Gordon Murray rolled the dice, pushed the
boundaries, beat the clock and made an
F1 title-stealing classic in the Brabham BT52.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and Gordon Murray’s simple, elegant, but groundbreaking Brabham-BMW BT52 is tunning proof. Conceived and built in just hree months, it brought Nelson Piquet the 1983 Formula 1 World Championship.
hirty years ago, Renault came close
to securing its first Formula 1 World
Championship – not just as an engine
supplier, but as a factory team. What’s more,
it would have done it with a homegrown
driver in Alain Prost. Vive la France!
Instead, the mighty manufacturer outfit
lost out to a bunch of renegades who
pushed everything to the limit and helped
move F1 into the modern era. Brabham
may have benefited from a works BMW
engine and the patronage of owner Bernie
Ecclestone, but it was a compact unit that
moved quickly on its feet under the brilliant
technical leadership of Gordon Murray. His
svelte, dart-like BT52 is remembered as
one of the greatest cars of the turbo era.
Brabham also had a canny driver in
Nelson Piquet, who’d won the 1981 World
Championship with the Cosworth-powered
BT49. The following year the team moved
into the turbo age with BMW, and Murray
reinvented F1 strategy by planning for
mid-race refuelling and tire changes.
For 1983 he’d designed the ultimate
ground-effect machine in the BT51 – but in
November of ’ 82, the FIA suddenly made
flat bottoms mandatory with immediate
effect. At a stroke, BT51 was a useless relic.
“It was very last minute,” recalls Murray.
“Having Bernie as a business partner is
usually a positive, but in this case it counted
against us. He was adamant he wanted to
keep ground effects, and kept saying all
the way through ’ 82 that they’d stay.
“Because the BT51 was going to be so
radical – a half-tank, pit stop car – we’d
finished it in the late summer of ’ 82, and
tested it. For once we were ahead of the
game. It was based on the BT49, very
forward center of pressure, literally tons of
downforce. Slowly but surely, as everybody
had got ground effect venturis to work