Ferrari 126 C3, Maranello's first car made of carbon fiber

2021-03-22 23:00

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Ferrari 126 C3, Maranello's first car made of carbon fiber

The Ferrari 126 C3 takes over from the Ferrari 126 C2 in the current season, more precisely after the British Grand Prix in the 1983 Formula 1 World C


The Ferrari 126 C3 takes over from the Ferrari 126 C2 in the current season, more precisely after the British Grand Prix in the 1983 Formula 1 World Championship, and represents the first car of the Maranello team with a carbon fiber chassis and bodywork functions.


Designed by Harvey Postlethwaite and driven by René Arnoux and Patrick Tambay, this one wins the constructors' championship, the last for Ferrari before 1999, while the drivers finish the championship in third and fourth place.


The 126 C3 was presented on June 20, 1983 in the racing department workshops, a few hours after it was assembled for the first time. In addition to the few invited journalists, Enzo and Piero Ferrari are present, as well as of course the two drivers and the design manager Mauro Forghieri.


The new car amazes with its aerodynamic shape and arrow-like shape, in fact it was presented with the bellies far back, a solution never used that year. Immediately after the presentation, Tambay made thirty-one laps of the track at Fiorano without finding any anomalies, and setting a time of 1'09"06, a second and a half above the track record.


For the development of the new 126 C3, Ferrari technicians rely on the Fiat Research Center in Orbassano, and the Experimentation Center in Mirafiori, where wind tunnel tests are conducted on both scale and non-scale models.


Furthermore, all the sporting activities of the team from Maranello are transferred to the new department called Sports Management, to make it as independent as possible from that destined for production cars.


The chassis, for the first time on a Ferrari Formula 1 car, acts as a bodywork and is built with composite materials: aluminium, Kevlar, Nomex and carbon fiber, in two heat-bonded half-shells. These new materials, together with reinforcement ribs at key points, contribute to increasing the car's stiffness and crash tests show the notable increase in shock absorption capacity.


For the rest, the car is nothing more than a slightly modified 126 C2B. the engine is in fact identical, which now delivers over 600 horsepower at 10.500 rpm in race configuration, gearbox, and braking system.


The suspensions are very similar, but have thinner arms to overcome the abnormal wear of the front tires. The rear wing, which on some occasions has side appendages that allow the restriction on the size of the rear wing to be circumvented, is designed according to the new rules by limiting the loss of grip due to the absence of side skirts.


Like the previous single-seater, the C3 is also equipped with a controversial system for mixing water with petrol to be injected into the combustion chamber: this system, derived from turbojet technology, was subsequently banned in 1984.


During the Silverstone tests, fifteen days before the debut, engine cooling problems were highlighted that were not present on the 126C2/B brought as a touchstone. For this reason, the aerodynamics of the old model will be adopted again, and the solution of the swept sides will be abandoned.


Overall, the 126 C3 will prove to be a successful car, fast also according to its drivers and capable of repeating the 1982 constructors' title of the 126 C2. Four cars with chassis number 066 to 069 are used in the race, while a fifth chassis number 070 will not be used.


A triumphal season


At the Brazilian Grand Prix, the only completely new car is the Brabham BT52 born from a blank sheet after the regulatory changes made the BT51 tested in October 1982 not adaptable.


In Brazil, on the second day of qualifying, René Arnoux manages to climb up to sixth place, despite the great heat that hits the circuit: the air temperature reaches 43°, and that of the asphalt 60°, enormously penalizing the turbo engines, which break in series. And during the race the tires will go into crisis, forcing the Frenchman to a measly tenth place on his debut.


In Long Beach, on the first day of official testing, René sets the best time, ahead of Alain Prost and Patrick Tambay, but during the night between Friday and Saturday, the technicians eliminate the troughs on the Seaside Way, and the following day his partner. team manages to improve and conquer pole position.


At the start, Patrick Tambay keeps the lead of the race, but Keke Rosberg, who started from the second row, tries immediately to get behind the French duo of Ferrari: the collision is inevitable between the Finnish driver and Tambay, while René loses ground and falls into fourth position.


During the first laps of the race, Arnoux begins to be penalized by the tire failure, and falls in the standings. Towards the end of the race, René will move up the rankings until he reaches the points, after having lost positions due to a second tire change, and will find himself fighting with Cheever for fifth place.


The two will approach Laffite, and on lap sixty-seventh the French driver will be able to pass both and place himself in fourth position. Three laps from the end the classification will change again, following the retirement of Patrese, third up to that moment. Therefore, having reached the finish line, Arnoux manages to complete an exceptional comeback and take the first podium with the colors of the Scuderia Ferrari.


Although the car could not guarantee maximum competitiveness, after the encouraging performance in the United States, in France it is expected that Ferrari will be able to repeat itself. Instead, once again, the cars with Goodyear tires are penalized by the compounds brought by the US manufacturer, so much so that in qualifying the drivers are unable to complete even one lap.


As if that were not enough, during the tests Ferrari broke three engines and three turbines, but despite this, Arnoux managed to conquer the fourth time. The race will be similar to the previous ones, with René forced to suffer from tire degradation, first forcing him to lose positions, and then return to the pits to change tires and top up fuel, falling in the standings to eighth place.


During the race, the French driver will be able to recover only one position, while the former teammate, Alain Prost wins for the sixth time in the Formula 1 world championship, and ironically dedicates the triumph to Arnoux, after waiting for this for a year, since he was outsmarted, in his opinion, by his then teammate, now switched to Ferrari.


At Imola, on the occasion of the first day valid for qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix, despite Ferrari showing serious technical problems with the motor injection, during the morning free practice René set the best time, ahead of Nelson Piquet and the duo of Renault, Alain Prost and Eddie Cheever. Arnoux manages to get pole by first warming up the tires for two laps, then stopping in the pits to cool them down, and then using them again in the fastest lap.


The following tests on Saturday will be characterized by great uncertainty: first Arnoux lowers his time, beaten shortly after by Nelson Piquet, then Patrick Tambay manages to bring the limit to 1'32"603, so it's the turn of the other Frenchman, Alain Prost, who in turn sees his time beaten again by Piquet.


Then, however, ten minutes from the end of the tests Arnoux manages to beat Piquet's time, thus conquering his fifteenth pole position in the Formula 1 world championship. René, very happy for the feat, is the only one at whole of Ferrari to unbalance in a favourable forecast.


Uncertainty will also dominate the race, right from its first laps. At the start, the two Ferrari drivers take the lead, with René Arnoux ahead of Patrick Tambay, who passed Riccardo Patrese. But on the third lap the Italian driver moves to second place, and on the fifth lap he completes the run-up, placing himself in command after having exploited the tire problems that penalize Arnoux's driving.


The French driver returns to the pits to make a stop on lap twenty-first, dropping to fifth place, while on lap thirty-three, when Patrese changes tires, he loses over twenty-three seconds, against the fifteen used by Tambay, thus giving up the first position.


Arnoux can only go back to third place. On lap fifty-five Patrese approaches Patrick Tambay, who has engine problems, managing to snatch the first position, but shortly after, however, arrived at the Variante Alta, he goes off the track. The French driver returns to the lead of the race and keeps it up to the checkered barrier, while, in the meantime, René Arnoux also loses control of the car and spins, allowing Alain Prost to take second place. At the end of the competition, the disappointment mixed with the satisfaction for the audience involved René Arnoux.


In Monte Carlo, on Thursday the fastest is Alain Prost, but René Arnoux is following again; the positions will remain blocked even after the session on Saturday, as rain falls on the Principality, and therefore no rider is able to improve the times obtained on Thursday.


The adverse weather conditions will also continue on Sunday morning, and then recur, albeit modestly, up to about half an hour before the start, which sees Alain Prost keep his head, while René is immediately passed by Eddie Cheever and by Keke Rosberg. The French driver's race, however, soon ended, as he collided with Laffite's car on lap six.


Subsequently, Arnoux’s Ferrari crashes into a curb, damaging the left rear tire and the electronic control unit. On the first day of testing of the sixth round of the season, held on the Spa circuit, René fails to go beyond the fifth time. And just as it had happened a few weeks earlier in Monte Carlo, rain and cold also in Belgium do not allow the drivers to improve the performances obtained on Friday.


The adverse weather will then lead the drivers to criticize the conditions of the track, which will also threaten not to take part in the race. These, however, will decide to postpone the decision regarding the of the Grand Prix to Sunday, after having carried out the warm-up.


Shortly before the start of the race, the sky is cloudy, but the dreaded rain does not appear in the following minutes. So, after the first start is canceled, at the second start De Cesaris is again the quickest to take the lead, followed by Alain Prost, Patrick Tambay and René Arnoux. In the following laps, despite the tightness of the tires penalizing Ferrari again, the French driver managed to contain Nelson Piquet's attacks, until on the seventeenth lap the Brazilian driver managed to overtake him at the Eau Rouge.


Arnoux's race, already difficult for him, ends on lap 23, shortly after having refuelled and returning to the track in seventh place, due to engine failure. In Detroit, site of the East United States Grand Prix, on Friday, again the rain welcomed the first practice session.


These atmospheric conditions favour naturally aspirated cars, but the following day the climate will be completely different, as conditioned by the sun and rising temperatures, so much so that those drivers who had achieved the best times in the first phase of the qualifying session will be favoured as humidity builds up will make the track very slippery.


For the sixteenth time in his career, it is René Arnoux who takes pole, hooking Stirling Moss in the special all-time ranking. Unfortunately, however, the next day the surprise will arrive in the middle of the race.


Meanwhile at the start, Patrick Tambay remains stationary on the grid, while Nelson Piquet immediately takes the lead, ahead of Arnoux. But favoured by a different race strategy, which involves refuelling in the middle of the race, René will take the lead on lap 10. The twist, as anticipated, will occur on lap 32, when Arnoux will be forced to retire due to an injection problem.


Perhaps due to a strange case of fate, the turning point of this season, for the French driver, will arrive on the track named after Gilles Villeneuve. In the first practice session, Patrick Tambay obtained the best time, overthrowing his teammate Arnoux with ten minutes left. But on Saturday, Ferrari will confirm the good performances of Friday, placing its drivers again in the first two positions, but this time it is René who takes pole, ahead of his teammate, and in the race the Ferrari driver will keep the lead of the race, gaining about half a second per lap on his pursuers, and imposing a very high race pace, until he reached the finish line first.


In Great Britain, at the Silverstone circuit, Scuderia Ferrari finally presents the new 126 C3, designed by Harvey Postlethwaite, the first car produced in Maranello with a carbon fiber monocoque, but with the mechanics, suspension and aerodynamics of the 126 C2.


Thursday 14 July 1983, on the first day of testing, characterized by a great heat, Alain Prost is the fastest, but on Friday the Ferraris climb the rankings, and Arnoux gets pole position again, the eighteenth in his career, while Patrick Tambay completes the first row. At the end of the tests, René appears very happy and convinced that the 126 C3 will allow him to continue his climb towards the top of the world rankings.


At the start, a duel immediately develops between the two Ferraris, in which Patrick Tambay manages to prevail over René Arnoux. The race continues with the cars from Maranello that seem fast on the straight but lose ground against the rival cars in the corners. This allows Alain Prost to get close to René, and pass him on the fourteenth lap at the Copse corner. Shortly after, Piquet too, taking advantage of Arnoux's lapping Thierry Boutsen, passes the French driver, and settles in third place.


Once again, Arnoux's car suffers from the degradation of tire performance: the Goodyear tires, used by Ferrari, fail to guarantee a good grip, given the great heat in which the race takes place. Therefore, on the thirty-second lap the French driver stops in the pits to change the tires and top up with fuel, returning to the track in seventh place, but again the problems with the tires will prevent him from going beyond the fifth-place finish.


Arnoux's comeback starts from Hockenheim: in Germany, the first day of testing is dominated by Ferrari, with Patrick Tambay ahead of René Arnoux by a tenth, while the rain on Saturday will not allow any of the drivers to improve the times set. the previous day, allowing the Ferraris to maintain their positions. At the start, Patrick Tambay sprints well and places himself in front of Arnoux, but the Frenchman overtakes his teammate and takes the lead on the second lap.


This time the tires do not betray the French driver, who returns to the pits for the scheduled stop on the 23rd. The speed of the Ferrari mechanics will allow the driver to re-enter the track second, behind only Nelson Piquet, and subsequently resume the lead, as the speed of the Brabham mechanics will not be sufficient to allow the Brazilian driver to keep him in first position.


In the final laps there will be mechanical problems on the gearbox of René's car, but this does not prevent the Frenchman from winning and moving to fourteen points from the top.


In Austria, René returns to be the fastest in the first day of testing, ahead of team mate Patrick Tambay by four tenths, but in the second session, the latter snatches the best time from Arnoux, by only sixty-four thousandths, as the French driver will be penalized by the failure of the engine, which yields half an hour after the start of qualifying.


The Frenchman could, at this point, use the forklift, but this is adapted for Tambay, and the short time available does not allow Arnoux to return to the track. Also, on the Österreichring circuit, Patrick Tambay maintains command of the Grand Prix at the start, while Alain Prost attacks René Arnoux unsuccessfully. On lap 22, Patrick Tambay, penalized by a slow dubbing on Jean-Pierre Jarier, was passed by his teammate and Nelson Piquet. Six laps later, Arnoux returns to the pits for refuelling.


Then, on lap 32, the French driver attacks Piquet, who returned to the track first, having cold tires, was almost overtaken. The Brazilian held the position, however, from lap 37, the BMW engine of his Brabham suffers a loss of power, forcing him to reduce the boost pressure, and give the lead position to Arnoux.


It seems made for René, who has the chance to win the race easily. However, on lap 48, the French driver hesitates at the Flatschach corner, also due to a problem in fourth gear, and is passed by Alain Prost, who shares the same technical problem as the Ferrari driver. Alain Prost crosses the finish line first, followed by René Arnoux, who will see his engine surrender a few meters after the finish.


Patrick Tambay closes fourth, while disappointing the other Ferrari driver René Arnoux who only gets twelfth place. The Italian cars had not taken part in the tests carried out in July, so they found themselves in the need to fine-tune the cars more thoroughly. Arnoux also suffers from engine problems both on the official car and on the spare one. The Frenchman, twelfth on Friday, only goes back to tenth place.


At the start René Arnoux recovers three positions, while on the second lap he is already sixth, after passing De Angelis. On the fifteenth lap, at the first corner of the track, René Arnoux overtakes Cheever, who thus climbs to fifth place. Then, on the twenty-first lap, taking advantage of a dubbing, Arnoux tries to surprise Patrese, but the Paduan driver manages to keep third place. The French driver will try again, successfully, the next lap.


On lap 39, Arnoux makes a quick pit stop, which allows him to enter the race while maintaining third place. On the forty-second lap, Alain Prost attacks Nelson Piquet at the Tarzan corner, but blocking the front wheels: the car flips and hits Piquet's. The Brazilian loses control of his Brabham, and ends up in the escape route, retiring.


Prost continues, but a few hundred meters later, a new wheel lock forces him to go off the track, and to the first retirement of the season. René Arnoux is surprisingly in command of the race by a wide margin, even if he will complain, while lapping Bruno Giacomelli, about the attitude of the Toleman driver. René Arnoux wins for the seventh time in his career, ahead of team mate Patrick Tambay, with Scuderia Ferrari taking its thirty-sixth one-two. Now, there are only eight points behind Alain Prost in the championship.


The third last Grand Prix takes place in Italy, on the Monza circuit, where the enthusiasm around the Ferrari and Arnoux is very high, despite at first the presence of the team from Maranello is questioned by a strike announced by the works council, due to the failure to sign the renewal of the metalworkers' contract.


On the first day of official testing, 50.000 spectators flock to the Brianza circuit. With a warm but cloudy climate, the two Brabhams of Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese are the two fastest cars, while René Arnoux is third.


On Saturday the ranking situation is reversed, with Patrese taking his second pole position, while Tambay and Arnoux chase the Italian driver. In the race, Riccardo will keep the lead, but is followed by Nelson Piquet, who manages to pass the two Ferraris in the sprint.


On the second lap, Arnoux recovers the third position passing his team mate, and will subsequently grab the second position, after the retirement of Riccardo Patrese.


The race will offer no further excitement, except for the fact of a brief fight between Arnoux and Cheever, which however will die out quickly, as the Renault driver will lose the use of fourth gear. While not winning, the second place guarantees Arnoux, to recover further points and move to only two points behind Prost, given that the former teammate, during the race, ran into the second consecutive retirement.


The dream, however, almost definitively fades during the European Grand Prix, which takes place at the Brands Hatch circuit. On Friday, Arnoux is only seventh, given that the tires do not last more than one lap, while Tambay is even eleventh, as he is penalized by engine problems. The next day, both René and Patrick manage to recover positions, conquering the fifth and sixth place.


The race, however, will once again be fatal for Ferrari: at the end of the first lap, Arnoux is seventh, Tambay ninth. Making up ground is difficult, and on lap 20 René loses control of the car and ends up spinning, stopping on the curbs of the Stirling corner. Aided by the commissioners, the French driver returns to the track, but now far from the points positions.


The tightness of the tires, as at the beginning of the season, will again condition the continuation of the race of the French driver, who finishes ninth, one lap behind Nelson Piquet, who wins his tenth career victory, ahead of Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell.


After this race, Prost leads the championship standings, with two points ahead of Piquet and eight points over Arnoux: winning the world championship, at this point, seems impossible. The last race of the season takes place in South Africa, in Kyalami.


Fatality has it that the government has banned the importation of hydrocarbons on its national territory since July; this would have forced the teams to use local petrol, ninety-three octane, of poor quality, therefore, to remedy the technical problems that could have arisen, it was decided to allow the teams to use jet fuel at one hundred and four octanes.


A few days before the race, however, Brabham, having learned that the import ban has lapsed, decides to bring 1.500 liters of the petrol normally used during the championship onto the track, on which, among other things, there are already time fears of irregularities expressed by competitors: having discovered the abolition of the ban, the other teams obtain the maintenance of the derogation from the use of aviation petrol.


The first official tests see Patrick Tambay's Ferrari two tenths ahead of Nelson Piquet's Brabham, and Alain Prost by more than half a second, while René Arnoux is the victim of a curious accident, given that in the first stage of practice, the Frenchman is forced to pull his car up to the edge of the Clubhouse, due to an electrical problem, and in an attempt to help the stewards move the car, the left front wheel hits him in the ankle.


Transported to a Johannesburg hospital, x-rays will rule out a fracture, but comfirming a strain. The heat of the following day will allow only ten drivers to improve the time on Thursday, including Arnoux, who will be able to recover the fourth place by beating the time of the day before registered by  Prost, who on Friday had to settle for only the tenth time of the day, also due to a wrong choice of tires.


At the start, the Brabham of Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese immediately take the lead, stealing the first position from Patrick Tambay, while Arnoux loses several positions: on the fifth lap, Niki Lauda takes the seventh position to the Frenchman, who sadly, four laps later, stops with the engine melted.


Thus, ends the dream of becoming World Champion for René, who is disappointed and forced to return to the pits, while Nelson Piquet, with the third place obtained at the end of the race, taking advantage of the retirement of Alain Prost, wins his second title.


The 1983 season will also remain famous in negative for the suspicion (which became certain at the end of the racing season) that Brabham used an irregular fuel for its BMW turbo engine. Since the summer of 1983 there have been persistent rumours about it, but only after the Italian Grand Prix did the FIA ​​decide to take a sample from Piquet's car, winner in front of an astonished René Arnoux.


The Frenchman, in fact, was amazed by the speed of the Brabham on the straights, so high that no one could catch the slipstream. The analyses will go on for a long time and only at the end of the season will it be announced that the petrol used by Brabham had a significantly higher-octane number than allowed.


Despite this, nothing happened and Enzo Ferrari, perhaps satisfied with the constructors’ title, perhaps in order not to compromise relations with Ecclestone, owner of Brabham, which owns the television rights of Formula 1, did not appeal even if Arnoux could have benefited from a possible disqualification of the English team. Ferrari is satisfied with an official letter, in which Ecclestone admits having committed an infringement and promises not to do it again. Ferrari, however, wins its second consecutive Formula 1 World Championship, and the 126 C3 concludes its history with two wins and six podiums to its credit.


Andrea Rasponi

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