that precedes the number 150 and which stands for Ferrari, as it has done on numerous occasions when it’s come to giving a car a code name, be it for the race track or the road.  It appears that this could have caused so much confusion in the minds of the consumer across the Pond that, at the same time as losing the F, the name will be completely Italianised, replacing the English “th” with the equivalent Italian symbol.

“Therefore the name will now read as the Ferrari 150° Italia, which should make it clear even to the thickest of people that the name of the car is a tribute to the anniversary of the unification of our country.  Let’s hope the matter is now definitely closed and that we can concentrate on other matters, namely ensuring that our car that already seems to be pretty good out of the box, becomes a real winner.”

If we were being particularly picky and tedious, we could all point out that if you let one trademark infringement go, you invite a million others, so Ford are as entitled to have a quiet word in the ear of Ferrari’s lawyers as they are sensible to do so.  Before being picky and tedious, you might want to go back and enjoy that magnificent rant one more time.

We’re used to Ferrari being an unstoppable winning machine.  Their cars have won at least one race in every season since 1994, taking 15 wins from 17 races in 2002 and 15 from 18 in 2004.  It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way, that the Maranello concern was once very capable of designing cars that went like trucks, looked like trucks or, in one remarkable instance, both.

Went like a truck: Ferrari F93A

In late 1991, four-time world champion Alain Prost compared his Ferrari unfavourably to a lorry within earshot of some very attentive journalists.  Instead of listening to one of the finest drivers and car set-up experts in history, the team sacked him.  Instead of working with him to improve their machinery, they ploughed on without him for the 2 years it took the company president to finally run out of patience.

Had he ran out earlier, or had someone among the chiefs of staff had the good sense to ask Alain to expand upon those thoughts, we’d probably never have seen the F93A.  Let’s get the good parts dealt with first: designed by Jean-Claude Migeot and John Barnard, the F93A was a very handsome car.  It also had a V12 engine which, in common with every Ferrari V12 you’ll ever hear, sounded absolutely glorious.

What it didn’t have, to the regret of drivers Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger, was any particular talent for going round corners.  The car chewed tyres at an alarming rate while displaying no great turn of pace, thanks to inefficient aerodynamics and a problematic suspension system.  The computerised ‘active’ suspension was designed to improve grip and cornering speed by keeping all four tyres perpendicular to the road at all times, no matter how bumpy or cambered the surface might be.  When it worked, it did so to little effect.  When it didn’t, which was often, the results were never less than disastrous.

The system’s finest hour came in Portugal, when a failure exiting the pit lane sent Berger spearing across the track at a right angle, the F93A finding a gap between Erik Comas and Derek Warwick and miraculously killing nobody:

If the suspension held together, Berger and Alesi would usually be defeated by the car’s other two sworn enemies, its own engine and gearbox.  When the car saw the end of a race, it did so at its own pace – Alesi took two podium finishes and Berger one, but all owed a lot to attrition and only at Monza, where power counts for everything and handling is a secondary consideration, did Alesi’s podium place see him finish within a minute of the race winner.

Looked like a truck: Ferrari F310

In the middle of 1995, Michael Schumacher was the hottest property in Formula 1.  Having won his first world title in contentious circumstances the year before, the German was well on his way to crushing all before him during a hugely successful title defence.  Having helped take the Benetton team from occasional race winners to rulers of the racing world in 4 years, the time was right for a new challenge.  He found that challenge at a Ferrari team undergoing some major rebuilding work under the stewardship of team manager Jean Todt, the Frenchman having been poached from Peugeot in 1993 to provide much-needed leadership and organisation.

A sleek, stylish supercar is the kind of thing you would expect the Italians to lay on for an incoming champion.  The kind of thing they actually laid on, the F310, looked like this:

For the benefit of those who haven’t remembered to hover their mouse over the pictures, the word you’re after is ‘pregnant’.

New rules for 1996 called for higher cockpit sides, designed to give greater head protection in the event of an accident.  Ferrari maintained that the F310 looked like this because they’d followed the rules to the letter and the other teams hadn’t.  If you wished to tell your friends how unlikely that sounded, you wouldn’t need a particularly good libel lawyer.

The car won once in this trim, a victory which owed everything to the sheer speed and skill of Michael Schumacher in wet conditions – nobody else that afternoon in Barcelona stood the slightest chance.  Mid-season revisions brought two further wins in Belgium and Italy, while the following year’s F310B managed not only to look much more like a modern F1 car but to go very quickly from the outset, but the car with which Schumi started his Ferrari career is best remembered briefly and viewed from distance.

Pulling off the double: Ferrari 126CK

Enzo Ferrari liked power.  That’s true no matter how you apply the word ‘power’ but fits particularly well with his view of racing cars.  “Aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines.”  Ferrari’s 126C, driven in 1981 by Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi, was the product of a company which had no mastery of either.

In 1979, a superb flat-12 engine and generally solid reliability masked the deficiencies of the 312T4 chassis to such an extent that Ferrari’s lead driver Jody Scheckter became world champion.  The same engine did nothing for the updated 1980 car, 312T5.  Renault’s work on turbocharged engines and the pioneering ‘ground effect’ Lotus cars, designed to use air flowing underneath the car as a means of sucking the car towards the track for improved handling, had rendered the current-spec Ferrari obsolete.  The car had limited ground effect but the width of the engine prevented the design team from exploiting the concept fully, while the engine no longer had the poke to make up for a poor chassis.  The future was one of turbos and full ground effects.

The future looked like this:

The new engine was fitted with KKK twin turbochargers and produced prodigious amounts of power, but the way that power arrived gave the drivers a problem.  Turbo lag, the delay between a driver pressing the throttle and the turbo kicking in, was still a problem for all the turbo engines of the period, but it was an especially serious issue in the 126CK.  When the power did arrive, it came in one big, barely-controllable lump, made worse by the limitations of the new chassis.

Save for some changes made to allow for a smaller engine, the car was essentially a development of the 312T5 and exhibited the kind of handling characteristics that led Villeneuve to call it ‘a big, red Cadillac’.  You could slide a 126CK – the above picture isn’t a bad example, though it’s not the best.  Journalist Nigel Roebuck has told of watching the Canadian through the final flat-out uphill right-hander at Dijon, noting that as Villeneuve passed the apex of the turn, he could only see where he was going by looking over the side of the cockpit rather than staring straight ahead.

A sliding car depositing 600 horsepower through its rear wheels all at once destroys tyres.  More than that, it destroys tyres while going fairly slowly, as the 126CK demonstrated when it wasn’t breaking down.  The most famous example of this came at Monaco when Pironi, a race-winning driver of some considerable talent, qualified a miserable 17th.  While he finished 4th the next day, only 7 men made it to the end and Didier got there a lap behind the race winner.  What makes the Monaco example so famous is the identity of that winner.

Villeneuve.

It was no fluke either.  He’d qualified 2nd and been on the pace all weekend.  Ferrari designer Harvey Postlethwaite, who joined the team in time to work on the 1982 machine, appreciated the achievement more than most:

“That car had literally one quarter of the downforce that, say Williams or Brabham had. It had a power advantage over the Cosworths for sure, but it also had massive throttle lag at that time. In terms of sheer ability I think Gilles was on a different plane to the other drivers. To win those races, the 1981 GPs at Monaco and Jarama — on tight circuits — was quite out of this world. I know how bad that car was…”

Jarama saw Villeneuve burst through from 7th to hold a very distant 2nd place in the early running, taking the lead when race leader Alan Jones crashed on lap 14.  The rest of the race was all about Gilles using whatever power he could on the straights and taking a wheel-perfect line all the way to lap 80 and the chequered flag.  The top 5 finishers crossed the line separated by 1.2 seconds, but not once did they even nose past the Ferrari.

Step this way and do your best to ignore the charisma vacuum operating around Simon Taylor’s voice (the script’s fault, not Simon’s) – here’s a demonstration of what sheer, unadulterated brilliance can do:

Pironi qualified 13th and finished a troubled 15th, a performance which was entirely a reflection on the car, not the man.

Dog-slow, unwieldy and aesthetically challenged – the video above shows the vast, yawning chasm between a neat, tidy Williams FW07C  and the Ferrari tugboat – the 126CK was as bad a Formula 1 car as any to roll off the Maranello production line.  The open, chatty Canadian at the controls was as spellbinding a driver as the sport will ever see.

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  1. […] a passing interest in Formula 1 racing, the chances are you know that name already.  We’ve mentioned him briefly before and will doubtless do so again next May on the 30th anniversary of his untimely death, but […]

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