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Sunday 5 April 2009

Nul Points

Yes, the conclusion of today’s Malaysian Grand Prix was a tad shambolic. No more 1700 hours local time starts for that one, I suspect. But Jenson’s doing well. Back to back victories for a driver with only the one previous win.

But where were Ferrari? Two races, no points. As the Hitch-Hikers’ Guide has told us, Don’t Panic. It’s been worse: within living memory, the Prancing Horse has been withdrawn for several races of a Formula 1 season – well, for those of us of A Certain Age, it has.

Ferrari started the seventies with some purpose: Mauro Forghieri gave them the legendary flat-12 engined 312B car, and they were competitive. But by the end of 1972 they had ended a season with just one victory, and both preparation and reliability were poor. They were trying to keep two operations going: F1 had to share with the team’s commitment to sportscars. The three litre sportscar of that year was not dissimilar to the F1 car: ostensibly they had two seats, but for practical purposes, were single seaters with the driver’s position off centre. The sportscar had its wheelarches covered, and the engine tuned to last the longer distance – 1,000 kilometres, six hours, or the full 24 of Le Mans.

Push came to shove in 1973. F1 rule changes meant a new chassis, but Ferrari’s commitment to sportscars meant that the new car was short of development. By the time of the French GP, it was obvious that they were not competitive. So they didn’t show. This continued at the British race, and that soon after in the Netherlands. By the time of the German GP, Ferrari number one Jacky Ickx had had enough and appeared in a third McLaren (rules were different then) to take third place.

Ferrari did reappear later in the season, but to little effect: Ickx left, and they had to start over before 1974. And they lost the sportscar title to Matra, so ended up with nothing. They then had to choose. And, as did Indiana Jones, they chose wisely.

The 1974 Ferrari sportscar never did get an outing. They chose F1, and having focused the team on that one championship, they started once more to win.

Ferrari is the one link that runs through F1 from its beginning over half a century ago to the present day. Today’s F1 Fans may not know how close that link once came to breaking.

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