The year was 1990 and Ferrari had been behind the dominant Mclaren and Williams for the better part of a decade. The Scuderia had hired gun engineer John Barnard (who had famously introduced the carbon chassis into F1 with Mclaren 8 years earlier) to design the 640 of the previous year, but the 641 was overseen by former McLaren designer Steve Nichols after Barnard left Ferrari to join the Benetton team.
The car was powered by a 3.5-litre V12 engine, rated at 680 bhp (507 kW; 689 PS), only slightly down on the 690 bhp (515 kW; 700 PS) Honda V10 engines used by McLaren, but not as flexible or as good at delivering power out of slow corners as the Honda, the Renault V10 engine used by Williams or the Ford-Cosworth HB V8 used by Benetton. Despite its heavier engine, the 641 was among the best handling cars on the grid. Prost declared it the best car of the year.
Ferrari engine man Claudio Lombardi had overseen the development of an all-new, quad-cam 3.5-litre V12, a unit that revved to an ear-popping 12,000rpm-plus. But Ferrari’s 1989 car – the 640 – is better remembered for marking the debut of the semi-automatic paddleshift gearbox, an innovation that would turn change the sport forever.
The 1990 Season
The 640 had been inherently unreliable. The fully stressed engine, paddleshift gearbox and other Barnard inventions had meant the car rarely finished races. The 641 took the 640 and made it more reliable. However, the now much more reliable 641 was being thoroughly outpaced by it’s lighter V10 rivals. Prost, with 5 wins, finished 7 points behind rival Senna, the two famously crashing out of the final race on the first corner. It was a season that Ferrari should have won.
However, the Ferrari 641, like it’s predecessor the 640, will forever be known as one of the prettiest Formula 1 cars of the era. So pretty in fact that one is permanently on display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Chassis construction: Ferrari moulded carbon fibre/honeycomb composite
Bodywork construction: One piece cockpit top, side panels and engine cover
Separate carbon fibre nose section
Front suspension: Double wishbones, push-rod actuated torsion bar springs, and telescopic shock absorbers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension: Double wishbones, pushrod actuated coil springs over telescopic shock absorbers, anti-roll bar
Wheel diameter: Front and rear: 13 in (330 mm)
Wheel rim widths: Front: 10 in
Rear: 15 in
Brakes calipers: Brembo
Discs and pads: Brembo
Steering: Ferrari rack-and-pinion
Radiators, intercoolers and oil coolers: Ferrari
Fuel tank: ATL
Instruments: Magneti Marelli
Oil tank: Integral within gearbox casing
Clutch: AP racing 5.5 in (140.0 mm) multiplate carbon
Gearbox: Ferrari seven-speed, semi-automatic
Type: Ferrari Tipo 036 3.5 L
Cylinder layout: V12 (65°)
Maximum downshift rev limit: 14,000 rpm
Fuel and oil: Agip
Fuel injection and ignition: Magneti Marelli
Power: 507 kW (680 bhp) at 12,750 rpm
Displacement: 3,500 cc (213.6 in³)
Cylinder block: Aluminium alloy
Cylinder heads: Aluminium alloy
Camshafts: Two per bank (inlet and exhaust), gear-driven
Dimensions and weights
Wheelbase: 2,855 mm
Track: Front: 1,800 mm
Rear: 1,675 mm
Weight (without driver): 503 kg
Fuel tank capacity: 220 litres