Ferrari 126 C2, beautiful, fast and cursed



The 1982 certainly represents one of the most unlikely years in the history of Formula 1.


From a technical point of view, the season opens with a certainty: the excessive power of Ferrari is evident, and to counter the superiority of the 126 C2, a colossal undertaking will be needed.


Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve have the opportunity to battle on an equal footing, aware of the superiority of their vehicle, and it is difficult to predict, on the eve of the 1982 season, that someone could steal the title from the Maranello team.


Yet, at the end of this season, the track's feedback provides a surprising and unpredictable result, crowning world champion Keke Rosberg.


Did the 126 C2 not live up to expectations? Or did something go wrong with Ferrari? To be honest, nothing went the right way for the Emilian team.


The origins of the 126 C2


Between 1980 and 1981, Ferrari designed its first turbo-compressed car of the modern era, named in its definitive version 126 CK.


In the 1981 championship, this first model wins on the Monaco and Jarama tracks, thanks to the guidance of Gilles Villeneuve.


Especially in Spain, the Canadian manages to keep behind a quintet of experienced or talented drivers, such as Laffite, Watson, Reutemann and De Angelis, exploiting the greater power of his engine on the straight, and driving masterfully in the mixed, without committing the slightest deburring.


At the finish line, in the top five they arrive enclosed in less than a second and a half, thus making it clear that Ferrari needs chassis developments in order to be up to the top teams.

The main problem of the 126 CK is the low torsional stiffness guaranteed by the frame, which is still made with a technology dating back to the previous decade.


The body of this single-seater is nothing more than a set of tubes, wrapped in riveted aluminum panels, an assembly technique that seems outdated, especially when compared to that of the McLaren MP4/1 designed by John Barnard, made with a monocoque built entirely in carbon fiber.


This material is still used today for the construction of the chassis of modern Formula 1 single-seaters, first of all resulting in weight savings compared to the old structures, greater rigidity, and consequently less deformation of the material over time.


The advent of ground effect, introduced with the Lotus 79, makes cars turn faster, and consequently, starting in 1978, the frames are subjected to greater stress.


Furthermore, the structure in composite materials guarantees greater safety for the drivers: this is still the case, thanks to the absorption capacity of the body, which is much higher than the materials used in Formula 1 before 1978.


Ferrari countermeasures


To keep up with the competition, Harvey Postlethwaite is hired in Maranello, an engineer expert in the field of chassis and already the architect of promising projects in the past, such as that of Wolf.


Thanks to the British technician, Ferrari finally responds to the ambitions of modernizing its single-seaters, but this is not an easy step forward: in Maranello, the philosophy of the carbon fiber body had never been taken into consideration, and it represents everyone the effects are a new idea for the Italian team, a new horizon to explore.

For this reason, the British engineer of the Tyrrell school opts for a hybrid solution, deciding to use a construction system that is halfway between the McLaren idea and the old technology.


The monocoque of the new Ferrari was born once again under the technical direction of Mauro Forghieri, and is essentially presented with the term Honeycomb: the construction involves the use of aluminum panels with a honeycomb pattern, glued through a structural adhesive.


The peculiarity of this project is that it allows to save in terms of weight, but to increase the overall rigidity of the monocoque; Postlethwaite had previously tested this scheme, right on the Wolf.


The new car was born with the name of Ferrari 126 C2, and compared to its ancestor it immediately presented radical changes, starting from the more streamlined and streamlined lines.


The first positive results


The 126 C2 is the result of studies carried out in the Pininfarina wind tunnel, and can count on a reduced weight of around 20 kilograms.


This Ferrari immediately proves to be more manageable and easier to drive, without being affected by the power point of view: the engine is always the V6 characterized by an angle of 120° between the banks, with the two turbines mounted in a high position, in middle to the base, and equipped with only one wastegate valve.


The boost pressure is also increased compared to that of 1981.


In recent years, as told by Mauro Forghieri himself, Ferrari uses a cooling system that intervenes on the mixture entering the combustion chambers, developed together with Agip technicians.


"I picked up a technology that was linked to Messerschmitt fighter planes of World War II. The pilots had a red button at their disposal, which operated a system that provided more power for a few seconds, should the need arise".

"The system consisted of introducing water, which was mixed with the fuel mixture, with the effect of improving combustion, cooling the combustion chamber and providing a certain percentage of more power. Very delicate operation, because excessive cooling leads to the immediate seizure of the pistons".


Due to the delay in the response to acceleration at low revs, the single-seaters of the early 1980s suffer precisely in the acceleration phase, but the solution cited above, described by the Modenese engineer, guarantees enormous advantages precisely from the point of view of power delivery, which is why it was developed by the men of Ferrari.


Another relevant technical aspect concerns the tires: in fact, after four years of collaboration with Michelin, in 1982 Ferrari returned to using tires from the American company Goodyear.


The start of the season


The extreme stiffness of the suspension, due to the setting of the wing cars, caused an accident during a private test session carried out by Ferrari at the Paul Ricard circuit in early 1982.


On that occasion, Pironi went off the track at over 280 km/h, fortunately getting by with a cracked rib.


In the first trip to South Africa, both 126 C2s did not reach the finish line due to mechanical problems. The second race, in Brazil, also ended with slightly more consoling results for Ferrari, due to Villeneuve's second consecutive retirement and an anonymous sixth place conquered by Pironi, with even a lap behind.


The 1982 season was marked by various disagreements within Formula 1: among the most striking, the one related to the scandal of water-cooled brakes, inherent in a stratagem implemented by the British teams, equipped with aspirated engines, to take advantage of the weight and compensate for the lower engine power, is undoubtedly the best known.


Ferrari is no stranger to this climate of tension, as demonstrated by the episode that took place at the US Grand Prix, raced in Long Beach: in order to highlight the need for greater seriousness in the application of the regulation, Ferrari presents a wing rear composed of two overlapping staggered fins, each as long as allowed by the regulation, that is 110 centimeters, but arranged in such a way as to double the width of the total wing surface.

This is a clearly irregular solution, designed specifically to provoke the FIA, in fact, not surprisingly, Gilles Villeneuve, who closes the US race in third place, is disqualified.


After three Grands Prix, the high conditions for the 126 C2 are not reflected in reality, but it is clear that the car is good, but at the same time unripe, and the Red technicians simply need more time to find the right solutions.

The turning point, positive and negative


At the next Grand Prix, that of San Marino, the main British teams decide not to compete and to desert the event, continuing the protest that began two weeks earlier in the USA. Only fourteen cars take part in this race.


In the Imola circuit comes not only the first victory for Ferrari, but also the first double, fueled however by strong controversies: to triumph is Pironi, but Villeneuve is furious, because he is convinced that he deserves the success and that he has been screwed by his teammate team, which from now on does not consider a friend, but a traitor.



At the apex of a great stress, the Circus arrives in Zolder, Belgium.

It is clear that the events in San Marino have not been forgotten by Gilles, who nevertheless does not have the possibility of redeeming himself, due to the terrible accident which cost him his life.


During qualifying, a misunderstanding between Villeneuve and Jochen Mass leads to contact between the two. The Canadian's 126 C2 takes off, the panel that holds the seat firmly comes off, and Gilles is thrown violently out of the cockpit.


The moments that follow the tragic accident leave no doubt, and the drama inevitably affects the whole Circus.


What is impressive is the fact that the protection cell of the passenger compartment, despite the impact, manages to remain intact, but the very high cornering speeds of these cars, once again being ground effect, even prevent a team like Ferrari to guarantee the driver's complete safety.


Enzo Ferrari loses one of the most beloved drivers of all time, who is still considered a champion at the level of the greatest, even without having won a Drivers' championship.

Enzo Ferrari loses one of the most beloved drivers of all time, who is still considered a champion at the level of the greatest, even without having won a Drivers' championship.


But the season continues, and the Ferrari manages to solve the mechanical problems, inevitably improving reliability. In addition, towards the middle of the season, a new pull-road suspension is introduced on the 126 C2, useful for improving cornering.



Pironi obtained several podiums and the victory in the Dutch Grand Prix, leaping to the top of the standings, but bad luck continues to haunt the Reds.


On the Hockenheimring track, Pironi violently collides with Prost's Renault: also, in this case, the Ferrari takes off and is thrown into the air. For the French driver, however, the outcome is less dramatic, because he manages to save himself, but he fractures both legs.


Fatality has it that, after the Belgian Grand Prix, the area behind the seat, which is characterized by honeycomb panels (honeycomb), is reinforced; this circumstance will be fatal for the French driver's legs, as the seat will remain firmly in the cockpit upon impact. The next day, Ferrari will always win, driven by Patrick Tambay, who will get excellent placings until the end of the season.


Subsequently, in Monza, on Saturday, after a few minutes from the start of qualifying, Nelson Piquet snatches the provisional pole from Tambay. The Frenchman will then be able to improve his time on Friday, but without beating that of the Brabham driver. Instead, the other Ferrari driver, Mario Andretti, will be able to do better than the Brazilian.


The Italian-American will thus conquer his eighteenth, and last, pole position, while in the race the two Ferrari drivers will reach the finish line in second and third place.



The many excellent results achieved by the 126 C2 allow Ferrari to win the Constructors 'title, but the Drivers' championship is won by Keke Rosberg on Williams.


Despite the five fewer races disputed, Pironi ends the season in second position, just five points behind the Finn of Sir's team. Frank. A further show of strength by the Emilian single-seater, which probably would have outclassed the competition, had it not been for a series of contrary circumstances.


Ferrari will not even have the satisfaction of redeeming itself immediately the following year and on the contrary, Ferrari will remain short of titles until 1999.


In total, eleven units will be built, of which eight of type 126 C2 (chassis numbered from 055 to 062, the latter later converted into version B) and three of type 126 C2B (chassis 063, 064 and 065). Cars without carbon reinforcement belt around the cockpit:


  • 126C2/055, used in a single race by Villeneuve in 1982, destroyed during tests at the Paul Ricard circuit;

  • 126C2/056, used in six races by Pironi, with which it won the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix, later destroyed in a test;

  • 126C2/057, used only two races, Villeneuve in Brazil and Tambay in the Netherlands, with the addition of new suspension and carbon reinforcements;

  • 126C2/058, the example of the Villeneuve accident in Zolder, with which the Canadian driver had raced in Long Beach and Imola;

  • 126C2/059 two races with Pironi.


Carbon Reinforced Cars Updated With New Suspension:


  • 126C2/060, three races with Pironi, and victory in Holland. The car was then destroyed in the very serious accident that interrupted the career of the French driver;

  • 126C2/061, four races with Tambay, and victory in Germany, and two with Andretti, with whom the Italian-American conquers pole at Monza.

Vehicles with specific chassis for new suspension:


  • 126C2/062, a race with Tambay in 1982, converted to version B as a reserve car, used once in the race by Tambay and once by Arnoux in 1983;

  • 126C2/063 spare car in Monza and Las Vegas, later used in test version B.


Vehicles built specifically for 1983:


  • 126C2/064, used in seven races by Arnoux, with which he won the 1983 Canadian Grand Prix;

  • 126C2B/065, used in seven races by Tambay, with whom he won the 1983 San Marino Grand Prix.

Fatality has it that the last car in version B (chassis 065) will be tested by Michael Schumacher in 1999, even though it is not the ground effect car, but the version with a flat bottom.

Simone Pietro Zazza

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