Notes on the cars and teams at Imola

Now that the Grand Prix season has begun in Europe and teams can work from their home bases we should see some interesting strides forwards in the mechanical scene in the paddock. For the first three races everyone was “on tour” leading a gypsy-like existence which made it impossible to do much in the way of serious development. The craze of the moment to develop ways of cheating the “no-skirt” rule (and that doesn’t mean the Lotus 88) as practised by Gordon Murray with his Brabhams and experimented with by Williams, Arrows, Fittipaldi, Osella and Tyrrell cannot be considered serious development. Nor can twin-rate suspension springs which achieve the same object, so hopefully these blind-alleys will soon disappear. The realisation that Ferrari might have 550, 600, 650 or even 700 b.h.p. available from their twin-turbo-charged 1 1/2-litre V6 engine may incite designers to think of something new and stop diversifying their efforts to keep alive things that are obsolete.

Williams: The team were still on Michelin tyres with their “interim” 1980/81 FW07C cars and the team drivers had the same cars as in South America, No. 11 (Jones), No. 12 (Reutemann) and No. 14 (spare). It was the spare car that was fitted with the hydro-pneumatic ride-height controlling mechanism and the very flexible lower edges to the side-pods, but after the scrutineering confrontation it was all removed and never used. Frank Dernie was in charge of Alan Jones’ car as chief designer Patrick Head was in America, involved with a Williams customer-project for Indianapolis – diversifying to keep alive something that is obsolete!

Brabham: Murray had produced a new form of his ride-height adjustment system, using a piston and cylinder incorporated in the operating rod that runs from the wheel upright to the inboard-mounted coil-spring damper unit. The previous system used a bellows on top of the suspension spring. All three cars BT49C/11 (Piquet), BT49C/12 (Rebaque) and BT49C/9 (spare) were fitted out in the same way and were all running on Michelin tyres. At the moment the Weismann transmission is not being used as the design is undergoing some improvements and modifications preparatory to it being used on the BT50 with the turbo-charged BMW 4-cylinder engine.

McLaren: The team had completed their second carbon-fibre monocoque car, incorporating all the modifications made to the first one, in the light of experience gained since the Long Beach race. Watson used MP4/2 and had MP4/1 standing by as spare, while de Cesaris used the old M29F/4 which Watson raced previously and another M29F was brought along as reserve. The McLaren management decided to leave the Italian driver in the older car, which he knew all about, rather than ask him to transfer to the 1981 car for the first time at a race that was important to his image. The theory was that he could concentrate on driving and racing, rather than wasting effort on sorting out a new car. As it turned out, it was a wise decision. All the cars were running on Michelin tyres.

Renault: The team from Viry-Chatillon were marking time at this race for their whole programme is geared to running their new RE30 series cars at Zolder. Their three Michelin-shod cars were RE27B (Arnoux), RE26B (Prost) and RE22B (spare), but due to a lot of engine problems Prost spent most of his time in the spare car, including the few laps he did in the race. The cars are nearly 75 Ibs. overweight and it is hoped that the new ones will lose this handicap, as well as being smaller overall.

Alfa Romeo: No major changes here for the team is running into that awkward period when an entirely new concept (the turbo-charged V8 engined car) is progressing well and making the existing design obsolete. Andretti and Giacomelli had three cars to share amongst them and even if the production run has entered double-figures the three team cars retain the numbers 1, 2 and 3. It saves a lot of time and trouble on paperwork. Contracted to Michelin for the season Alfa Romeo await the time when Michelin can drop all their temporary customers and get on with some serious development work.

Talbot-Matra: This French team are somewhat in the same state as Alfa Romeo, with their existing cars merely filling a gap, but whereas the Milanese team expect to have their turbo-charged V8 on the track by July or August, the Talbot team see little hope of theirs being ready before 1982. Meanwhile the V12 Matra engine just does not produce enough horsepower to cope with an average Cosworth V8, let alone the turbo-charged Renault and Ferrari engines, nor a really good Cosworth V8. As usual the drivers Laffite and Jabouille had three cars between them. As a contracted team Talbot await Michelin’s pleasure like Alfa Romeo. The parallel between Alfa Romeo and Talbot-Matra at the moment is interesting.

Ferrari: If we ever see a flat-12 Ferrari engine again it will be a big surprise. Mauro Forghieri and his engineers really know where they are going with the turbo-charged 126C. At the moment the Comprex system of supercharging is undergoing further development and the twin KKK system is being used. There was a brand new car, number 052 (Villeneuve) and 050 and 051 fluctuated between Pironi and the spare car for both drivers. Experiments were being made with a large aluminium casting between the engine and gearbox, which effectively lengthened the wheelbase, but more important it moved the centre-of-gravity and the centre-of-aero-dynamic-pressure forwards. On Friday only 052 used the lengthened wheelbase, and on Saturday 052 and 051 were thus fitted. For the race both cars (052 and 050) were back to standard (or short wheelbase) form. Most turbo-charged installations use a curved exhaust pipe so that you do not get a chance to look up the pipe, on the Ferrari with its two KKK turbo-chargers mounted on top of the engine, pointing rearwards, with long straight megaphone tail pipes you can look right up into the exhaust turbine and long after the engine has stopped the whole of the inside of the turbine is incandescent and glows cherry red. High-pressure (35 p.s.i. and more) turbo-charging has many problems.

Toleman-Hart: This new team made a favourable impression on their first appearance in Formula One, principally by the overall turn-out, the attitude of the whole team, the seriousness of the project and the total lack of bullshit and razz-ma-tazz. Very refreshing. That the cars did not go too well and neither of them qualified is a minor detail at the moment. Two cars were promised to FISA for the start of the European season and two cars were present and ready to go. The Toleman Formula One Team is a joint effort between Ted Toleman’s racing team and Brian Hart’s Hartpower engine firm, the chassis being the work of Rory Byrne and the engine the work of Brian Hart. Because the crankcase of the Hart H15R engine is not stressed for local carrying, the monocoque has box-section extensions running rearwards from the cockpit bulkhead to form an engine bay and to take the rear suspension. A fairly orthodox wishbone/rocker arm front suspension is used, with inboard springs and a rocker arm rear suspension also operates inboard springs which are neatly tucked away down by the clutch housing. The underside of the car is particularly clean and the side-pods blend into the rear tyres and wheel uprights very nicely. All the rear suspension struts are of eliptical section steel and the detail work on the car is very nice. The four-cylinder, big-bore, Hart engine has rubber-belt driven twin overhead camshafts operating the four valves per cylinder and at the moment two versions of bore/stroke ratio are being experimented with. A single large Garrett AiResearch turbo unit is used, after experiments with two smaller units, and a large inter-cooler is mounted alongside the engine on the right. The space available limits the size of inter-cooler, which automatically limits the boost pressure to around 20 p.s.i. for the moment. That this is a serious Formula One project and not just a money-spinning “kit-car” is shown by the route the Toleman Group team are going, making their own wheels rather than just “buying out”, making their own engine rather than using a production Cosworth V8 and running Pirelli tyres rather than joining the FOCA queue at Michelin or Avon. Sensibly they retained everyone from their 1980 Formula 2 team, including the two drivers Brian Henton and Derek Warwick, so that from the start the team appears well balanced. Henton drove the brand new car TG 181/02 and Warwick drove the original test-car TG181/01. Painted principally blue, with red and white lining, the team is sponsored by the Italian Candy Appliances firm and SAIMA, an Italian transportation firm.

Tyrrell: Still without a major backer the Tyrrell team did a deal with a local firm for this race. They had three of their 1980 cars for Cheever and new-boy Alboreto, the young Italian making a good impression on his debut in Formula One.

ATS: Changes in personnel due to disputes with the team owner seems to be the keynote of this team at the moment. They ran two of their cars for this race, for Lammers and newcomer Borgudd from Sweden, whose main claim to fame would appear to be a connection with the pop-group ABBA.

Ensign: Like the other lesser teams in Formula One they seem to be hanging on by the skin of their teeth, going from one crisis to another. They even produced some tired old Goodyear tyres from the stores during practice, and were a bit like a ship without a captain as Morris Nunn was not with them. This is a sad little team, for Marc Surer drives exceedingly well and is doing it for his love of motor racing, not for profit, taking only expense money out of the kitty. They have just the one car, MN15.

March: The black and white March 811 cars do not seem to be making much progress, and with Derek Daly’s known ability as a driver they are not doing as well as they should. There has been some confusion over race numbers over the past races, which hopefully is now settled. Originally the FISA had them down as Salazar 17 and Daly 18, but when the team first appeared Daly was 17, and Salazar was 18. Trying to be helpful the team changed the numbers just as the time-keepers changed the numbers on the Longines automatic timing computer! They now seem to have got into step with Salazar in number 17 and Daly in number 18. As neither driver has been qualifying up to now it has not been of any great importance.

Fittipaldi: The team retain their usual three cars, a pair of F8C models for Rosberg and Serra and the original F8C as spare. Apart from experimenting with hydro-pneumatic ride-height adjustment, the team were using the new Avon tyres, the first team to take up the offer. These tyres are designed by ex-Goodyear technicians in conjunction with Avon technicians and manufactured with the equipment at the Melksham Avon factory. They are being distributed and handled by the International Racing Tyre Services (IRTS) a form of racing-tyre specialists who have been handling Goodyear tyres in Formula 2 and Formula 3 in the past. This first sortie into Formula One by Avon seemed to be very trouble-free and adequately successful, and no doubt other small teams will be on Avon tyres in the near future, thus relieving the burden which Michelin are carrying at the moment, rather against their will.

Arrows: Three A3 models as usual, for Patrese and Stohr and a spare. After a season of personal depression following the Peterson accident at Monza, Patrese seems to be getting some fire back into his driving, without the “yobbo” element it was tinged with in his early days. The Dave Wass developed A3 is working well and giving Patrese the means to do a good job.

Osella: The usual three cars for Gabbiani and Guerra to share and they were fitted with hydro-pneumatic ride-height adjusting mechanism. The team is making steady progress, now being almost certain of qualifying.

Theodore: The single TR3 model provides a drama-free platform for Patrick Tambay to demonstrate his neat, tidy and fast driving style and their progress and reliability is impressive for such a small group.

With the European season now under way the big articulated transporters are beginning their hard six-months work, where reliability and dependability is worth more than all the fancy equipment and fancy paintwork. If your transport is not fast and reliable these days you won’t last long in Formula One. Among the new transporters noted in the paddock was a Renault-turbo for the McLaren team and a Mercedes-Benz for the Theodore team. The Toleman team retain their very advanced Ford powered by a Cummins engine, which they used for Formula 2 last year. – D.S.J.