Unplanned Obsolescence - 1996 Ferrari F50 GT
For decades the premier sportscar and GT racing series had been the eponymous World Sportscar Championship. Sadly, the introduction of complicated and ludicrously expensive Formula 1 engines and severe mismanagement ended the venerable championship at the end of 1992.
With WSC now gone for good, there was no international series to take its place, leaving just a few localized national championships in its wake. By 1994 the BPR Global GT Series managed to fill the tremendous gap left by WSC, and started gaining heavily in popularity. The series focused on relatively ordinary sports cars modified for racing, something that hadn’t been seen in ages. Ferrari was quick to join the big new thing with an official factory car in 1995, introducing the competitive F40 GTE.
Although fast, the F40 was a heavily outdated model by 1995. It was being outclassed by the younger McLaren F1 GTR, which prompted Ferrari to start work on a successor. In 1995 the company presented the F50, a car celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari’s existence a few years too early.
This follow up to the F40 was meant as an F1 car for the road, using a 4.7L V12 loosely related to the 3.5L unit used in Ferrari’s 1990 Formula 1 car, the 641. In actual fact it was closer to the engine used in the 333 SP WSC-prototype, which used a lower revving 4.0L configuration for use in endurance races. As the F50 packed almost all F1-technology used by Ferrari at the time, it was the perfect base for a McLaren-killing GT racer.
The standard F50 was already a pretty potent weapon. It produced 520 horsepower at 8000 rpm, employed F1-style pushrod suspension, and used a carbonfiber monocoque with the engine bolted straight to it as a stressed member. All this techno-wizardry was mindbogglingly advanced for a road car in 1995, but it wasn’t quite enough for a race car.
The F50’s biggest issue was its relatively heavy weight of nearly 1400 kg (3086 lbs) and its relative lack of power. To get the car to run with the 680 horsepower McLaren, the V12 was given a healthy dose of the finest Italian steroids available. Power was bumped up to a breathtaking 750 horsepower at an ear-splitting 10.500 rpm. To help all the new horses along the F50 was stripped and re-engineered by chassis experts Dallara until it was a whopping 500 kg (1002 lbs) lighter than the original, weighing in at a breezy 909 kg (2004 lbs).
Keeping the power on tap constantly was another F1-innovation, a 6-speed sequential gearbox with carbon ceramic clutch plates. Lastly a heavily revised aerodynamics package was fitted. A roof mounted intake now fed the very hungry engine, and a new longer and lower front splitter, massive rear spoiler and rear diffuser kept the car in check at high speeds.
The finished car was then given to Ferrari’s resident Formula 1 test driver Nicola Larini (ITA). Immediately the car showed immense promise. Dallara had delivered an amazingly light and well balanced chassis, which combined with the furious V12 resulted in a track demon even faster than the 333 SP WSC-prototype, also built by Dallara.
As Larini racked up the laps and confidence in the new car grew, Ferrari was met with a major setback. Manufacturer involvement in the BPR Global GT Series had already exploded before the F50 GT had completed its development. At the end of the 1996 season the series was reformed into the FIA GT Championship.
Porsche had dominated the final season of the BPR Global GT Series with the outrageous 911 GT1 homologation special. Ferrari rightly predicted the Porsche showed the future of GT1 racing, which was a direction they were unwilling to take. As they had already spent a substantial amount of development money on the still road car based F50 GT, Ferrari decided to abandon its GT1 effort and focus on its lackluster performance in Formula 1.
The Ferrari F50 GT was meant to dominate the newly introduced GT1 category, but met with a vastly different fate. The playing field changed before it had a chance to shine.
Loose interpretations of the rules by Porsche and later Mercedes lead to specialized juggernauts that were impossible to defeat, even for the immensely powerful F50 GT. Just three chassis were ever completed, which were all sold off to private buyers.