Watertight defence

Nelson Piquet took things easy, they say, reversed into his title wins. His supporters point to Rio ’82, when he drove his socks off in searing heat, on a mercilessly bumpy circuit, in a stiffly-sprung ground-effect car. And won, in front of his adoring fans. He would have waved in acknowledgement from the podium had he not collapsed from exhaustion.

And then the faceless men in grey suits took it away from him, four weeks after the heroic deed.

Gordon Murray, Brabham’s freethinking designer, still puts this race down in his win column, however: “Oh yeah. It was pure politics that caused them to disqualify us.”

The furore kicked off when Renault protested the winning BT49D and the second-placed Williams FWO7C of Keke Rosberg. Their boeuf was with the excessively large water tank ostensibly for cooling the brakes fitted to both cars. Its contents would be dumped during the race, greatly reducing the car’s weight.

“The wording concerning the car’s weight was very slack. Teams often ran underweight during a race and then topped up their fluids (except fuel), as they were allowed to do, after the race to bring the car back up to weight. And the minimum weight then (580kg) was artificially high.”

Threading through loopholes was part of the game. It still is. But, on this occasion, Murray drove a tank through it: “We probably had enough water to last us all year,” he jokes. “About seven gallons. Approximately 30kg.”

Such OTT manoeuvres show how much pressure the Cosworth runners were under to keep the vastly more powerful turbos in sight. It worked in Rio, Villeneuve’s Ferrari losing the lead when Piquet finally pressured him into a mistake on lap 30…

“Actually,” says Murray, “I think we would have won that race with or without that water tank. The 49D was giving fantastic down-force. We were ahead of Williams in that respect And those long, fast corners at Rio were fantastic for the car.”

The rule-makers were in no mood for such speculation. The FISA/FOCA power struggle was brewing. Muscles were being flexed. Normally, the result would have stood, the loophole closed forthwith. Instead, Renault’s third-placed Alain Frost was given the win.

“We were pissed off” says Murray. ‘And I felt so sorry for Nelson he’d driven his heart out”

Paul Fearnley