9 March 2019

Going round in circles. Fascinating F1 Fact: 99

The sands are forever shifting in Formula 1 and never was that the case more than when Ferrari decided that it needed to hire McLaren's technical director John Barnard in 1986. Barnard has designed the McLaren MP4/1, the first carbonfibre composite car in F1 in 1981 and allied to the TAG turbo engine in 1984 the team won 12 of the 16 races and drivers Niki Lauda and Alain Prost finished 1-2 in the World Championship, separated by half a point. Together they dominated the Constructors' Championship as well. In 1985 they did the double again with Prost winning the title, although Lauda was no longer as competitive. And then in 1986 Prost won another title, despite the strong challenge of Williams-Honda. In August that year Barnard left McLaren, having been lured away by Enzo Ferrari, who had finally become convinced that his team needed to get more help building its chassis. The problem was that Barnard didn't want to live in Italy. His family was happily settled in a large country house near Godalming with his wife Rosemary and three young children then aged seven, five and one.

Enzo Ferrari agreed to create a British design office for Barnard and suitable premises were found in a leafy business park hidden away behind The Parrot Inn just outside the village of Shalford. River House in the Broadford Park development was a rare industrial area in the protected Green Belt. It was agreed that this would be called the Guildford Technical Office (Ferrari GTO) a play-on-words on the celebrated Ferrari GT car of the 1960s, and Barnard set about recruiting staff. The facility began operating in 1987 while Barnard helped to develop Gustav Brunner's F187 with which Gerhard Berger scored back-to-back victories at the end of that year in Japan and Australia. The initial plan was for Barnard's 639 to be used in 1988 but there was too much to be done and so Ferrari developed the older car into the F187-88C. That year McLaren dominated and in the summer Enzo Ferrari died at the age of 90. Ferrari's only success was the fortuitous 1-2 at Monza after Ayrton Senna collided with the Williams of Jean-Louis Schlesser.

Barnard's car - now called the 640 - was radical with the first semi-automatic gearbox in F1. The problem was that it was very unreliable and Ferrari and Fiat boss Vittorio Ghidella was worried that it would not be a success. That took care of itself a few months later when Ghidella was replaced as Ferrari boss by Piero Fusaro. The head of Gestione Sportiva was Pier Giorgio Cappelli, a Fiat scientist who had previously worked in the Fiat and Alfa Romeo research centres, hired by Ferrari just before his death. Fusaro wanted a new leader at Gestione Sportiva and in March 1989, just before the start of the World Championship, Lancia's rallying kingpin Cesare Fiorio was appointed the new boss.

A few weeks later, against all odds, Nigel Mansell won in a 640 in its debut race in Brazil. But politics was already becoming complicated with resistance to the UK operation growing in Italy. The team concentrated on developing the 641 for 1990 but by the autumn Barnard had had enough. He was offered a deal to join Benetton and so acquired the GTO operation, which he sold to McLaren for use for its F1 road car programme. Instead he set up another design office, called the Benetton Advanced Research Group (BARG) in Langham Park in Godalming.

As he was doing this Ferrari enjoyed its best year with the 641 and only narrowly missed winning the World Championship with Alain Prost, but in 1991 things began to turn sour in Maranello, with Prost campaigning to get rid of Fiorio. This was successful in May, with Claudio Lombardi, one of Fiorio's lieutenants, taking over the role. By October, Lombardi had avenged Fiorio and Prost was fired, for being too big for his boots and for saying that "a truck would be easier to drive than this car".

It was then that Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli decided that there had been sufficient politics in Maranello and took on Luca di Montezemolo to be the new boss of Ferrari SpA. He decided that Lombardi should become technical director and that the sporting role should be given to Sante Ghedini. Montezemolo asked Ferrari consultant for advice and he said that they should hire Barnard again.

After the Benetton experience John had quit F1 and was designing intricate surgical instruments for his brother-in-law. He then worked on a secret F1 project with TOM'S, aimed at luring Toyota into Formula 1, while indulging a new passion for garden design, having found inspiration in the work of Gertrude Jekyll.

Barnard still didn't want to leave the area. His kids were then 12, 10 and six and so it was agreed that he would set up another facility. This time it would be called Ferrari Design & Department (FDD) and it was located in Northfield House in Broadford Park, next door to the old GTO…

Barnard got together many of the same crew and began work on the 412T1 for 1994. In 1993 Montezemolo hired Jean Todt to run Gestione Sportiva and that changed things again.  Todt took on Michael Schumacher and took on Benetton engineers Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne and by 1996 Montezemolo was saying that FDD would be phased out as Todt wanted the whole team in Italy.

Barnard acquired FDD as part of the settlement with Ferrari and set up his own business called B3 Technologies, which worked for Arrows and then Prost Grand Prix before he turned his back on F1 sold the facility and, ironically, moved to live in Switzerland…

Today Broadford Park still has racing links, as it is the home of Gordon Murray Design… although it is not in one of the old Ferrrari buildings.


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