Simon’s snapshots #21


When Formula 1 cars are unleashed at Monza this weekend, there will be few architectural surprises. Grand Prix racing has been like that for some time. There will be design differences whenever a fresh set of regulations is imposed, but the law of the wind tunnel dictates that teams refine their concepts until they arrive at a similar point.

A few years back, at a time when I was attending all the races, a colleague showed me silhouette drawings of every car on the F1 grid and asked how many I could identify: a couple had subtle, differentiating signatures, but most could all have been each other.

That’s not how things were in the gloriously diverse 1970s. Chisel or full-width nose? Four wheels or six? Eight or 12 cylinders… or one of those funny whistling V6 turbos? Sculptural elegance or slab-sided optimism?

One of the decade’s most distinctive entrants was also one of its least successful. After stints with Ferrari and Williams, plus a one-off drive for Fittipaldi, Arturo Merzario decided to run his own operation and bought a customer March for the first half of the 1976 season. He drove it very respectably, too, but then accepted an offer from Walter Wolf Racing. That bore no fruit, so for 1977 he went back to running a March (one-off appearance for Shadow notwithstanding) and then committed to build his own cars.

The first, the Merzario A1, was a cumbersome hulk. It is pictured here at Brands Hatch during the 1978 British Grand Prix, the fifth of eight races for which the team owner managed to qualify. He was still running at the end of the Swedish GP, albeit took far back to be classified, but failed to finish everywhere else.

It was followed in turn by the Merzario A1B (five GP entries, two starts, no finishes in 1979) and the unmistakably yellow A3, nowadays being driven by Italian Bruno Ferrari in historic F1 events and here captured at Monza earlier this summer. It succeeded the A1B at the 1979 Belgian GP and was entered for four Grands Prix without ever making the cut: reassuringly, it remains as slow as it looks. In period it was soon abandoned in favour of the A4 (a rebadged version of the defunct Kauhsen team’s chassis), which Merzario raced in a non-championship event at Imola. He finished 11th (aka last) but didn’t qualify it for any points-scoring grands prix.

With that Merzario opted to cut his losses and instead went off to build F2 cars, bowing out as a constructor at the end of 1984 when the European Championship was axed to make way for the FIA’s fresh Formula 3000 concept.

For all that Merzario’s team was ever short of funds, the paddock had been richer for its enthusiastic presence.

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