Merzario

Team Summary Picture Gallery
Text-Only Version Back to Team Index
Last updated: 3-October-2004


Profile

• Little Art competitive in a customer March
In the current era of megabucks F1 with its multi-million dollar budgets and salaries, it's easy to forget that only 25 to 30 years ago Grand Prix racing was a much more do-it-yourself, if no less serious, affair. Out of a drive? Got some sponsors throwing in a few bob each? Why not get together with a few mechanic mates, purchase a customer chassis, some off-the-shelf engines, a few tyres, and away you go? Or better still, got pen and paper? Got a few spare sheets of aluminium (in those pre-carbon fibre days)? Why not copy the latest trends, and design your own mean machine altogether?

Arturo Merzario, the diminutive, chain-smoking, cowboy-hat-wearing Italian did both. Though a sports car ace away from F1, his Grand Prix career had slowly been petering out after his initial stint for Ferrari - no less - in 1972 and 1973. Switching to Frank Williams' team in 1974 to drive the unheralded Iso Marlboro machines, he had some early fleeting success before the combination gradually ran out of steam. Subsequent drives for Fittipaldi and the works March team, plus a return to the Wolf-Williams outfit yielded no points, and by the end of 1976 Arturo found himself on the outer in F1.

So Merzario formed his own team, and acquired a customer March chassis. Franco Varani tells us that the tub may have been an old March 751 previously in the hands of Vittorio Brambilla, which means that it had probably already seen much action and had been in the wars - if not the walls! However, the car had the latest March 761B bodywork, which put it on par with the works Marches. With a 3-litre Cosworth DFV V8 and Goodyear tyres on the bright red machine, Team Merzario made its debut at the Spanish GP at Jarama in round five of the 1977 World Championship, with Arturo at the wheel himself.

It was by no means an embarrassing debut. Qualifying 21st, under a second behind Ian Scheckter in one of the works 761Bs, Merzario easily made it onto the grid as the second fastest March runner, but his race was cut short by a suspension failure. Then at Monaco the Merzario March was again 21st fastest, but only 20 were allowed to start on the streets of the municipality. Arturo missed out by only 0.68s, but he had been the fastest of the four Marches in the field. In equal machinery, the Italian was showing the paddock that he still had what it takes.

Arturo's team made an impact running a March 761B in 1977. Arturo's team made an impact running a March 761B in 1977.
• Ditches the March, designs the Merzario
He then continued his sterling privateer effort when he qualified in a stunning 14th at Zolder, blowing the doors off all the others works and private March competitors, but a fuel pump problem in the race cost him dearly, and he ended up finishing 5 laps down in 14th and last place. After missing the Swedish GP, starting positions of 18th and 17th in France and Britain confirmed Team Merzario as the leading March operation in the field, but both those races were undone by gearbox and driveshaft problems respectively. Arturo's team had reason to be confident going to Hockenheim for the German GP.

But there the effort began to unravel, as Merzario tumbled back to being the slowest March driver, missing the grid by over 1.5s. After a one-off race for Shadow in Austria, Arturo returned to his own 761B in Holland, but once again failed to qualify. But 'Little Art' was undaunted. At the following race meeting at Monza, he announced that he was abandoning his 1977 campaign, shelving the March, and fully going on his own in 1978 with his own chassis. Original drawings by Giorgio Piola suggested an attractive design was in the offing for the following year.

The result, though, when the teams arrived for the 1978 season opener in Argentina, was a curvy chassis, but one which was bulky and seemingly cumbersome. Using ideas and perhaps parts from his March 761B, the car featured an aluminium monocoque, a double wishbone front suspension and a Hewland five-speed gearbox. Again it used the Cosworth DFV V8 engine and Goodyear tyres, and operated out of their Carate Brianza base near Milan with Gianfranco Palazzoli as team manager. Marlboro was initially the main backer, not surprising considering Arturo's extensive personal use of their products!

The chassis was called the 'A1', but a word of caution about Merzario chassis names and numbers. This has been the subject of much debate amongst racing historians and anoraks, partly because Arturo either utilised a convoluted system or had no logic at all, and partly because, as we shall see, a new bodywork design did not always mean a new tub or chassis underneath. Confused journalists at the time came up with a dazzling assortment of potentially erroneous combinations, and our labelling that follows are based on our best deductions from the most reliable information available to us.

Argentina 78: Merzario's own A1 makes its glorious debut! Argentina 78: Merzario's own A1 makes its glorious debut!
• Too close for comfort: making and missing the grid
Perhaps because the A1 was still based on the old March and not a new concept altogether, the new chassis made an impressive debut in Buenos Aires. Merzario qualified 20th, ahead of Didier Pironi in the Tyrrell, and was still holding down 20th in the race when he retired with a differential failure. But if this was a relatively solid start, the season would quickly degenerate into a litany of retirements and failures to qualify. Indeed, the team would only finish a race once in 1978, and even then the car was too far behind to be classified.

There were ominous signs already in Brazil that this would not be a happy year, when Merzario recorded exactly the same time to the hundredth as Rupert Keegan's Surtees, only for the Englishman to start in 24th place having set his time first, while Arturo was listed as 25th and failed to qualify. At Kyalami in South Africa, conditions were so stifling that the Merzario crew resorted to working on the A1 in their underwear, while on the track Little Art crept onto 26th spot on the grid by 0.06s over Rene Arnoux's Martini. His race, however, was curtailed by problems with the radius rod mounting.

At Long Beach, Merzario qualified outside the top 22 allowed to start, but when practice accidents by Keegan and Hans Joachim Stuck forced them out, Arturo was bumped up to the 21st grid position, only for a gearbox failure this time to strike in the race. But if there had been some element of good fortune in the A1 getting onto the grid in three of its first four races, things would rapidly go sour. Merzario showed up at Monaco with the red paint scheme on his car now replaced by a black one, in deference to their new Flor Bath sponsorship. Soon, though, their mood would have been turning the same colour.

Problems in practice meant that Merzario was capable of a time no better than 21 seconds away from the eventual pole time, and the Italian was unable even to pre-qualify. The nightmare was repeated in Belgium, where he once again recorded a DNPQ. Then, if he thought beating Arnoux to the grid by 0.06s in South Africa had been cutting it fine, he discovered what it was like at the other end of the stick when Stuck's Shadow pipped him to the last grid spot by 0.04s. And, as the season progressed, it would get even closer than that.

Hot, hot, hot! Art examines the A1's front at Kyalami. Hot, hot, hot! Art examines the A1's front at Kyalami.
• A1/01B replaced by A1/02 which was really 761B
Round 8 in Sweden saw the dominant one-off appearance of the Brabham 'fan car', but it was also the only occasion in the time running their own chassis that Team Merzario saw the chequered flag, although it was not without drama. After starting 22nd, more mechanical problems during the race meant that Merzario fell to 16th and 8 laps down by the end of the event, one short of being classified as a finisher. But the team went to Paul Ricard for the French GP with renewed hope for an upturn in performance, the A1 chassis now having been upgraded to 'B' specification.

Yet there was only to be more heartbreak. Merzario once again just failed to qualify, but this time the margin was even closer than it had been before - just 0.02s behind Keke Rosberg's ATS. Arturo did make the grid in Britain, but fuel pump problems intervened in the race, before another DNQ at Hockenheim. Up to this point, the team had been running just the one chassis (although it had gone through two specifications), but when the teams arrived in Austria, Merzario was pleased to unveil their second A1. "It's not really a new car, just an improved one," Arturo beamed.

There was more to that statement than meets the eye. Research by Allen Brown points to the conclusion that, while the first A1 was a completely new chassis even if based on the ideas of the March 761B, the second A1 brought to the Osterreichring was actually his old 761B, just with new, cleaner bodywork and revised titanium parts. As such, the initial A1 was strictly speaking designated the A1/01, the first part being for the outward design, the second part being the chassis number. That became the A1/01B in France, while the second car in Austria was, obviously, the A1/02.

But while Arturo thought the A1/02 was much better than the A1/01B, he was hampered by fuel pressure problems in practice, and as it turned out a change in chassis had not led to a change in fortunes. After rain effectively cut the qualifying session short, Merzario missed the grid by the closest margin yet, 0.01s behind Arnoux. Then at Zandvoort it was another case of déjà vu, when he recorded the same time to the hundredth as 26th-placed Nelson Piquet, but unlike in Brazil this time he was allowed to start 27th, only for the engine to fail during the race.

Arturo waves, ecstatic after reaching the end of the Swedish GP. Arturo waves, ecstatic after reaching the end of the Swedish GP.
• New season, new livery, new hopes
Yet perhaps the A1/02, even though it really was his old March in disguise, was a better package after all. He qualified relatively comfortably at Monza, where for the only time in its history Team Merzario also fielded a second car, pulling out the A1/01B for Alberto Colombo. But the F2 stalwart proved unable to get the car up to speed, failing to pre-qualify after recording the slowest time of all. Come Sunday, Arturo encountered more engine dramas, but at Watkins Glen he made it three starts in a row, but a gearbox oil leak put paid to that race too.

The team rounded out the season with yet another DNQ in Canada, which left them with only eight starts all season, but by now Merzario was looking ahead to soldiering on in 1979. However, with their limited finances and increasingly-prehistoric equipment, it was always going to be an even taller order to qualify on a regular basis. With new sponsorship from Rete in addition to continued support from Flor Bath, Team Merzario headed to the first three races in Argentina, Brazil and South Africa with a new yellow and black paint scheme for a much-revised version of the A1.

The chassis was still the 02 (i.e. the old March 761B tub), but the bodywork was now somewhat less bulbous and distinctively different in appearance, even if clearly not a new bodywork design philosophy. As a result, it has been known alternatively as the A1B/02 or the A2/02. Being a lot less new than some of the cars from other teams, and therefore being relatively much more sorted, Arturo qualified 22nd in Buenos Aires, ahead of Niki Lauda's Brabham and Rene Arnoux's Renault. But if he thought he was in for a good race, then his ill-fortune from the previous year was about to strike again.

A first lap incident eliminated Jody Scheckter's Ferrari, Patrick Tambay's McLaren, Nelson Piquet's Brabham and Didier Pironi's Tyrrell. In trying to avoid the mess, Merzario lost control and joined the fracas, causing significant front-end damage in particular. And though he hoped that the slight advantage he had in Argentina would carry over to Brazil and South Africa, he was to be sorely disappointed, as the A1B failed to qualify in either event by a considerable margin. Nevertheless, in the background, Arturo was working on something new to replace the A1B.

Merzario behind the wheel of the A1B/02's first race in Argentina, 1978. Merzario behind the wheel of the A1B/02's first race in Argentina, 1978.
• Ground-effects car surfaces at Long Beach
Merzario, along with his mechanic Simon Hadfield and designer Giorgio Valentini, had been working on a completely brand new ground-effects bodywork design. With a budget of approximately only 250,000 pounds, they were going to be forced to put it on top of the original 01 chassis (the one which had been used from Argentina to Germany the previous year), but at least the idea was to try to replicate the revolutionary success Lotus had had with side skirts. Called the A3/01, although it was barely completed the 'new' car was sent to Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in mid-March.

When that race was postponed due to snow, Merzario now had time to test the new bodywork briefly at Fiorano before taking it to the USA West GP at Long Beach, but very quickly a number of problems appeared. For a start, the car was overweight. Compared to the A1B, which was 595 kilograms, the A3 was 625 kilograms, and yet was using the same engine as before. Arturo explained that, in order to save costs, he had to fabricate the shell from steel and aluminium, instead of the more expensive titanium and magnesium. He was saving that for a second A3 he was planning to build.

In addition, the new bodywork was once again an exercise in bulkiness, with large side pods and too much width around the cockpit, thus impeding the necessary air flow which was fundamental for ground effects to work. This was not unexpected, since all they were doing were putting ground effects on very much a non-ground effect car! In terms of the suspension geometry, the car now had lower wishbones and inboard springs, but these were also found wanting when the car hit the streets of Long Beach, where the teething troubles kept compounding.

There, after an engine failure and a split oil radiator, the sub-frame supporting the front suspension pick-up points sheared. Despite these setbacks, amazingly, Merzario had actually made it into the race. Though he was only 24th fastest in practice, the withdrawal of the Renaults bumped him up to 22nd. Considering it too dangerous to try to repair the A3 with its suspension woes, thankfully Arturo had also taken the A1B/02 to California, and thus gave the old March chassis one last hurrah. It only lasted 13 laps, though, as yet another engine failure ended their day.

Another new design sees Art onto the Long Beach grid in 22nd place. Another new design sees Art onto the Long Beach grid in 22nd place.
• Kauhsen take-over prompts A4 make-over
And that, we might add, was Merzario's last start in a World Championship Grand Prix! The team did not go back to the Race of Champions, and in Spain and Belgium the A3 did not miss the grid by too much, though they were made to look good by the execrable efforts of the hapless Kauhsen team. And, at Zolder, Arturo had a brand new gripe: "[The A3 is] very good, well balanced, a good car. It holds the road well. But with the tyres [Goodyear] give me, I just have no grip. I can't put the power down and can't accelerate properly. I did 42 laps in the last session, really trying hard. Result? Zero."

Perhaps Little Art tried a bit too hard, for he ended up crashing and in fact broke his arm. But, conveniently, Kauhsen folded after Belgium, and though their car had proven to be not much more than a pile of junk, Merzario decided to take over the remnants of the outfit, if for nothing else than as a cache of spares. Plus he also acquired temporarily the services of Kauhsen's driver, Gianfranco Brancatelli, and put him in the A3 for Monaco. But the Italian F3 champ found his new steed little better and no less troublesome than his old one, and failed to pre-qualify without recording a flying lap.

Arturo recovered in time for the French GP at Dijon, but on the sweeping circuit he was two seconds slower than anyone else. Yet by this stage he had another project in the works. Abandoning plans to build a second A3, instead he converted and modified the Kauhsen WK004 with the aid of Gianpaolo Dallara and turned it into the ground-effects Merzario A4/03 (A4 for the fourth body shape, 03 because it was the team's third tub). Why Merzario chose to do this was beyond most people's comprehension; after all, as Franco Varani says, the Kauhsen had probably had the 'torsional rigidity of boiled spaghetti'.

Admittedly there were apparent advantages, such as the fact that the aluminium monocoque was now significantly narrower and trimmer than the A3, and the side pod bodywork also allowed better airflow, although in general the car now sat higher (and looked uglier) than its predecessors. It also featured one central fuel cell behind the cockpit, lever-arm operated front and rear suspensions, brakes within the wheels, and highly inclined radiators. But it all made little difference to the team's performance when the A4 made its debut at Silverstone.

Arturo, far left with broken hand, discusses the A3's handling with Brancatelli. Arturo, far left with broken hand, discusses the A3's handling with Brancatelli.
• Finally a finish, in non-champ race at Imola
In the first official practice session Arturo only managed nine laps, while in the second the long-in-the-tooth Cosworth blew up again. He nevertheless went to Hockenheim with confidence, telling journalists that the A4 was now finally ready having been not-quite-complete in Britain, but the finished product was even less competitive. Merzario was almost six seconds slower than his nearest rival, Patrick Gaillard's Ensign, and over 13 seconds off pole. Austria saw him remain 11 seconds off the best, and at the Dutch GP, where he was within a second of the man ahead, he was still 2.3s shy of the grid.

Nevertheless, Arturo hadn't given up hope and was still on the prowl for sponsors. He found one for the Italian GP and the subsequent non-championship race at Imola, but it was an unusual source. As François-Luc Beaudoin tells us, it was a local undertaker! This was perhaps appropriate, since the team was in its own death throes unless it could manage some results. Although at Monza Merzario went faster than the hapless Mexican driver Hector Rebaque, who was also trying without much success to build and race his own car, he was still unable to qualify.

However, with only 16 entries for the race at Imola, Team Merzario was guaranteed of their first start since Long Beach. In a field that also featured both Ferraris, one each of the Lotus, Brabham, McLaren, Arrows, Tyrrell and Wolf, both Autodelta Alfa Romeos and Shadows, and two private Williams FW06s entered by motorcycling great Giacomo Agostini, Arturo qualified 13th ahead of both Shadows and the McLaren, all of which had encountered problems in practice. Merzario also completed the 40-lap race in 11th and last place, two laps adrift of Lauda's victorious Brabham.

The World Championship season, though, rounded off in much the same way as it had been proceeding, with the A4 slowest of all at both Montreal and Watkins Glen. In America especially, Arturo was over four seconds slower than Alex Ribeiro's Fittipaldi ahead, and 13.7s off the pole time set by Alan Jones. Amazingly though, Merzario wanted to plug on into 1980. After plans to purchase two customer chassis fell through, he placed advertisements for a live-in designer at his base, and eventually set about morphing the A4 into the A5, hoping to find enough backing to contest at least the European races.

The unfinished Kauhsen-adapted Merzario A4 in all its Silverstone glory. The unfinished Kauhsen-adapted Merzario A4 in all its Silverstone glory.
• Continues the team in F2 and Italian F3
But by the middle of March 1980, the F1 project had finally been culled, and with the chassis modified to Formula 2 specifications, Merzario was at Misano testing what was now designated the 'M1', with a BMW engine. With two M1s he, along with Guido Dacco and Piero Necchi, contested the whole F2 season, but it was sadly blighted by endless accidents and mechanical failures. Finally shelving the idea of using his own fairly inadequate chassis, Team Merzario then fielded March 812s for the 1981 F2 season, Necchi finally giving the outfit reason to smile with a 6th and two 3rds, at Mugello and Pau.

In 1982 Merzario finally stepped down from driving duties, and fielded three March Merzario 282 BMWs, resulting in a few 6th places, but thereafter took the plunge into fielding his own cars again in 1983 and 1984. Once again they proved uncompetitive. Forays into Italian F3 from 1982 to 1984 also saw a smattering of points finishes, but little more. Soon after, Merzario withdrew from team ownership. As an engineer and team owner, give Little Art full marks for ambition, persistence and determination, but, frankly, there was little laudatory to say apart from that. And while precious few could ever hope to be, a Jack Brabham he was not, that much is clear.

F1 Rejects
Back to the top
Back to Team Summary
Main Page   |    Drivers Index   |   Reject Teams   |   Hall of Shame
Reject Extras
Reject Interviews
Submit-a-Reject
FAQ / Copyright
Reject CENTRALE
• Latest GP Review
• Other Articles
• Links / Banner
Sign Guestbook
Read Guestbook
Current Poll
Previous Polls
All original content Copyright © 2004 Formula One Rejects.