Ferrari 312T4 Aerodynamics
Ancient history now, but I have always been intrigued by the remarkable success of the Ferrari 312T4 in 1979: three wins apiece to Scheckter and Villeneuve, and a host of good placings, ending in first and second in the Driver’s Championship.
After the Lotus 78 and 79 demonstrations in the previous two years, everyone, including Ferrari, had to use ground-effect aerodynamics in 1979. And as is well known, the Ferrari flat-12 was about as unsuitable for this as it was possible to be; in contrast to the Ford DFV V8 and the Renault turbo V6 which adapted easily to the new architecture.
Here’s what DSJ had to say in Motor Sport, after Villeneuve had won the South African GP:
“…..such air as does get under the car has to squeeze its way past the flat 12-cylinder engine in narrow ducts that have as much resemblance to a venturi as a football boot! When you look “through” a Lotus 79 air-flow begins to make sense. When you try and look “through” the T4 Ferrari you become confused. What the new Ferrari does have is an immensely smooth upper body…..and any aerodynamic advantage would seem to come from the air-flow over the T4 rather than under it. As regards overall shape, the T4 doesn’t have one. It is a shapeless racing machine…..and looks like a very effective lawn mower. It is clearly a very effective racing machine”.
Others have also ventured the opinion that the over-body airflow was what created the downforce; in which case, why did the 312T5 fail so miserably in 1980? Just a couple of fifth/sixth places for the same pair of drivers, in a car that was, visually at least, a developed T4.
So to get back to the real question: How did the T4 succeed in generating enough downforce to defeat the apparently superior (in this respect) opposition, given the power and reliability of the flat-12 engine, and the abilities of the drivers? The T3 before it had been unable to do this, though it was honourably defeated, unlike the sad T5. It does seem to come down to the aerodynamics, but I have never seen an explanation that even bordered on the adequate. Has anyone else?