Mauro Forghieri was one of of the greatest Formula 1 designer of his era – a lengthy period – overseeing championships for John Surtees in 1964, Niki Lauda in 1975 and 1977 and Jody Scheckter in 1979. His cars won 54 Grands Prix and seven Constructors’ titles. He was a hyperactive, arm-waving Italian, but he understood engines and chassis, which made his pretty unique in the modern era, if one can say that the modern era stretches back the the 1960s.
The son a Modena pattern-maker who worked with Ferrari in the late 1930s on the Alfa Romeo 158 project, Mauro was brought up in the town made famous by Ferrari before going to nearby Bologna University to study mechanical engineering. He graduated with a doctorate and began teaching, but his ambition back then was to go to California and get a job in aerospace. His father His father Reclus suggested to Enzo Ferrari that he hire the youngster and so Mauro took up the offer of a job at Ferrari in 1960.
Less than two years later he was put in charge of the entire racing department, following the walkout of almost all of the team’s top personnel in 1962. Forghieri was 26. He spent the next 25 years toiling for the Maranello team, designing cars and engines. He introduced a number of brilliant ideas and is best-remembered for his his 3-litre flat-12, which proved so successful in the hands of Niki Lauda.
There were good times and very bad times. Enzo Ferrari was a man who appreciated engine designers more than he did chassis engineers but he was a great supporter of his bright young design genius, who did both. The high point came in the mid-1970s when Lauda drove, Montezemolo managed and Forghieri designed. The relationship survived Lauda’s horrendous accident in 1976 and he came back to win again in 1977, despite the fact that Old Man Ferrari thought Niki would never be as good again. Ferrari was wrong. Lauda departed as a result.
The Forghieri cars competitive in 1978 and 1979 and a new hero emerged – Gilles Villeneuve. But Mauro’s chassis designs lacked modernity. He needed help and eventually, in 1981, old man Ferrari was convinced to take on British designer Harvey Postlethwaite, a man who truly understood aerodynamics. He and Forghieri produced the Ferrari 126, which had brute force horsepower and gradually, thanks to Postlethwaite, acquired some aerodynamic subtlety as well. In the traumatic 1982 season the Ferrari 126 C2 was the class of the field and yet Ferrari failed to win the title because of the horrendous accidents that killed Villeneuve and maimed Didier Pironi.
As the sport became more and more manufacturer-driven, Ferrari was left behind and in 1984 the team won just one race. By the start of 1985 the politics within the team reached fever pitch and Forghieri was shuffled away into the role of director of Ferrari’s “advanced research office”, leaving Postlethwaite in charge of F1 engineering. he would stay another two years before deciding that he would be better off working elsewhere and became technical director of a new company called Lamborghini Engineering, whch had been set up by former Ferrari team principal Daniele Audetto.
The Lamborghini car company had been bought by Lee Iacocca of Chrysler that year and it was decided that the company should build an F1 engine to help sell its supercars. Mauro designed a new normally-aspirated V12 engine for the new Grand Prix formula in 1989 and a deal was struck with Gerard Larrousse. The engine was unveiled in April 1988 and runs for the first time in the back of a Larrousse at Dijon in December with Philippe Alliot driving. The engine showed potential with Alliot finishing sixth in the Spanish GP and that autumn a deal was struck for Lamborghini Engineering to supply a car and engine to Mexican businessman Fernando Gonzalez Luna in 1991. In June 1990 Luna disappeared with $20 million and the team collapsed. Audetto managed to convince Italian financier Carlo Patrucco to take over the programme and early in 1991 Forghieri was named technical director of Modena Team. The arrangement was short-lived and Forghieri soon returned to Lamborghini Engineering to develop the V12 engine, but the Americans soon lost interest.
In 1992 Forgheiri was asked by the national electricity company Enel to design an electric minivan, but he was soon back in the world of internal combustion engines as technical director of Bugatti Automobili where he remained until the end of 1994 before he established his own Oral Engineering with former Ferrari engineers Franco Antoniazzi and Sergio Lugli. Together they designed automobile, motorcycle, marine and even kart engines and components. Later Forghieri would be one of the technical experts involved in the Senna Trial, but then, in his sixties, Forghieri quietly disappeared from F1.