4 December 2018

Fascinating F1 Facts: 7

The Arno is the river that flows through the city of Florence. It rises in the Apennines, the backbone of Italy, and flows into the Ligurian Sea near Pisa.

For a brief period in the mid-1980s, Arno was also going to be the name of a Formula 1 team, which was to have been sponsored by the Jolly Club organization and raced by the Swedish-born Swiss driver Mario Hytten.

The idea was the brainchild of a successful Florentine entrepreneur by the name of Piero Mancini, who had started out in business running a plant nursery before making a great deal of money as a Fiat dealer in Scandicci, a suburb of Florence. Being a Fiat dealer in those days was obviously a lucrative business, as Mancini had plenty of money to spend on motor racing. To begin with he helped to fund the career of a youngster from Siena by the name of Sandro Nannini, who started out in Formula Fiat Abarth single-seaters in 1980. He was quick but won only one race, the championship that year being won by a fellow by the name of Emanuele Pirro. In 1981 Nannini won the title and took the dramatic step of jumping straight into Formula 2. This was largely due to the fact that Giancarlo Minardi, who had started building his own Formula 2 cars in 1980, had big ambitions, with his goal being to start a Formula 1 team, although at that time its F2 cars were not very competitive. In order to help Minardi, Mancini bought into the company in 1982, although not long afterwards he also decided to set up his own racing car business and began building Formula 3 cars, under the Arno banner. These appeared in various races in 1983 and 1984, without much success.

It was early in 1984 that Giancarlo Minardi saw an opportunity that he hoped would get him into Formula 1. At the time, in order to be successful in F1, you needed an expensive turbocharged engine - and there were not many available. When the Alfa Romeo F1 team, run by Paolo Pavanello's Euroracing organization, decided to replace its chief engineer Carlo Chiti with the Lancia engine designer Gianni Tonti. Chiti had worked with Alfa Romeo from 1952 before joining Ferrari where he worked with Vittorio Jano on the design of the Ferrari 246 F1, with which Mike Hawthorn won the World Championship in 1958. He then designed the Ferrari 156 sharknose, which dominated F1 in 1961. He left Ferrari in 1962 to start the ATS operation but that quickly failed and he returned to Alfa Romeo, designing engines for the Tipo 33 sports cars that enjoyed much success in the 1970s, leading to a renewed involvement in F1 with Brabham-Alfa Romeo and then with Alfa's own F1 team. Chiti was 59 and still ambitious and Minardi asked him if he could design a Formula 1 turbo engine for Minardi to use, if the money could be found to pay for it. Chiti had dreams of creating an Italian version of Cosworth and selling engines to the F1 teams and was enthusiastic about the idea. Mancini agreed to fund the company and Motori Moderni SpA was established in Novara in the autumn of 1984. The new alliance was launched amid much Italian excitement in a disco called Baccara, between Faenza and Lugo, with Chiti saying that he would have the first engines ready in time for the 1985 season. The Minardi chassis was ready for the new season, but the engine was not and so the team had to use Cosworths for the first two races. But at Imola in May, the Motori Moderni engine made its first appearance with Pierluigi Martini qualifying the car 19th. As the season went on, the engine was developed but it was a long way behind and the best Martini could do was to finish eighth in Adelaide, four laps behind, on a day when there was a very high rate of attrition.

As Chiti and his crew worked to improve the engine, Mancini began making plans to enter his own Arno team, using Motor Moderni engines. The plan was to do this in league with AGS, the French constructor who had done fairly well in Formula 2 and was looking to step up to F1. The plan was for AGS to design the car and Motori Moderni to provide the engines.  Arno would, in the interim, run a Formula 3000 team with rising star Mario Hytten, who would be test driver and then move into F1 with the team.

Things did not go well and the Formula 3000 team flopped badly. AGS decided to do its own thing and bought an old Renault RE30C monocoque, last used in 1983, mated it with the Motori Moderni engine and christened the car an AGS JH21C. This appeared for the first time at the end of 1986 but the French team quickly switched to switched to Cosworth power for 1987, leaving Minardi as the only team using the Motori Moderni V6 turbo.

At the same time the FIA (then known as FISA) announced that turbos would be banned from 1989 onwards and that boost pressure and fuel allowance were going to be reduced in 1988. The Motori Moderni was under-powered and thirsty and Mancini decided that it was a pointless exercise to go on.

Chiti remained enthusiastic and designed a new flat-12 engine for the new normally-aspirated F1 regulations. This would be bought by Subaru, which acquired the Coloni team, in order to create its own factory operation. The combination was a complete disaster.

Mancini's enthusiasm for the sport had waned. Nannini was at Benetton and doing well, Minardi had switched to Cosworth and was scoring points on occasion. He sold his Minardi shares back to Giancarlo in May 1990…

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