WOLF FORD WR1

Walter Wolf, born in 1939 in the Jochen Rindt-City of Graz, is the son of a Swabian bricklayer from Reutlingen in the South of Germany. Being a poor boy in the troubled times after World War II he had financed going to school by collecting old metal pieces and cartridge cases. With only nine dollars in his pocket (and further 160 borrowed from Caritas) he immigrated into Canada via Bremerhaven going by an old steamship. There he started a successful career as a building contractor to enter the drilling business later. Partly he was commanding over 300 divers in the offshore search for the black gold all over the world. From drilling for to the selling of oil was only a small step and when oil prices climbed dramatically by the first energy crises in the winter of 1973 & 1974 decisive impulses were given to the financial possibilities of Walter Wolf. "Without the energy crises I had not starved, but I also had not been able to enter Formula One," he said. The man, who once had been a member of the Canadian downhill team as an Olympic amateur for the 1964 Winter Games in Tyrolian Innsbruck, cultivated excellent relations to the Royal Court of Saudi Arabia and other administrations of the Arab world. Wolf also had close contacts to popular Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and powerful German Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, one of the leading economists in the world.

As a versatile sportsman Walter Wolf had got involved in motorsport in the middle of the seventies. Italian engineer Gianpaolo Dallara, who had been the designer of Piers Courage`s de Tomaso Ford of 1970 entered by the team of Frank Williams, had brought Wolf in contact with the enthusiastic Briton, who again had been very short of money after having separated from his Italian partners of Politoys and later of Iso Rivolta. Walter Wolf, who had bought 51 per cent of the shares of Italy´s famous sportscar and tractor company Lamborghini at the beginning of 1975, already had supported the Williams team by buying some Ford Cosworth engines for them for the 1975 season. Wolf himself officially appeared for the first time at a Grand Prix meeting at the Nuerburgring the same year driving a red Lamborghini Countouch, the first model of it using a rear wing for road use. From that time on there were rumours in the paddock, that Walter Wolf and Frank Williams had scheduled entering Formula One with a domestic made Lamborghini Grand Prix racing car driven by former Ferrari star Jacky Ickx (who also had been separated from Team Lotus in 1975 in the middle of the year) in 1976. It might be, that the other Lamborghini shareholders had not been able to be convinced of entering the Formula One competition being too risky for the existance of the company, Wolf and Williams decided to re-structure Frank`s team. They bought Hesketh Ford 308Cs from the bankrupt Towcester based company of Lord Alexander Hesketh and further material from Embassy Hill, whose top personnel had been killed in an air crash at the end of 1975. The 308Cs were re-named into Williams Ford FW05s, some of the Hill and Hesketh technicians joined the Williams crew. The most important person of all these people was designer Dr Harvey Postlethwaite, formerly working at March before constructing the Hesketh Ford 308 making James Hunt win the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix held at Zandvoort. Walter Wolf originally also had wanted to sign up with Hunt for being his number one driver for 1976, but he had not been confident enough to offer his team in fact consisting of three rival ones to the star driver. Instead of joining Williams and Wolf, James Hunt switched to McLaren to become world champion at the end of the year. In contrast to that the 1976 season meant a great desaster for the Williams team. The FW05s now in blue and gold livery, the letters of Walter Wolf Racing at the sides of their cockpit covers and only with small stickers of traditional Williams sponsor Marlboro on the vehicles, did not score a single worldchampionship point throughout the whole year. The regular driver of the team, Frank Williams`favourite Jacky Ickx and France`s novice Michel Leclere (partly assisted by Chris Amon, Arturo Merzario, Hans Binder, Renzo Zorzi and Warwick Brown) were not quick enough to bring good results to a good car being entered by a chaotic team.

So it was no wonder, that the successful sports and businessman Walter Wolf very soon was frustrated by the circumstances within the Williams team only bringing him bills of two million dollars to be paid per annum. For this reason very early in the middle of the 1976 season he decided to establish himself as a constructor in his own rights. On 5th July 1976 he founded Walter Wolf Racing as an independent Grand Prix team after having signed up Dr Postlethwaite as his and not Frank Williams`chief designer anymore. Wolf gave a redundancy payment to the Briton and took star team manager Peter Warr, Colin Chapman`s loyal adjutant for many years, from Team Lotus. Single driver of the team became Jody Scheckter, who had matured enormously under the strong government of Ken Tyrrell throughout their three common years between 1974 and 1976 after a wild beginning at McLaren in 1972 and 1973. Wolf payed him an average salary for top driver of that time connected with a special bonus system with the option of paying him out after reaching the Austro-Canadian`s aim of winning the worldchampionship very quickly. "I will make him the wealthiest driver ever for the case of winning the title. I intend to retire on top and will pay Scheckter for his complete three years` contract with the possibility for him to signed up elsewhere without limitations," said Wolf.

Walter Wolf had ordered Dr Postlehwaite to construct a simple Grand Prix car easy to maintain. With most of the tracks being fast ones the new contender was made for a high top speed level on the straights. Postletwaite and his crew entered the wind tunnel of the British automobile industry`s research and development centre MIRA for only eleven hours, a joke under the conditions of the 2005. But they took out a wedge-shaped car with fine edges and borders with a lot of different air intakes, a design looking pretty similar to former Postlethwaite ones made at Hesketh. Walter Wolf`s first Grand Prix car of his own had got the model designation WR1, in spite of bad experiences at Team Tyrrell using the same system until Kyalami 1973, the model designation was identical with the chassis number. No doubt, it was a little easier doing so in the concept of a single car team, but it still remained a risk in the case of a heavier practice accident. Four cars of the WR1 were constructed until the middle of the 1978 season, the first type, presented on the 8th November 1976 in London`s Royal Lancaster Hotel with a bottle of champagne standing on the rear wing, was followed by the WR2, WR3 and WR4. Using a lot of titanium at the monocoque and the bodywork made the car coming very close to the weight limit of 575 kgs (with oil and water, but without fuel and driver), also giving it a better handling by making it stiffer and it also brought more safety to the driver.

When Walter Wolf Racing and Jody Scheckter came to the first round of the 1977 worldchampionship held at Argentinian Buenos Aires, they were expected by extreme heat. During practice and qualifying the new Wolf Ford WR1 suffered under serious fuel supplying problems making the Ford Cosworth DFV engine only coming up to 9600 revs per minute instead of the normal 10 500, only the eleventh place on the grid was the consequence of that. But then the genius Dr Postlethwaite had got the idea to transfer the fuel pump from it´s original place sloping down the engine to a position behind the unit. While the cars (and drivers) of many rival teams had extreme difficulties under the hot conditions (only seven cars were classified) Jody Scheckter drove a convincing race to leave his cockpit pretty fresh winning nearly 50 seconds ahead of Carlos Pace`s Brabham Alfa Romeo and Carlos Reutemann`s Ferrari. For the first time in the history of Formula One since Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling and the legendary Mercedes-Benz W196 at Reims in 1954 a new make had won their maiden Grand Prix - but the famous German car group had been able to rely on their successful pre-war infrastructure and team personnel, while Walter Wolf was a sole private (and also self-made) industrialist. Jody Scheckter also won the most popular Grand Prix of each year, the Monaco round, and Walter Wolf`s home Grand Prix of Canada, for the last time held at Mosport before the event switching to the exciting metropolis of Montreal in 1978. He came home second in Kyalami and Hockenheim and third in Long beach, Jarama, Zandvoort and Watkins Glen scoring 55 points overall. At the end of the 1977 season Scheckter became vice champion behind Austria`s legendary Niki Lauda at Ferrari, Wolf Ford scored fourth place in the constructors`s championship behind Ferrari, Lotus and McLaren all entering two cars regularly. "I don´t make my car ugly by putting other companies` stickers on it, " said Walter Wolf. Competing in Grand Prix Racing was no business affair for him, but a project of sportsmanship with a touch of prestige. In 1978 he actually allowed to fix two stickers of Burmah Oil with their brand Castrol on the front wings of his car still in the elegant dark blue and gold livery. Later also the red W letter with the wolf animal sitting in it was introduced. Once tested with a Hesketh-like sportscar nose with a big front wing the Wolf Ford WR1´s bodywork was only modified in little details - in contrast to many rival cars. In 1977 and 1978 an airbox was used in some races. The WR1 model was replaced by the WR5 in the sixth round of the 1978 worldchampionship, the Belgian Grand Prix of Zolder. The WR5 was a ground effect car in the sense of the Lotus Ford 79 with lateral wings protected by moveable skirts slipping on the asphalt. Nearly the same time the WR3 and the WR4 chassis were sold to Teddy Yip of Macau for his private Chinese Theodore team entering Keke Rosberg in Hockenheim, Zeltweg and Zandvoort in red and white colours. Later both cars went to the British Formula One Championship, the Aurora Series (named after it`s sponsor, a model car company). There the WR3 made it`s lady driver Desirèe Wilson from South Africa the first ever woman to win a Formula One race.

Walter Wolf`s works team never became able to repeat the successes of the 1977 with the cars of the WR1 series. Jody Scheckter left the team for joining Ferrari for 1979 becoming world champion there the same season. Walter Wolf, meanwhile with the commercial sponsor Olympus Cameras on his car (first driven by James Hunt, then, after the mid-season retirement of the Briton, by Keke Rosberg) sold his team to Emerson Fittipaldi for a merger with the Copersucar team of the twice world champion from Brazil. The photos below show the Wolf Ford WR1 of Jean Loius Duret (no. 35) and the WR2 (no.20) of Peter Wuensch driven in the 2005 TGP Historic Worldchampionship. In spring of 1977 a poster had been seen in the pit of even young Walter Wolf Racing: Who is afraid of the big bad wolf.

Klaus Ewald

 



 

Model Designation: Wolf Ford WR1 Year: 1977 Chassis: Wolf aluminum monocoque Engine: Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 litre V8 Gearbox: Hewland FG400 5 speed manual Tyres: Goodyear Oils: Castrol Designer: Dr Harvey Postlethwaite Team Principal: Walter Wolf Team Manager: Peter Warr Driver: Jody Scheckter (ZA)

 

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Technical exclusive images by Klaus Ewald taken at the 2005 Jim Clark Revival at Hockenheim

 

 

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