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History of Ferguson P99 | The First 4WD F1 Car

Posted on 2022-04-15

Developed and designed by Ferguson Research Ltd., a farming tractor company with aviation DNA, The Ferguson P99 emerged from the need to show the world the power of a vehicle driven with all four wheels. As it stands, it was the car that introduced the world to 4WD with its remarkable victory in Formula 1. 

Ferguson P99’s History: The car itself

During the infancy of Formula 1, the amount of experimentation and different designs were simply outstanding. The innovations back then still haven't settled on anything. Front-engine, back engine, mid-engine. Front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive. Body on frame chassis, Backbone chassis, and later on, the monocoque chassis. One such invention was the 4WD system, with 50-50 torque distribution from front to rear wheels.

And it was none other than Harry Ferguson who came up with such brilliance. 

The whole idea to enter Formula 1, the state-of-the-art racing championship, was all but a marketing show for his new technology. With faith in his newfound breakthrough, Ferguson equipped the car with a Coventry Climax FPF 1.5 liter L4 engine. This engine could produce 150 horsepower (@7500rpm). Not a lot by today's standards, but back then it was one of the most powerful engines available.

Even though  Cooper's and Lotus's overwhelming recent success with mid-engined cars, Ferguson's decision to go with a front-engined layout was not without merit. The main advantage of such a layout was the fact that the 4WD system might lead to understeer and having the engine's weight at the front would limit this disadvantage.

Another major disadvantage of the 4WD system is weight. The P99 was not lightweight by any means, tipping the scales at 1,455 lbs. This is around 100lbs heavier than most of its competitors. However, the combination of the 4WD and the ABS (anti-skid) brake system gave the P99 incredible grip, making the car faster at corners.

Ferguson P99’s History: The father - Harry Ferguson

Henry Ferguson, also known as Harry, was a British man born in Ireland in 1884. Today, he is known as the father of the modern tractor, creating its defining three-point linkage system. His ambitions and brilliant mind also tackled other projects regarding power transfer, being the 4WD transmission system he ambitiously raced in the prestigious Formula 1. He didn't only keep it on the road, but he also managed to be the first man on Irish soil to create and fly his airplane. Sadly, he passed away before seeing the fruits of the "project 99."

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Ferguson P99’s History: The races

The P99 climax only entered two Formula 1 races in 1961: The Oulton Park Gold Cup and the British Grand Prix at Aintree. It remarkably won its debut race in Oulton Park by a good margin, proving its capabilities. It made a name for itself, the first 4WD car to ever win an F1 race. More than that, it's also the last front-engined car to win an F1 race.

The year 1961 housed many cars to be contended against: A single Ferrari: the Dino 156, three unique Lotus racers: Lotus 21, Lotus Mk18, and Lotus Mk18/21, as well as facing off were two different Porsche contenders: Porsche 718 and Porsche 787. 

It raced into Aintree to nearly clock its second victory in a row. Sadly, towards the end of the race, Sir Stirling Moss was disqualified from the race as he ran his practice session in a different car. It was the same model but a mismatched vehicle. These actions are illegal in Formula 1, which led to his black flag and disqualification.

Whether it was because of the P99, 4WD was illegal from Formula 1 after the race. The P99's racing prowess did not falter after these setbacks. Moss and race driver colleague Peter Westbury went on to compete and win the British Hill Climb Championship. Sterling drove the iconic car in the public race Goodwood Festival of Speed.


Are F1 cars still AWD?

Today, the only allowed driven wheels in Formula 1 are the rear wheels and rear wheels alone. It is not true that the front wheels are driven by the electric motors in the hybrid systems, despite what some might think! 

Do F1 cars still use ABS?

ABS, or Anti Lock Braking System, is considered a computer driving aid device. The FIA removed this to make the races more about the driver's skill. The ABS has been banned since 1994, and Traction control was also banned in 2008.