Formula 1 by Wacky Races
F1 engineering Yoda Adrian Newey famously schooled himself in the art and science of racing car design by building a 1:12 scale Tamiya model kit of a Lotus 49. As a kid I tried to do the same, spending long summer days building a Brabham BT44B, but enormous wealth, more trophies than Guardiola’s downstairs loo and a career at the pointy end of Formula 1 continue to elude me.
I remember that Brabham in extraordinary detail. I recall piecing together the DFV V8, picking out the Ford script on its cam covers in silver with a very small paintbrush. (The BT44, as did most every other ’70s F1 car engineered in the UK, used Ford’s all-conquering engine, hooked up to a bombproof five-speed Hewland gearbox – the V8 helped democratise the sport in a way current owners Liberty would dearly love to repeat.) And I remember the way rear hubs, wheels and enormous Goodyears were tethered to the car by nothing more than a couple of impossibly dainty links. But most vividly I remember the incredible silhouette: that pointy front wing with built-in radiators; the implicitly rigid Toblerone-shaped monocoque; that high-rise airbox like a cartoon submarine’s periscope.
There have been more successful Formula 1 cars than Brabham’s BT44 and BT44B (the BT44 evolved into the 44B for ’75). But they’re significant for several reasons. The two men behind them – Brabham team owner Bernie
Ecclestone and designer Gordon Murray – would revolutionise Formula 1. Ecclestone already had an eye on controlling the entire sport, not merely a team within it, and Murray introduced so many game-changing ideas (under-body aero, in-race refuelling, reclined drivers) that his would become F1’s most sought-after brain.
Through the ’70s the F1 car’s evolution accelerated wildly, and the Brabham neatly straddles two eras. Since the very beginning F1 cars had carried their radiators up front and the BT44 did the same, not in sidepods as would become the norm. The Brabham also portended the future in its rigid angularity and its management of air.
‘Virtually all racing cars were this bluff body, with a lot of air going under the car, creating lift,’ says Gordon Murray. ‘The 44 was the shape of an upturned saucer, so that the stagnation point [the point at which the onrushing air meets the car] was moved closer to the road and more of the air went over the top. Sure enough we found we could run less conventional front and rear wing than other teams. I took it further at a test in Kyalami, with a sacrificial vee shape in fibreglass under the car. The thinking was, let’s try to scrape away yet more of the air that’s gone under the car. That generated another 100lb of downforce. We ran that for two-thirds of the season, baing people who wondered how we could get away with such a small amount of wing. It was the first crude ground effect…’
And ground effect – as much as television, sponsorship, improved safety or turbocharging – would define the spectacle of modern Formula 1.
The men behind the BT44, Ecclestone and Murray, would revolutionise F1