The Ferrari 156-85 is the car with which Scuderia Ferrari participates in the 1985 Formula 1 World Championship, and it is the first Ferrari single-seater that, after twenty-three years, does not see Mauro Forghieri among the signatories of the project: the latter had in fact abandoned the sports section towards the end of 1984, thus leaving Harvey Postlethwaite and his staff the complete authorship of the new car.
With this car Michele Alboreto will fight for the drivers' championship, but in the final part of the season Ferrari will introduce a new engine with greater power and a new internal fluid dynamic, which however will prove to be a real disaster, so much so that Alboreto will no longer succeed to finish a race, giving Prost the final victory.
Overall, the 156-85 is a car that, while on one hand maintains strong links with the single-seaters of previous years, on the other it appears completely renewed. In fact, it shares the suspension and the chassis, again with bodywork functions in composite materials, now reinforced with boron fibers, with the 126 C4, but the engine setting and aerodynamics are completely revolutionized.
The big news of the 156-85 is represented by the use of coke-shaped bellies, introduced by McLaren a couple of years earlier. This configuration reduces the drag of the rear wheels and improves the aerodynamic penetration and grip of the car.
The coke bellies will cause the forward movement of the heat exchangers, which are the same as the 126 C4, now split and placed perpendicular to the axis of the car, and of the water and oil radiators, arranged according to a fan-shaped inclination. This particular type discharges the hot air, coming out from the radiant surfaces, in the lateral part of the sides, not interfering with the air flow that hits the rear wing.
Another novelty is the large rear diffuser, which incorporates the exhausts with the function of creating a Venturi tube. In addition, the turbo engine scheme used since 1980 is definitively abandoned, i.e. with turbochargers and exhausts at the top and intake at the bottom, to support the new aerodynamic approach.
This scheme had been adopted by the Ferrari technicians to have a better thermal disposal and the possibility of mounting shorter exhausts, and therefore lighter, even if this was to the detriment of the car's center of gravity. This type of engine, however, is well suited to wing-cars, i.e. cars equipped with side skirts and Venturi tubes capable of increasing the car's grip.
But starting in 1983, with the introduction of the flat bottom and above all of the coca cola bellies, that is, very tapered at the rear, Ferrari had found itself in difficulty in the aerodynamic sector, while making up for it with the great power of its engine.
With the new engine, Ferrari will therefore conform to the scheme adopted by most of the manufacturers: the exhausts at the bottom, and with them the KKK turbines, while the intake manifolds and the relative boxes are moved above the V of the engine.
This new V6 is capable of delivering almost 800 horsepower, reaching almost 900 horsepower in qualifying configuration, and an even more powerful evolution will be introduced mid-season, which however will be the cause of the car's poor reliability in the final stages of the championship: soon the engine will start to suffer from overheating problems due to an inadequate oil recovery system, and turbine problems will begin to arise.
Even the gearbox, always in the transverse position, is made more compact and lighter thanks to the use of special metal alloys.
Another important novelty is the adoption, for the first time on a Ferrari F1, of CAD technologies in collaboration with Aermacchi, which make it possible to create very accurate aerodynamics. The type of CAD program used is of the finite element type, i.e. the body is ideally decomposed into many small segments and the stresses for each of them are calculated, so that if changes are made in the basic data (for example, the stresses on the suspensions), the program allows you to quickly identify the points to be reinforced or modified.
Although officially unveiled on February 16, 1985, the 156-85 has been on the track since the end of 1984, as it is necessary to develop the Goodyear tires that were one of the causes of the failure of the 126 C4. The first tests of 1985 will reveal that the new single-seater of the prancing horse is certainly competitive even if, on the bumpier tracks, there will be some nervousness due to the stiffer frame.
An almost triumphal season
For the 1985 season the Alboreto-Arnoux couple is reconfirmed. In the inaugural Grand Prix, in Brazil, Michele Alboreto sets the best time in qualifying and conquers pole, but in the race he will have to give way to Alain Prost, who will cross the finish line in first position, just a few seconds behind the Milanese driver, while René Arnoux closes in fourth position.
A good start for Ferrari, were it not for the surprise that on April 17th it was announced that René Arnoux terminates his contractual agreement with Enzo Ferrari in agreement with the latter, who thanks him for the collaboration of the last few years: his post will be taken by the Swedish Stefan Johansson, who at the end of 1984 was free.
The first race of the season had demonstrated Ferrari's excellent competitiveness, also confirmed in Portugal, on the Estoril circuit, given that under the deluge that will see Ayrton Senna triumphant for the first time, Michele Alboreto repeats himself and finishes second at the finish line, thus finding himself at the top of the world rankings.
In Imola, however, Michele's race to success is interrupted due to an electrical problem.
Surprisingly, in a very particular race, which sees several competitors stop due to lack of petrol, Johansson almost manages to win the Grand Prix, except that he too is forced to stop due to lack of fuel in the tank.
In Monte Carlo, Michele Alboreto manages to repeat himself by winning second place in the race for the third time, while for Johansson the Grand Prix ends on the first lap, due to an accident that sees him involved.
After this series of placings that lead him to be able to play the title, Alboreto wins in Montréal and authoritatively leads the drivers' standings. Stefan Johansson completes the Ferrari party with second place.
Ferrari's good moment continues in Detroit, as Johansson closes in second place ahead of Alboreto, who with this further good result extends the lead over Elio De Angelis, second in the standings.
After a setback on the Paul Ricard circuit, Michele obtained an excellent second place at Silverstone, now only two points ahead of Alain Prost, who in the meantime managed to recover in the standings. But above all, he wins authoritatively on the new Nurburgring circuit.
At the end of the Grand Prix, Alboreto will say that he feels satisfied with the victory obtained, in particular for the progress highlighted by the engine of his car, but at the same time he invites us to contain enthusiasm given the many races still on the calendar before the end of the championship and will sorry to teammate Johansson for the collision at the start. For his part, Alain Prost, although saddened by the outcome of the race, says he is confident for the rest of the season, especially for the fact that the development of his McLaren is proceeding regularly.
It can be said that this is perhaps the moment when the championship begins to change face for Ferrari and Michele Alboreto, due to the aforementioned sudden drop in reliability of the 156-85.
In Austria, Michele limits the car's lack of performance by taking a third place that keeps him at the top of the standings, level on points with the winner Alain Prost, while in the Netherlands he does not go beyond fourth place. In Monza, in front of an audience that is waiting for nothing but a win from Ferrari, Michele is forced to retire during the forty-fifth lap due to engine failure, while Alain Prost wins and extends his advantage in the standings, which now stands at twelve points.
The reason for the sharp drop in performance can be found in the changes Ferrari made to the engine over the course of the season. In fact, we realize, guiltily too late, that reliability is lacking as the oil recovery pumps of the new engine are insufficient and tend to emulsify the oil; moreover, suddenly the KKK turbines also stop working regularly.
Some changes such as changing the attachment of the front shock absorbers to the chassis will also fail. The emblem of this grotesque situation will be the Belgian Grand Prix, which should have taken place in June. However, after qualifying, where Alboreto sets the best time, the Grand Prix is postponed to September because the asphalt tends to flake.
But when in September, in the midst of Ferrari's crisis, we return to the circuit to compete in the Grand Prix, both the evolved car and the model used the first time will be much slower and far from the best.
In the race, Alboreto stops on lap three due to a broken clutch, while Alain flies towards the title thanks to his third place at the Spa circuit. A similar situation will repeat itself at the European Grand Prix, raced on the circuit of Brands Hatch, as Alboreto stops due to engine failure, and Prost comes fourth, bringing the advantage over the Milanese driver to nineteen points, just two races to go: just enough to mathematically become World Champion.
It goes without saying that in South Africa and Australia Alboreto will retire on both occasions, first for yet another engine failure, and in Adelaide for a gearbox malfunction. When they ask Prost at the end of the season when he was sure he could win the world championship, the Frenchman will reply:
"When Ferrari started breaking engines".
In fact, reliability for the Maranello team had been one of his strengths in recent years, and the numerous breakages therefore represent a rather unusual circumstance.
Ten years later, Alboreto will remember that season by telling an anecdote about Enzo Ferrari: after the victory in Germany, right in the house of the Porsche that wanted to celebrate a victory for Prost, the troubles for Ferrari begin. The parts that inexplicably begin to break come from German companies that supply the same components to McLaren-Porsche (notably, the KKK turbines). These will be examined, but no defects will be found.
Therefore, the suspicion arises that these components may be of lower quality than those supplied to Ron Dennis' team, sending Enzo Ferrari on a rampage who, in a meeting with Alboreto and Piccinini, the sports director, says:
"Put those pieces in a basket and throw them away. Now I call America and I want some new pieces here in the morning".
Although Piccinini tries to point out that it was not possible, out of the blue and without testing, to change a tested component for a completely new one, Ferrari orders the new parts by contacting the American Garrett. The components arrive in Maranello within a few weeks, but the result of this choice are four consecutive withdrawals: the engine was in fact designed and developed to use the German KKK turbines and, now three quarters of the season, it is almost impossible to redesign it in in order to adapt it to the new specifications.
Michele Alboreto will therefore not be able to counter Prost’s advance, which makes him the drivers' world title.
The Ferrari 156-85 concludes its adventure in Formula 1 with two victories, including one double, eight podiums, including six second places and two third places, and a total of 82 points, in addition to second place in the world championship standings builders, and that of the conductors thanks to the perseverance and skills of Michele Alboreto.