The Ferrari 640 F1, also called F1-89, is the single-seater built by Scuderia Ferrari to compete in the 1989 Formula 1 World Championship. Designed by John Barnard, the car is very innovative, being the first Formula 1 single-seater to use a sequential semi-automatic gearbox.
Already in the second half of 1988, which had seen McLaren victorious in all championship races except the Italian Grand Prix, won by Ferrari, in Maranello was decided to implement an intense development program for the new single-seater for the following year.
To do this, the British designer John Barnard was hired, who in previous years had signed several successful single-seaters for McLaren; under his direction the prototype 639 was built in two copies, a laboratory car to be used in an intense test program in the second part of the season.
The 639 fulfills the role of incubator for various technical innovations, first of all the semi-automatic seven-speed gearbox, an absolute novelty for Formula 1; Barnard strongly believes in this solution, so he designs the cockpit without the space for a possible return to the traditional manual lever. The dashboard instrumentation is equally innovative, with a panel of seven warning lights that illuminate to indicate the gear engaged.
At the same time, a strong effort is being made in the development of the engine: in fact, the imminent abandonment of turbo engines in Formula 1, which for some time had been subject to performance limitations and finally banned by the regulation at the end of 1988, requires manufacturers to return to engines aspirated.
Ferrari therefore chooses to focus on the V12, a division closely linked to its major competitive as well as commercial successes with the production models. For this engine, five valves per cylinder are adopted, three inlet and two exhaust, and the cast iron crankcase.
The officially declared power is approximately 600 horsepower at a rotation of 12.000 rpm; however, the engine will undergo continuous evolutions throughout the season, going from the initial 600 horsepower up to almost 660 horsepower, with a rotation of 13.000 rpm.
The development of the semiautomatic gearbox will prove to be long and difficult: the low reliability and intrinsic complexity of such an innovative system will risk slowing down the development of the engines. To avoid a general slowdown of the project, the Ferrari technicians will therefore recover a single-seater from 1987, adapt it to the V12 engine and mount a traditional gearbox, calling it F1 87/88A. The development of the engine can thus continue unattached to that of the transmission.
Major innovations will also intervene in terms of aerodynamics: in fact, in addition to the characteristic nose with a shape similar to a bird's beak, a characteristic for which the car will be jokingly nicknamed duck, the body introduces large side bellies with a sinuous shape, to which inside, in addition to the water and oil exchangers, there is space for the side petrol tanks.
Still in the aerodynamic field, the car does not adopt the airscope, that is the periscope air intake above the rollbar, replaced by two openings behind the pilot's head, which in fact make the flow on the rear wing less disturbed.
Lastly, the bottom of the body is redesigned, improving its efficiency from the point of view of downforce, thus allowing the adoption of a rear wing made of extremely reduced rope.
The suspensions are also a breaking point with the past: both at the front and at the rear the push rod scheme is adopted instead of the pull rod that appeared at the end of 1982 on the front of the 126 C2.
The major innovation in terms of suspension is represented by the introduction of elastic elements: instead of the traditional coil springs, Barnard in fact uses vertical torsion bars that at the front are about at the height of the rider's knee, while at the rear they find space in a special niche in the fusion of the gearbox.
Thus the 640 F1 was born from this work, equipped with a V12 engine and semi-automatic gearbox on which, compared to the 639 model, the aerodynamics are further refined, furthermore the radiators inside the bellies are repositioned, the side tanks modified, the frame lowered. and driving position, and updated the dashboard, replacing the gear selector lights with a digital display.
During the season, Ferrari will give up the side air intakes, adopting in turn a traditional airscope which will prove capable of guaranteeing more horsepower to the engine.
A season with mixed feelings
Despite the painstaking preparation carried out in 1988, and the choice of a competitive driver like Nigel Mansell twice world runner-up, personally wanted by Enzo Ferrari shortly before his death, flanked by confirmed Gerhard Berger, the 640 will prove to be fast but not very reliable.
At his debut in Brazil, Mansell wins the race beating the much more popular McLaren, despite a daring change of steering wheel at the pit stop caused by a failure in the gear selection mechanism.
However, in the subsequent races there will be several retirements for both drivers, mostly caused by the semi-automatic gearbox. Transmission failures will be mainly of an electrical nature; specifically, the alternator, which is located in an area of the rear where excessive temperatures are reached, causing a crisis in the refined solenoid valves that manage the gearbox servomechanisms, causing it to break.
This is what happens in Imola, Monte Carlo, Mexico City, Phoenix (due to alternator problems), Montréal, Paul Ricard (with Berger, while Mansell finishes second). This is followed by a second place obtained at Silverstone by the British driver, and a third place at Hockenheim.
The problem is understood and solved only late in the season, so that in Hungary, starting from the twelfth position on the starting grid, in a very tight circuit like the Hungaroring, Nigel Mansell takes his second victory of the season.
This is followed by an encouraging third place obtained by Mansell at Spa, but once again the gearbox stops the British race in Italy, at Monza. Berger brings Ferrari back to victory at the Portuguese Grand Prix, in which Mansell is disqualified and expelled from the race for ignoring the black flag shown to him by the race officials.
Therefore, with Berger's car alone, Ferrari obtained another podium in Spain thanks to the second place won by the Austrian driver, and two retirements for both drivers in the last two races held in Suzuka and Adelaide.
In total, the Austrian driver will finish only three Grands Prix, having also missed the race scheduled in Monte Carlo due to burns in the previous Grand Prix raced in Imola, against six at Mansell.
However, demonstrating the competitiveness of the 640, every time the drivers have managed to finish a race they always reach the podium. Specifically, the English driver wins two second places in the Grand Prix of France and Great Britain, and two third places in Germany and Belgium, while the teammate wins only two third places in the Italian and Spanish Grand Prix, for a total of 59 world championship points and the third position in the world championship standings dedicated to constructors.