NOW THAT WAS A CAR

The Fer­rari F310B, the car that so nearly pro­pelled Schu­macher to his first Fer­rari ti­tle

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS DAMIEN SMITH PIC­TURES JAMES MANN

Was this a great For­mula 1 car? That would be stretch­ing it. But for all its clear in­fe­ri­or­ity to the ri­val Wil­liams-re­nault FW18, F310B was al­most good enough to carry Michael Schu­macher to his first world cham­pi­onship in red. Al­most. In­stead, the 1997 Fer­rari now rep­re­sents what we re­mem­ber as the best and worst char­ac­ter­is­tics of a colos­sal talent who con­tin­ues to split opin­ion about the def­i­ni­tion of ‘great­ness’. As its name sug­gests, F310B also rep­re­sents an in­terim sea­son for the Scud­e­ria, as it tran­si­tioned from one era of ohso-fa­mil­iar un­ful­filled prom­ise to one of un­matched, record­break­ing dom­i­nance. Con­ceived by a bril­liant but sin­gle­mind­edly dif­fi­cult English­man, it de­liv­ered five grand prix vic­to­ries – al­beit un­der the guardian­ship of an­other equally driven Brit and the un­der­stated ge­nius of a South African de­signer, who to­gether were about to write an un­for­get­table chapter of F1 his­tory.

From the mid-1990s, John Barnard knew his am­bi­tions of mas­ter­mind­ing a Fer­rari golden era from his base in Guild­ford, Sur­rey were on thin foun­da­tions as new boss Jean Todt be­gan to grasp the enor­mity of the task at hand. Todt wanted Barnard in Italy, but the deeply rooted de­sign per­fec­tion­ist – al­ready well versed in Fer­rari pol­i­tics in this, his sec­ond spell at the team – was never go­ing to have that. Di­vorce was in­evitable.

Todt had al­ready scooped the only game-chang­ing driver on the grid by sign­ing Schu­macher from Benet­ton at the end of his in­spired sec­ond ti­tle sea­son in 1995. But the new champ was handed a car Barnard him­self has de­scribed as an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic “wob­ble”. Still, Schu­macher won three races in the F310, and the first – in dread­ful con­di­tions in Spain – will for­ever be re­called as one of his stand-out drives.

Schu­macher and Todt both knew only fun­da­men­tal change would rouse Fer­rari from their long slum­ber of un­der­achieve­ment. Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, the ar­chi­tects be­hind his Benet­ton glory, were the an­swer.

Brawn came first, and Ross then lured Byrne from his planned re­tire­ment in Thai­land. “One thing I re­mem­ber well was the qual­ity of the peo­ple who worked in Maranello,” says Brawn of his first im­pres­sions of Fer­rari. “It’s a mis­take to think it was at a low level, quite the con­trary.

“If Fer­rari hadn’t won the ti­tle for such a long time it wasn’t be­cause of a lack of good en­gi­neer­ing staff. What was miss­ing was a dif­fer­ent way of work­ing and that was my num­ber one pri­or­ity when I ar­rived. We had to stop work­ing in sep­a­rate groups and in­stead think about the car as a whole, not just as the re­sult of as­sem­bling dif­fer­ent com­po­nents. “The ground­work for the amaz­ing cy­cle that was about to start had al­ready been es­tab­lished.”

Time was short before the 1997 sea­son, as they in­her­ited Barnard’s part­ing-shot F310B, a car that had mor­phed into one more in line with the era’s high-nosed crea­tures from Wil­liams, Benet­ton and Mclaren (the de­signer’s per­se­ver­ance with low noses fi­nally ended at the French GP in ’96). Pow­ered by Paolo Martinelli’s 75-degree, 40-valve V10, Fer­rari car­ried new hope that it would spoil Wil­liams and Re­nault’s swan­song sea­son as F1’s dominant force.

“I RE­MEM­BER ONE AREA WE WORKED ON IN PAR­TIC­U­LAR WAS THE FUEL CELL” ROSS BRAWN

“Clearly the ba­sic frame­work of the car had been de­signed by John Barnard and there wasn’t much room for ma­noeu­vre,” re­calls Brawn.

“The project had a solid base, given that Fer­rari were fight­ing for the ti­tle right down to the last race, some­thing that had not hap­pened since

1990. I re­mem­ber one area in par­tic­u­lar that we worked on was the fuel cell, which we de­vel­oped to op­ti­mise the po­si­tion­ing of the fuel, based on ex­pe­ri­ence gained over the years at Benet­ton.”

Ed­die Irvine’s sea­son tally of five podi­ums was per­haps the true in­di­ca­tor of F310B’S per­for­mance. But as he had in

’96, 28-year-old Schu­macher made the dif­fer­ence to take the ti­tle bat­tle to the wire with Jac­ques Vil­leneuve in Adrian Newey’s fi­nal Wil­liams mas­ter­piece. That says much about Michael’s tenac­ity – and per­haps some­thing too about Jac­ques’ short­com­ings. Vil­leneuve claimed eight poles and seven wins, but made heavy weather of a ti­tle he was ex­pected to win.

Schu­macher’s five vic­to­ries and three poles were mostly hard-won. At Monaco, Wil­liams made a strat­egy blunder, and Schu­macher blitzed the field as Vil­leneuve and new team­mate Heinz-har­ald Frentzen both crashed. Mon­tréal fell into Schu­macher’s hands after David Coulthard’s Mclaren suf­fered a clutch glitch. But Schu­macher dom­i­nated at Magny-cours and put in an­other of his spe­cial drives at Spa, em­bar­rass­ing his peers once again with his oth­er­worldly pace in change­able con­di­tions.

The fifth win, in Ja­pan, was clouded by con­tro­versy after Vil­leneuve was dis­tracted by a penalty for lap­ping too quickly un­der yel­low flags on con­sec­u­tive qual­i­fy­ing laps. Dropped to the back of the grid, Vil­leneuve raced from pole un­der ap­peal, but faded to fifth by the flag. Wil­liams dropped their case, toasted their con­struc­tors’ crown and fo­cused on the sea­son fi­nale, at Jerez. Schu­macher led Vil­leneuve by one point.

How their riv­et­ing duel was re­solved can never be for­got­ten. The ti­tle was in Schu­macher’s sight – un­til Vil­leneuve sur­prised him with an au­da­cious dive. Michael drove into the Wil­liams, just as he had to Da­mon Hill’s in Ade­laide ’94 – but this time his pro­fes­sional foul back­fired.

As Vil­leneuve snatched a ti­tle he’d al­most let slip, Schu­macher was once again vil­i­fied. But his pun­ish­ment was puz­zling: dis­qual­i­fied from the cham­pi­onship, yes, but those five wins he’d keep. What did that mean?

Brawn is un­der­stand­ably care­ful in his eval­u­a­tion of Schu­macher’s ac­tions 21 years ago.

“The emo­tional as­pect should not be un­der­es­ti­mated and, es­pe­cially in Michael’s case, the role played by in­stinct,” he says. “He al­ways had an amaz­ing abil­ity to read a race with ex­tra­or­di­nary clar­ity from the cock­pit, but that does not al­ter the fact that, on some oc­ca­sions, his in­stincts took over. That meant that some­times he could pull off some­thing amaz­ing, but it also meant here were times when it pushed him into mak­ing mis­takes – and Jerez in 1997 was one of those times.”

NOW THAT WAS A CAR No. 73

THE FER­RARI F310B

RACE RECORD Starts 34 Wins 5 Poles 2 Fastest laps 3 Other podi­ums 8 Points 102

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