You’ve probably read the latest news about the prancing horse but to us the signing of Spanish driver Carlos Sainz junior is of little interest. What actually matters is the recent talks in Indycar.
At the beginning of the week, the most Italian American and of Indycar and Formula One fame Mario Andretti did speak about the fact that Ferrari should consider and make their way to the US in order to join the American league. Funny enough, a few days later Mattia Binotto has confirmed the Italian manufacturer to be considering further developments to join the series.
This takes us back to the eighties, back when the Scuderia was going through a difficult spell, it was a tough time for the Italians back then. Drivers, technologies and politics were not mixing very well and the results were simply poor.
The relation between Bernie, the FISA and Enzo had become a bit out of control just like the regulations to his own opinion. “Il Commendatore” played one of his old tricks and by 1985 lured everyone into thinking he would put an end to the Formula One program with a switch to the CART in America.
Back then, the manufacturer held discussions between Mario Piccinini and the CART organisation while Truesports became the American arm of those investigations. The partnership would see a cooperation with the team supplying their experience of the “oval world” while the Italians would take responsibility of providing chassis and engine. Hence why Michele Alboreto was witnessed testing a red March 85G at Fiorano.
Austrian designer Gustav Brunner was to be the man behind the drawing board, some say Adrian Newey of March and CART fame back then was approached by Truesports but no reference appeared in his book – How to build a car – so I would ignore that possibility.
The design was very modern with a glued aluminium and carbon fibre chassis paired to a very low line design if considering the trend in America back then. It looked very elegant and was seen sporting different wings, a proof that it wasn’t just a dummy concept but that various development were explored.
The above was also confirmed when the designer and Ferrari president Vittorio Ghidella attended the 1986 Indianapolis 500.
Then came the engine and that was a favourite for Ferrari which sorted out a turbocharged (single) 2600cc V8 as mandated by the regulations and running on methanol, the unit being named Tipo 34.
The exhaust manifolds were located inside the V of the engine, and fed a massive turbocharger pressed up against the transmission. Datas said that at 1.6 bar (29 psi) of boost it could produce between 690 and 710 horsepower at around 12.000 rpm.
Back to politics and by 1986 the Formula One world was a bit shaken by the ongoing work and it appeared even more serious when Enzo went public with the following statement:
“The news concerning the possibility of Ferrari abandoning Formula One to race in the United States has a basis in fact. For some time at Ferrari there has been a study of a program of participation at Indianapolis and the CART championship.In the event that in formula one the sporting and technical rules of the Concorde Agreement are not sufficiently guaranteed for three years the Ferrari team (in agreement with its suppliers and in support of its presence in the US) will put this program into effect.”
The above statement and information confirming how serious the project and development was apparently lead the FISA to reconsider their position with the Scuderia. Not long before, the new regulations for 3500cc naturally aspirated engine regulations had been announced but limited to a V8 architecture only.
It is said that a visit at the end of 1986 by FISA officials to Maranello led to them ditching the limit to a V8 architecture and pushing it all the way to a V12. Even though Ferrari did not commit to the future of the Formula One formula. May this was also linked to the fact that market share in the US had become a growing interest for the manufacturer, one aspect they could only push through an American program, possibly.
Anyway, it appears that all those talks lead to an agreement signed in Maranello during March 1987 with the new Concorde Agreement. FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre declaring “Il Commendatore” as the “Pope of Formula One”. It is also interesting to note the agreement to have been the start of the Bernie-Mosley era in some aspects, probably also the start of the Scuderia special rights when the FIA leased its TV rights to a company named Allsopp, Parker and Marsh as the company had two directors, one a close business friend of Ecclestone since 1984… On the other hand, Marco Piccinini, the Scuderia team principal had earned a seat in the FIA Senate…
Back to the project and Ferrari 637 had by then been canned, the car had been tested and was probably ready to be raced but it would never happen. John Barnard was the new kid on the block in Maranello, full commitment to Formula One was on with various interesting projects such as the semi-automatic gearbox and the only glimpse of the project becoming real would be with Alfa Romeo. It ended as a failure though.
It is funny to now make the parallel, the Scuderia being unhappy and unwilling to agree with the new cost cap regulations, the “Brits” and the FIA on the short term but considering Indycar now and along with other previous announcement concerning the World Endurance Championship.