Ferguson Research F1- Not the Biggest team but perhaps the most innovative?
When you think of Formula1™ teams, Ferguson Research F1 aren't on the tips of most peoples tongues...
With only one official race entry to the teams name, and with them in that one single race, finding themselves disqualified for outside assistance during the race, you would be forgiven for thinking that they didn't really make a significant mark on the F1 Scene,
However you would be wrong - as Ferguson Research were thinking outside of the box for the design of their car.
Ferguson Research Limited founded by Harry Ferguson, was mostly known as "the father of the modern farm tractor", and also went on to develop four wheel drive systems for cars including pioneering their use in F1 racing cars.
Harry Ferguson was part owner of the famous Massey Ferguson Tractor company, but grew intrigued with the research of Tony Rolt and Freddie Dixon.
Both Fred Dixon and Tony Rolt had long considered the possibility of using 4WD in circuit racing
Together with Harry Fergusson, In 1950, they founded Ferguson Research Ltd.
Their offers of Ferguson 4WD to carmakers were largely ignored. Over the next few years, Ferguson sold off his interest in Massey-Ferguson and turned to the construction of a Coventry Climax powered 4WD Formula One car in 1960.
Work began on the P99 in 1960. With a 50–50 torque distribution front to rear the car, Claude Hill's design was built to have an even weight distribution over both axles, which along with the position of the gearbox necessitated a front-engined design despite both the Coopers's and Lotus F1 Cars overwhelming recent success with mid-engined cars.
Just as the project was nearing completion it was dealt something of a body blow by the governing body's decision to reduce the size of F1 engines by 40% for 1961, making the extra weight of the 4WD transmission a much bigger penalty. Nevertheless the team persevered and fitted a standard 1.5-litre Climax 4-cylinder engine, mounted at a slant to make room for the front driveshaft. In addition the driving position was moved slightly off-centre to accommodate the gearbox and rear driveshaft to the driver's left hand side.
Despite the death of Ferguson later that year, The car was first raced in the 1961 British Empire Trophy, where Rob Walker put Jack Fairman in the car, but the start was an inauspicious one as Fairman crashed on lap 2. In the British GP at Aintree, Fairman drove the car again, but surrendered it to Stirling Moss after his Walker-entered Lotus 18 failed. The car was disqualified later in the race, for outside assistance on lap 56.
The car's last major F1 race was its moment of motor racing immortality, as Moss drove the P99 to victory in a damp International Gold Cup raceat Oulton Park. In February 1963, the car, having been fitted with a 2.5-litre Climax engine, was driven by Graham Hill in the Australian GP at Warwick Farm, and the Lakeside International at Lakeside, placing sixth and second respectively. The P99's final racing action came in the British Hill Climbing Championship in 1964, 1965 and 1966, winning the title in 1964.
As of today, the victory at Oulton Park, By Stirling Moss, is the only victory of a four-wheel drive car in F1 (and incidentally the last race won by Moss in Europe), with the technology being banned in 1983. Despite its promising beginnings this front-engined car was soon made obsolete by mid-engined cars.
In 1969, there was a 4WD boom in F1 with the top teams of the era, Matra, Lotus and McLaren, building 4WD cars using the Ferguson system. The 1968 seasons had seen many wet races and the constructors were searching for means to increase the grip of the cars. The 1969 British GP, saw a record number of four 4WD cars using the Ferguson system entered, with John Miles in a Lotus 63 achieving the best finish of 10th. 1969 also saw the introduction of wings in F1 and as there was no wet race that year, all the competitors ceased developing 4WD F1 cars as wings appeared as an easier way to increase grip. Team Lotus made a last attempt with the Ferguson system on the gas turbine powered Lotus 56B in 1971, but the car was uncompetitive. A new company called FF Developments was founded in 1971 by Rolt and continued to develop Ferguson's four-wheel drive systems.
In a 1997 interview for MotorSport magazine, Sir Stirling Moss nominated the P99 as his favourite of all the F1 cars he drove. This was considered high praise from a man who drove the Mercedes W196, Maserati 250F, and the Cooper T51.
So the small team with big dreams, inspired many of its bigger contemporaries, but ultimately 4WD didn't succeed in F1.