With hindsight, it was a terrible misjudgment to run racing cars for the first time on a brand-new street circuit at a Grand Prix weekend. But that’s how it was in June 1982, back when F1 was still in its ‘cowboy’ phase, looking to stake a territorial claim without any real knowledge of which direction the arrows might be coming from.
Thursday practice at Detroit was cancelled for track alterations at the behest of the drivers. So it was only on Friday, the day before qualifying, that Nelson Piquet found to his horror that he had “probably more power than anyone else, but was unable to use it”. He couldn’t keep the big single turbo of his Brabham-BMW spinning amid the second-gear, kerb-lined, blind bends.Worse, there wasn’t a Hewland second gear ratio short enough and, if he went to a long first, he was struggling not to come to an embarrassing stall at the hairpin. Besides, the mapping of the pioneering Bosch ECU turned out to be a bad guess. Piquet didn’t even make the race, 28th of those chasing the 26 grid places.
If Bernie Ecclestone was having second thoughts about bringing Fl to America, he was also having them about his team’s affiance with BMW. The German company had issued an ultimatum a few races before, insisting that the engine be raced or the partnership was over.
“After Detroit,” recalls Brabham designer Gomlon Murray, “Bernie was saying we had to turn it around or he would stop it.” One week later, down the long straights of Montreal, that big single turbo came into its own. Besides, says Murray, “[BMW’s] Paul Rosche and Bosch had come up with a mapping for Canada that had uncorked the engine’s potential.”
Nelson qualified on the second row, made the restart after Riccardo Palettes fatal startline accident, then calmly picked off the Ferrari and two Renaults in front of him.
No-one saw him again until he took the chequer (bran historic win. Riccardo Patrese, in the previous-generation, non-turbo BT49, was runner-up. Not only did Brabham thus achieve the unusual distinction of scoring a 1-2 with two different engine manufacturers, it was also the definitive straddling of the DFV and turbo eras.