The Ferrari 312 T4 brought the world champion back to the team from Maranello in 1979. Driven by South African Jody Scheckter, this car obtained the drivers 'championship and the constructors' cup thanks also to the points won by teammate Gilles Villeneuve, totalling six victories in thirteen holdings.
The 312 T4 is described as one of the least attractive Ferraris ever raced in Formula 1, but at the same time turns out to be one of the most successful cars. Its curious shape, wide and angular, is due to the fact that, not being able to recreate a real Venturi tube in the rear to generate depression under the car, the technical director Mauro Forghieri decides to lengthen the side bellies as much as possible, almost in correspondence of the front wing, recovering a useful area to recreate this phenomenon. Furthermore, the aerodynamic conformation is taken care of and studied in the Pininfarina wind tunnel, with which the Maranello team has been collaborating for decades.
The car is equipped with side skirts, but it cannot be considered a real wing car, since the flaps are not very efficient due to the dimensions of the Ferrari Type 015 12-cylinder engine opposed to each other with an angle between the banks of 180°.
However, the power of this engine, which also contributes to lowering the center of gravity, and the almost exclusive use of the innovative Michelin radial tires, allow the car to maintain a high level of competitiveness. Other peculiar characteristics are represented by the transverse gearbox, now used in Maranello since 1975, and the particular architecture of the suspensions, resulting efficient on various types of track.
In particular, the suspensions are of the type with independent wheels with transverse wishbones, with the introduction of coaxial coil springs with inboard telescopic shock absorbers and stabilizer bar. In the course of 1979, a total of five units will be built:
- 312 T4/037, used by Villeneuve in three races in 1979, it won three Grand Prix. Subsequently damaged by Villeneuve, it will be rebuilt and sold on 23 September 1981 to the collector Carlo Campanini Bonomi;
- 312 T4/038, used for two races by Scheckter, and three by Villeneuve, including the Dino Ferrari Grand Prix;
- 312 T4/039, used for two races by Scheckter, and two by Villeneuve;
- 312 T4/040, car used in ten races (nine championship) by Scheckter, with three victories;
- 312 T4/041, used six times by Villeneuve, with one victory.
Originally, Forghieri tests a 1:5 scale model of the car in five different British wind tunnels, obtaining five different results, before relying on the Pininfarina wind tunnel and the advice of engineer Gian Franco Poncini.
After the first two races of the season with the 312 T3, the 312 T4 is deployed from the South African Grand Prix. Since qualifying, the goodness of the project is evident, given that Scheckter and Villeneuve set the second and third time, despite the fact that a problem with the chassis on the Canadian driver's car will limit his speed.
In the race, also thanks to the changing climatic conditions, Villeneuve managed to precede his teammate Jody at the finish line, taking an extraordinary double win for Ferrari on his debut.
In Long Beach, the two Ferraris are the protagonists of two accidents that limit their tests: Villeneuve ends up against the protections during free practice, while Scheckter crashes into Didier Pironi's Tyrrell.
Carlos Reutemann will keep the best time until the end of Saturday's practice sessions, when Gilles Villeneuve will take pole position, the first in his career, and the eighty-eighth for Scuderia Ferrari, which thus gets back to the lead, alone, in the special classification of the pole obtained by the constructors (the Lotus remains at 87).
Villeneuve will also be able to take pole thanks to the fact that it will be able to use seven sets of qualifying tires in the final session, while Goodyear provides its competitors with only two sets per car. Furthermore, in the final attempt, Villeneuve disengages the engine rev limiter at the end of the straight, causing the engine to go up to 12.600 rpm, thus giving himself enough thrust to improve Reutemann's time by six cents. Jody Scheckter finishes third.
In the race it is again Ferrari double, which with Villeneuve even captures the fastest lap. Jody is forced to settle for second place again, while the Canadian, with this further success, leaps to the top of the drivers' standings.
The next Grand Prix will not be as lucky as Gilles Villeneuve will not be able to go beyond seventh, and Jody Scheckter beyond fourth.
The ransom for Ferrari does not have to wait long, given that at the Zolder racetrack the South African driver takes a very important victory that projects him at the top of the drivers' standings, while Gilles Villeneuve is forced to close out of the points again having finished the fuel in the tank prematurely, losing third place.
The magic moment continues in Monte Carlo, with the conquest of the entire front row by Scheckter and Villeneuve, and the consequent victory of the South African driver, who thus consolidates his leadership in the championship. The Canadian driver was more unfortunate, forced to leave due to a transmission problem.
In Dijon the altitude favours Renault's engines, which with Jabouille take their first victory. Jody Scheckter's Ferrari will not be performing for the whole weekend, while Gilles Villeneuve will give life to a heated duel with René Arnoux, who will become historic for the fury with which the canadian defends and recovers the second place, despite being slowed down from brake wear. Thanks to this result, Jody and Gilles lead the drivers' championship ranking.
In Silverstone the two Ferraris are inexplicably underperforming, but the South African driver manages to limit the damage by taking an unexpected fifth place.
The difficult moment continues in Germany, as the two Ferraris of Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve at the Hockenheimring finish the first practice session in tenth and twelfth place respectively. The Canadian had broken the suspension in an exit from the track during the morning free practice, while Scheckter crashed Carlos Reutemann during the official ones.
However, there will be significant improvements for the Ferraris, with Scheckter fifth and Villeneuve ninth, penalized by the use of the spare car, as the engine of the official car suffers from power losses. In the race Jody will not go beyond fourth place, while Gilles will be forced to make a pit stop in the last laps to replace the wing, thus losing the sixth position.
In Austria the Canadian driver redeems himself by conquering an excellent second place, while Jody will continue to accumulate precious points for the drivers' championship standings, settling for fourth place.
In this second part of the championship, it is, above all, the Williams who shines, while Ferrari is forced to be satisfied with the placements of honour. In Holland, for example, Scheckter takes advantage of the favourable circumstances to climb up to second place and thus conquer six important points for the conquest of the world championship, while Gilles Villeneuve sees his chances mortified after Alan Jones approached him on lap forty-seventh, attacks him at the new chicane, forcing the Canadian driver to make a mistake and to retire.
After being the victim of a spin, Gilles sets off again but his left rear tire starts to deflate. Shortly after, Villeneuve undergoes the dechaping of the wheel, but decides to continue, covering almost an entire lap on three wheels. In the meantime, the left rear wheel tears off and, held by the brake lines, is towed behind the car. Villeneuve will be able to reach his garage, but only to retire, after having asked the mechanics in vain if it was possible to repair the car.
At Monza the world championship ends in favour of Ferrari: in the race, Villeneuve escorts his friend and teammate to the finish line, taking a double win that gives the title to the South African driver, who is good at taking advantage of every opportunity to score points. Thanks to this result, at the same time Ferrari also won its sixth world title, relative to the classification reserved for manufacturers. This victory also represents a revenge for Enzo Ferrari against Niki Lauda, who left the team in 1977 declaring that he would have more easily won the championship than Ferrari.
With the world rankings now decided, the second place in the standings remains to be consolidated for Gilles Villeneuve, who in Canada gets a second place, and closes the championship by winning in the United States, at the Watkins Glen circuit, he would fend off the return of the Australian driver Alan Jones.
The Ferrari 312 T4 therefore concludes its history with a total of six victories, including three braces, and seven second places, totalling 113 world championship points and winning the two world titles, as well as the vice world champion palm with Gilles Villeneuve.