The early 1980s were a time of great turmoil and change in the world of Formula One. The decade kicked off with a hefty political battle between the Federation Internationale dub Sport Automobile, the sport's governing body, and the Formula One Constructors Association, representing independent teams like Williams, Lotus and McLaren.
The FISA-FOCA war mostly revolved around the commercial and regulatory aspects of the sport, but also incorporated the technological developments of the time. The big, FISA-allied factory teams like Renault, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, were starting to push out the independents with their intricate, expensive and increasingly more powerful turbo engines, forcing the little guys to think of ingenious ways to keep up.
The turbo engine created a further rift between the FISA and FOCA teams.
The FOCA teams started fighting back with sneaky tricks like Brabham's variable ride height suspension, a feature meant to lower the car during racing conditions to circumvent the 6 cm minimum ride height imposed to slow the ground effect cars down, and Williams' "water-cooled brakes", which were actually meant to dump water and lighten the car to below minimum weight.
The first carbon car: the McLaren MP4/1.
McLaren on the other hand went a more honest way, as a change of management saw the emergence of the MP4/1, the first ever carbon fiber chassis Formula One car in 1981. Several other smaller teams devised ways to dance around the weight limit to keep up with the turbo cars, including but not limited to fitting special wings made of lead just for the weighing bridge.
As the political battle axes were buried after a FOCA boycott of the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix, and a famous driver's strike the 1982 South African Grand Prix, the smaller teams would get some respite with the banishment of one of the most complex and budget draining technologies seen in F1: ground effect underbody aerodynamics.
Ground effect operated under the principle of accelerating air under the car through the use of venturi tunnels, which contained inverted wing profiles. By accelerating the air, its pressure would relative to the air going over the car would drop, causing a sucking action which puhsed the car into the tarmac. This would make the tires grip up much harder, and had the added bonus of generating far less drag than conventional wings.
However, the system did have its drawbacks. Bumps and other irregularities in the road surface could cause the car to jump or pitch, raising it up and breaking the seal created by the sidepods and flexible skirts to contain the area of low pressure. Whenever this happened, the low pressure area would suddenly dissipate, instantly robbing the car of its downforce and often sending it into a dangerous spin.
Advanced designs like the Lotus 80 sometimes took ground effect way too far.
Loss of downforce could also be experienced during harsh braking or accelerating as the car lunged forward or backward. To combat this, incredibly harsh suspension was fitted, disallowing any sort of movement at all. The predictable result was drivers complaining of being ground to dust, especially on bumpy tracks.
Additionally, badly designed machines produced by smaller teams with little understanding of the forces involved would often have perilously weak chassis, or rock around violently as their center of pressure shifted all over the place.
With speeds increasing thanks to turbo power, g-forces were becoming excessive as well. Due the toll the cars were starting to take on the drivers and the danger they posed, ground effect designs were banned outright at the end of the 1982 season.
The Williams used by RAM in 1980.
Caught in the crossfire was the returning team of March Engineering. The illustrious British team had left F1 at the end of the 1977 as funds had dried up, even after building a strange six-wheeled car to garner publicity. For 1981 however, they were back, but under different management.
Still not quite strong on their feet, March forged a partnership with RAM Racing. Headed by Mike Ralph and John McDonald, RAM had fielded secondhand customer chassis for a smorgasbord of pay drivers since 1976, with their best result being a 9th place for Rupert Keegan in a Williams FW07 at Watkins Glen in 1980.
March's return was less than fruitful.
RAM's involvement was mostly in the background, as the team was entered as March Grand Prix. Despite lucrative backing from French rolling paper company Rizla, Irish beer firm Guinness and South African tobacco brand Rothmans, the team's performance was nothing to write home about.
The best results were a pair of 7th places for Derek Daly in 1981, and Jochen Mass in 1982, which meant March narrowly missed out on points finishes in both seasons. As such, they were not classified in the final two years of ground effect.
Since the March 811 and 821 were little more than cheaply made, overweight copies of the Williams FW07, the lack of performance wasn't exactly surprising. March's Robin Herd swiftly pulled out of the project after the first season. Though the March name was retained for 1982, RAM was effectively operating the team on its own.
The RAM 01 sported hastily cut back sidepods, a reflection of the rule change banning ground effect.
So for 1983, the logical next step was to rebrand the the organisation back to RAM. With this, the first RAM chassis emerged to face the extensive 1983 rule changes. The ban on ground effect came rather late in the 1982 season, meaning the designs being readied for the following season were in fact still following the full length sidepod formula.
However, with the requirement of completely flat floors, the long sidepods had become redundant. As a result, many a 1983 design was adorned with hastily hacked up sidepods, giving a very rough and clunky appearance. RAM's 01 chassis was no different.
Like fellow privateers Tyrrell, McLaren, Ligier, Arrows, Williams, Theodore and Osella, RAM did not have the means to secure one of the powerful turbo engines. Instead, they were relegated to using the venerable Cosworth DFV 3.0L V8, a design dating back to 1967.
With around 490 horsepower, the engine was already 30 horsepower down on the new short-stroke DFY, a variant Cosworth had developed to try and stave off the turbo terror. Unfortunately, even the DFY was no match for the might of Renault, Ferrari and BMW. The big three were approaching the 900 horsepower mark in qualifying trim, with as much as 700 available during the races.
Because of the team's limited funds, the car was made up of aluminium rather than carbon fiber, and consisted of an eclectic collection of ready made parts, including the quintessential Hewland FG400 5-speed manual transmission.
Aside from the cut-up sidepods, the car retained the distinctive front wing placed in front of the nosecone, a big element of the old ground effect designs. Otherwise the 01 was largely an unremarkable "kit car", a cheap and easy parts catalog affair neatly adhering to the 540 kg (1190 lbs) weight limit.
Chilean self defense expert Eliseo Salazar headed the RAM effort in 1983.
Only a single car was produced for Chilean driver Eliseo Salazar, who had driven for March in 1981, before becoming infamous for clobbering his ATS into Nelson Piquet's Brabham while being lapped at the 1982 German Grand Prix. Salazar received a couple of well-aimed kicks and punches from the hot-headed Brazilian, but was otherwise unharmed.
Salazar debuted the RAM 01 at the first round of the 1983 season, the Brazilian Grand Prix at Jacarepagua. Encouragingly, he managed to qualify the car, albeit in a distant 26th place. With a time of 1:41.478, the Chilean was 6.952 seconds slower than Keke Rosberg's Cosworth-powered Williams FW08C. Fortunately the car held up on race day, netting RAM a distant 14th place, four laps behind race winner Nelson Piquet.
Salazar during qualifying for the US GP West, Long Beach.
For Long Beach, the car's unusual nosecone was changed to a more conventional example, featuring two wing sections on either side of the nose. The street circuit was kind to the car, as Salazar improved slightly to take 25th in qualifying. Sadly, 25 laps in the gearbox seized, and the RAM was out of the race.
The non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch saw a second RAM chassis appear in the hands of Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser, Williams' test driver. Schlesser failed to set a time in qualifying, relegating him to 13th and last place. By staying out of trouble, he climbed up to 6th and finished a lap down on Alain Prost's Renault.
Jean Louis Schlesser made his debut in the second RAM at Brands Hatch.
Schlesser again joined the team for the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, marking the first time RAM entered a two-car effort. The two-pronged attack was less than successful however, as neither car even made it to the grid.
Undoubtedly hampered by the lack of power down the 1.8 kilometer Mistral Straight, the naturally aspirated RAMs failed to impress. Eliseo Salazar couldn't do better than 27th in qualifying, while Schlesser was 29th and dead last. With only 26 cars allowed to start the race, both RAMs were registered as DNQ. C
Paul Ricard set a trend RAM would find very difficult to break. Jean-Louis Schlesser was dropped from the team for the next race in San Marino, but even with all eyes on Eliseo Salazar the team would be unable to secure a spot on the grid for three races in a row.
After qualifying 27th at Imola, 25th on the shortened grid of Monaco and 28th and last at Spa Franchorchamps, RAM finally let the Chilean go. While they regrouped, RAM opted to miss the US Grand Prix East on the streets of Detroit, and instead focused on the Canadian Grand Prix.
Jacques Villeneuve Sr. at Montreal.
For the event at Montreal, the team would select a very familiar name: Villeneuve. Though the last name evoked the iconic image of the recently deceased Ferrari ace, his first name would later be cause for confusion.
Jacques Villeneuve was in fact Gilles' brother, and an accomplished racing driver in his own right. Two Formula Atlantic titles and a Snowmobile Derby World Championship win were his most prestigious achievements, which he followed up with a few unsuccessful attempts to qualify for Arrows in 1981.
Jacques brought a number of personal sponsors to RAM though, helping him secure a seat in the cash-strapped outfit. Unsurprisingly however, he failed to drag the underpowered machine into a starting position, setting a time only good for a mere 27th. As a result, he once again failed to qualify.
Kenny Acheson stepped into a revised RAM 01 at Silverstone.
Unsurprisingly, Villeneuve's appearance remained a one-off, as RAM engaged in another round of musical chairs, and chose to hire Kenny Acheson, a Northern Irishman with a patchy career in lower single seater formulas.
Acheson was slightly out of his element at Silverstone, where he recorded the slowest time during qualifying despite the aerodynamic improvements his car had been subjected to. It would be an ominous sign of things to come.
To the team's annoyance, Acheson wouldn't significantly improve in the next five races. In fact he would rarely be ahead of last place in qualifying. A mere 27th place at Hockenheim was followed by 29th at the Osterreichring, and 29th at Zandvoort.
Acheson bumbling around at Zandvoort, 1983.
At Monza, the team was able to purchase a surplus DFY engine from McLaren, netting them 30 valuable extra horsepowers, essential on the long straights of the Temple of Speed. It was all in vain however, as Kenny still lingered at the back with a 29th time.
Kenny Acheson endured an embarrassing run of results during 1983.
A 27th place during qualifying for the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, was finally followed by his first successful attempt to make the grid. The final race of the season at South Africa's Kyalami circuit saw just 26 cars attempt to qualify, guaranteeing a race start for the plagued RAM driver.
To his credit, he beat out the Osella's of Corrado Fabi (ITA) and Piercarlo Ghinzani (ITA) to 24th place. Acheson stayed on the thin black line on race day, and steadily made his way up the order as competitors dropped out with mechanical issues. In the end he managed to clinch 12th place, a hefty 6 laps behind Riccardo Patrese (ITA) in his winning Brabham.
The 01 was repurposed to fit the Hart 415T in 1984.
With the 1983 season done and dusted it seemed the RAM 01's ordeal was finally over, but the tired machine was dragged out once more for the first two races of 1984. RAM had only been able to construct a single example of the new 02, powered by Brian Hart's 750 horsepower 415T 1.5L turbocharged straight four, as used by the Toleman team.
French debutante Phillippe Alliot was handed the 02, but that left ex-Williams driver Dr. Johnathan Palmer without a drive. In order to give him a seat regardless of the slow progress of the second 02 chassis, an 01 was hastily reworked to accept the Hart turbo, and fitted with the 02's aero kit.
Palmer used the 01-Hart to great effect at the opening round of the season, the Brazilian Grand Prix at Jacarepagua. Though he actually failed to qualify, the exclusion of Manfred Winkelhock, who had qualified 15th in his ATS, allowed him to take the start all the same.
An incredibly high rate of attrition in the Brazilian heat saw Palmer climb up to 8th, where he finished three laps down on McLaren's Alain Prost. This would turn out to be the 01's highest ever finishing position, but since points weren't awarded lower than 6th, the car would remain scoreless.
This was underlined by Jonathan Palmer's retirement from the South African Grand Prix, where his gearbox seized. Ironically, he had actually out-qualified Alliot in the newer 02, as he started one place ahead of the Frenchman in 22nd. With the second 02 ready for action for the next race at Spa though, the 01 was finally laid to rest.
Today the surviving 01 chassis are in private collections, and occasionally appear at historic racing events.
The RAM 01 was a rather miserable machine born out of the divorce between RAM Racing in the half-hearted March organization. Woefully underpowered, underdeveloped and indifferently designed, the car served as a reminder of the past.
With its simple design, Cosworth DFV engine and Hewland gearbox, he RAM still banked on the parts bin philosophy that had made names like McLaren and Lotus great in the early 1970s. However, the times had changed, and the 01 was left looking like a clumsy dinosaur as a result.
It qualified only five times in 17 attempts, with five different drivers, and only finished three races. Though it deserves some sympathy as a low-budget affair, the car was simply dreadful in every way, making it no surprise is was one of the last naturally aspirated designs before their outright banishment in 1986.