Engine builder Brian Hart dies


Brian Hart, whose engines powered the car with which Ayrton Senna made his F1 race debut, has died aged 77.

Born in 1936, Hart enjoyed success as a racer graduating through the ranks to the level of F2, securing a drive with the works Lotus team. At a time when F2 cars were allowed to contest certain F1 races, the Englishman qualified for the 1967 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. Though he was not classified, finishing three laps down on race winner Denny Hulme, the Englishman, driving a Protos-Ford, on the most tortuous of circuits, finished ahead of many of the legends of the day including Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart.

Later that same year he began working at the aerospace company de Havilland in Hatfield, subsequently moving to Cosworth - whose legendary DFV had made its F1 debut in 1967 - before heading off to form his own company which started off by servicing Cosworth's Ford FVA F2 engines.

In much the same way that Ford commissioned Frank Costin and Keith Duckworth to build the DFV F1 engine, Hart's company was commissioned to build the Ford BDA, a mainstay of Ford's race and rally programs in the 1970s.

Hart-tuned FVA and BDA engines enjoyed great success in F2 until the arrival of BMW and Renault caused Ford to re-think its strategy. As a result Hart opted to produce his own engine, the 420R, which, following its debut in 1976, was to score wins in the 1977 and 1978 championships.

Over the winter of 1978/79, Hart took a major step forward when the Toleman F2 team, which had been founded by Ted Toleman and Alex Hawkridge, commissioned his company to build an engine for its Ralt chassis. At the same time it employed a young South African designer, Rory Byrne, who was charged with creating the team's 1970 challenger.

The 1980 season saw Toleman finish 1-2 in the European F2 Championship, Brian Henton and Derek Warwick doing the honours.

In 1981, Hart developed a turbocharged version of the 420R, and though unreliable and lacking in power, it gave the company its first step on to the F1 ladder. Between 1981 and 1985, Hart powered Toleman cars contested 57 races, though in the first two seasons more often than not the team failed to make it through qualifying and, in some cases, pre-qualifying.

When the Toleman team was bought by Benetton in 1985, it switched to BMW powerplants for 1986, Hart by now providing its engines for other teams including RAM, Lola Haas and Tyrrell.

With turbos banned from the end of 1988, Hart reverted to servicing Ford's DFZ and DFR engines for F1 before producing its own V10, the Type 1035. Having secured a two-year deal with Jordan for 1993/94, the British manufacturer was dumped after just one season in favour of Peugeot. A new deal was agreed with Footwork Arrows however, the outfit's financial woes meant that far from developing the V10 the team reverted to an older V8.

After another failed collaboration with Minardi in 1998, Arrows owner Tom Walkinshaw purchased Brian Hart Limited with a view to producing the Arrows V10. However, the deal was mired in financial problems and legal action and by the end of 1999 Hart had turned his back on F1. Arrows went into bankruptcy in 2002.

While Toleman, went on to become Benetton then Renault and now the Lotus F1 Team, many still regarding its latest incarnation as 'fake Lotus', few would argue with the fact that its greatest claim to fame, along with Brian Hart, other than its F2 successes, was that it was the team with which Ayrton Senna made his F1 race debut in 1984.

The rest, as they say, is history. A history that other than Senna includes Rory Bryne, Benetton and so much more.

Chris Balfe:

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Published: 06/01/2014
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