Forgotten F1 Friday: Ferrari 640

13 December 2019 - 13:30 By Motoring Reporter
Nigel Mansell, Ferrari 640, Grand Prix of Brazil, Jacarepagua, 26 March 1989.
Nigel Mansell, Ferrari 640, Grand Prix of Brazil, Jacarepagua, 26 March 1989.
Image: Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

Probably one of the most attractive Formula 1 cars to come out of the 1980s, the Ferrari 640 heralded the Italian outfit's return to naturally aspirated V12 engine power after the sport's governing body banned the expensive and dangerous (speeds were getting far too high) turbocharged motors that had been used by teams since the dawn of the decade.

However the most notable thing about the John Barnard-designed 640 was the fact that it was the first ever Formula 1 car to use a semi-automatic transmission. Still something of a pioneering technology back then, Ferrari silenced sceptics after Nigel Mansell drove the slick-shifting 640 to a maiden victory at the 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Soon all F1 cars would sport paddle-shifters like the Ferrari 640.
Soon all F1 cars would sport paddle-shifters like the Ferrari 640.
Image: Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

This proved to be something of a fluke as the 640 and its gearbox were hereafter plagued by reliability issues — both Mansell and teammate Gerhard Berger retired from all of the next five races. Fortunately the team found renewed form from the second half of the season and scored enough points to finish third in the constructors' championship.

Though not the most successful racing car Ferrari ever built, the 640 will be remembered as a technological trendsetter: a catalyst that would see all teams swap  manual gearboxes for computer controlled semi-automatic transmissions over the next few seasons.


X