Brabham BT 50
Not since Fangio's great win in the 1957 German GP have pit stops during a Formula I race been deliberately set up as racewinning planning. Fangio started on half full tanks, stopped at half distance to refuel and to change all four wheels, then re-caught the leaders and won at record pace. The 1982 Brabham 'GP team, using the newly-developed BMW M12/13 turbo engine, decided that from the British GP at Brands Hatch, the team cars would start on half tanks, carrying only 32-35 gallons instead of 65 gallons in full race trim. At many circuits they also gambled on softer tyres, which afforded greater grip but would not last many laps under full load at the beginning of the event.
The mechanics practiced the refuelling/tyre change routine on many occasions but very rarely did they require their new skills. The powerful turbo engine was also very temperamental and on most occasions both teams cars were out of the race before the half way point.
The Austrian GP was the race that proved that tactics were nearly right when Ricardo Patrese, having built up a huge lead, came in for fuel and tyres to resume without losing his lead. The car only stood still for 14 seconds, as the mechanics, dressed in flameproof overalls, operated the Indy style refuelling equipment and changed the wheels as the car raised up on its own hydraulic three-point jacking system. This success was not to last long as the engine again succumbed a few laps later, sending the car careering off the road and out of the race.
The Brabham team, who have used many different engines (Repco V8, Ford V8, Alfa Romeo V12 and Fiat 12) since the three litre formula was introduced in 1966, were contracted to use the BMW four cylinder turbo engine for the 1982/83 seasons. The BT50 first appeared during practice for the British GP at Silverstone in 1981, where it was fast enough to qualify. Piquet only drove it to compare the new set-up against the opposition under GP practice conditions, giving a much more competitive situation than normal private testing.
The car next appeared in revised form for the start of the 1982 season in South Africa, after which the Brabham team reverted to the Ford Cosworth engine for Brazil, while more development was carried out back in Germany. The car, although unsuccessful' in Kyalami, was the fastest along the Crowthorne Straight being timed at just over 200 mph. Nelson Piquet won the race in Brazil in front of his home crowd after a fabulous race with Keke Rosberg and the late Gilles Villeneuve. (Later both Piquet and Rosberg were disqualified for running underweight cars after a regulation update.) The Cosworth cars were again used at Long Beach and the team boycotted the San Marino race. The BMWs reappeared in Belgium, where Patrese crashed and Piquet struggled home in sixth place, three laps behind.
Monaco brought Brabham another victory, this ~time Patrese winning again, with the Cosworth-engined BT 49. Piquet retired the BMW car with turbo and gearbox problems. The next two races saw the two extremes of GP motor racing. For the Motown GP in Detroit, Brabham again hedged their bets, entering both Ford and BMW'cars. Reigning World Champion, Nelson Piquet, failed to qualify the BT 50 Turbo, his first non-start in GP racing. Patrese started halfway down the grid but crashed on lap 7.
Both cars were taken to Canada, one week later, Piquet was fourth on the grid with Patrese one row down. Piquet led from lap 9 to the finish to win the first race for the BMW Turbo and Patrese chased him home in second place with the Cosworth-powered car. This was a dramatic turn around of fortune, the Cosworth engined BT 49 was retired and the revised BT 50s were to be used at all races from now on.
Montreal was Brabham's last highlight of the season, it had only been a lucky break and not the breakthrough they had hoped for. From now on, despite many revisions and modifications, many good practice sessions and early race performances were only rewarded with retirements. The Dutch GP resulted in a second place for Piquet and in Switzerland the team were in fourth and fifth place.
For the 1982 British GP at Brands Hatch, the team came prepared to re-introduce pit stops to GP motor racing. The team cars had modified fuel tank inlets in the right hand side of the bodywork, and in-built jacks - a large one under the rear wing support and two small ones under the bodywork, level with the front suspension. The two BT 50s would have to build up an advantage of more than 40 seconds to succeed, which it would take to slow down, refuel, tit fresh tyres and rejoin the circuit. The team even devised warm air heaters to get the fresh tyres up to working temperatures before fitting.
The plan was not to be used, however Patrese, on the front row of the grid, did not get away at the start as the car jumped out of gear and was hit from behind by Arnoux. Piquet was in the lead and was extending his lead by one two seconds a lap as required, but on lap 9, the fuel pump pulley came adrift and the car retired.
The rest of the season has to be put down to development and experience in running the BMW Turbo. A water injection system, similar to that of Ferrari, has been tried, longer wastegates were used from Austria onwards and various fuel system cooling methods were tried, from heat shields to ice-packed 'mini-fridges'.
As the season wore on the engines were proving more reliable with improved electronic injection, fuel consumption and a lot of pre-race testing time was spent on carbon fibre disc brakes. The team has a new look this year with new sponsors and flat-bottomed BT 52s to race. Piquet, Patrese and chassis designer Gordon Murray hope to prove that 1982's experience with the Parmalat BT 50 hasn't been wasted.