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BRM - The Formula One Team

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The legendary Graham Hill who won the Drivers' title behind the wheel of a BRM P52.

British Racing Machines was a Formula One team founded with the express intention of being the 'British Ferrari'. In 26 years and 197 races, it generally seemed to concentrate rather too much on the first half of that mission statement, while singularly failing at the second half.

ERA

BRM grew out of a previous flag-waving UK team, English Racing Automobiles or ERA. This company had been founded in 1933 out of frustration at a lack of English success in continental motor races. Although highly successful in the voiturette category1, it never really successfully made the leap to Formula One. Raymond Mays worked for this successful marque until World War Two, before leaving to found BRM.

ERA continued after the War with some success at Le Mans, although many of the key staff and their premises had switched to BRM.

Early Tribulations

After the War, Mays decided to set up his own team, with backing from various parts of the British automobile industry. This ambitious new project's first car, the P15, reached the grid of a Formula One race in 1950.

BRM got off to a perfect start, winning the non-Championship Formula One and the Formula Libre events at Goodwood; however, the car was unreliable and failed to provide consistent opposition to the dominant Ferraris.

BRM was taken over by Sir Alfred Owen and officially renamed the Owen Racing Organisation, although the cars remained BRMs in the public eye. The new design, the P25, was hampered by all the traits that would soon become characteristic of BRM: it was over-ambitious in design; so late that customers had to start the season with other cars; unreliable until heavily modified in conjunction with other teams, and it quickly became outdated as Cooper revolutionised motor-racing with their mid-engined racers.

The Glory Year

Under increasing pressure from Owen to turn funding into results, BRM came up with the radical idea of actually putting an engineer in charge of their engineering operations, promoting former Rolls-Royce man Tony Rudd. Rudd failed catastrophically to retain the BRM values of unreliability and inconsistency, and during the 1962 season BRM won the Constructors Championship and Graham Hill won the Drivers' title behind the wheel of one of their new P52s. Ironically, by the time this most dogged of F1 teams achieved its Championship ambitions, its original aims were outdated. Other British teams such as Vanwall, Cooper and Lotus were already fighting Ferrari on its own terms.

During one of the most competitive periods in F1 history, BRM continued to be a driving force until 1966, notably losing the Drivers' Championship by a single point in 1964.

Decline and Fall

In 1966, the Formula One regulations changed again, allowing much larger engines. Rather than simply build a larger version of their highly successful V8, Rudd decided to bolt two flattened V8s together to produce a bizarre layout called an H16. Sadly, most of the prodigious power produced was used by the engine in shaking itself apart, with the remainder being used to haul around the track one of the heaviest engines ever entered in a Formula One race. Somehow, Jim Clark managed a win with this engine in a Lotus - something that is widely taken to underline the genius of Clark and the Lotus designer Colin Chapman, rather than the design strengths of the H16.

A new V12 engine produced some improved results, but the team was past its prime. At the end of the 1960s Rudd left for Lotus, and BRM entered the 1970s without him. This seemed to rejuvenate the team, who achieved four wins in three years at the start of the decade. These notably included the 1971 Italian Grand Prix, which was the fastest F1 race ever (a record that stood until 2003) and the closest finish in an F1 race (a record that still stands). This helped lift BRM to a runner-up spot in the 1971 Constructors' Championship, a result marred by the death of Jo Siffert, the first death at the wheel of one of their cars.

The revival could not be sustained, however, and the team collapsed entirely in 1974. Revivals in 1976 and 1979 failed to produce results, although the cars can still be seen racing in 'Thoroughbred Grand Prix' events today.

1'Voiturettes' were lightweight racing cars in a lower category than Formula One.

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