Here's an age old debate: Cossie V8 or Ferrari Flat-12? Only with a twist: is it possible that the Ferrari was better on tight, fiddly tracks while the Cosworth V8 can stretch its gurgling legs on the fast sweeps?
I was watching several classic F1 races the other day on Youtube/BBC F1 from the early 70s to the early 80s - the heyday of the Cosworth DFV British teams versus the might of the Ferrari flat 12 and from 1979 onwards the 1.5 Renault turbo. Now, you would have thought on fast, sweeping tracks from this era - lets say 1970 to 1980 - that the powerful Ferrari flat 12 would crush the Cosworth DFV V8 to a pulp, and that the nimble, agile Cossie V8 would smash the Italian stallions face in on tight, twiddly tracks. And yet, curiously, the opposite seems to apply. For example, although Ferrari Flat-12 won the first Austria GP at the superfast old Osterriechring in 1970, never again would its flat 12 be victorious in the Styrian hills. The "boxer" Ferrari also never won a championship grand prix on the long straights and incredibly quick corners of Buenos Aires and Silverstone. And yet the supposedly less powerful Cossie V8 won every race F1 races at Buenos Aires from 1972 to 1981 (apart from 1976 when there was no grand prix!), likewise Silverstone provided victory spoils for Keith and Mike's V8 in 1967, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979 and 1981. Not only that, but although Niki Lauda gave the Scuderia a win at the old flat out blasts of Hockenheim in 1977, in 1978/1979/1980 the ground effect British Cossie kit cars dominated with Ferrari nowhere to be seen. At the other end of the scale, on tight circuits such as Long Beach, Monaco, Watkins Glen and Zolder provided gloria forza de Italia: Ferrari won at Monaco in 1975, 1976 and 1979; at Long Beach in 1976, 1978 and 1979; Watkins Glen was Ferrari's track in 1975, 1978 and 1979 and there were the spoils for the red cars at Zolder in 1975, 1976 and 1979. When I read Gilles Villeneuve:a pictorial record (Haynes publishing, 2007), commentary on the photos was provided by former Autosport editor Quentin Spurring. Quentin notes that at the 1979 British grand prix that the lack of tight corners at Silverstone denuded the torque advantage of the Flat 12, while for the 1980 season, the awful handling 312 T5 was also embarrassing in a straight line as Quentin notes that the development Cossie DFV used by the likes of Williams, Brabham and Ligier (who dominated that season) pumped out more power than the Flat 12 engines. Interesting.........
Is the logical answer this: the Ferrari's wide flat 12 had a smoother torque delivery and better centre of gravity thus providing better traction and handling on tight, twisty tracks such as Monaco, Zolder and Long Beach. However, because the DFV was a tall, narrow engine it gave the British teams less frontal area and better aero balance which is crucial on a track with high speed corners like Silverstone, Buenos Aires and the Osterriehcring where high speed handling stability is advantageous. Also, the narrow dimensions of the Cosworth DFV allowed the British teams to make a car with a narrower track and slippery body, which is why the DFV won at the flat out blast of Hockenhiem from 1978 to 1981.