NOW THAT WAS A CAR

THE FER­RARI 312T3

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

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.

JAMES MANN

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