Former F1 engine builder Brian Hart has died, aged 77

Grand Prix’s one-time racer and long-time engine builder Brian Hart died yesterday at the age of 77.

While he was better known for his exploits as an engine builder in the sport, the Englishman competed his only Formula 1 Grand Prix start during the 1967 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring in a wooden-chassised Protos Formula 2 car (pictured below) when the regulations permitted F2 cars in the main field. Along with earning a unique place in the annals of Formula 1 history, he finished the race a solid 12th.

Hart was the first – and last – F1 driver to race a wooden-chassis car in a Grand Prix
Hart was the first – and last – F1 driver to race a wooden-chassis car in a Grand Prix

The North Londoner trained professionally in airframe and aero engine design at the De Havilland aircraft company. The firm employed a number of engineers who built and raced their own cars in the 750 Motor Club series, and it was here that Hart met Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth (‘the ‘Cos’ and ‘Worth’ of ‘Cosworth’), and when the pair set up their own engine company in 1958, Hart was one of the pair’s very first recruits.

Hart worked as a Cosworth development engineer and continued to race in Formula Junior and sports car events, before moving up to Formula 2 in 1964, winning at Enna. Hart remained in F2 for several years, but retired from all competitive driving in 1971, with his last victory coming in 1969 at Hockenheim, piloting a Bob Gerard-run Brabham.

By that point, however, he had left Cosworth to set up his own engine company which serviced Cosworth’s FVA and DBA engines as well as being commissioned to develop engines for Cosworth’s rally programs. Hart’s skills were well-regarded, developing the championship-winning engines that respectively propelled Ronnie Peterson and Mike Hailwood to the 1971 and 1972 Formula 2 Championship titles.

Hart poses with the 2.0 litre 420R engine which powered Toleman to a 1-2 finish in the 1980 Formula 2 ChampionshipBy 1978, the Toleman team commissioned him to provide them with engines, and the team romped to the F2 championship in 1980 with Hart’s custom-built 420R engines (pictured right). Hart then developed a turbocharged engine for the outfit as it graduated to Formula 1 in 1981, and stayed with the outfit until it was bought out by Benetton.

Undoubtedly the team’s greatest highlight during that time was Ayrton Senna’s near-win at the rain-soaked 1984 Monaco Grand Prix.

He enjoyed more success when Teo Fabi took his Hart-powered Toleman to pole position at the German Grand Prix the following year.

Hart remained as an engine supplier for another two seasons, although with little success with the RAM and Haas Lola teams, but the championship’s move back to normally-aspirated engines proved ultimately too costly for Hart to keep going.

And so he returned to Cosworth, developing the firm’s hugely successful DFR and DFZ engines – most notably with the Tyrrell team, which used them to outstanding effect in 1990 with Jean Alesi behind the wheel.

Having saved enough money to return to self-funded engine building once again, the Hart engines were back on the F1 grid in 1993, with a purposebuilt 3.5-litre V10 strapped to the back of the Jordan Formula 1 cars for the next two seasons.

The Hart-powered Jordan 194 claimed a shock pole position at the 1994 Belgian Grand Prix at the hands of Rubens BarrichelloThe highlight was a podium and a pole position for Rubens Barrichello in the latter season, but the Silverstone team jumped at the chance of a works engine deal with Peugeot for 1995, which left Hart doing a deal with the cash-strapped Arrows team for the next two seasons.

Aside from a flukey podium at the 1995 Australian Grand Prix, results were thin.

He inked a deal with the equally underfinanced Minardi team in 1997, and at the same time penned a new engine design, which ultimately became the Arrows-branded engine used by the team in 1998 and 1999.

It received little development and frustrated over this and a lack of promised income from team owner Tom Walkinshaw (hardly an uncommon situation), Hart quit the operation and retired to his home in rural France.

The team extends its sympathies to the Hart family and his friends with the sad news of his passing.

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.