Heroes /// Brabham BT52

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The machine /// Brabham BT52

Despite competing for only one year, the BMW-powered Brabham BT52 is a Formula One icon, helping Nelson Piquet to earn the 1983 F1 Drivers’ World Championship. With more than 800 horsepower available from its BMW M12/13 turbocharged inline-four engine, the car was a fearsome weapon. Brabham designer Gordon Murray – who would later utilise BMW power once more for his McLaren F1 supercar – penned a distinctive, effective racer that earned four wins in the 1983 season, first as the BT52 then, in the second half of the season, as the revised BT52B.

Nelson Piquet and the Brabham BT52: a strong combination.

The moment /// 1983 South African Grand Prix, Kyalami

Piquet had closed the gap to championship leader Alain Prost with victory in the penultimate round of the season – his third of the year. He knew that he had to outscore the Frenchman to win the drivers’ title at the final round of the season, the South African Grand Prix. Qualifying second, Piquet moved to the lead until news of a turbo failure for Prost reached the Brazilian. He backed off, allowing teammate Riccardo Patrese through to win the race, with third enough to earn Piquet his second World Championship, and the first for a turbo-powered car.

The maestro /// Nelson Piquet

Nelson Piquet was already a world champion when he drove the BT52, having scored his first title in 1981, but the combination of his supreme talent and BMW power was unmatched in ’83. His career took some strange turns; he started in tennis, before hiding his identity when he started karting so his father wouldn’t discover he was racing. He dominated British Formula Three in 1978, and then stepped to F1. He earned three world championships (’81, ’83, ’87). His flirtations with BMW power were renewed at Le Mans in 1996 and ’97, with the McLaren F1 GTR. His son, also Nelson, continues to race in international motorsport.

Piquet (front) and Patrese (rear) did battle all year against the Renault turbo cars.

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