In the world of rallying, Subaru occupy the upper echelon of success. A storied history that spanned multiple decades saw World Rally Championships for the likes of Colin McRae and Petter Solberg. However Subaru has another history, one you’re unlikely to find mentioned in the brochure of your STI.
Following the demise of Formula 1’s first turbo era, the sport welcomed a slew of new teams eager to take on the likes of McLaren and Ferrari. One of those teams was Coloni Racing. The Italian team founded by former driver Enzo Coloni first competed in 1987 and experienced little success. In 1990, Fuji Heavy Industries expressed an interest in campaigning a Formula 1 team under Subaru.
After purchasing a 51% stake in Coloni, Subaru supplied the team with an all new engine in the form of a flat-12. The project was headed by former Alfa Romeo designer Carlo Chiti and his firm Motori Moderni, who had previously produced a V6 turbo for Minardi.
The 3.5 liter flat-12 was the only one of its kind headed into the 1990 Formula 1 season.
While certainly a stunning looking piece of kit, the 500 horsepower H12 proved unsuccessful and was massively down on performance compared to the rest of the field.
For the summer 1990, there were plans to design an all new chassis to better suit the team’s unique engine. Due to time constraints leading into the Phoenix Grand Prix, the H12 was retrofitted into an older Coloni C3 chassis. The dated design lacked many of the features cars of the time were running, including large side pods for maximum air flow.
At 300 lbs overweight, the C3B, as it was dubbed, failed to qualify at Phoenix or any of the following races in which it entered.
With the car lacking any performance whatsoever and minimal progress being made on a redesign at the team’s headquarters, Subaru fired Enzo Coloni in May 1990. Less than a month later, the manufacturer sold the team back to Coloni and permanently withdrew from Formula 1.
The team didn’t fare any better back under Coloni’s control and failed to participate in a single Formula 1 Grand Prix for the 1990 season. Coloni would eventually join forces with Ford before he sold the team in 1991 to Andrea Sassetti and it became Andrea Moda Formula (banned from Formula 1 in 1992).
A brief and some would say tarnished page in the Subaru history books, but also an interesting one. Formula 1 used to be a hotbed for grass roots engineering and no name teams seeking their spot on the podium. With only 3 engine manufacturers currently in the sport, it exemplifies how corporate and vanilla things have become. The new engine formula hopes to change that in the coming years. With more “relevant” V6 turbo power plants, the sport hopes to entice a more diverse playing field with engine suppliers including Toyota and BMW eyeing returns. Hyundai has also expressed interest in getting involved and 2015 will mark the return of one of the sport’s greatest partnerships with McLaren-Honda.
Subaru remains one of the sport’s lesser known what ifs. What if they had found a way to make it work? What if the flat-12, which was unbelievably well balanced had found a niche with other teams? Maybe Subaru would be competing at a high level to this day. Never say never, but at this point Subaru’s Formula 1 chapter is a fleeting memory and regrettably case closed.