Brabham BT50, driven by Nelson Piquet, at the 1982 British Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, ML

Brabham BT50, driven by Nelson Piquet, at the 1982 British Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, by Martin Lee -

The Brabham BT50 was a Formula One racing car designed and raced by the Brabham team.

The car, powered by the four-cylinder 1.5 litre turbocharged BMW engine, raced in the 1982 Formula One season.

Design and development

The BT50 featured a longer wheelbase and a larger fuel cell than the preceding Cosworth-powered BT49, to accommodate the requirements of the more powerful turbo engine, and was also one of the first Formula One cars to feature onboard telemetry as a means of monitoring the engine's fuel injection.

The team's lead driver, Nelson Piquet, tested the BT50 throughout 1981, but the car proved chronically unreliable until Bosch introduced a digital electronic management system at the end of the year, which immediately improved the situation. The BT50 made a solitary race weekend appearance at the 1981 British Grand Prix, where Piquet set a qualifying time 0.7 seconds slower than his effort in the Cosworth DFV-powered BT49. The BT50 handled poorly but recorded 192 miles per hour (309 km/h) through the speed trap, some 15 miles per hour (24 km/h) faster than the BT49. Meanwhile, Brabham won the Drivers' Championship with Piquet, who drove the BT49 throughout the season.

Race history

Brabham began the 1982 season with two BMW-powered BT50 chassis at the South African Grand Prix, where Piquet and Patrese qualified second and fourth respectively, but retired early in the race. Team principal Bernie Ecclestone was under pressure from the team's title sponsor, Parmalat, to defend Piquet's championship, and opted to race with the Cosworth-powered BT49 chassis at the Brazilian Grand Prix, which Piquet won but was later disqualified for circumventing the minimum weight limit by running "water-cooled brakes". Both drivers also raced the BT49 at the Long Beach Grand Prix, and the team boycotted the San Marino Grand Prix as part of the ongoing FISA–FOCA war. For the following race, the Belgian Grand Prix, Piquet and Patrese switched back to the BT50, but Piquet finished three laps behind the winner and Patrese retired. As the relationship between Brabham, BMW and Parmalat became strained, Ecclestone was forced to compromise, with Piquet continuing development of the BT50 whilst Patrese raced with the Cosworth chassis. At the Monaco Grand Prix, Patrese won, whilst Piquet was more than two seconds slower in qualifying and retired from the race. In Detroit, engine reliability problems prevented Piquet from qualifying.

Brabham's fortunes suddenly improved, however, at the next race in Canada, where the cool conditions suited the turbocharged engines and allowed Piquet to lead home Patrese (still in the BT49), to record BMW's first Formula One victory. For the remainder of the season, both drivers raced with the BT50, and used Murray's radical strategy of a planned pit stop for refuelling mid-way through the race to run at the front of the field on numerous occasions. The car was still unreliable, though, restricting Piquet and Patrese to just four further finishes before the end of the season. The BMW engine's competitiveness was shown by the fact that Piquet retired from the lead of the British, French and German Grands Prix, whilst Patrese likewise retired from the lead of the Austrian Grand Prix. Patrese also secured BMW's first fastest lap at the French Grand Prix, whilst Piquet took the marque's maiden pole position at the Austrian race.

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Brabham vehicles

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