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10 marzo 2020

Richard Aucock

The famous Ferrari 246 F1 was the last car from the Scuderia with its engine in the front

The modern Formula 1 engine is a masterpiece of engineering. The combination of a 1.6-litre V6 turbo combustion engine and an advanced hybrid system is believed to produce more than 1,000 horsepower – whilst consuming 30 per cent less fuel than the F1 engines it replaced. The technology is helping make the road cars of tomorrow more efficient and potent, too.

Ferrari was the very first team in Formula 1 with a V6 engine. As with the latest V6s, its introduction coincided with a technical change of regulations. Back in 1958, rules stated F1 cars had to run on aviation gasoline, or AvGas. Engine capacity was also restricted to 2.5 litres. Whilst other competitors struggled to convert their existing motors to the new rules, Ferrari designed an entirely new engine, codenamed 155, fitting it to a car that would become a Formula 1 landmark: the 246 F1.

Named after its lightweight 2.4-litre, six-cylinder engine, the history books record the 246 F1 as not only the sport’s first V6, but also as the last front-engined model to win a race. This was the era where the sport was making the switch from traditional cars with the engine positioned ahead of the driver, to those with it mounted in the middle: behind the driver, but in front of the rear wheels. These became known as mid-engined cars.

Ferrari was working on a mid-engined car of its own. By 1960, the 246P was actively competing – the ‘P’ stood for prototype, and the Ferrari transitional model raced twice, at that year’s Monaco and Italian Grand Prix. It led to the famous Ferrari 156, which would earn American driver Phil Hill the 1961 Drivers’ World Championship. But in 1960, the Scuderia race team’s attention was focused on the 246.

This was a car that had brought glory to Britain’s Mike Hawthorn when the 24 year-old blonde Yorkshireman won the Drivers’ World Championship in 1958. The following year was a transitional one for the sport, with a shortened nine-race season, but British driver Tony Brooks still won twice for Ferrari, in France and Germany. The last year for the 2.5-litre F1 regulations was 1960, a transformative period for the sport with plenty of technological diversity on the grid. By now, mid-engined cars were beginning to dominate, showing a clear speed advantage thanks to their superior handling.

Ferrari still fought valiantly though, picking up points thanks to the sheer power of the beautifully-sounding 155 V6 engine. That year’s Italian Grand Prix was held at the ultra-fast Monza Autodrome near Milan  – a circuit that favoured the most powerful cars – and the Ferrari were in a class of their own. Phil Hill secured pole position, took fastest lap, and finished the race ahead of the rest. It was a fitting clean sweep in what would be the final ever victory for a front-engined car in Formula 1. 

It was a period of huge change. Ferrari embraced the future but didn’t forget the present. The 246 F1 served its drivers proudly whilst the mid-engined models of the future continued to be honed.  Its place in the record books is assured, seeing out F1’s front-engined era before its mid-engined successor took up the winning mantle for Maranello. It is thus fitting that, even today, the sport’s latest powerplants continue the link back to this winning legend of a car.   

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10 marzo, 2020