Flashback: Bedlam in Jacarepaguá

For two decades Maurice Hamilton reported from the F1 paddock with pen, notebook and Canon Sure Shot camera. This month we’re at the 1989 season opener in Brazil amid the bedlam of a makeshift pit

Brabham of Martin Brundle ahead of the 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix

Maurice Hamilton

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When the 10 F1 teams turn up in Bahrain for the first grand prix of 2022, none of them will experience conditions like this. In 1989, Brabham faced this excuse for a ‘pit’ as the season kicked off at Jacarepaguá.

No less than 39 entries had arrived in Rio, 13 of them desperate simply to earn the right to practise, never mind make the grid for the Brazilian Grand Prix. Brabham was one of nine teams forced to cope with pre-qualifying at 8am on the Friday, the fastest five drivers going through. It was arguably one of the toughest ordeals ever faced in Formula 1 – made worse when you had to operate in circumstances such as these.

With more teams than garages, Brabham found itself consigned to the F1 equivalent of Paddy’s Market at the end of the pitroad. The pressure was huge. Screw up during the following 60 minutes and you would be on your way home, seemingly moments after arriving in South America.

As it turned out, Martin Brundle (No7, above) and Stefano Modena were fastest for Brabham. But the respite was only temporary. With official practice due to start an hour later, the heavy kit had to be humped down the pitlane and into a garage being hastily vacated by a chastened team that had failed to make the cut. As Brundle noted, the imperatives placed by pre-qualifying meant the car had been driven as hard – if not harder – than at any time during the weekend. And yet, in the midst of this upheaval, the crew would not have time to give the BT58 and its Judd V8 a decent check-over, never mind fine-tuning the set-up.

Just as the perspiring mechanics were close to getting their house in order, Modena walked into the garage – and quickly became extremely agitated. A driver who was inordinately superstitious, the Italian refused point blank to get into his car unless it was on the right-hand side of the garage. Sod’s Law said it was parked on the left.

There was nothing for it but to uproot everything, make the swap and allow Modena to go through his ritual of stepping into the cockpit, right-foot first. And there was more. If anyone – other than the mechanic who had assisted with the seatbelts – touched the car, Modena would climb out and start all over again.

After such a chaotic start to the weekend, perhaps it’s no surprise that both Brabhams failed to finish the race. Today’s F1 teams don’t know how lucky they are.