In the 1980s when top Formula One teams spent close to $40 million per year, Grand Prix racing was simply the most expensive sport on earth. Nonetheless, it offered the consumer products giants who sponsored teams a stage of unequalled glamor from which to hawk their wares. For this same reason came the automobile companies – Honda, Renault, BMW, Ford, Porsche – who contracted to supply a team with almost inconceivably exotic engines as their way of burnishing their engineering image.
Despite winning the F-1 World Drivers Championship with Nelson Piquet’s Brabham in 1983, BMW decided to retire from the F-1 engine game in late 1986 due to rule changes which would phase out the turbo cars by 1989. Among the customers left to their own devices was the British-based Arrows team sponsored by Baltimore’s USF&G’s Financial Services Corporation. “Why not buy BMW’s M12/13 F-1 engine program?” they said, “Hire the Swiss engine specialist Heini Mader, rename the aging engine for USF&G’s computer leasing division, Megatron, and charge ahead?”
Alas, while the 1987 Arrows A10 car drawn up by new designer, Ross Brawn, was vastly improved over the disastrous A9 of 1986, the Mader tuned Megatron was severely upset by 1987’s lower turbo boost and fuel consumption rules.
By 1988, even more restrictive fuel and boost allowances were imposed. In response, Mader was forced to redesign major engine components to retain any performance in the Megatron. Now using reduced revs, 10,500 rather than 12,000, the 1988 Arrows A10B possessed 650 horsepower, barely enough to fight off the growing flock of 3.5 liter cars making up the back of the field. Nevertheless, the A10B gave Arrows its best year ever, finishing 5th in the World Championship with 20 points.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Most race cars were non-competitive after their first campaign — the 1927 Vauxhall was competitive for 23 years (1927–1950) and you can see it in person. Learn more