Forghieri vs Murray, Rindt vs Villeneuve


Mauro Forghieri and Gordon Murray

Both designers were in their twenties when they were promoted by major teams undergoing a step change.

Mauro Forghieri was 27 when Ferrari selected him to rebuild the Scuderia after its Carlo Chiti-led brain drain of 1962.

Gordon Murray was 26 when Brabham’s ambitious new owner Bernie Ecclestone selected him to steady and steer the ship after the departure of Ron Tauranac in 1972.

Forghieri had been at Ferrari since late-1959. Aviation had been his initial ambition, but his patternmaker father’s long connection with Enzo’s team – he worked at its ‘beating heart’ foundry – forged a closer alliance.

Murray had left South Africa in 1969 in the breezy hope of landing a job at Team Lotus – both he and Forghieri were admirers of Colin Chapman – but wound up at Brabham after a chance meeting with fellow Commonwealth émigré Tauranac.

Engines were Forghieri’s first love, but in 1964 a chassis from his drawing board took John Surtees to the Formula 1 world drivers’ title. Had the team concentrated on his concurrent flat-12 as well, instead of another’s V8, that car had the potential to be quicker still.

That same year his P cars continued Ferrari’s domination of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Nicknamed ‘Furia’, passionate and animated, he prospered on a diet of strong coffee and a strong work ethic. Having designed a racing car from front to back, he would oversee its testing, help set it up for races and dictate its optimal strategy from the pits.

This writer is unaware of a nickname for Murray. Laidback and understated, bar a natty line in snazzy shirts, he prospered on four hours sleep per night and a strong work ethic. (He still does.)

With Piquet and Caldwell at the 1981 Monaco Grand Prix

For his first racing car, a Lotus 7 lookalike, he made a bespoke cam, pistons, manifolds, fuel tank, chassis, suspension, seats, steering wheel and even its IGM badge (his first name is Ian). The only thing he didn’t touch was its Ford four-speed gearbox.

Forghieri’s trasversale five-speed gearbox of 1975 was the key that unlocked the potential of a Fiat-funded Ferrari. His 312T series, with its low polar moment of inertia and forward shift of weight, was still winning races and titles four seasons later – despite the best efforts of Murray et al.

Ecclestone-funded Brabham began winning in 1974 as Murray introduced pullrod suspension and became the first to consistently and successfully harness rising-rate geometry. He also took the first steps towards underbody downforce and carbon fibre as the dominant structural material.

Ferraris were conservative and heavy in comparison – no car was, ahem, lighter than a Murray Brabham – but remained competitive throughout the 1970s due to the jewel in Forghieri’s splendid crown: an operatic flat-12 that possessed an edge over Cosworth’s DFV V8 in terms of top-end power and its creamy delivery. Only when its cylinder barrels choked the venturi needed to generate ground effect was it superseded.

(Murray, of course, briefly fanned that flat-12 architectural problem by use a fan.)

The influence of Forghieri and Murray was felt in the subsequent turbo era, too.

The former made Renault look daft by producing a V6 instantly better than the Régie’s long-term but stuttering project and winning the 1982 constructors’ championship: a first for a turbo car.

The latter’s dart-like design hit the flat-bottom bullseye for Nelson Piquet in 1983 drivers’ championship: a first for a turbo driver.

From the archive: Lunch with Gordon Murray (2008)

Forghieri, who had twice come in from the cold, finally left Ferrari in 1987. He was not done with the sport, however, and would design the Lamborghini V12 that so impressed McLaren’s Ayrton Senna in 1993.

Murray, in contrast, was looking for a way out by then – Elio de Angelis’s fatal testing crash at Paul Ricard in 1986 caused him much heartache – when Ron Dennis offered him the job of Technical Director.

Murray placed a limit of three years on the role and during that time implemented many of the practices, processes and structures that raised McLaren to the next level.

He also commissioned the triple-shaft, dry-sump gearbox that unlocked the potential of his ‘lowline’ schema, and revelled in his strategic role on the pit wall as Senna and Alain Prost locked horns.

After 20 years in the sport, as planned, he walked away to design the ultimate supercar – “a real Ferrari-beater” – that would, albeit not as planned, go on to win Le Mans in 1995.

Tireless polymaths with an eye for the aesthetic – witness 330P4 and BT52 – and enlightened despots with an innovative streak, they couldn’t be more alike.

Yet Forghieri and Murray could hardly be much more different.

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Jochen Rindt and Gilles Villeneuve

Oh, to be the fastest – and flamboyant, charismatic and devil-may-care with it.

The paddock’s coolest cats.

Eyesight, balance, balls. Forget the rest!

Any car. One lap. Go!

Jochen Rindt and Gilles Villeneuve announced their candidature at similar circuits in junior formulae races against established Grand Prix stars.

The former was plonked in the second 20-lap heat of Whit Monday’s London Trophy for Formula 2 at claustrophobic Crystal Palace. Also on that grid were: Rodney Bloor, David Prophet, John Ampt, Jacques Maglia, etc.

That Jim Clark and Graham Hill, plus Mike Spence and Peter Arundell, were in the first heat suggests that the organisers knew which side their bread was buttered.

At least they thought they knew.

Rindt won his heat by a nosecone from the sister Brabham BT10-Cosworth SCA of Alan Rees.

Although Hill took the lead of the 40-lap final in John Coombs’ Cooper T71, Rindt soon found a way by.

The 1962 world champion was hampered by understeer caused by a dislocated rear anti-roll bar but was able to chase sufficiently hard for the Austrian to have to set a fastest lap four-tenths faster than Hill’s pole time.

The previous day at Mallory Park’s Grovewood Trophy, Rindt had started from pole and, after a botched start, finished third behind the semi-works Lotuses of Clark and Arundell.

From the archive: Forghieri and Laffite on Villeneuve’s 1981 Monaco Grand Prix (2001)

But it was his stylish victory in the capital – where he drove in a ‘most relaxed fashion’, according to Motor Sport – that set tongues wagging.

Villeneuve burst onto the international scene at claustrophobic Trois-Rivières in Quebec – another fairground track and just one-tenth of a mile longer than the ’Palace.

The home favourite, his fans knew what to expect. It’s fair to say, however, that the men he defeated in 1976 – Alan Jones and James Hunt – were shocked, particularly by the nature of their defeat.

Villeneuve drove with gay abandon without wrecking his lap times. He looked fast and was fast.

Rindt was the same. Arrive at circuit, put on helmet, get in car – and be bang on it from the first lap. A natural.

Rindt sharing the front row with Ickx at the 1970 German Grand Prix

There were some rough edges and dicey moves, but inadequate chassis’ amplified those attributes in both men’s careers. Given a competitive car – a sorted Lotus 72 or a Ferrari 312T4, say – they knew how to win and would nearly always be the fastest.

There were differences, too.

Rindt was aloof and business-like. He thought his manager Bernie Ecclestone was the best thing since sliced bread, whereas Villeneuve was hardly a fan.

Rindt was a man of the world, whereas Villeneuve was an innocent abroad.

From the archive: the final months of Jochen’s life (2010)

Rindt was argumentative – although his 1968 team boss Jack Brabham reckoned that he never complained – whereas Villeneuve was more malleable and amenable.

Both felt compunction to tell truths, but Rindt’s would wound on occasion.

But in the car… there the differences dried up.

Set-up was a side issue thanks to car control to kill for. Knife-edge oversteer. A hint of showboat. A racer’s instinct. In thrall to the thrill. Fluidity. And miraculous wins at Monaco.

That Rindt was anonymous in the first half of the 1970 race there – his fractious relationship with Colin Chapman sometimes demotivated him – is another difference: Villeneuve never gave anything other than 100 per cent.

But Rindt’s sensational second half more than made up for it.

And how Villeneuve won in 1981 aboard that turbocharged ‘big red bus,’ well…

Both men would win five other GPs and die pushing limits that only the few knew.

The aerofoils were removed from Rindt’s Lotus during practice for the 1970 Italian GP. This was not unusual at Monza at the time, but team-mate John Miles, a cerebral and technically minded driver, reckoned his unmanageable without them.

The crash when it came was most likely caused by a failure of a brake shaft that connected hub to inboard disc, but was the increase in top speed – a theoretical 205mph – a critical factor?

And was Villeneuve, his mind corrupted by a perceived injustice, attempting to squeeze an extra lap from super-soft quallies at Zolder in 1982 when he made his split-second decision to pass Jochen Mass’s March around the outside?

The shocking violence of these accidents was an unwelcome part and parcel of their being the fastest.

And the silences afterwards still prickle the neck.

Where-were-you-when days both. When the Earth stood still – even for men with time in their pocket.

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