40 years ago, for the first time in Formula 1 history, a driver with a turbo engine triumphed in the premier class of the automobile world championship: Nelson Piquet in his Brabham-BMW BT52, which connoisseurs like to call the most beautiful monoposto of all time. Piquet's unwavering commitment and unconditional belief in the German four-cylinder turbo engine were ultimately rewarded with the title. AUTOMOBILSPORT is taking the anniversary year as an opportunity to retrace the path of the first turbo world champion. The texts are taken from the book entitled "In 630 days to the top - the world championship story of the BMW Turbo". It was written by our columnist Uwe Mahla, who, as a contemporary witness and BMW press spokesman, accompanied the adventurous journey from Brazil via North America and Europe to South Africa. The booklet has long been out of print, but Mahla has extracted the most exciting stops and coincidences from his early work for us in the form of the original texts from back then. So let's accompany Nelson Piquet on his journey to the title - his second and first as turbo world champion in Formula 1.
A brief outline of how it came about to give you a better understanding. The starting point was the four-cylinder in-line engine, which was very advanced for its time and originally came from comparatively close-to-production saloons, such as the BMW 1800 Ti. This engine won sporting laurels early on. Performance was increased over the years by means of twin carburettors, fuel injection and soon also as a supercharged and four-valve version.
At the same time, BMW engineers developed the tried-and-tested engine for Formula 2, the competitiveness of which is evidenced not least by six European Championship titles. It was not long before the four-valve technology and turbocharging were harmonised and made to work under the direction of Paul Rosche.
To cut a long story short, at some point the dyno displayed values that suggested that this would be an engine for Formula 1, because at that time naturally aspirated engines were used in this championship according to three-litre regulations; however, turbo engines with a displacement of 1.5 litres were also permitted.
Let's skip the political turmoil and realise that BMW entered Formula 1 in 1982 with Brabham owner Bernie Ecclestone. This first year was not exactly a walk in the park, as it was necessary to make up for Renault's five years of experience and Ferrari's three years. Nevertheless, Piquet's first victory in Montreal on 13 June 1982 in only his fifth race made even the sceptics realise what potential lay dormant here.
In retrospect, the record of the four-cylinder BMW engine in Formula 1 reads like this in bare figures: 91 Grand Prix starts (South Africa 1982 to Australia 1987), first world championship points for Piquet's fifth place in the fifth race in Belgium, first pole position at the 1982 Austrian GP, 15 pole positions with maximum power of up to 1400 hp, nine victories (seven times Piquet, once each Patrese and Berger), 13 fastest laps ( Piquet 9, Patrese 2, Berger 2), used by the ATS, Brabham, Arrows and Benetton teams…
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