The Ferrari 156 F1 is the single-seater put on track by Scuderia Ferrari in the 1961-1962 seasons of the Formula 1 World Championship. Despite the existence of the two 1960 prototypes such as the 246 P and the 156 F2, the 156 F1 is commonly referred to as the first rear-engined Ferrari to participate in a race valid for the Formula 1 world championship.
In the two-year period 1958-1959, an epochal change took place in Formula 1: the rear engine, introduced by the English assemblers, and more particularly by Cooper, was imposed. In reality, this choice does not represent a real novelty, because it had already been seen in previous decades, and Cooper herself used this formula, in minor races, when 1950s were still a new decade.
In Formula 1, the choice soon turns out to be a winning one: in fact, this technical solution allows to build cars that, despite being less powerful, give the opponents several seconds per lap, given that the engine placed behind the driver, as well as saving weight of the transmission, allows to centralize the masses, to reduce the front section, and to improve the dynamic behavior of the car in any condition.
In this way, the British teams are able to bridge the gap between the underpowered British engines and the more performing Ferraris, Maserati, Vanwall and Mercedes, which use the latest technology to seek performance rather than lightness.
Despite Enzo Ferrari's skepticism, engineer Chiti, convinced of the goodness of the new formula, manages to convince him and gets the green light to start designing a new car.
Despite his approval, Enzo Ferrari will maintain his skepticism, thinking that Chiti could have worked better and faster if he had had a Cooper chassis to study, and will therefore turn to his friend Guglielmo Dei, owner of the Scuderia Centro Sud, so that he secretly loaned one of the Cooper chassis he uses to race in Formula 1.
Dei agrees, and on an anonymous evening in 1959 the chassis is delivered to a Ferrari dealer in Modena, who would later transfer it to Maranello. A very clever move by Ferrari, thanks to which the first prototype with a rear engine built by the team from Maranello was born: the 246 P, which participated in the Monaco Grand Prix in 1960.
Technical analysis and development
In 1961, the new Formula 1 regulation came into force which provides for mandatory aspirated engines with a maximum displacement of 1500 cm³ and a minimum of 1300 cm³, also, the weight set to a minimum of 450 kg, with water and oil, but without fuel. It is also made mandatory to start the engine inside the passenger compartment and the roll-bar, while the refueling of lubricating oil during the race is prohibited.
For the design of the new single-seater, Ferrari starts with the proven Dino V6 engine of the Dino 156 F2: this engine, designed by Dino Ferrari in collaboration with Vittorio Jano, presents the peculiarity of the angle between the banks at 65 degrees. This angle allows for the creation of straight suction ducts, thus improving the power supply.
Ferrari technicians adapt the Dino V6 to use in Formula 1, slightly modifying the displacement from 1489.35 to 1476.6 cm³ by increasing the bore, from 70 to 73 millimeters, and reducing the stroke from 64.5 at 58.8 millimeters, the same measurements as the twelve-cylinder of 1953.
This modification, together with the adoption of a new head, allow to increase the power by five horses, and to slightly increase the maximum rpm.
It therefore remains to put the engine behind the driver, but already in 1960, after the 246 P, a new rear-engined prototype, the 156 F2, had already been prepared to study the behavior of the future Formula 1.
With this car Wolfgang von Trips participated in the Solitude Grand Prix, which he won, and in the Italian Grand Prix, where he finished fifth overall, first among Formula 2, and in the Modena Grand Prix, finishing the race third overall.
In addition to perfecting the Dino V6, engineer Chiti with the help of Mauro Forghieri is also in charge of designing a new 120° V6, with the aim of lowering the car's center of gravity and obtaining more space for the carburetors. Initially this engine is plagued by barbotage problems, which means that the oil remains largely in the crankcase impoverishing the lubrication, but this problem will soon be solved by resorting to a greater number of recovery pumps.
This new V6 is also lighter and more performing, having a power of 190 horsepower at a ratio of 9500 rpm.
The frame is similar to that of the 246 P and 156 F2, while remaining with a tubular trellis structure, while the gearbox is placed slightly downstream of the rear wheel hub, and four Dunlop disc brakes are adopted.
The fuel tanks are placed laterally and the radiator, present in the nose, is ventilated by two large ovoid intakes, stylistic peculiarities of the 156 F1 which will give it the name of shark nose.
These are the impressions of Giancarlo Baghetti, relating to the car, which better than anyone else can make us understand the sensations of driving:
"I found myself sitting, rather reclining, on the track itself. It was driving with outstretched arms, and the steering wheel was small and light. The car was much more nervous than anything I had driven up to that point and the compact 1,500 V-shaped six-cylinder, it was even more: it shot out all its 185 horsepower almost all of a sudden near the maximum speed of 9.200 rpm".
"Yet the rear-engined Formula 1 was much more balanced and controllable, and the steering responses were more precise and immediate; the understeer in corner entry was less pronounced; but above all the transition to oversteer under acceleration, despite the abrupt behavior of the engine, it was much more gradual thanks to the superior grip at the rear: instead of jeopardizing the stability of the car, it helped to close the curve quickly".
"The dry and nervous attitude of the car required a lot of attention in the gear changes, each of which the car tended to sway on the track. The gear lever had sharp and hard clicks, and if it did not give the tremendous repercussions felt in the Red Head, it still gave us blisters and calluses on the hands. The steering wheel did not require any particular effort, but it had violent reactions and had to be controlled by tightening it: it was difficult because it had a thin crown. Furthermore, the protective roll-bar was fake, it would have bent at the first impact and, on the other hand, seat belts were not used".
"The 156 at 120° was modified in many details. It was a more balanced car, with a lower center of gravity. On a track as fast as Monza, aerodynamic problems were evident. On the straight you could feel the steering lighten or suddenly harden according to the longitudinal attitude of the car in the jolts".
The 156 F1 will also be used for the 1962 season, but Ferrari, orphaned of Chiti, Bizzarrini and most of the technicians and sports managers of the previous year, will not be able to give the car adequate technical development. The construction of the new engine designed in collaboration with Gilera and already in the executive phase will also be abandoned: an eight-cylinder in-line, air-cooled and transversely positioned, with a declared power of 215 horsepower at 10000 rpm.
Therefore, the 156 F1 will remain practically unchanged; sixth gear will be added to the gearbox and radical changes will be made to the car only during the year, in anticipation of the 1963 version. In fact, starting from the German Grand Prix, the characteristic front air intakes will be eliminated in favor of a single ovoid opening, the driver's seat, chassis and suspensions will also be modified.
The 156 F1 does not disappoint the team's expectations of revenge, returning from unconvincing years, winning Ferrari’s fifth drivers' title and its first constructors' title.
The opening race of the 1961 season takes place on the Principality of Monaco street circuit: the 156 F1 immediately shines by taking second place with Ginther, third place with Hill, and fourth place with Von Trips, behind the winner. Stirling Moss aboard the Lotus 18.
But the first victory arrives in Holland thanks to von Trips, followed in second place by Phil Hill, who will win the subsequent Belgian Grand Prix in which the Ferraris will finish in the first four places: second von Trips, third Ginther, fourth Gendebien.
The subsequent French Grand Prix will see the incredible debut of Giancarlo Baghetti.
Thanks also to the retirements of Ginther and von Trips, who drive the 156 with 120° engine, resulting in the fastest for all the tests, Baghetti gives life to a duel with Gurney's most competitive Porsche, managing to win despite a problem with the radiator.
To date, this is the only time a driver has managed to win his debut in Formula 1.
In Great Britain, Ferrari will score another success with a hat-trick by von Trips, followed by Hill and Ginther, while in Germany Hill and von Trips will win the second and third place respectively.
At the Italian Grand Prix, the penultimate race of the season, Hill and von Trips have the same odds of winning the title. However, the confrontation between the two does not last long due to the tragic and untimely death of Wolfgang von Trips.
At the end of the second lap Jim Clark and von Trips appear paired at the entrance of the parabolica: the English driver, deceived by the slowing down of von Trips, swerves and collides the car of the German driver who, after a spin, leaves the track flying against the safety nets behind which numerous spectators are crowded, fourteen of whom will lose their life, while dozens remain injured.
Ferrari will not participate in the last Grand Prix because of mourning, also because, after winning the Monza race, Hill is mathematically champion.
After a 1961 at the top, 1962 turns out to be a disappointing year for Ferrari. In fact, if one part knows the team from Maranello decides to field the same car of the previous year, the other part the opponents develop new cars that are way more competitive than the 156 F1.
After a decent start to the season, where the Ferraris conquer a second place with Hill in Monaco, and three third places, the team from Maranello sees the possibility of fighting for the world championship vanish both due to the lack of competitiveness of the car and due to some union unrest will make development work in the company problematic.
For this reason, Ferrari will be forced to desert the Grand Prix of France, the USA and South Africa, while in Great Britain it will only field one car.