As a new year dawns, we look ahead to the 2016 Festival of Speed, which takes place over the weekend of June 23-26.
As previously announced, the theme for the 2016 Festival will be ‘Full Throttle – The Endless Pursuit of Power’. It promises to be a raucous, high-octane celebration of the most epic cars and bikes ever to grace the race tracks of the world – and the intrepid pilots who tamed them. And also a perfect excuse for GRR to share our deep-held belief that, where power is concerned, bigger really is better.
The line-up in June will feature everything from thunderous aero-engined leviathans to brutal Group B rally cars, titanic pre-war Silver Arrows to rumbling Can-Am monsters, and fearsome two-stroke Grand Prix bikes to flame-spitting turbo F1 cars. And where better to start our series of ‘Full Throttle’ videos than with the last of these – the sensational turbocharged cars that dominated 1980s F1.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with what is widely regarded as Formula 1’s most outrageous era, a little recap…
When F1’s engine regulations changed to three litres in 1966, provision was made for manufacturers to produce a forced induction version of one of the old 1.5-litre engines. In fact, nobody bothered to exploit that loophole (although BRM might have had more joy wheeling out the old supercharged V16 than they did with their over-complicated, over-weight and under-powered H16!). Until, that is, Renault appeared at the 1977 British Grand Prix with their RS01 (below), powered by a turbocharged V6.
Early problems with unreliability and chronic turbo lag made the concept look unpromising, and F1 continued to be dominated by the Cosworth DFV and Ferrari flat-12. However, once they got to grips with the technology, progress was rapid: Renault’s first win came in 1979, Ferrari joined the turbo fold in 1981 and won the constructors’ championship the following season, and a BMW-powered Brabham driven by Nelson Piquet won the first turbocharged drivers’ championship in 1983 – the same year in which the venerable Cosworth V8 scored its final victory. By mid-way through 1984, the whole field was turbocharged.
For 1986, turbos were mandatory, and Renault, Ferrari, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Honda, TAG/Porsche and Ford all produced engines. Even valiant minnows like Hart, Zakspeed and Motori Moderni gave it a go. The result was a sensational arms race, with raw power as the sole objective, and outputs rocketed from around 500bhp in 1977 to nearly 1,500bhp in qualifying trim by 1986, although exact figures are unknown, as the dynos at the time weren’t capable of measuring that high…
It was in qualifying that the cars were at their most spectacular. It wasn’t just the tyres which were designed to last a single lap – special qualifying engines and gearboxes were also used. In contrast to today, where ‘power units’ are required to last multiple races, in the turbo era the whole drive train would be thrown away on Saturday evening and replaced for the race on Sunday, because one three-mile qualifying lap was enough to destroy the moving parts!
Inevitably, the authorities sought to rein in this avalanche of power and excess: reducing race fuel allowance, outlawing so-called rocket fuels, and finally limiting boost to 4-bar in 1987 and 2.5-bar in 1988, before turbos were outlawed completely for 1989. 1986 therefore stands as a high water mark in terms of F1 power; one that, despite talk of increased power in 2017, will probably never be matched.
Here, then, is the final qualifying session from the final race of ‘unlimited’ turbo cars: the 1986 Australian Grand Prix. The cars have a bucking bronco quality to them: manual gearboxes, no power steering, light-switch power delivery, big fat slicks which needed to be treated with kid gloves if they were to last a full lap, relatively unsophisticated aerodynamics, and no electronic trickery. At the risk of slipping into lazy misogyny, they were the ultimate hairy-chested men’s cars. A good job, then, that some of the finest qualifiers of all time were in the field: Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Keke Rosberg, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Gerhard Berger and Rene Arnoux, with 189 pole positions between them.
So sit back and enjoy F1’s most dramatic spectacle, with commentary from the inimitable Murray Walker and James Hunt, and an interesting intro by Murray and Jackie Stewart. And look forward to seeing a selection of these cars in the flesh at Goodwood in June…
RS01 image courtesy of ‘Darren’, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0