Evolution of the Species

By Carlo Carluccio

Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article

The teams always refer to evolution. Their cars always evolve from one season to the next. If they have just revolutionised their design, chances are they are in for a lean season of success as they develop their revolution.

If you were to take a series of similar scale models of Ferraris, for example, allowing for rule changes you can trace their evolution from the front engined cars of the 1950’s through to the modern carbon-fibre sculpture.

In similar fashion, where once, cars were individual in design, the modern interpretation of physics has achieved an amalgamation of all learning and we have cars that with the removal of their livery would leave us with practically a uniform shape.

(Editor note -don't tell SomersF1 he said that). 

Cornerstone Shaving

Of course, as the engineers have developed advanced science to push what we may term state of the art, medical science has been introduced over the years to push human boundaries to new limits.

Any photos of a young Stirling Moss show an individual who would fit the mold of a modern driver. His contemporaries it could be argued would not look out of place driving trucks cross country with plenty of food stops on the way.

By the time people were swinging in the sixties, F1 cars had downsized to 1.5 litre engines and drivers seemed to be more svelte in appearance. Something which has continued to this day. The only difference is the physical fitness of the individuals involved.

Stamina, I would imagine, was the prerequisite of the driver as Formula One moved into the Cosworth DFV era. Slick tyres were introduced and what was once a delicate spectacle of drifting through corners gave way to the accuracy of the pilots, searching for the limits imposed by the infancy of aerodynamics and circuits that had been outgrown by the spectacle.

Looking back now, there was a legion of swash buckling drivers in the 70’s. All long haired, side burns that Elvis Presley would have sported with pride and a plethora of ‘birds’ as TV would have termed them!!

Among all this was a slight man who bucked convention. His family background was banking and he wouldn’t have looked out of place if he had swapped his red suit for a more formal grey suit with tie.

Whilst Niki Lauda was a brilliant test and race driver – this wasn’t a skill that only he possessed. Where Niki broke the mould was his use of a personal trainer, Willy Dungl. Willy had worked with the Austrian Olympic team previously and his work with Lauda included diet as well as physical training.

After Lauda’s notorious Nurburgring crash in 1976, he credited the work of Dungl as his reason for his recovery. When Lauda decided to return for the 1982 season, he spent some months with Willy at his clinic rebuilding his physical fitness for the demands of the new ground effect cars.


After an absence of three years, Niki was returning to F1 at the age of 33. He would win his third race back and take victory at Brands Hatch that summer. In 1984, Lauda took five victories to secure his third title. Still arguably the fittest man on the grid.

2016 Canadian Grand Prix History Part 2 of 5

Villeneuve joined Ferrari in 1977 and remained with the team through to his untimely death. His first drive for the Scuderia was in that year’s Canadian GP but it was the return to his home country the following year where he secured his first ever victory around the Circuit Ile Notre-Dame - after Jean-Pierre Jarier’s Lotus 79 developed engine troubles having led from the start and seemingly on route to his first victory.

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1953 Nakajima -It' all in the numbers

3.8 - 3.7 - 5.2 - 5.1 - 8.2 - 3.6 - 2.5 - 3.9 - 3.9 - 3.3 - 3.2 - 3.9 - 4.0 - 3.2 - 0.9 - 2.4 

No these aren't the co-ordinates to a secret stash of gold - nor are they the combination that unlocks the riches in someone’s safe! The numbers are in fact the difference in qualifying lap-times between Ayrton Senna and his Japanese team-mate - Satoru Nakajima - throughout the 1987 season. 1953:

Nakajima was Honda's favoured son and had won five out of the six previous Formula Two titles in Japan using Honda engines. Throughout 1985 he spent many days testing a Williams-Honda extensively but at 34 years of age he was an old debutant and many questioned his actual ability. 


Towards the end of 1985, Honda asked Frank Williams if he would replace Nigel Mansell with their protégé Nakajima. Williams, no doubt, nodded politely and refused their request - as what had always been important to him was the Constructors title and he reasoned that Nakajima would struggle.

Before the 1986 season had even begun, Ayrton Senna realised that Renault was no longer a technical force and demanded that Lotus acquire the Honda engine for the subsequent season otherwise he would leave. 

Peter Warr had little option. In signing Dumfries to Lotus for 1986 he had already acquiesced to Senna's demands and he began his preparations for the 1987 season. 

The British press were still disparaging towards Senna; Warwick had been refused a seat at Lotus and now Johnny Dumfries - another Brit - was being replaced by an oriental they had never heard of. In some quarters Nakajima was rechristened Knacker-Johnny.

In Japan, yellow is considered a warrior colour. This dates back to the 'War of Dynasty' in 1357 when each warrior wore a yellow chrysanthemum as a pledge of courage which matched the hue of the team's new sponsor.

Nakajima finished his debut race in 7th, scored points for sixth and fifth in the subsequent races and finished fourth in Britain. At Suzuka, a circuit he knew intimately he qualified less than a second away from Senna and finished sixth.

In 1988 he was generally beaten by his team-mate triple World Champion Piquet; although on occasion he surprised with his comparable pace in qualifying. 

The following season saw an explosion of hatred between the main championship protagonists and in the background the death knell began chiming for the remains of the once proud Lotus team. Possibly the saddest moment of this season was Lotus failing to qualify either car for the 1989 Belgian race. 

A rain soaked Adelaide that year was deemed too perilous by the drivers but as always their cries fell on deaf ears. Prost withdrew after the first lap and the over-riding image from TV was Senna emerging from the spray as he rammed into the rear of Martin Brundle's Brabham - unsighted.

Following a spin, Nakajima had finished the first lap in last place but his driving today was inspired - to the point that his harshest critics became his biggest fans. He would set fastest lap on his drive through to fourth.

Over the course of five seasons Honda's nepotism failed to bring in results and Nakajima quietly retired back to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

The Spectacle

On the 25th of April 1982, two Ferraris lined up third and fourth on the Imola grid. Rene Arnoux had set pole position with a 1'29.765 - half a second quicker than his team-mate, Alain Prost. Gilles Villeneuve followed with 1'30.717 and Didier Pironi started from fourth with 1'32.020.

Arnoux converted pole position into the lead when the lights changed to green and before the Ferraris had reached Aqua Minerali they had overtaken Prost. By the seventh lap of the race Arnoux was four seconds ahead of the Ferraris but Prost had retired with a blown piston.

The Imola track was always known for it's high fuel and brake consumption which meant different race strategies playing out continuously and Arnoux pulled several seconds ahead. Villeneuve and Pironi began to close the gap to the leader and Didier led Gilles between laps 22 to 25 before the French-Canadian regained second on lap 26. On the following tour Villeneuve surged through for the lead with the tifosi screaming out their encouragement. 

For four laps a red car led in Italy before Arnoux retook the lead once again. With his boost raised - he pulled away from Gilles and on the 35th lap Pironi was through to second in his chase of the Renault.

Pironi made little impression on his fellow French driver and Villeneuve took up the cudgels on lap 41 as he retook second position.

Two laps later - as the cars accelerated out of the Tosa hairpin - brief puffs of smoke were emitted from the rear of the yellow car and as they began the 44th lap Arnoux slowed and the car erupted in flames as it entered Tamburello with a blown turbo.

As the Ferraris raced into Rivazza for the forty-fifth occasion, Villeneuve made a mistake and went off the circuit which allowed Pironi through. They had fifteen laps remaining of the race and third placed Alboreto was forty-five seconds behind. 

At the completion of the forty-sixth lap the Ferrari pit crew displayed both pit boards. Pironi's clearly showed a number two beside it, his lap time of 1'37.8 and the word 'slow' whereas Villeneuve's displayed the number one beside his name, the previous lap time of 1'38 and, again, the now legendary 'slow' instruction.

On the forty-eighth lap Villeneuve passed Pironi into Piratella and led for four laps before being demoted once more into Tosa with Pironi assuming the lead until Villeneuve passed him on the penultimate lap.

On the final lap Villeneuve remained on the left hand side of the track so as to secure the inside line for Tosa but Pironi swept past and pulled immediately in front. For the remainder of the lap the body language of these cars was tangible, Pironi defending on unusual lines and Villeneuve sniffing out any opportunity.

On the slow down lap Pironi was jubilant and celebrated by removing his helmet and waving to the Italian crowd. Villeneuve was sullen and refused to accompany Pironi and Alboreto during the post race parade lap. 

Those were the TV images which the rest of the world saw transmitted from Italian soil. To be honest not that big a deal at the time but in the thirty-four years since - those images have been re-written into words by countless journalists with their own views and agendas.


Immediately after the race Villeneuve refused to talk to the Ferrari team manager, Marco Piccinini, and had to be persuaded by his wife to mount the victory podium. 

"..he was there looking like the hero who had won the race and I looked like the spoiled bastard who sulked… after the race I thought everyone would realise what had happened but no. Pironi says that we both had engine problems and there were no team orders. And what really pissed me off was that Piccinini confirmed that to the press saying there were no team orders. My engine was perfect and there were team orders."

"When Rene blew up at Imola I took the lead and we got a 'slow' sign from the pits. You get a 'slow' sign and that means hold position. I had been in front of Pironi when Arnoux dropped out. If it had been the other way around, tough luck for me.."

"People seem to think we had the battle of our lives! Jesus Christ! I'd been ahead of him most of the race, qualified a second  and a half ahead of him. Where was my problem? I was coasting those last 15 laps. He was racing.. I guess it looked like I was mad at finishing second. Okay, I'd have been mad at myself for not going quick enough if I'd be plain beaten. Second is one thing, but second because he steals it, that's something else."

This writer has developed a cynical view of mainstream journalists in general but I have found the British F1 professionals to have questionable ethics when it comes to impartiality. 

For any historical story to be written, there has to be research of facts beyond merely one expressed point of view. When it comes to the re-telling of the Villeneuve legend, most people will turn immediately to a brilliant biography written by Gerald Donaldson and a book and articles written by Nigel Roebuck. It is here that history gets blurred by both journalistic opinions and rose-tinted glances. 

Care should be taken with both these works because Donaldson is a Canadian journalist and Roebuck was a close personal friend. In a court of law this would normally be viewed as a 'conflict of interests'. Their representation of the facts also manipulate people's views of the two protagonists. Roebuck would later develop a friendship with Alain Prost and his biased support was never more apparent than his constant critique of Ayrton Senna.

The political landscape:

The 1982 San Marino Grand Prix meeting became a victim of the FISA/FOCA war that had been simmering for some years.

The Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile was headed by Jean Marie Balestre - a tyrannical pseudo dictator - that represented the interests of the 'Grandee' manufacturer teams made up of Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo.

The Formula One Constructors Association - headed by Bernie Ecclestone - represented the interests of the 'garagista' British teams and the decision was made to boycott the Italian event. Tyrrell were the only FOCA team that entered the event as they had considerable Italian backing and were not willing to lose their funding after a sparse financial season the year before.

The British media understood where their favours lay and allied with the English teams against the French autocrat. By association any French team or driver was viewed with cynical disdain. Rumours were stated as truths in regards Balestre's wartime association with both the French resistance and the invading Nazi forces - and when the French government's backing of the Ligier team was also offered in evidence, the distrust of the French quarter was complete.

The cultural divide:

After Villeneuve had won the 1981 Monaco Grand Prix, he attended a gala evening held for the race winner. A few weeks later he was presented with a photo of himself with Sean Connery. He remarked to Roebuck: "Hey look, a hick from Berthierville with James Bond!"

He is also offered up as perhaps ' the most disarmingly honest man' the writers have ever met. Yet he was 32 when he died despite having claimed throughout his life being two years younger. Revelations in the book about extra-marital liaisons are also brushed over with a 'what happens in Vegas..' attitude with colleagues involved in the duplicity.

In Donaldson's biography Pironi is described as: "coming from an entirely different background, he lived well in Paris and enjoyed a sophisticated lifestyle. A Parisian that studied engineering and gained a science degree and his destiny was to take over his fathers 'prosperous' construction business which employed 300 people. 

Money was never a problem for him and he always had the best equipment. A thoughtful, somewhat aloof and introspective man who took his racing very seriously and was very hard-working."

After Imola, the author wrote that Joann - Villeneuve's wife - had had reservations about Pironi. Her observations of the man were he was politically motivated and something of a schemer. The fact that they hadn't been invited to Pironi's wedding made her even more suspicious and undoubtedly Piccinini being his best man would have raised alarm bells.

The image of the French is not particularly favourable around the world and Parisians definitely less so.

My fiancee and I spent a weekend in Paris a few years ago and despite the obvious beauty of the city were left profoundly unimpressed by the locals. A chance meeting with a French client a few weeks later highlighted a problem I had never appreciated when I mentioned I'd been in her country a few days before.
She urged: "Paris? Oh please don't judge the French by Parisians - they are the rudest people in the world!"

Personally I despise the use of cliches. It's always so difficult to explain to people that although I eat a lot of pasta and ice-cream, drink a lot of espresso, sing opera from my renaissance-like decorated apartment, chat to my Godfather whilst playing a violin and happen to arouse the fairer sex with whispered words of Italian - whilst driving my humble Fiat with Ferrari stickers on the bodywork - it is so.. well, you get my point.

Evidence debunked:

Villeneuve had mentioned after Imola that he understood team-orders from the 1979 Italian Grand Prix. He had dutifully sat on Jody Scheckter's tail the whole way: "knowing that this was my last chance to win the World Championship. I hoped like hell he would break! But I never thought of breaking my word. I know all about team orders at Ferrari."

What Villeneuve didn't say was that in 1979 at Monza, Ferrari were fighting a superior Williams for the title. For Villeneuve to have won the title he would have had to win the last three Grand Prix; whereas Scheckter could secure it in Italy. Earlier in the season the two Ferrari drivers had fought over race victories like 'here' in South Africa without team-orders. 

At Imola, Ferrari had concerns over high fuel consumption and with the Renaults both retired they could slow their pace down and still take maximum points. The slow signal was most likely given to conserve fuel not to hold position. Irrespective of how Ferrari is viewed in the twenty-first century, Enzo Ferrari wanted to see his drivers compete. Team orders would only have been applied towards the seasons end.

Another myth that has been seized upon in this 'tragedia' was that two days after the race Enzo Ferrari took the unprecedented step of stating that Pironi had misinterpreted the pit signals and he well understood Villeneuve's disappointment. Enzo Ferrari was a brilliantly manipulative patriarch and would have known how to play both the media and his young warriors. 

He was also a little un-nerved by Villeneuve's fame. He had hoped of having found a new Nuvolari and yet according to Gino Rancati: "he thought that the Canadian had become an idol for the crowds and that his name had perhaps partly supplanted that of the man who had given him his mount."


There are always multiple sides to every story and the vilification of Pironi has been appalling. He could not have predicted the tragic consequences that followed less than two weeks later. 

Villeneuve captured the imagination of the public because of his driving style and what made him a legend also contributed to his untimely demise. 

Grand Prix Histories is published in association with MISSED APEX PODCAST and Spanners Ready Podcasting. 

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