Perhaps the prettiest car to ever race in Formula One, the Ferrari 312B is often lauded more so for its looks than its impressive racing history. Despite taking five victories and multiple podium finishes in its single season of F1, it must be said the original 312B had a very troubled life to begin with.
Ahead of the 1970 season Ferrari developed a new flat-12 engine, under the direction of car designer Mauro Forghieri. When it was first tested in 1969 the car suffered severe technical issues, breaking on 3 occasions. This was enough to push then-Ferrari driver Chris Amon from the team and into the arms of March Engineering.
Luckily for “il Commendatore”, Belgian driver Jacky Ickx filled the vacant seat, once again racing for the Scuderia. In the hands of Ickx, the 312B qualified 5th at its debut race in South Africa, 1970, however suffered an oil leak during the race leading to an early retirement. This was just the start of what would be a long season for Ferrari.
Credit: Michał Grabowski
A total of five cars were built for the 1970 season; two for Ickx, one for alternating drivers Clay Regazzoni and Ignazio Giunti, and then a final one, allowing Ferrari to enter three cars at a time. The fifth car was built to replace #002 which was destroyed in a fiery crash suffered by Ickx at Jarama. The replacement also raced under chassis number #002, thus #004 was in fact the fifth car to be built.
Giunti was the first driver to successfully cross the chequered line in the 312B, finishing 4th at Spa Francorchamps. Ickx then gave the car its first podium at the ensuing race in Zandvoort, finishing 3rd whilst also setting the fastest lap. He was closely followed by his Swiss teammate Regazzoni, who achieved 4th place on his F1 debut. The future looked bright for the scarlet cars; however, the first half of the season was far from over, and Ferrari was destined for further defeat before dominating the latter half of the season.
Despite starting from pole position at the French Grand Prix, Ickx suffered engine failure during the race, forcing a retirement of both the car and subsequently his lead. The Belgian led once more at Silverstone; however this time a transmission failure saw his premature departure from the race, and the best Ferrari could manage was 4th place in the hands of Regazzoni.
Tailing successive failures, the 312B achieved its first ever 2nd place finish thanks to Ickx in Germany, second only to Jochen Rindt in the unrivalled Lotus 72. Greater success followed in Austria where Ickx, Regazzoni and Giunti managed to place the 312B in 2nd, 3rd and 5th on the starting grid. With an unlucky Giunti retiring due to tyre failure, the remaining drivers kept their composure, racing hard and fast to keep the Lotus 72 of Rindt in their mirrors. The race ended with a 1-2 for Ferrari, the first of several for the 312B. It seemed as though the team from Maranello had found its rhythm after all.
However, in every tale of glory there is loss, and F1 witnessed the death of championship leader Jochen Rindt during first practice in Monza. The weekend was one to forget for the sport yet spelled further success for the 312B with Regazzoni taking the top step of the podium. Two more 1-2 finishes then followed in Canada and Mexico, and Ferrari began to dominate the 1970 season.
Despite a late charge from the Scuderia and Ickx, it was Rindt who won the championship, being the only driver to this day to be awarded the F1 title posthumously.
There was little time to deliberate however, as the 1971 season crept ever closer. Ferrari brought the 312B to the first two races, only this time with Mario Andretti in place of Giunti, who had been killed in his Ferrari 312PB following a head on collision with a stationary car at the 1000km of Buenos Aires endurance race. Andretti would go on to win the first race of the F1 season in South Africa, before Ferrari decided to replace the cars with the marginally different, yet improved 312B2.
Besides being arguably the best looking F1 car in history, the 312B was driven by some of the greatest drivers ever to race in motorsports. The legendary Jacky Ickx would go on to win Le Mans a total of six times (1969, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1982) and cement himself in the Motorsports Hall of Fame, alongside Mario Andretti, who would become Formula One World Champion in 1978. He is widely considered one of the greatest drivers of all time due to his success in a multitude of racing series such as F1, IndyCar, WSC, and NASCAR.
The following years were riddled in retirements for Ferrari, but the later iterations of the 312B did bring a string of podiums for the team. However, it wasn’t until the great Niki Lauda joined the marque in 1974 that Ferrari began to taste true success once again…