There was a development in Formula One that came between the Brabham and this Beatrice-Lola that was more significant still than the turbocharger sitting bolted to its 1.5-litre Hart engine. Carbon-fibre. Stiff enough to make a conventional aluminium monocoque look like it had all the structural integrity of creme caramel, it came with the happy side-effect that drivers — with a couple of notable and tragic exceptions — stopped dying in them.
I had no idea what to expect In its day Beatrice was hopelessly uncompetitive despite being designed by Ross Brawn, driven by Alan Jones in a team run by Teddy Mayer. But I will not be the first to observe that it was not these ingredients but the way they were mixed that turned the brightest hopes in Fl into no-hope also-rans. Even so, I was assured by Fred Goddard’s team which runs it that the day its owner took delivery, the boost knob was wound up to maximum and has not moved since. How much power would it have? Some said 1000bhp, I hoped and reckoned on 850. Either way I’d never know for sure.
A decade on from the Brabham, little else seemed to have changed. There was still a conventional gearbox and instruments and even the cut-off steering wheel was not on the car when Jones and Patrick Tambay tried their luck in it. What does contrast, however, is its set up which is almost solid, the tyre sidewalls flexing more than the suspension. The Brabham felt road-car soft by comparison.
The engine, I was happily assured would be “a total son of a bitch” WI was tied to drive it slowly and this I discovered trailing behind the camera car. But with shots done and time short, I lined up the car at the beginning of a straight, planted the right foot on the floor and waited for the explosion.
It didn’t happen — not at first at least. At about 6000rpm, the Hart cleared its throat, came surprisingly tunefully on song and, with a sizeable kick in the back, shot me down the road. I was just thinking that this wasn’t bad at all when I saw the boost gauge, which had been hovering at 2.5bar, head off the clock which ran out of numbers at 4.5bar. For just an instant the car was subject to accelerative forces that only a few people, astronauts mainly, would recognise. No time to look at the revs, no time to savour the experience, time only to exist through it until first wheelspin and then a gearchange briefly paused the show. Enough time for one word of Saxon in the helmet before it goes again.
And among turbo F1 cars this is one of the slow ones. In one short blast, it had removed not just the distance between the start and finish of the straight, it had apparently dispensed with the time too; I still can’t quite work out howl got there. According to those who run it, the owner of this car does not have a scared hair on his body. I have several million. I drove it long enough to confirm it had crunching lateral acceleration in the corners too, before taking it back, car in one piece, driver duly chastened. Even at the most conservative estimate, its power to weight ratio is knocking around 1500bhp per tonne or, to put it another way, sadly more than I can comfortably handle. Andrew Frankel