The Ferrari 126 C4 is the car destined to compete in the 1984 Formula 1 World Championship. Designed by Mauro Forghieri and Harvey Postlethwaite, and driven by Michele Alboreto and the experienced French driver René Arnoux, the car was conceived after the defeat accused the previous season with the Ferrari 126 C3, from which he inherits the enormous pressure of winning at least one world title.
The 126 C4, however, the fourth and last evolution of the 126 CK of 1981, although fast enough, manifests various reliability problems that will not put it in a position to fight for the world rankings, leading it to win only one Grand Prix in Belgium.
The design of the C4 single-seater, as mentioned, derives strictly from the 1983 C3, which the Ferrari technicians tried to improve in every aspect even during the previous season. In this evolution, aerodynamics, balance, fluids and mechanics are revised.
The result is a single-seater with compact shapes, with the cockpit in a very advanced position compared to the C3, even shorter, lower and sloping side bellies, with the radiators housed with a 45° inclination for a greater arrangement of the masses, a shorter upper part of fairing and much more linear in its forms, so as to leave uncovered a large part of the drive unit, furrowed laterally by two NACA type sockets.
In addition, the capacity of the tanks is increased, without prejudicating the limit of 220 liters of fuel imposed by the FIA, allowing the car's weights to be decentralized as little as possible.
The gearbox remains of a five-speed speed type, but is lightened and placed in a transverse position, while a further novelty is the introduction of Brembo's carbon disc brakes, which Ferrari has been experimenting privately for a year and a half.
While work has been done extensively at the chassis level, from the point of view of the engine the Maranello technicians have worked more: the engine, called 031, retains the same bore and stroke as the previous 021, but is further enhanced and equipped with a new injection electronics built by Lucas Automotive.
The engine, called 031, undergoes considerable development in many respects compared to its predecessor. In particular, work is being done on strengthening the cylinders, which are enlarged and reinforced, and on the base, to lighten it and make it easier to place on the frame. Considerable work has also been done on the injection front, with a new electronic system built by Lucas Automotive and with very close collaboration with Magneti Marelli.
but in the course of the season, many turbines will sin in reliability, and in particular on the Ferrari of Michele Alboreto, which at the end of the championship will count nine retirements. Every time the engine holds up, however, Alboreto manages to regularly stay close to the top spots, demonstrating that this 126 C4 would have a huge chance to do well.
He certainly does not fare better than René Arnoux, who has eleven retirements and some podiums; nothing if you think that only a year earlier the world championship was played against Prost and Piquet. The faults, however, are not only of the C4.
The tires are crumbling to begin with, and neither Ferrari nor Goodyear want to take responsibility. Furthermore, the climate inside the garage is very heavy. However, Ferrari still managed to save the season by finishing second in the constructors' championship, behind only the impregnable McLaren Mp4/2.
The Ferrari 126 C4, however, remains one of the Maranello cars that marked the end of an era. Not only is it the last to bear the name 126, but it is also the last car on which Ferrari's historic technical director Mauro Foghieri works.
In November 1984, in fact, Forghieri left the Maranello racing department, leaving Postlethwaite with the development work on the future 156-85.
A bad season
The winter tests do not show any particular problems, and the two Ferraris set excellent times, especially at Paul Ricard, where Alboreto and Arnoux are beaten only by Elio De Angelis on Lotus: however, it must be considered that McLaren does not participate in these sessions.
The track, however, does not give the answers that Ferrari expects: the single-seater in fact manifests frequent mechanical problems, in particular with the KKK turbines, and accuses twelve retirements in the race (eight for Alboreto and four for Arnoux). The only victory of the season, as well as the only pole position, was won in the Belgian Grand Prix in Zolder with Alboreto; on this occasion his teammate Arnoux scores the fastest lap and finishes third.
For the remainder of the season, Ferrari is rarely able to fight to excel in the Grand Prix, often navigating between fourth and sixth place. However, some benefits are obtained with the introduction of the M2 version, equipped with significantly elongated side bellies and with a tapered profile towards the rear, to describe the so-called Coca-Cola design, and a new Weber-Marelli digital injection: debut in the Italian Grand Prix, the car allows Alboreto to take two seconds and a fourth place in the three final Grand Prix of Italy, Europe and Portugal, however not enough to give a change to the season's balance sheet.
Ferrari still managed to finish the constructors' championship in second place, but with less than half the points of McLaren, the undisputed dominator of the season with the Porsche-powered MP4/2, marking a marked deterioration compared to the results obtained in previous years.
The year was also complicated by the controversy that arose within Ferrari and against the technical partners. In fact, the team from Maranello accuses Goodyear of having built tires that are too weak; but the American tire dealers reject the accusation and blame the poor performance of the tires on the excessive temperature developed by the car's braking system.
The cohabitation between the two drivers is also a source of complications: the choice to reserve the greatest technical attention to Alboreto soon demotivated Arnoux, who was attacked several times by the Italian press for his poor performance on the track.
At the end of the season Mauro Forghieri will be moved to another position, and the design of the new car will be entrusted only to Harvey Postlethwaite.
The 126 C4 concludes its experience in the Formula 1 World Championship with a single victory, three third places in Belgium, Monaco and Austria, and four second places obtained in the Grand Prix of San Marino, USA West, Italy, and Europe, for a total of 57.5 championship points won and second place in the ranking reserved for the manufacturers.