Formula 1

The Brabham BT46B Fan Car – Amazing But Doomed From The Get Go

The Brabham BT46B fan car was one of F1’s most exciting developments. There was only one issue, it was doomed from the moment it hit the track, this is why in 3 minutes or less.

In 1978, Lotus was running the 78 and later the 79, the first cars to use ground effect aerodynamics thanks to Colin Chapman. And because of this, they were dominating the field.

But Gordon Murray, working for Brabham at the time, was never one to simply back down from a fight. They couldn’t use ground effect aero because of the size of the engine, an Alfa flat-12 engine. So he read through the rulebook and found a very specific loophole.

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It stated that a movable device primarily used to give an aerodynamic advantage wasn’t allowed. 

No problem at all. He created a car with a fan, where its primary use was to cool the engine. Only one side effect. It also sucks the car towards the tarmac. Think of it like a hovercraft stuck with its fans in reverse. 

The car not only had to be redesigned in just 3 months, but the team had to find a fan that wouldn’t explode when it span with the engine, and they did it. 

Its maiden voyage was the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix where its driver, the legendary Niki Lauda, won by over 30 seconds. 

The main advantage from this fan was that you didn’t have to be going fast to create downforce like the ground effect Lotus. Because the fan was constantly sucking the car to the floor, you could take hairpins just as fast as 150 mph corners.

As you can expect, the pits went mad and tried everything to get the car banned. They tried throwing the rulebook at it, argued that it threw stones and debris out of the back of the fan more than other cars, and, well, you can image.

But it must be said that the car was never banned by F1

Instead, it was Bernie Ecclestone who killed it. He was the owner of the Brabham team at the time, but also the executive of FOCA, the Formula 1 Constructors Association. He, believing that his relationships with the other teams could be damaged by this, forced Brabham to withdraw the car.

Want to learn more about aerodynamics? What about how DRS works and how it’s used in F1? Take a look around the site and you’ll find some great content!

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