BMW: The Real Turbos of Formula One

Recent regulations see smaller engines, turbo and electric hybrid systems and more for Formula One. Fuel Restrictions add to the mix and help explain how lap times are up to 7 seconds slower per lap than previous cars. When it comes to transcending racing technology to production cars, efficiency is now the name of the game.

The last time Formula One allowed turbo engines was an entirely different story. 1966 F1 regulations gave teams the option of a 3.0L NA or 1.5 L turbo engine.

The 1.5L BMW four cyclinder engine started life as the M10 engine in the 1962 BMW 1500 sedan, putting out about 80 hp

1962 BMW 1500 sedan

BMW realized the potential of the engine by its experiment with the BMW 2002 , Europe’s first turbo production car.With 170 hp it was a real performance machine when it was released in 1973, right before the oil crisis.

1974 BMW 2002 Turbo

BMW F1 decided to look for proven engine blocks, those that had completed heavy( over 100,00 km) mileage, and then stress tested them. Rumours of BMW mechanics leaving them outside and urinating on the blocks add to the story. The idea was that if the engine blocks were going to break, they would have done so already.


The turbo lag effect meant that the BMW powered cars were slower through the twisty parts of  track, but far faster on the straights. The 1982 debut season even saw the inability to qualify for the Detroit street circuit, the turbos being at too distinct a disadvantage.

1983 Nelson Piquet’s Parmalat Racing Brabham-BMW


The Brabham-BMW car, piloted by Brazilian drive Nelson Piquet won the driver’s championship in 1983, but the other teams had soon seen the benefit of turbo power and had caught up by 1984. The 1986 season saw the highest output engines in Formula One history, with qualifying(unrestricted boost) engines pushing out 2500hp/ton in the Benetton-BMW. Between 1980 and 1986, Formula One engine output had doubled.

1986 Benetton-BMW Car (Detroit Grand Prix)

Despite the BMW outright power advantage, they were unable to match the reliability of the Williams-Honda V6 twin-turbo. BMW would leave Formula One in 1987, good timing considering the banning of turbos in 1989. A BMW return occurred as engine supplier to Williams between 2000-2005 and as a BMW team from 2005-2009.


The remarkable nature of the BMW turbo era was the use of a historic engine block and stands as a testament to the old style of racing. However much fun the current Formula One may be, it pales to the pure excitement of the turbo era.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *