Brian Hart Ltd in F1
Sad news today – Brian Hart, the former Formula One driver and founder of the eponymous engine manufacturer, has died at the age of 77. Hart’s engines were a feature of the grid from 1981 to 1986 and 1993 to 1997, and though never successful, they played a small but important role in the period, helping the likes of Ayrton Senna and Rubens Barrichello to their first successes at the top level of motorsport.
Hart engines first appeared in F1 in 1981, with the new Toleman team making its debut at the 1981 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in Italy. The Hart 415T was the only turbocharged engine in F1 not to be made by a manufacturer. Derek Warwick was the mainstay of the driver line-up for the first three seasons, and helped them progress from backmarkers to regular point-scorers. In 1982 at Zandvoort in the Netherlands, he picked up a fastest lap, and later went on to run an impressive second at Brands Hatch before the halfshaft failed. After the 1983 season, he switched to Renault.
Hart engines are indelibly associated with Ayrton Senna, who took his, the team’s and the engine’s first three podiums in 1984, his first season in F1, driving for Toleman. At Monaco he was lying second and catching leader Alain Prost, setting the fastest lap in the process, when the race was halted due to rain, with half-points awarded. It later emerged that Senna probably wouldn’t have finished the race as he’d already damaged the car.
Senna left the team at the end of the season for Lotus, and it would be another decade for a Hart-engined car finished in the top three. However, Teo Fabi, Senna’s replacement, took the company’s first pole position a year later at the Nurburgring. In 1986, Ted Toleman sold the team to Italian clothing company United Colors of Benetton, who were already the main sponsors. It was renamed Benetton and went on to become one of the most successful teams in F1 history, winning the 1994 and 1995 F1 world drivers’ championships with Michael Schumacher, before further championships in 2005 and 2006 as Renault with Fernando Alonso. The team is now known as Lotus F1.
During this time, Hart also supplied engines to British minnows RAM and Spirit, and the ambitious American team Haas. The 415T last appeared at a race in 1986, before Haas switched to a Ford turbo.
Both the next Hart podium and pole position came from another Brazilian, Rubens Barrichello, who finished third for Jordan at the Japanese circuit of Aida in 1994, and went on to take pole at Spa-Francorchamps later in the year. Jordan had switched to the new Hart 1035 engine in 1993, bringing the company back into F1. However, after a successful 1994, Jordan became the works team of Peugeot.
Hart instead switched to supplying the Footwork Arrows team in 1995. Gianni Morbidelli (on the right) took Hart’s last podium at Adelaide that season. He was one of only eight classified finishers in the race.
The partnership continued into 1996 with few results, in part thanks to the ineptitude of this guy, Ricardo Rosset. Tom Walkinshaw, the new owner of the team, opted to switch to Yamaha engines for 1997 as he welcomed reigning champion Damon Hill to the team.
The last official Hart engine participations were in 1997 when Italian minnows Minardi used the engines. The company was bought out by Walkinshaw, who had quickly chosen to ditch Yamaha, and in 1998 and 1999 a Hart engine design appeared on the grid branded as an Arrows V10.
Mika Salo and Pedro Diniz picked up the last significant result for a Hart-designed engine at the 1998 Monaco Grand Prix, finishing fourth and sixth in the gorgeous but slow Arrows A19. After failing to woo manufacturer backing for the engine, Walkinshaw abandoned the plan and switched to Supertec engines for 2000.
Two pole positions, two fastest laps and five podiums is a good return considering they were often up against the might of the big manufacturers like Renault, Honda, Ferrari, Ford and Mercedes. Along with Judd and Ilmor (now owned by Mercedes), they were one of a small number of private engine manufacturers competing in F1 who were relied upon by the numerous small teams that soon died out as F1 became increasingly professional during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Hart may not have had enormous success but he played an important role at the back of the grid, where efforts were rarely noticed.
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