Compared to 1980, the '81 season would offer many more highlights. But there would also be a number of lows as well. Ferrari's challenger was good, but not great. Its successor, an evolved version of itself, would be what the team had been looking for. Unfortunately, tragedy would prevent it from fulfilling its promise.
The 126 CK would be Ferrari's offering to help keep pace with the competition. By the end of the 1970s, the large V12, its signature, was too big and heavy to offset the horsepower from the engine. The cars were being stretched to their limits and were beginning to struggle against the V8-powered cars.
Unfortunately, the 126 CK would be new and would suffer from teething problems. The turbo-powered car would make its first appearance in Monza in 1980. And, while it would show well in practice, troubles would keep the car out of the race.
The following year, Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi would be left struggling with an over-weight and a still-unreliable car. The result would be that Villeneuve would fight hard to come away with a couple of victories. However, neither driver would be in the fight for the championship. It was clear there were elements of the 126 that held promise, but it certainly needed some 'tweaking' to help unlock all of its potential. This unlocking would be made possible as a result of Harvey Postlethwaite's presence.
Throughout Ferrari's history, Enzo placed much more importance on the development of the engine than on any other component on a car. Commendatore believed that any deficiencies with the car could be made up for with a strong, reliable engine. Unfortunately, the competitors, like Ford and Renault, had the market somewhat cornered on reliability and horsepower. So while the engine would be supremely important, every other component needed to be taken into consideration.
Ferrari's philosophy would be on full display in 1980. Though Scheckter would come through to earn the championship in the V12-powered 312 T4, a mere updated version of the car, the T5 would demonstrate many of the handicaps Postlethwaite would be called in to address.
The engine team were already making moves toward a V6 turbo as the V12 was just too big and heavy to compete. Postlethwaite's challenge would be to package a chassis around the turbo V6.
As with Renault, Ferrari would find the going with the new turbo engines rather difficult. The engine designers would decide to look to previous years, and, one of the last times they built a V6 would be back in the early 1960s with the 'Sharknose'. The designers would decide to keep with the tradition building a V6 with a radius of 120 degrees. While this deep angle provided a lower center of gravity, it also slightly weakened the integrity of the block. Therefore, they would build the block of cast iron and would use aluminum-alloy heads. The engine would be complete with twin turbos and Lucas fuel-injection. All told, the small 1.5-liter V6 would be capable of around 570hp. But there would be a couple of problems. The twin turbo-powered engine would not only be heavy, it would also be unreliable. In fact, the whole engine would be susceptible to unreliability.
The 1981 season would see Ferrari turn things around with the 126CK earning a couple of victories in a row in the hands of Gilles Villeneuve. However, there would still be reliability concerns with the engine and the turbo. Beyond that, the car was also very difficult to drive. This would be evidenced by Didier Pironi's struggles over the course of the season. It was Postlethwaite's first season with the team, however, and there was reason to believe improvements would come the following season.
Postlethwaite's main talents were in the field of car construction and design. Therefore, he would set to work turning a notoriously difficult car to drive into a contender. The 126's foundation would be seen as firm. Therefore, Harvey would turn his attentions toward making it the best it could be.
He would begin with the design. The design of the 126CK's nose made sense. The narrow nose blended beautifully with the bodywork shrouds that covered the front suspension. This helped to clean up the airflow around the front suspension, but it also helped to direct the airflow underneath the car where it would be trapped by the skirts running along the edge of both sidepods to help generate the powerful ground effects. Harvey would change this design.
Instead of a narrow nose, the C2 would be much wider and more voluptuous. This enabled the springs, shock absorbers and anti-roll bar to be packaged much more neatly inside the nose bodywork. Furthermore, the wishbones would be narrower, and therefore, more aerodynamically-sensitive. The bodywork shroud over the front suspension would remain bit would not have the blended look of the CK.
Postlethwaite would also alter the profile of the sidepods. The outer portion of the sidepod would droop near the front suspension. This helped to increase the airflow over the top of the car without reducing the amount of flow passing underneath. This increased airflow over the top of the car fed the rear wing and the large brake ducts necessary to cool the Brembo disc brakes that were crowded in at the back of the car.
The squared-off sidepods of the 126CK would give-way to a profile with more rounded edges. Within the large sidepods would be the engine radiators, coolers and exchanges for the updated KKK twin-turbos. This would be a lot of important equipment packed into a small area. Airflow would be vitally important. In addition to the radiator inlet itself, the vents along the outside of the sidepod would be restyled slightly to catch more of the air spilling off the side from the top of the car. This helped to extract even more hot air out and fed cooler air to the coolers and exchanges within.
Improvements with the KKK turbos, cooling and other expected evolutions meant the 120 degree V6 was now capable of 580hp at 11,000rpms. The mindset within Ferrari was certainly changing. Whereas before the engineers would have simply relied on engine power to make up for short-comings, nearly every detail would be considered when it came to the 126C2. This would include having the turbo from one side feeding the fuel to the bank of cylinders on the other side in an attempt to help fluidly-balance the car. But while the engine and such details as fluid balance would all enhance performance, it would be the construction of the car that would help the team make the biggest gains, especially in handling.
The curb weight of the 126CK would be right around 600 kilos. Harvey knew he could make the car even lighter. Starting by scraping the old sheetmetal panels, Harvey would manage to shed a fair bit of poundage when he switched to honeycomb composite materials. Though he would not entirely go the route of McLaren, who would use carbon-fiber for their car's entire chassis, Harvey would form a great deal of the car using composite honeycomb structures. This meant the car was just as rigid without the penalty of the weight. The result, when it was all said and done, was that the 126C2 would be around 20 kilos lighter than its predecessor. This helped the handling of the car tremendously.
With or without the front wing, the 126C2 had the performance in the corners and on the straights. In spite of some unreliability Ferrari would come away from the San Marino Grand Prix with a one-two finish and would even score victories in the Dutch and German Grand Prix.
However, the 126C2 would be cursed as Villeneuve would lose his life when his 126C2 broke apart in a violent accident following Gilles colliding with a March. Then, only months after Gilles' accident and death, Didier Pironi would suffer an accident that would look eerily-similar to that of Gilles'. Pironi would escape with his life but would be done with Formula One and right when he had the World Championship within his grasp. About the only source of good news Scuderia Ferrari would receive at the hands of the 126C2 would be a Constructors' Championship.
With all of the turmoil within the team as a result of Gilles' death and Pironi debilitating accident, Ferrari would have a number of drivers come through to drive for the team over the course of the season, including a short stint by Mario Andretti. The drivers would help secure the constructors title for the team, but they would not be in much of a position to help Harvey and the team test and revise the car for the following season.
As a result of the tragic 1982 season, Ferrari would lean upon the 126C2 in the early part of the '83 season as well. Unfortunately, the other teams, like Brabham, Williams and Renault, would make life difficult for the team and the car. The 'B' version of the 126C2 would earn a one-three result at Imola, a victory in Canada and a number of other podium and top five results. But then, at the German Grand Prix in early August, the 126C2 would be replaced with the 126C3, which would be immediately successful winning in its debut.
In spite of the terrible events of the 1982 season, the 126C2 would be an important chassis for Ferrari. Sure, the 126CK would help the team turn things around after a disastrous 1980 season, but it would be the C2 that would make the point Ferrari was not losing touch and that, now, every detail, every aspect, of the car would be looked into in great detail. Sources:
'Cars: 1982 126C2', (http://formula1.ferrari.com/cars/126-c2). Scuderia Ferrari. http://formula1.ferrari.com/cars/126-c2. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
'Cars: 1981 126CK', (http://formula1.ferrari.com/cars/126-ck). Scuderia Ferrari. http://formula1.ferrari.com/cars/126-ck. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
'Cars: 1980 312 T5', (http://formula1.ferrari.com/cars/312-t5). Scuderia Ferrari. http://formula1.ferrari.com/cars/312-t5. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
'1981: Ferrari 126CK', (http://www.f1technical.net/f1db/cars/469/ferrari-126ck). F1Technical. http://www.f1technical.net/f1db/cars/469/ferrari-126ck. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
'1982: Ferrari 126C2', (http://www.f1technical.net/f1db/cars/494/ferrari-126c2). F1Technical. http://www.f1technical.net/f1db/cars/494/ferrari-126c2. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
'Ferrari 126C2', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/txt/167/2/Ferrari-126-C2.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/txt/167/2/Ferrari-126-C2.html. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
'1983 World Drivers Championship', (http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1983/f183.html). 1983 World Drivers Championship. http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1983/f183.html. Retrieved 6 March 2014.By Jeremy McMullen