Brabham BT46

Brabham BT46

by Luca Dal Monte

Few cars have impressed public opinion at the moment of their presentation like the Brabham BT46. “The new Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT 46,” Bernie Ecclestone says to Alfa Romeo president Gaetano Cortesi talking about Gordon Murray’s revolutionary creation “is the most advanced single-seater of all those built so far and is technically ahead by several years.”

The BT46, which made its debut in the summer of 1977, is indeed a car that doesn’t leave one indifferent for the beauty and subtlety of its shapes and for the cutting-edge technical solutions it promises. The water and oil radiators, resembling small solar panels, are an integral part of the chassis and cover almost the entire sides of the single-seater on both sides. The heat exchangers are made of high-strength aluminum and shaped in the form of panels inserted as an integral part of the monocoque structure. The coolant from the radiators flows along the “refrigerator skin” of these air-cooled panels. According to designer Gordon Murray, thanks to this solution, aerodynamic losses are negligible.

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Niki Lauda: The BT46 that the Austrian two-time world champion holds in his hands during the 1978 season is actually a very different and much less innovative car than the one presented the previous summer. Lauda will take it to victory on two occasions, at Anderstorp and Monza. The first victory, in the Swedish Grand Prix, sparks huge controversy over the application of the famous ‘fan’ at the rear, a solution that the tireless Murray invents to create a ground effect that can compete with that of the Lotus 79. The fan will later be banned, but that won’t stop Niki from winning his second race of the season at Monza.

John Watson: The Northern Irish driver takes the BT46 to the third step of the podium in the car’ debut race in the world championship, the 1978 South African Grand Prix. His other notable results of the season will be another third place at Brands Hatch and a second-place finish at Monza.

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Murray worked extensively on weight reduction. The structure of the BT46 features the triangular shape so dear to the South African designer and adopts aerodynamic solutions and technologies. The chassis panels are made of titanium and aluminum and are assembled together to offer maximum rigidity and, at the same time, lightness. But aeronautical technology also concerns the brakes, and the instrumentation behind the steering wheel is digital. Moreover, on the screen in front of him, the driver can receive information such as the indication of the lap time he has just set, something unthinkable for those days.

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