The Ferrari 312 T3 is the car with which the Scuderia Ferrari disputes the 1978 season and the first races of 1979. The designated drivers are Carlos Reutemann, Gilles Villeneuve, and Jody Scheckter in 1979, while the paternity of the single-seater project is the engineer. Forghieri.
After the episode of the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix, which cost Niki Lauda the drivers' title, relations between the team and the Austrian cracked, and so they remained in 1977, so much so that on the eve of the Italian Grand Prix, when Lauda will announce that he wants to leave Ferrari, the Commendatore will bet with him on who would be the first to win a world championship again.
Already in the last two tests of 1977 Lauda was replaced by a young Canadian driver: Gilles Villeneuve. As for the 1978 season, the Argentine Carlos Reutemann, who had raced for Ferrari also the previous year, is confirmed.
In 1978 the tire supplier changed, so that the Michelin radial tires were adopted in Ferrari. Modifications to the chassis will therefore be necessary, which will be called 312 T3. The most noticeable changes once again concern the front of the car, where the nose is extended and the wing is widened, for greater overall stability.
The 312 T3 is also lowered in the center of gravity compared to the previous T2, while the rear wing is raised. The aerodynamics are visibly different, highlighted by a very wide car body, almost up to half the width of the rear tires, with new cooling and supply air ducts. A total of five units will be built:
- The 312 T3/032, used in three races, one by Villeneuve and two by Reutemann (victory in Long Beach);
- The 312 T3/033, five races with Reutemann in 1978, and used only once victoriously by Villeneuve in the 1979 Race of Champions;
- The 312 T3/034, starting from the Long Beach race, becomes the car of Villeneuve. He will use it twelve times in 1978 (victory in Canada) and in Brazil in 1979;
- The 312 T3/035, used five times by Reutemann in 1978 (victory in the US Grand Prix) and by Scheckter in the first two races of 1979;
- The 312 T3/036, used in the last European races by Reutemann in 1978 and by Villeneuve in Argentina in 1979.
A 312 T3 chassis will also be used in 1979 to test an innovative semi-automatic gearbox operated by buttons on the steering wheel designed by Mauro Forghieri. The car will complete one hundred laps in the tests, with good lap results, but will not be particularly appreciated by the Canadian driver Gilles Villeneuve. Consequently, development will be abandoned, and only in 1989 will a semi-automatic gearbox make its debut in the race, once again on a single-seater from Maranello: the 640 F1.
From the first two races it is clear that the cars destined to fight for the title are Ferrari and Lotus, even if the championship will be heavily conditioned by tire wear, which will mortify Ferrari's ambitions on several occasions.
This is what happens, for example, during the first Grand Prix in Argentina. Carlos Reutemann sprints from second position at the start, but during the race the anomalous tire wear makes him lose several positions. After stopping in the pits to change tires, the Argentine recovers from his opponents but ends the race in seventh place, followed by his teammate, Gilles Villeneuve, who also has tire problems. The first success of the season arrives in Brazil, at the hands of Carlos Reutemann.
The Argentine will not have the same luck during the South African Grand Prix, given that during the fifty-third lap Rupert Keegan loses oil from his car, before the mixed part of the track, and three laps later Carlos Reutemann does not notice the danger and ends up off the track, retreating.
In Long Beach Ferrari returns to shine with Reutemann hitting his second seasonal success and relaunching himself at the top of the championship standings. As for Gilles Villeneuve, an accident expels him from the race and precludes a possible victory.
On lap 39, just before mid-race, Gilles approaches the dubbing of Clay Regazzoni, who is in battle with Renault's Jean-Pierre Jabouille. Instead of waiting for the straight, the Canadian tries to pass them immediately before a chicane, but a misunderstanding arises with Regazzoni, so much so that the front right tire of the Ferrari hits the rear left of the Shadow and Villeneuve's car is thrown against the wall, touching Regazzoni's helmet.
The good moment for Ferrari could continue in Monaco, as Reutemann scores pole position at the end of qualifying, but at the corner of Sainte Devote, Carlos Reutemann, author of a bad start, is hit by Niki Lauda; in the impact, the Austrian's car caused the Ferrari driver to puncture the left rear tire. The subsequent return to the pits will sink the Argentine at the bottom of the standings.
So Depallier moved to the top of the standings, followed by Reutemann who on this occasion missed no points.
In Zolder, Belgium, the two Lotus are impregnable, despite only Andretti racing with the new model 79. Carlos Reutemann manages to finish in third place, followed by his teammate, who on this occasion reaches the finish line fourth after having recovered several positions following a pit stop, caused by a detached front tire and a broken front wing.
The success of Lotus is also confirmed in Spain, while for Ferrari the event will not be favourable: on lap fifty-seventh, Carlos Reutemann exits at the Varzi curve, after passing over the dust brought to the track by the Lauda exit. The car hits the barriers, but the Argentine does not report any physical consequences. In addition, both cars have difficulty maintaining a good pace due to imperfect tire behavior.
And even if the Lotus run into a bad day in Sweden, the Ferraris of Reutemann and Villeneuve again suffer from the anomalous wear of the Michelin tires, which slow down their pace and force the two standard bearers to close in ninth and tenth place. A situation that is also repeated on the Paul Ricard circuit, where the Argentine driver will even be forced to make five pit stops.
Carlos Reutemann manages to redeem himself at Brands Hatch, on the occasion of the Grand Prix in Great Britain, bringing the championship triumphs to three, but the distance of fourteen points from the first position in the standings, and the problems related to abnormal wear of the tires, they do not allow you to risk an assault on the summit, despite the fact that there are no less than six races left.
In addition to this, reliability is also sometimes lacking, as happened in Germany, at Hockenheim, given that the Argentine is forced to retire in the cost of the fourteenth lap due to an anomaly in the engine fuel system.
In Austria Carlos Reutemann is the victim of an accident that excludes him from the race during the fifth lap. However, the race direction decides to stop the race on the seventh lap, and to resume it after a stop of fifty minutes. At this juncture the Argentine restarts, but will be disqualified and therefore will not finish the race.
In Holland, when there are only a few races left at the end of the championship, the aforementioned problems with the tires slow down Reutemann again, who slips towards the end of the race to seventh place.
Any ambitions for victory in the World Championship are definitively extinguished in Monza, as Reutemann does not go beyond the third place, obtained following the disqualification of Andretti and Villeneuve, who initially reached the finish line first and second.
With the championship now closed, the Argentine triumphs at Watkins Glen, and comes third again at the finish in Montréal, the circuit where Gilles Villeneuve captures his first career success.
The car will be subject to constant evolution throughout the season, and in the winter of 1979 it will undergo the definitive evolution pending the arrival of the new T4, allowing Canadian Gilles Villenuve to win the same year's Race of Champions.
The Ferrari 312 T3 will therefore close its career with a total of five world championship victories, four of which obtained thanks to Reutemann and one with Gilles Villenuve, who, however, boasts the success at the 1979 Race of Champions, totalling 65 world championship points and two pole positions and winning the second place in the world ranking dedicated to manufacturers.