The 312’s flat-12 engine had been Ferrari’s mainstay F1 powerplant for a decade, but in 1980, the handwriting was on the wall. Even as the team raced with little success that season, Ferrari was hard at work developing a state-of-the-art turbo-charged engine. It was unveiled on the second practice day for the Italian Grand Prix at Imola in September, and it was a half-second faster than the naturally aspirated flat-12 312 T5.
Development continued over the winter for what would be called the 126 C. It reprised Ferrari’s tradition of a tube frame overlaid with aluminum sheeting, but was powered by a 1496cc V-6 with two German KKK turbochargers, a pair of intercoolers, and four valves per cylinder. Horsepower was quoted at 540, 25 more than Ferrari’s most-powerful flat-12.
Despite its newness, the engine proved remarkably reliable, but the chassis was a handful. Still, on the strength of Gilles Villeneuve’s brilliance and the new engine’s prodigious power, the 125 C won the Monaco Grand Prix, just its sixth race. The Canadian won again in Spain, but wrecks and chassis problems plagued the team the rest of the year, and Ferrari finished fifth among 11 entries in 1981 constructors points.
To rectify the chassis situation for 1982, Ferrari hired Englishman Harvey Postlehwaite. His 126 C2 chassis of composite materials reinforced by carbon fiber made all the difference, as did an even more-powerful turbo engine.
But drivers Villeneuve and Frenchman Didier Pironi were never the team that Jody Scheckter and Villeneuve had been. When Pironi deprived Villeneuve of a victory at Imola against team orders, the two never spoke again.
Then, in May 1982, racing lost one of its stars. In practice for the Grand Prix of Belgium, Villeneuve crashed the Ferrari. He died in the hospital hours later. In June, a crash in Canada sidelined Pironi for the season. Frenchman Patrick Tambay and American Mario Andretti filled in ably, sustaining enough points for Ferrari to win it first constructors championship since 1979.
With ground-effects side skirts banned for 1983, Ferrari’s 126 C3 showed completely revised bodywork. Tambay was joined by countryman Rene Arnoux as team drivers and they finished third and fourth, respectively, in points. Arnoux’s three victories, Tambay’s one, and consistently high finishes were enough to capture for the Scuderia a second consecutive constructors championship.
In 1984, the 126 C4 and the rest of the field were outclassed by McLaren’s MP4 and its drivers Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. They won 12 of the season’s 16 races, and Ferrari finished a distant second in the constructor chase.
F1’s Turbo era lasted through 1988, but Ferrari’s only other strong showing came in 1985, with the 156/85. It boasted Maranello’s first bodyshell designed completely by computer. Italian Michele Alboreto won twice with it, at Canada and Germany, and the team finished second to McLaren-TAG for the constructors championship.