Ferrari Sigma: ahead of its timeWritten by 'Αγγελος Φωτσεινός
Translated by Giannis Binas
The single-seater safety during the 60s was mildly deficient.
The drivers raced knowing in advance that in the end of the race, the chances of their colleagues mourning their loss were more than serious – as cynical as it sounds, death was integrated in racing weekends.
Sir Jackie Stewart undertook a leading role in improving security conditions, after his 1966 accident in Spa-Francorchamps, by ringing an alarm bell – and, although he was called a ‘coward’ not by a few, the majority of the people who are associated with the sport were positively disturbed.
Thus, in an effort to raise safety specifications, the house of Pininfarina, in 1968, committed to design a prototype single-seater, the Ferrari Sigma (as it was obvious from the symbol pictured on the front, the given name was a letter from the Greek alphabet).
Pininfarina’s staff (with chief designer Paul Martin) in cooperation with Revue Automobile as well as engineers from Ferrari and Mercedes, developed a single-seater that was based on the Ferrari 312 and was powered by the 3-litre Italian V12.
Alhtough, since the beginning it was about a car that wasn’t destined to race, the project was serious in terms of financial support as well as development, the latter being handed over to the Belgian Paul Frere, former F1 driver and Le Mans winner.
In a few months, it was ready for public presentation, which indeed took place during the Geneva Motor Show in March 1969.
Both the different shape compared to the single-seaters of that era and the innovations it carried, could achieve no less than making heads turn. Its characteristics justify the article’s title too – Sigma was truly a single-seater from the future!
For the matter of speaking, here are its innovations:
-Reinforced cockpit, precursor to the ‘bathtub’ that was established in the next years.
-Height adjustable steering wheel column (to help avoiding the frequent chest injuries after an impact).
-6 point seatbelts (in an era that seatbelts had their maiden appearance, with many drivers feeling discomforted with their application).
-Built-in fire extinguishing system and plastic fuel tank (fire was the number one danger in case of an accident as fuel tanks were metal while drivers’ uniforms, according to Stewart’s statements, were as fireproof as a pair of pajamas).
-Bumpers on all four wheels, in order to avoid wheel contact between different single-seaters.
-Reinforced roll bar.
A further observation on the seatbelts is noteworthy, which mostly sums up the reason why the projects masterminds deserve unlimited respect: they were not only connected to the driver’s body, but also with his helmet – 34 years prior to the HANS establishment (Head and Neck Support system), there was a similar approach in the context to Sigma’s presentation.
The financial burden and the -unthinkable, yet prevailing- opinion that many of the car’s innovations were unnecessary, were the reasons that it took a lot of years for the Sigma’s proposed safety features to be implemented in F1.
It’s almost certain, that an immediate establishment of these specifications, would have led to a shorter death list for the sport.
If Sir Jackie Stewart is the most important human factor in changing safety standards, the Ferrari Sigma is the most important constructed means to this direction – unlike that time, their contribution is completely acknowledged in our days.