Stirling Moss, Goodwood Festival of Speed, 2011

How Moss gave F1’s great white elephant its only victory

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In the many obituaries I read in the wake of Sir Stirling Moss’s said passing at the age of 90 on Sunday, two images dominated.

One showed the grinning Moss, face characteristically blackened by grime after hours of racing, emerging from a sleek, silver Mercedes. Though, of course, he scored just one of his then-record-setting 16 grands prix with the Triple-Pointed Star.

The other image shows Moss in the Ferguson-Climax P99 with which he won at a drizzly Oulton Park in circuit’s prestigious Gold Cup event in 1961. This was his only start with F1’s first four-wheel-drive racer, and the only victory for such a car at the top level, albeit in a non-championship race.

Indeed, drawing on the benefit of hindsight, Moss told Motor Sport magazine in 1997 that P99 was his favourite F1 car. He also referred to it as “the finest front-engined Formula 1 car of that time.” Some claim from a man who won F1 races in such great front-engined as the Maserati 250F and Mercedes W196.

Stirling Moss, Ferguson, Oulton Park, 1961
Moss on his way to victory in the Ferguson
The Gold Cup race may not have held championship status, but Moss took the Ferguson to victory against a top-drawer field. Reigning champion Jack Brabham, en route to his second title that year, appeared in his Cooper, but finished 46 seconds in arrears, pursued by team mate Bruce McLaren. Jim Clark, Graham Hill and John Surtees were also present, representing Lotus, BRM and others.

Tellingly, all cars were powered by the same Climax engine, making for direct comparisons. As well as being the only victory by a four-wheel-drive F1 car, it was the last time a front-engined car won a race for F1 machines.

The Ferguson was the brainchild of three men, namely racer/tuner Freddie Dixon, tractor magnate and erstwhile racer Harry Ferguson, and military man-turned-grand prix racer APR (Tony) Rolt. They believed fervently in the traction, roadholding and safety advantages of all-wheel drive, and set out to prove the technology, marketed under the Ferguson Formula ‘FF’ banner, in the spotlight of F1.

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The P99 contested just nine races, winning one, placing second in another and third thrice. It inspired a minor craze for four-wheel-drive technology during the sixties.

John Rindt, Colin Chapman, Brands Hatch, 1970
Rindt was no fan of Chapman’s four-wheel-drive creation
The development coincided with a significant rules change which promised to top the balance in favour of four-wheel drive. For 1966, the FIA doubled F1’s maximum engine capacity from 1.5 litres to three, while car weight rose by only 50kg to 500kg.

Even before F1’s ‘return to power’, BRM toyed with four-wheel-drive, designing the 1.5-litre P67 as precursor to a full blown three-litre car. But it appears to have been a second-string effort and was withdrawn ahead of the start of the 1964 British Grand Prix despite qualifying 15th on its only appearance. However, later vindication later came by way of the 1968 British Hillclimb Championship.

Ferrari, too, investigated four-wheel-drive, making contact with Ferguson with a request for guidelines, first in 1961 and again in 1964. Although a project number (P106) was issued, Maranello clearly decided against four-wheel-drive for the matter was not followed up.

Still, Lotus boss Colin Chapman was enamoured by four-wheel-drive and its ability to handle the power he had been promised in 1967 with the (Ford) Cosworth DFV engine, telling Road and Track magazine, “I think the (three-litre formula) is going to change racing quite a bit, actually.

“I doubt very much the type of power we are going to get with these engines will be utilised in the conventional type of chassis we have today, by which I mean a rear-engined car driving the rear wheels only.

“We are going to end up with some sort of four-wheel drive, possibly with automatic transmission, (or) other forms of multi-step gear ratios, and there will be significant changes to the chassis.”

This was during the days of treaded, cross-ply tyres and before wings became de rigeur in F1, making 400bhp a real handful. Contemporary family cars struggled to pump out better than 60bhp.

Presciently, Chapman said that adopting four-wheel-drive for F1 would “eventually lead to four-wheel drive in passenger cars, because at the limit a four-wheel drive car is safer than a two-wheel driver one.” He qualified his belief with, “I think that even passenger cars will have four-wheel drive in 20 years.”

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Audi debuted its Ur‑quattro at the 1980 International Geneva Motor Show, so Chapman was on the money. But while this launched the road car series which popularised four-wheel-drive, the world’s first production four-wheel-drive car, the Jensen FF, was only two years away from sale when Chapman gave that quote. Powered by Chrysler’s V8 driving through an automatic gearbox (as Chapman predicted), it was then the world’s most powerful four-seater.

So impressed had Moss been with four-wheel-drive’s ability to transmit torque that he thought it would fare well at Indianapolis with more power. While he won the Gold Cup with a 1.5-litre Climax, the P99 later successfully contested the Tasman Series races with a 2.5-litre engine. Moss discussed racing it (or similar) at the Brickyard with Andy Granatelli, of STP fame.

Moss’s 1962 crash and subsequent retirement put paid to that idea. But what a tantalising prospect it was.

His suggestion had not, however, fallen on deaf ears. Granatelli subsequently commissioned Ferguson managing director Rolt to build a front-engined car powered by a supercharged Novi V8 producing 700bhp. The first time out it set times fast enough for the second row of the 1964 grid in the hands of Bobby Unser, but due to Indy’s qualifying foibles he started 22nd. Although sidelined by a crash, four-wheel-drive had proven itself.

Thereafter Granatelli switched to turbine power combined with FF four-wheel-drive, commissioning Lotus to build a suitable car in 1968. Despite increasing restrictions on air intake and wheel sizes – designed to peg back the advantages of turbines and four-wheel-drive respectively – Joe Leonard set pole position with Graham Hill in a similar Lotus 56 alongside. The former led until two laps from the end, when a $2 bearing fuel pump bearing failed.

Cosworth four-wheel-drive car
Cosworth’s angular prototype four-wheel-drive F1 car
Although Granatelli’s Indy jinx had struck again, four-wheel-drive floodgates opened on both sides of the Atlantic, and the following year there were no fewer than four F1 four-wheel-drive designs in the offing.

Famed engine maker Cosworth leading the way with its own rather angular, gawky-looking design. However a major negative of four-wheel-drive soon became apparent: weight. Cosworth addressed the shortcoming by casting a magnesium engine block specifically for the car, while the chassis was constructed from space-age mallite.

The car was due to debut at the 1969 British Grand Prix, but was withdrawn after preliminary testing when another flaw became apparent. Large dollops of torque directed to the front wheels necessitated a limited slip differential, in turn resulting in heavy steering loads. Jackie Stewart, then well on his way to the first of three world titles, briefly tested the car at Silverstone.

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“It’s so heavy on the front,” he told journalist Alan Henry, “you start to turn into a corner and the whole thing starts to drive you. The car tries to take over.”

Lotus 56, Goodwood, 2011
Lotus’s 56 could have won at Indianapolis
However, given the performances of P99 and IndyCars feelings lingered that Cosworth, a dedicated engine company, and Robin Herd, then pencilling his first car after switching from working on Concorde, were still on a learning curve, particularly with regard to their in-house four-wheel-drive system.

Thus, three other teams – Matra (managed by Ken Tyrrell), Lotus and McLaren – persevered with their designs. Meanwhile Brabham, having followed Moss home that day at Oulton, sent technical enquiries to Ferguson (‘Project 153’; nothing came of it), as did Rob Walker, the wealthy privateer who successfully entered Moss from 1958-1961, together winning seven world championship grand prix.

Rolt had raced Walker’s Connaught in 1953, then entrusted P99 to the whisky heir for a number of events, including the Oulton Park race with Moss – hence its dark blue livery, offset by a white nose ring – and the 1961 British Grand Prix with Jack Fairman. Clearly a strong bond existed between Rolt and Walker, yet nothing came of that project, and not long after Walker gave up his privateering struggle.

Of the three ‘go’ projects, only Matra co-operated with Ferguson for its MS84. McLaren worked with gearbox manufacturer Hewland for the four-wheel-drive technology in its M9A. Lotus based its 63 on the 56 where possible, albeit using a mix of bits ranging from in-house designs to bought-in components rather than FF technology.

All three, though, experienced a fourth problem. Where the front-engined P99 accommodated its power unit and gearboxes ahead of and slightly to the left of the cockpit, F1’s new generation of mid-engined cars posed a bigger challenge as their engines need to be turned 180 degrees and the drivetrain slotted in below the driver, with angled propellor shafts running backwards and forwards, with unequal-length driveshafts.

The net result was long cars – particularly marked in the case of the 63 – and/or high centres of gravity, which made the cars particularly unwieldy. The MS84’s additional kit added 60kg (12%) to the weight of its 2WD MS80 sister. Somehow McLaren managed to contain the increase to 10kg, but the added weight still told, and of the four-wheel-drive trio MS84, 63 and M9A, the latter performed by far the poorest.

Lotus’s 63 weighed at a hefty 100kg more than the standard-setting two-wheel-drive 49. It started eight grands prix, retiring in all but one, in which it placed tenth versus fourth for the 49. Graham Hill refused point-blank to drive it, calling it a “death trap”, a sentiment shared by Jochen Rindt. At the end of 1969 the car was withdrawn, but its wedge-shape heavily informed the lines of the legendary 72.

The MS84 was the only one of the trio to score a (single) point by finishing sixth in the 1969 Canadian Grand Prix. However, it came in six laps down and with its front drive (allegedly) disengaged without driver Johnny Servoz-Gavin being informed, which caused post-race mirth in the garage after he said his disappointing performance was down to the four-wheel-drive system.

That said it all: In order to dial in performance and enable drivers to induce under- or oversteer at will, the front:rear torque split was gradually reduced until negligible (or no) drive was directed at the steered wheels. Thus, all that weight was carried around for no real purpose, while making the cars all the more difficult to set up.

Stewart put it most succinctly: “To me, as a driver, [MS84] never felt as though it had brain in any segment – front, rear or centre – which I would of course have wanted. It was therefore a difficult car to drive at the highest speeds in all slow, medium or high-speed corners.”

There was one last throw of the four-wheel-drive dice by Chapman: he adapted a 56 to race under F1’s then-turbine equivalence formula, in which guise its Pratt and Whitney STN76 delivered 500bhp, or 50bhp more than contemporary Cosworths. Still John Miles, a qualified engineer and superb driver/tester, reckoned the 56B had too much driveline inertia.

Williams FW07D-Ford, 1982
Radical six-wheeled, four-wheel-drive Williams never raced
“It would spin, very slowly,” he told Motor Sport magazine in 2014, adding that, “It had so much inertia in all that drive train – drive shafts, diffs front and rear and centre, all of which had to speed up or slowdown in response to throttle and brake. On twisty tracks it was disaster. It was long and heavy and slow down the straights because of transmission power losses.”

Simultaneously F1 rubber improved in leaps and bounds, largely negating the need for four-wheel-drive. To compensate, Chapman reduced the front torque settings, which in the words of Miles, “turned a four-wheel drive car with some potential into a terrible two-wheel drive car…”

Throttle lag effectively meant driving full throttle even under braking – no easy technique given a turbine’s lack of compression braking – which led to drivers misjudging cornering speeds. Indeed the 1971 Dutch Grand Prix, held in atrocious conditions, saw Dave Walker take advantage of four-wheel-drive traction and the turbine’s smooth delivery to move up the field, then throw away a solid result under braking.

Four-wheel-drive enjoyed one last hurrah when Emerson Fittipaldi drove a 56B in the Italian Grand Prix, and in a non-championship race at Hockenheim. These were both high-speed circuits, where turbines and four-wheel-drive come into their own. The future world champion qualified eighth at Monza and placed second in Germany, yet later described 56B as “the worst car I’ve ever driven.” And Emmo sure drove some dogs towards the end of his F1 career…

Stirling Moss, Ferguson, Oulton Park, 1961
Moss praised the P99, but the technology didn’t take off
So ended a brave but misguided experiment, one that promised so much, yet delivered one points. There is no doubt four-wheel-drive offers enormous advantages in tricky conditions as found under rally conditions, but seldom during grands prix. Hence for 90% of time that unnecessarily complex and heavy technology is lugged about for nothing.

Then, enormous strides in tyre technology – although slick rubber made its debut in 1971, rim widths grew ever wider – overcame grip issues, while wings created downforce-induced traction at the same time as four-wheel-drive was adopted by the three-litre brigade. One is effectively free and light; the other complex and heavy. A no-brainer.

What, though, spelt the end for four-wheel-drive were, ironically, regulations aimed at banning double-rear-axle six-wheelers – such as the March 2-4-0 and Williams FW07D – which stated that cars could have only one driven axle.

Could four-wheel-drive, though, make a comeback? There is talk of kinetic recovery via front-wheel driven generators, which could be switched to electric motors at the flick of a mode button, LMP1 style. That would, though, totally kill off the last true spectacle in F1: oversteer. Let us hope the rule makers consider Stewart’s words.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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  • 16 comments on “How Moss gave F1’s great white elephant its only victory”

    1. Thanks for this @dieterrencken, beautifully written and a remarkable tale. This is the sort of article I like on an F1 website when there is little else to cover aside from guesses and speculation.

      Chapeau.

      1. I’m pleased you enjoyed it.

    2. Thanks Dieter, good history lesson.

    3. An interesting article Dieter, but there are a couple of corrections to add.

      There is a slight error in the line “Ferrari, too, investigated four-wheel-drive, making contact with Ferguson with a request for guidelines, first in 1961 and again in 1964. Although a project number (P106) was issued, Maranello clearly decided against four-wheel-drive for the matter was not followed up.”

      Forghieri has mentioned in his memoirs on his time at Ferrari that they were actually planning on making the 1970 312B a four wheel drive car, with the engine designed to accommodate a power take off at the front. However, in the end it was decided that it would make the design too complex, heavy and potentially less reliable, so they dropped the idea.

      I should also point out that Frank Dernie has stated the real reason that Williams investigated having two rear axles was not down to mechanical grip (a term which he is somewhat dismissive of to begin with). The intended purpose of having that second axle was aerodynamic, and it was primarily designed with what is termed the “ground effect” rule era.

      The reason for that is because, under the rules at the time, you could not extend the diffuser beyond the rear axle line. Having the second set of wheels would allow Dernie to extend the diffuser to that second axle, which would be much further than he could on the standard FW07 or FW08. That, in turn, would significantly increase the size of the sculpted underbody and thus increase the downforce the car could produce significantly – but, with the sculpted underfloor being banned after 1982, it also killed off most of the incentive for the FW08B anyway (which would have been the follow up to the FW07D).

      1. There is NO error: there may be an addendum but what I wrote is absolutely true, and if anything what you have added underscores what I wrote, not corrects it. I’m sure many teams considered 4WD at various times without building cars.

        While I take your second point re underbody, grip was a factor as Wiliams was already looking ahead at turbo power at the time and would need to harness the additional torque. Also, it would have been possible to extend the wheelbase without going to a second axle if the only criterion was a longer underbody. I have also spoken to Frank Dernie (and other engineers of the time).

        1. @dieterrencken from what Forghieri says, whilst not formally implemented in the end, the indication is that it was more than just a paper design exercise for the 312B in 1970 – it was a serious effort, with the final car having a number of elements that were left over from that decision (the design of the engine, the positioning of the driver in the cockpit and so forth were originally dictated by the requirement to have a four wheel drive system in the car).

          Maybe you might feel that the term error is perhaps not quite right to use and perhaps addendum is a more appropriate term, but it was to make the point that Ferrari were actively considering four wheel drive, to the point where they explicitly designed parts of the car to incorporate that feature, as late as 1970.

          With regards to the comments about lengthening the wheelbase, my understanding was that it was driven by the balance that Dernie wanted to strike between maintaining torsional stiffness within the chassis and lengthening the wheelbase to achieve that longer sculpted underfloor. Whilst he could have extended the chassis to increase the wheelbase, he was limited by what he could achieve with the materials and construction techniques of the time and also in balancing the aerodynamic centre of pressure against the resultant weight distribution of the lengthened chassis.

          I believe there was also an argument that having the second axle line where it was meant that Dernie could shift the centre of pressure rearwards to improve rear traction further, as it allowed him to optimise the position of the centre of pressure further rearward whilst maintaining a more optimal expansion ratio for the diffuser. Dernie is on record as saying he considered eliminating the rear wing altogether because the car was capable of producing so much downforce that the rear wing could be deleted to reduce the total amount of drag produced by the car, as the rear wing was now superfluous to requirements.

          It’s not to say that there wasn’t a mechanical grip benefit, but that Dernie emphasis on having the extra axle was on the aerodynamic benefits that it gave and that he seemed to think the mechanical grip advantage was a secondary benefit. That said, I do concede that, given his specialisation is in aerodynamics, he might well be more inclined to approach the concept from what benefit it gave him in terms of aerodynamics than in terms of mechanical grip.

          As an aside, since you bring up the March 2-4-0, I don’t think you are quite right about the March 2-4-0 and its competition history in the British Hillclimb Championship.

          Roy Lane is recorded as racing in the 1979 British Hillclimb Championship season with a modified March 771 that used a similar configuration to the March 2-4-0 – strictly speaking, the March 2-4-0 was a modified March 761, not a 771 chassis, though they were very closely related.

          He is recorded as winning one race – the opening event at Wiscombe Park – and having picked up two second places at Prescott and Barbon Manor. However, having failed to make the run off for the sixth round as Shelsey Wash, he is recorded as removing the second axle and converting the car back to a standard four wheeled March 771 chassis for the remaining ten events that season.

          Furthermore, Roy Lane is recorded as having only finished fourth in the 1979 British Hillclimb Championship – the winner is recorded as being Martyn Griffiths in his Pilbeam MP40. https://hillclimb.uk/british-hillclimb-results/1979/

          It’s not to say that it didn’t enjoy some success, as it seems Roy took two other victories in other hillclimb events, but it does not seem to have been a championship winning car and that particular chassis seems to have only been used in that configuration for six out of sixteen events that year.

          1. @anon, I have no intention of entering into a ping-pong match about extraneous minutiae, so I’ll emphasise what I’ve said and not said:

            “Although a project number (P106) was issued, Maranello clearly decided against four-wheel-drive for the matter was not followed up.” Fact is, P106 was not followed up on by Ferrari, whether or not Forghieri later considered building a 4WD F1 Ferrari. Either way it came to nought, as did a number of unraced 4WD F1 projects I have not referred to. I further qualified it by stating “Maranello clearly decided against four-wheel-drive.” Another fact. There was NO ‘error’ made at all.

            I did not state that Roy Lane had won the 1979 British Hill Climb Championship. in fact, I did not even mention his name nor whether the March 2-4-0 was 761- or 771-based as neither is germane to my article.

            I have no doubt that the 6-wheeler Williams (or March) could (possibly) have run without a rear wing, not only because of the additional downforce of a longer underbody, but also because there would have been more mechanical grip. I am sure I don’t to state that grip is generated mechanically and aerodynamically – increase one and you can decrease the other for a given level of grip.

            Finally, I’m amazed the Frank (and Patrick Head) believed that a double rear axle, with all its attendant weight, flex and complications, was considered lighter and more rigid than an extended wheelbase, regardkess of what materials were used. That car also did not race – after regulations were introduced to ban it, as I said.

            I’ll leave it that, thank you.

            1. @dieterrencken whilst you state that “I did not state that Roy Lane had won the 1979 British Hill Climb Championship.”, in your response to Dave in this same thread, you have stated that “Indeed, the March 2-4-0 won the British Hillclimb Championship, a category where “grip” is more important than aero advantage.”

              Whilst you did not explicitly name either Roy Lane or state that it was the 1979 season specifically, Roy Lane is, as far as I am aware, the only individual who is recorded as having competed with that car in the British Hillclimb Championship and 1979 is the only season in which that car is recorded as having been raced in that configuration. Whilst not explicitly stated, it would seem to me to be implicit in your answer that you were referring to both Roy Lane and the 1979 season in your response to Dave, unless you have further information on that point which you could bring forth.

              Whilst I appreciate that you state that you do not to debate something you consider “extraneous minutiae”, nevertheless it would seem to me that the response that you have given to Dave about the car winning the British Hillclimb Championship would seem to be at odds with the response that you have then given to me. If, however, you would prefer to end the discussion and have no further exchanges on the matter, then I likewise am prepared to accept this as a point on which we disagree.

      2. “Having the second set of wheels would allow Dernie to extend the diffuser to that second axle, which would be much further than he could on the standard FW07 or FW08”

        Anon, is there a reason they couldn’t just extend the wheelbase that far without the extra axle?

        1. That is exactly what I stated above. Although the thrust of article was 4×4 in F1, I have since researched 6×4 drive further, and every driver who tested such a car spoke glowingly about the traction (grip) advantages of the set-up.

          While I do not dispute the aero advantages of smaller diameter wheels, the fact is that there were major traction advantages and underbody performance could be achieved by other means.

          Indeed, the March 2-4-0 won the British Hillclimb Championship, a category where “grip” is more important than aero advantage.

    4. Thanks! It’s a great story!
      I love F1 history.

      1. Pleased you enjoyed it.

    5. Great read. Thanks!

    6. Loved that article. Cheers

    7. Super stuff, Dieter. Stay safe and give us more semi-obscure stuff please!

      Personally I’d be interested in anything covering early ground effect stuff, like March did with the wing section fuel tanks. Fascinating era.

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