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Wolf WR1

History of the actual car

Jody Sheckter drove this car to victory at its debut Grand Prix in the 1977 Argentine Grand Prix, later securing second place in the Drivers’ Championship, in spite of the team having fielded only one car. This car which won three Grands Prix, was designed by Harvey Postlethwaite who sadly died in 1999 (whilst working with the new Honda team) and who was originally famous for his Hesketh 308 design of 1975. When Lord Hesketh sold his  team and assets to Frank Williams at the end of the 1975 season, Harvey found himself running the chassis he’d designed the year before, now renamed Wolf-Williams’, however he soon updated his design to produce the Wolf WR1 for the 1977 season.

The combination of this development of his previous thinking and the young Jody Scheckter still massively enthusiastic, courageous and keen to get away from what he considered a blind-alley (Tyrrell’s P34 six-wheeler), brought about a ‘winner’. Looking at the WR1, it has much in common with the Hesketh 308 (narrow forward monocoque broadening out to a wide undertray and side mounted radiators now slightly inclined at their leading edge). It would be in 1977 that the potential of ‘ground effect’ with venturi tunnels either side of the central monocoque was developed at Lotus in their Lotus 78 car. In fact, there was a hint of things to come in 1976 when their unspectacular Lotus 77 ran with brush-edged sidepods in an attempt to isolate the faster airflow under the car, later enhanced by side-pod and true skirt development in the Lotus 78 of 1977. All the other teams played catch-up developing their own ground-effect cars for 1978, but by then Lotus was one-step ahead with their nearly all conquering Lotus 79. In the subsequent year or so, even Lotus’ efforts were surpassed by other teams (notably Williams and Ligier), with the reliability of Ferrari’s 312T4 (compromised by the flat-12 engine interrupting venturi-effects) winning through, also driven by Jody Scheckter.

Back to the Wolf WR1 and I personally suspect that a weak form of ground-effect was already being generated by the very large surface area under the car, notably seen in the very successful Ferrari 312T of 1975. This large surface area below the monocoque when compared to narrower cars such as the McLaren M23 and Lotus 72 E resulted in a small pressure reduction centrally and perhaps unwittingly improved cornering by maintaining extra downforce and therefore higher cornering speed I suspect. The Brabham BT44 and 44B cars’ central monocoque was at ‘reference level’ with each side pod slightly upwardly inclined to reduce risk of bottoming the outer monocoque floor on cornering. I feel that the completely flat monocoque undertray of the Ferrari 312T, the Hesketh 308 and the Wolf WR1 would have conferred overall, a slight negative pressure effect under the car when compared to the Brabham BT44 series, McLarens etc. It is true that in 1975 both Brabham and McLaren experimented with V-shaped skirts fixed to the forward monocoque to exclude air flow centrally, this innovative secret of Gordon Murray being spotted  inadvertently by the eagle-eyed Alastair Caldwell in the pit lane one day when the Brabham’s front end was elevated for repairs.

Apart from these observations, the pretty Wolf WR1 was popular, a breath of fresh air and provided Formula One with another new and flamboyant owner in Walter Wolf, eagerly enthusiastic in the pit lanes of 1977. Scheckter’s mechanic at Tyrrell Roy Topp, followed him to Wolf and Jody-style ‘beanies’ were in evidence as team headgear during the Monaco Grand Prix. Unfortunately, the later Wolf’s weren’t so successful and Jody signed to drive for Ferrari for 1979 with the WR8 was driven by James Hunt in 1979. Failing to finish six times out of seven, James Hunt famously retired and walked away from the team not wishing to risk life and limb in a uncompetitive car when the car failed yet again, at Monaco.

After the completion of the 1979 season, the remaining two Wolf’s (WR8 and 9) became the first two Fittipaldi F7’s for 1980. Postlethwaite went with the team to join Fittipaldi Automotive, later moving on to Ferrari in 1981 where he produced the fabulous Ferrari 126C2 for 1982 which would have won the championship, were it not for the appalling bad luck that befell both Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi at Zolder and Hockenheim respectively, that year.


The Model

This Tamiya model, is apparently their best seller, or so I heard. I guess that is because it does look good and the box art was popular too.

The model came together cleanly in 1996 and super-detailing was more or less confined to the addition of narrow gauge electrical screening cable, which does look just like aeroquip oil line, so is a relevant upgrade to the model. Use of spray paint via a new but simple airbrush powered by an aerosol can of compressed air allowed the application of the aluminium colour to the monocoque and the midnight blue to the body panels to lift the car to a new level of perfection, when compared to enamel paint applied by brush, as formerly used. Ideally, one would spray paint the gold, rather than rely on the large gold water-slide decals for the bodywork, however in providing this decal, Tamiya ensured everyone buying the model could also be confident they had the means to complete the colour-scheme successfully.

I came across a real WR1 when I first met Kerry Adams (Adams McCall Engineering) and could see the potential for more super-detailing in the future.

I enjoyed building the model because I could see and understand an evolution of Formula One design in the car, albeit it was still only a tub-shaped monocoque and otherwise consisted of a bolt-on ‘off the shelf’ Cosworth DFV and Hewland gearbox. It would be the arrangement of oil/water radiators, the tidy lines, the novel rear wing mount with closely associated oil catch-tank that were interesting, the whole monocoque being very ‘Hesketh’ (especially front and rear bulkheads and inner monocoque in which the driver sat). The WR1 was perhaps the natural development of the Hesketh 308B, Harvey having realised the late season Hesketh 308C (Wolf-Williams FW05) wasn’t a success. He would have to endure the Wolf-Williams FW05 throughout 1976 season whilst working on his 1977 car. The Williams/Wolf arrangement didn’t work out and Frank Williams left with Patrick Head to form Williams Grand Prix Engineering in 1977, the WR1 being ready for the pure Walter Wolf racing team for 1977 and famous for being one of Harvey Postlethwaite’s greatest designs.

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