NOW THAT WAS A CAR
THE FERRARI 312T3
Ferrari’s 312T2 had been good enough for Niki Lauda to almost win the 1976 drivers’ title, despite missing several races after his terrible Nürburgring accident. The following season he built up an unassailable lead with three races to go, declared the car “useless and finished”, then quit the team after the US Grand Prix, having secretly signed for Brabham that summer.
Enzo was nothing if not pragmatic – after all, he had drafted in Carlos Reutemann to replace Lauda in 1976 while Lauda lay gravely injured in hospital. Even before his star driver dropped the bombshell that he was leaving, Enzo had noticed a promising young talent who, inexplicably, McLaren had let slip through their fingers after he’d made his debut in their third car at Silverstone: Gilles Villeneuve. At the same time Lauda was agreeing terms with Bernie Ecclestone at Brabham, Villeneuve was visiting the Old Man at Maranello.
So Ferrari had a new driver for the last two races of 1977. And the team had new tyres for 1978 because Enzo felt Goodyear were giving Lotus too much attention and he wanted more exclusivity. But they also needed a new car because the 312T2 was, indeed, outclassed.
Chief engineer Mauro Forghieri completely revised the car, and the 312T3 was ready for the third race of 1978, in South Africa. Outwardly similar to its predecessor, the T3’s bodywork had been finessed in Pininfarina’s windtunnel and the monocoque was completely new – as was the suspension geometry, to make the most of the new Michelin radial tyres. Up front, Forghieri changed from a rocker-arm setup to a
STUART CODLING rigid double-wishbone arrangement; at the rear he rearranged the mounting points on the casing of the transverse gearbox.
The car’s debut was a crushing disappointment: Villeneuve’s engine blew up and then Reutemann spun off on the oil it deposited on the circuit. Villeneuve crashed out of the lead at the next race, at Long Beach, but Reutemann held on for victory. Reutemann could have done it again at Monaco, but made a mess of the start from pole position and collided with James Hunt.
Still, the car was quick enough – until the sixth round of the season. Lotus then abruptly moved the game on with their 79, as featured in F1 Racing last month. Its innovative aerodynamics put Ferrari’s in the shade – and, since the Ferrari engine was a flat-12, there was no way of effectively copying the 79’s sidepod-mounted venturi: the cylinder heads would block the airflow.
When Ferrari picked the right tyre compounds, the sheer grunt of their flat-12 would usually enable Reutemann or Villeneuve to parlay their T3s into best-of-the-rest positions – higher still when the Lotus cars broke. Reutemann won at Brands Hatch and Watkins Glen, finished third in the championship, and promptly departed for Lotus.
Villeneuve had a ragged year, prompting calls from the Italian press for him to be fired. But by season’s end they, and the fans, had grown enraptured by his aggression behind the wheel. He closed the year with victory at the new home of the Canadian GP, Montréal, in chassis number 34, the car featured here. A legend was born.