Friday, 05 August 2016 09:00

Protos F2 (1967): the ‘wooden’ single-seater

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Translated by Giannis Binas

During the 60s, the regulatory framework (design parameters, use of specific materials and technologies) of building a single-seater was nearly liberal; the mechanics’ imagination could, no exaggeration here, go rampant!

The said looseness of the regulations, combined with the affordable costs in research and development, had as a result the testing, at that time, of numerous innovations. One of them appeared on a Formula 2 spec car and was highly special.

On the year 1967, the ‘communicant’ of aeronautical technology on single-seater racing, Frank Costin, conceived another great idea: knowing the advantages of timber in constructing aircraft parts, he decided to ‘transfer’ them onto a single-seater that would race in Formula 2 championship. So, using thin wood sheets, he shaped a wholly wooden chassis, which he connected to a closed cockpit.

Protos Wooden Chassis

The data on aircrafts however, were different from those on single-seaters… the use of plywood on the chassis, not only didn’t secure an advantage over the popular solution of aluminum but proved extremely dangerous too.

At the Mediterranean Grand Prix, a race in the Formula 2 championship context that was held at Ennia-Pergusa of Italy, Pedro Rodriguez went all out on the battle for second place with Jean Pierre Beltoise and had a major accident.

His chassis turned into… toothpicks, with the steering wheel constituting, according to the testimony of the marshal who picked it up, the largest part of what was left of the car, after the engine.

Rodriguez was flung a few meters ahead of the leader, Sir Jackie Stewart, miraculously avoiding the worst: a broken ankle was fortunately the only outcome of the incident.

Rodriguez Steering Wheel

The wooden chassis made an appearance in the context of the Formula 1 championship too, but just on one occasion.

At the German GP, the hosts allowed the participation of drivers with Formula 2 spec single-seaters and, that way, Brian Hart (the future great engine craftsman) and Kurt Ahrens had the good fortune of going down in history as the only drivers who competed with a wooden chassis in Formula 1.

Ahrens Protos 1967

The innovation of using timber on a single-seater proved to be troublesome at its onset and for that reason nobody bothered to develop it further.

Even in sportscars, where there was a relevant endeavor, it was abandoned soon.

Nevertheless, the repercussion cannot be considered negative for the following reason: Costin’s idea didn’t work, but a brilliant apprentice studied at his side, Brian Hart.

If someone adds next to him, the other bright Costin’s ‘student’ at Vanwall in the 50s, the insurmountable Colin Chapman, it’s plain easy to realize the worth of the ‘master’.
And if the ‘master’, besides ‘students’ like these, had the honor of being the big brother of Mike Costin, cofounder of Cosworth, words are redundant…

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