Watch: Why the Maserati 250F is the ‘archetypal classic F1 car’

RapidTech host Peter Windsor and technical expert Craig Scarborough examine what makes the Maserati 250F an all-time classic F1 car

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Very few Formula 1 cars can be said to encapsulate their era. Very few either can be said to be loved universally by those who drove it, especially when that includes some highly prestigious people.

Yet the Maserati 250F – winner of eight world championship grands prix and assisting Juan Manuel Fangio to two of his titles – is no ordinary car.

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It is a classic – the ultimate 1950s F1 machine. ‘”What does an old-fashioned Formula 1 car look like?”,’ asked technical expert Craig Scarborough on a recent episode of RapidTech. ‘That’s the car.’

It came with rave reviews too, not least because its compliant handling was conducive to spectacular four-wheel drifting. In addition to Fangio, Stirling Moss, Chris Amon and several others who drove it gave an unequivocal seal of approval. Fangio’s drifts through Rouen’s esses in the 1957 French Grand Prix have gone into folklore.

‘It’s difficult to think of anyone who’s ever criticised [the 250F].’ added RapidTech host Peter Windsor.

‘You could just feel the back of the car every millisecond of the time.’

It didn’t happen by accident either. Technically the car was a work of wonder, with plenty of complexity and detail ensuring its crucial fine-handling attributes.

‘[They] laid everything out to keep everything low,’ Scarborough added. ‘The centre of gravity is the key thing about the car. They moved the engine to the side, canted it over, run the driveshaft along the side, the gearbox at the back, the fuel tank at the back.’

Another factor that ensured that the car’s success was no accident was the people involved. Similar to more modern dominant cars such as the Williams FW14B or the succession of championship-winning Ferraris in the 2000s, several revered figures came together at the same time to produce the 250F.

‘When you look under the surface of the car you see names like [Valerio] Colotti,’ Windsor explained, ‘and he went on to be Colotti gearboxes.

‘[Gioacchino] Colombo was the chief designer, but very good people all around.’

‘That’s why there was no mistakes made in the car,’ Scarborough concurred, ‘they’d thought about the layout, they’d put the compromises in the right place to get the final result.’

It extended to the choice of engine as well. The 1954 season in which the 250F debuted was the first of new 2.5-litre engine formula. But rather than take the perhaps obvious choice of a V12 Maserati instead went for a smaller and lighter straight-six that would chime with the car’s delicate balance.

Yet even so the engine had no shortage of power, indeed it produced 270bhp which was amazing not only for the era but especially for a six cylinder unit. ‘It underwrites everything that just made that car what it was,’ Scarborough concludes.

Images courtesy of LAT Archive

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