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Ferrari 312 B, the era of the flat twelve-cylinder engine begins

2021-04-01 00:00

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Ferrari 312 B, the era of the flat twelve-cylinder engine begins

For Scuderia Ferrari, the 1970s will represent a decade of innovations and success, which will bring significant changes on a technical level not only

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For Scuderia Ferrari, the 1970s will represent a decade of innovations and success, which will bring significant changes on a technical level not only for Ferrari's automotive and sporting path, but also for Formula 1 in general.

 

The second half of the 1960s was not a lucky period for the Maranello team: after the title obtained by Surtees in '64, the victories obtained from the following year until the end of the decade will barely be three. The 312, which runs for four seasons from 1966 to '69, brings home rare satisfactions that forced the team to change course.

 

The 1970 season represents a small launching pad, in which the new 312 B demonstrates a competitiveness that has not been seen for some time, first of all given by the debut of the new twelve-cylinder engine defined as boxer or, rather, flat: this car inaugurates an important decade for the team from Maranello, full of successes and world titles.

 

The new flat V12 inaugurates the twelve-cylinder flat series

 

Towards the end of the 1960s, Enzo Ferrari was eager to overturn a complicated sporting situation for his team, so Mauro Forghieri set to work to build a revolutionary project, which starts from the new engine, the Ferrari Tipo 001, a twelve-cylinder engine with 180° open banks.

 

This will be called boxer journalistically, even if in reality the term is wrong, as the engineer Forghieri states, because the engine is opposed to cylinders, where each connecting rod is connected to a single crank and the pistons move in the same direction, while in the case of the boxer the support is connected to two connecting rods, and the pistons move towards each other.

 

It should also be specified, as declared by Forghieri, that the initials B added to the car name does not refer to the term boxer, but to the double overhead camshaft installed. And therefore, speaking of twin-shaft, the abbreviation B appears. The history of the construction of the engine is linked to a theme relating to aviation.

 

It may sound as a bizarre story for some, but the flat V12 had to be used for an airplane: more precisely, Franklin, an American company that builds airplanes, is interested in this flat engine, suitable for their requests to be placed on the wings of an airplane. The well-known company contacts Ferrari to start construction of the new V12 engine, but bad luck wants the company to go bankrupt and eventually the agreement vanishes.

 

The advantages derived from the new engine and the aerodynamic section

 

This engine was born after the disappointments of the last few seasons; in the past, in fact, it was very difficult to find an optimal tuning of the car because the old Ferrari engine, too heavy, did not allow it. The two key definitions that Forghieri wants to implement for this new engine are the lower center of gravity, and lightness.

 

The Ferrari Tipo 001 turns out to be a decidedly less heavy engine - we are talking about 145 kilograms - and therefore more compact and manageable, characteristics that penalized the previous engines for years in comparison with the Cosworth. This engine is also more powerful (albeit only fifteen horsepower) and with a greater number of engine revolutions; for the Type 001 we are talking about 450 maximum horsepower output, at around 11.600 rpm, with a displacement of 3.000 cubic centimeters.

 

The opposing cylinders, positioned horizontally, allow the gravity center of the car to be lowered, from which considerable advantages are derived: with a lower rear area, the aerodynamic flow that goes towards the rear wing is cleaner, providing greater sealing of road and therefore a performance advantage.

 

The frame is a semi-monocoque, made up of steel tubes covered with riveted aluminum panels; there is a rear beam that supports the engine, not yet fully supporting, and the rear wing. At the aerodynamic level, two small ailerons are added on the nose, while in the rear there is a large rear wing, placed above the engine in a more forward position than the rear axle of the wheels.

 

A particular detail is the arrangement of the radiators, positioned behind the rear axle of the wheels. As for the suspensions, the front one is particular, consisting of an upper rocker arm and a lower triangle, which includes a group of coaxial coil springs, with inboard shock absorber, and the anti-roll bar. While the rear suspension is characterized by an inverted lower triangle, composed of an external coaxial coil springs, always with the factory anti-roll bar. The tank has a capacity of 220 liters, while the tires are supplied again by Firestone.

 

The 312 B goes down for the first time on track in the autumn of 1969 at the Modena Aerodrome, a facility that is often used for car and motorcycle races, as an airport, and for testing by manufacturers located nearby. Among these is the Scuderia Ferrari, which uses it to test its racing cars until the Fiorano circuit is inaugurated in 1972. The first driver to sit in the cockpit of the 312 B in the test at the Aerautodromo di Modena is Chris Amon, being considered by the engineer Forghieri to be an extraordinary tester.

 

The final comeback fails to Ickx and Regazzoni

 

Despite the fact that an interesting car has been built, the start of the championship is conditioned by the transfers of the two starter drivers, Chris Amon and Pedro Rodriguez: the Australian is hired by the French Matra, while the Mexican moves to B.R.M.

 

For the 1970 season the Belgian Jacky Ickx returns from Brabham, but initially he is not joined by any teammates, as Ferrari lined up only one car for the first three races. The start of the season is quite disastrous for the Maranello team, due to insufficient reliability of the new powerful V12 engine.

 

In the first round in South Africa Ickx gets the fifth time in qualifying, but fails to finish the race, stopping twenty laps from the end with the engine in smoke.

 

During the chaotic weekend lived in Spain, in Jarama, Ickx encounters unfavorable circumstances several times starting from Friday, in which he is forced to use the spare car as a technical problem occurs on his 312 B. In the race, the Belgian, starting from seventh place, gained two positions, but on the first lap at the S Bugatti the drama was narrowly missed : the English driver Oliver, due to a technical problem, suddenly swerved to the left, invading the internal escape route, and ended up hitting the left flank of Ickx's car; one of the tanks of the 312 B breaks down, spilling fuel on the asphalt and a vast fire breaks out, enveloping the damaged cars, but fortunately the two drivers, enabling the fire extinguishing devices installed on their cars, immediately come out of their cockpits, escaping a possible tragedy.

 

Fortunately, Ickx only suffers from minor burns to his back, but for the second consecutive race he is forced to retire.

 

In the Monaco Grand Prix Ickx is fifth in qualifying and once again, after a good start to the race, he has to abandon the race after a few laps due to the unfortunate failure of the drive shaft. In the Belgian Grand Prix, Ferrari fielded a second car for the first time this season.

 

Leading it is the Roman Ignazio Giunti, a thirty-year-old driver who had amazed the Ferrari owner in his path in Sports cars and so decides to offer him the opportunity to drive the 312 B and participate in the Belgian weekend, despite not even having carried out a test on a Formula 1 car. The Italian amazes as a novice with the 312 B, obtaining the eighth time in qualifying and a surprising fourth place finish, which however could have been a podium, lost due to a wrong call by the race offficals for a non-existent oil leak. Giunti brings the first championship points of the year to the Maranello team with the new flat V12, while Ickx closes away from the points zone.

 

In the Netherlands, however, the driver who supports Ickx is the rookie Clay Regazzoni, who had stood out in the Formula 2 European Championship aboard the Tecno and who a week earlier had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Ferrari 512 S Sport, paired with Arturo Merzario. In qualifying both Jacky Ickx and the Ticinese place a good time, starting respectively third and sixth. The two Ferrari drivers have an excellent race, which sees Ickx taking the lead in the very first laps, and Regazzoni recovering ground after an unhappy start. Unluckily at the very end Ickx had to leave second position to Stewart due to a puncture, but despite this he finished third, taking the first podium of the season. Surprising is the debut of Regazzoni who crosses the finish line in fourth place, earning his first points in Formula 1.

 

Ignazio Giunti returns to the French Grand Prix with the second car, but the most important news at Ferrari is the first pole conquered by Ickx aboard the 312 B, the second in his career for the Belgian. However, not so much good news arrives in the race: Ickx, despite realizing during the reconnaissance lap that the engine seems to have problems, starts keeping the lead, but is forced to stop after fifteen laps due to a failure of the powerful engine Ferrari, postponing the first win of the season for the Maranello company. Once arrived, however, he reaches the finish line far from the top positions.

 

On the Brand Hatch circuit, on the occasion of the British Grand Prix, Clay Regazzoni returns to replace the Italian Giunti. In Free Practice Ickx is third, while Regazzoni gets the sixth time. In the race the Belgian sprints best of all and takes the leadership of the race, but once again he is forced to abandon the competition, for the fifth time this season: on this occasion it is the transmission that betrays him, after less than seven laps. Regazzoni leads another good race, who, like in Holland, comes fourth, just a few tenths from a place on the podium.

 

But from the German Grand Prix the season changes completely, in this case in a positive way for the Maranello team. First of all, Enzo Ferrari, after alternating Giunti and Regazzoni for the second car, makes the final decision to couple Ickx with the Swiss Regazzoni until the end of the season, and secondly the Ferrari regains a competitiveness that seemed lost. In qualifying Jacky Ickx obtained the second pole position of the year, ahead of championship leader Rindt and Clay Regazzoni's Ferrari.

 

The race will see an intense battle between these three drivers, with numerous position changes from start to finish. Regazzoni, however, is unlucky because he has to retire mid-race due to a gearbox problem, leaving Rindt and Ickx alone in the fight for success.

 

The two duelists take turns leading the race to the finish, which sees the winner of the championship leader Jochen Rindt, who defends himself better against the last attempts of Ickx, who finished second.

 

Despite the defeat, for the first time we can underline the progress and the competitiveness reached by the 312 B2, which saw both drivers fight for the success against the dominator of the championship, which bodes well for the following races.

 

In the Austrian Grand Prix, raced on the new circuit of the Osterreichring, Ferrari decides to field a third car, entrusted to Ignazio Giunti. In practice it is Jochen Rindt, home idol, who gets the start at the post, but the Ferraris are very close, with Regazzoni and Ickx finishing behind him, and an excellent Giunti who gets the fifth time. At the start of the race the quickest is Regazzoni who takes the lead ahead of Rindt and Ickx. During the first lap, however, the Belgian takes the second position and the two Ferraris begin to increase their advantage. Rindt, the great favorite, will not be able to finish the race, while the two Ferrari drivers will only have to be careful of potential attacks from Beltoise's Matra, which however loses some positions in the final phase.

 

The team from Maranello, after many years, returns to dominate a race thanks to a great competitiveness that has not been seen for a long time. The winner is Ickx in front of a great Regazzoni, who despite his lack of experience in this competition becomes the protagonist of an extraordinary race, also accompanied by the fastest lap.

 

After more than two years, a Ferrari returns to win and does so clearly, while for Ickx it is the fourth victory in his career. Ignazio Giunti, due to a puncture, is unable to take home points as he finishes seventh at the finish.

 

The Italian Grand Prix is ​​remembered for the tragedy that occurred during Saturday practice: championship leader Jochen Rindt is involved in a violent accident at the Parabolica against the guardrail, and the Austrian dies during his transport to the hospital.

 

This dramatic moment does not put an end to the sporting event in Monza, and Ickx again takes pole position in front of the B.R.M. by Rodriguez and Regazzoni. The first part of the race is characterized by a continuous rotation of drivers leading the race, until Rodriguez and Giunti retire, and together with them also the number one favourite, Ickx, due to the failure of the clutch.

 

After a few laps it is Regazzoni, with the only red left in the race, to take command of operations, but Jackie Stewart chases him, giving life to a thrilling duel, which Beltoise also takes part shortly after. But when there are about fifteen laps to go, after seeing the Frenchman's Matra take the lead, Regazzoni gets back in front and distances his rivals with a clean and error-free ride. The Swiss triumphs in front of all the Ferrari fans, taking his first victory in Formula 1. A victory that has a particular taste, not much because it is the first, but because of the way it was obtained, aboard of a Ferrari in the home Grand Prix of the Maranello team.

 

In terms of the classification, this represents a wasted opportunity for Ickx but as far as the constructors' championship is concerned, these are important points, which allow the team from Maranello to recover a lot of ground against its rivals.

 

In the third to last Grand Prix held in Canada, the two Ferraris obtained the second and third time in qualifying, respectively with Ickx and Regazzoni, behind the rookie Tyrrell, led by Stewart. The Briton commands the race for over thirty laps until his retirement, due to the loss of the drive shaft, paving the way for his most direct opponent Ickx who wins the race alone. With the Swiss Regazzoni second, Ferrari collects the second double of the season, and above all shows another proof of strength, speed and reliability of the flat V12 engine, after a difficult start.

 

With the success achieved, Jacky Ickx remains the only driver who can still dream of the drivers' championship, but he must win the last two races to succeed.

 

In the United States, Ickx takes pole position again, the fourth of the season, ahead of Stewart and Fittipaldi, with the latter having the fundamental task of defending Rindt's leadership aboard the Lotus. At the start Ickx leaves the lead of the race to Stewart, while the Belgian climbs to third place. In the following laps Ickx takes second position passing Rodriguez, and the same thing does Regazzoni, who passes third. But this time Ferrari is not lucky: Regazzoni is forced to return to the pits during the first part of the race, losing a lot of positions that make him relegate in the standings, and shortly after Ickx, forced to win, must also return to the pits to a loss of fuel, definitively abandoning the hopes of the championship.

 

The winner is Fittipaldi, who first takes advantage of Stewart's retirement and then Rodriguez's problems to take the lead. Ickx with Ferrari comes fourth and fails with a race to spare the possibility of fully recovering the disadvantage against Jochen Rindt, who became the first and only posthumous world champion driver.

 

In the last race held in Mexico, despite the championship now lost, Ferrari took away further satisfactions. In practice Clay Regazzoni gets his first pole position in his career, while Ickx does not go beyond the third time. In the race, the Belgian, almost immediately taking the lead, dominated the race and found his third win of the season ahead of Regazzoni's other 312 B, who took advantage of Stewart's retirement.

 

Despite being beaten, Ferrari closed the season in a great way by obtaining its third double win of the season.

 

The championship closes with encouraging signs for the future: after a disastrous start to the season, conditioned by bad luck and by the new flat V12 engine, still immature from the reliability point of view, Ferrari definitely changes course starting from the Italian Grand Prix. Germany, where Ickx touches the first victory, which then arrives later in Austria. The Belgian, despite the numerous placings achieved in the final of the season, is unable to catch up with the leader Rindt, absent in the last four races, but still world champion.

 

Regazzoni's path is also incredible, running only eight races and finishing third in the championship. In the end, Ickx collects three wins, four pole positions and five podiums, while Regazzoni takes home the Italian Grand Prix, pole position in Mexico and another three second places. In the constructors' standings, Ferrari made a great comeback after running out of points in the first three races, finishing in second place behind Lotus by just seven points.

 

The 312 B also participates in the first two events of the following season, once again taking the victory. It is Mario Andretti to get it in the inaugural Grand Prix in South Africa, while Regazzoni comes third. In Spain, the last official race of this car, another pole position and a second position in the race with Jacky Ickx were conquered.

 

The final spoils of the 312 B are more than positive: in total out of fifteen races there are five successes obtained, three with Ickx, one with Regazzoni and one with Andretti, the pole positions are six and finally the podiums obtained are twelve.

 

This single-seater is remembered as one of the best projects carried out by Ferrari's technical director, Mauro Forghieri. The project, as mentioned, seems to promise well for the future, but the cars that will follow the 312 B will be decidedly less competitive, and Ferrari will have to wait until 1974 to return to fight for the conquest of the world championship, and in that case the protagonist it will be Regazzoni again, a driver who from his debut proves to be a true protagonist on this stage, but who in the end will not be able to grasp the good that could be imagined after the splendid 1970 season.

 

Nicola Battello

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