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BMW's exotic fuel in the Brabham in 1983 - is this story true?

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#1 TODave2

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Posted 15 January 2002 - 18:39

OKay, I've been watching this forum for about 12 months and finally got around to registering this week! I've replied to a couple of threads, but there was one about 2-3 months ago that I nearly got round to asking a question about but went on holiday and forget all about it. It was about cheating and I remembered this story.

So, for a first thread, I'd like to ask if this story is true or not:

As someone who started watching GPs around the end of 1982 (when I was 12 years old), I have fond memories of the whole mid-to-late-80's F1 period, but one thing I've never been able to find the answer to is this. The rules for fuel in 1983 were something along the lines of 'it must be fuel that is available from ordinary garage pumps in Europe'. Now, BASF (I think) came up with some rather nice fuel for BMW to use in the Brabham towards the end of 1983 (if memory serves, I think it was a formula used by Mechersmitt (sorry, sp) for their rocket and jet planes at the end of the war). This was later cited as one of the reasons for Piquet's late season charge to the 83 title. Anyway, to get round the problem of it obviously being laboratory-created fuel and not ordinary 'pump' fuel, BASF (or maybe BMW) put a tiny one litre bottle of the stuff onto a pump at the nearest station to the BASF (or BMW) factory. To stop ordinary Joe Bloggs turning up and trying to use the thing, they put an 'out of order' cover over it and doctored tje pump so that it wouldn't actually work.

But as far as the rules were concerned, the fuel was freely available from an ordinary pump.

Now... is this true, because I can't for the life of me remember where I read it, and perhaps my little 13 year old brain at the time just invented the story myself. Can anyone throw any light on this?


#2 No27

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Posted 15 January 2002 - 22:50

It's a good story anyway!

BASF is a chemical giant that's not into oil business. They don't run fuelstations. Brabham used Santal for petrol in 1983. Which sounds obscure to me but might be a Brazilian oil company.
I really don't know if it's true. I can remember some discusion if the waterperioxide (I mean H2) cooling that Brabham used at the end of the season was illegal or not. But nothing about fuel.

#3 Michael Müller

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Posted 16 January 2002 - 01:03

The story of the “Nazi rocket fuel” is pure nonsens, sorry. Their fuel was a mixture of 44 % alcohol and 56 % LOX (liquid oxygen), a blend on which no piston combustion engine would run. I also have seen similar storys mentioning a synthetic fuel from coal based on a German patent from the war years, which is similar b...s...!

Fact is that at that time the gasoline and lube oil partner of Brabham-BMW was the German refining company “Wintershall” which is the petroleum division of BASF. Wintershall was rather unknown in public, because their automotive fuels and lube oils had been sold under the ARAL brand, and the energy fuels through the VEBA organization. Btw, meanwhile they sold their refining operations to VEBA, concentrating on crude oil and LNG exploration only.

About the fuel regulations in F1 then, I don’t have available the exact wording, but as far I remember is was something like “specification must be equivalent to commonly distributed pump fuel” or similar, which meant that no alcohol fuels or high-octane aviation fuels had been allowed. Ordinary pump gasoline is no specific product, but a hydrocarbon fraction in the boiling range between 30 and 215°C, mainly consisting of the original crude oil components of this distillation range plus some additional blending components like aromatics, ethers, and alcohols to increase octane rating to 95 RON (resp. 98 in 1983). The quality of a gasoline is described by a few key data only, which are mainly
- octane rating (min)
- density (min-max)
- boiling curve (various min-max data at different temperatures)
- vapour pressure (max)
plus some minor other points and some limitations on certain components like benzene, alcohol, MTBE, etc.
The practice is that every liquid which fits into these key data is considered as marketable gasoline.

Wintershall - and later of course also the others - used a gap in the regulations - as usual in F1 still today. They researched for specific chemical components with positive effects on combustion behaviour especially in high-performance turbo engines, I remember a scientific article of that time, but forgot the details, what still sticks in my brain are some very exotic aromatic hydrocarbons with extremely high calorific values. First these substances had been added to the standard fuel, but later they changed to fully synthetic fuels, which had been mixtures of various chemicals, some of them very exotic. In order to bring the brew back into the a.m. key values, other components had been added, e.g. if the octane rating was too high, they added some low-octane chemicals, and if the stuff had a density higher than the allowed one, they added some butane gas to make it lighter. It should be mentioned that the final versions of these synthetic fuels had been very expensive, up to $ 300 per litre, and also in some cases very poisonous.

De facto these “fuels” fitted into the standard pump specifications as fixed by ASTM, DIN, BS, or other norms, but in practice they had been everything else than commercial gasoline! The strong toxicity had been kept secret for a rather long time, but after this fact got commonly known, the FIA prohibited these fuels, and introduced the legislation which is still in force today.

#4 wsshores

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Posted 16 January 2002 - 02:11

From "Motor Sport" magazine, January 2001 - "Generating the Power" pp 36-38

"... Paul Rosche (BMW engine team leader) telephoned a contact at chemical giant BASF and asked if a different fuel formulation might do the trick (more boost before detonation set in). After a little research, a fuel mix was unearthed that had been developed for Luftwaffe fighters during WW2, when Germany had been short of lead. Rosche asked for a 200-litre drum..."

Rosche: "Suddenly the detonation was gone. We could increase the boost pressure, and the power, without problems. The maximum boost pressure we saw on the dyno was 5.6 bar absolute, at which the engine was developing more than 1400 horsepower."

"This fuel formulation was used from 1983."

So it sounds like your 13-year old brain was functioning well!


#5 Frank de Jong

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Posted 16 January 2002 - 07:59

The WWII fuel story is probably right (I've read it in other articles as well), the only thing which doesn't seem right is the story about the pump. I don't think that would have been necessary to qualify the fuel.

#6 Michael Müller

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Posted 16 January 2002 - 10:09

It really seems that this is the stuff legends are made from. I have to agree, it sounds rather good, after the 1955 withdrawal of Mercedes-Benz for the first time a German car manufacturer found its way to F1, and the unexpected successes are explained with old nazi fuel technologies. However, only a very small part of this is indeed correct. I have to explain that from 1982-88 I worked for an affiliate company of WINTERSHALL, where I was in charge for the international gasoline trading business, so I followed their F1 fuel developments of course with great interest, firstly because it was “my” company, and secondly because gasoline was my daily business, not only commercially, but also technically.

In gasoline technology this period was influenced by 2 topics. One was the 2nd “oil crisis” initiated by the Iran-Iraq war, which led to hectic research for alternative fuels, the other was the introduction of the catalytic exhaust converter in Europe, which caused intensive research on alternative octane boosters in order to substitute the lead additive. Of course such research also looked back to the 30s and 40s, where most of the gasoline in Germany had been coal-based. During WW2 Germany was cutted off from international petroleum supplies, and so a patent from the early 30s was used to produce hydrocarbon liquids from coal by gasification. This “synthetic gasoline” had an octane rating of approx 70-75, sufficient for the automotive engines of the period, but for aviation fuel an RON of 110-120 was necessary. This was achieved by blending with Methanol (also produced with coal as feedstock), and aromatic hydrocarbons like Benzene, Toluene, and others, which had been traditional by-products from coking plants which convered coal to metallurgical coke.
A similar fuel formula, enriched with additional components like Acetone and Nitrobenzene, has been used also for the Grand Prix cars of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union. However, this brew didn’t fitted at all into the standard gasoline specification of the 80s, and additionally the high content of Methanol with its rather low calorific value would have resulted in the contrary effect, as R&D was looking for high calorific components. In other words, as much as possible burning energy concentrated in one litre or kg of fuel.

Both historic fractions, the synthetic fuel from coal, and the aromatic stream from coking, contained chemical substances which are not found in petroleum, e.g. Cresol, Aniline, Coumarine, Cumene, Naphthaline, and numerous others. After all natural components of commercial petroleum had been extensively tested, with no real positive results, the R&D people remembered these “historical” coal hydrocarbons, and found some rather interesting components. But all these chemicals proved unsuitable for the production of commercial gasoline, because even in coal fractions only small quantities could be found, and synthetic production was much too expensive to compete against petroleum fuels.

At this point Formula 1 entered the game, with their heavy demand for more efficient fuels, and no objections concerning the costs. Most petroleum companies had suitable formulas available, and so of course also Wintershall-BASF. At that time the rather small R&D department of Wintershall joined forces with the much bigger capacities at their mother company BASF, especially in research on chemical components which are not part of commercial petroleum BASF had much more experience. Where the racing fuels finally had been developed and produced, I don’t know, but most probably at BASF because they had the capacities to produce the single chemicals with their small-scale laboratory synthesis columns. However, the project itself was put under the Wintershall banner, because at that time they had been very keen to introduce their name to the public, as their intention was to establish new marketing channels under their own brand additionally to the then exlcusive ARAL marketing.

For sure the nazi legend was feeded by the fact that BASF was one of the partner companies in “IG Farben”, the German chemical syndicate who invented the synthetic coal fuel, and who was responsible for nearly all the fuel production during WW2. Fact is also that only few components of the new BASF-Wintershall-BMW racing fuel could also be found in very small quantities in WW2 aviation fuel, but obviously this plus the name BASF was enough to create all these legends, which interestingly seem to have survived even into actual articles. Best regards to Alfred Neubauer and Tripolis 1933 ...!

#7 Racer.Demon

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Posted 16 January 2002 - 11:00

Originally posted by No27
BASF is a chemical giant that's not into oil business. They don't run fuelstations. Brabham used Santal for petrol in 1983. Which sounds obscure to me but might be a Brazilian oil company.

AFAIK, Santál is the fruit juice and packed wine subsidiary of Parmalat... Italians might disagree, of course, but Parmalat's products are hardly the kind of toxic brew that helped Piquet win the '83 title :D

#8 BRG

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Posted 16 January 2002 - 11:06

Slightly off the thread, but Brabham may have had a “tradition” of using fuel additives. When they first ran the Alfa flat 12s, they were immensely unreliable, supposedly due to cooling problems. I recall that Brett Lunger, who ran a private McLaren M23, sponsored by Chesterfield, had been heard to ask at a Brands Hatch GP how he could protest the Brabhams.

He said that he had been behind one and that its exhaust fumes made his eyes water. Being a US driver familiar with oval racing where nitro-methane fuels are used, he recognised the fumes. Of course, nitro fuels are known to run much cooler. Nothing came of it though – I imagine Brett was nobbled or just decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.

#9 dmj

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Posted 16 January 2002 - 14:23

It is sad to find out that Nazi fuel story is just a legend - it was a good story to tell... ;)
But Michael was there and obviously he forgot more about fuels than I'll ever know. That's why I love TNF - we have an inside story again!

#10 TODave2

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Posted 16 January 2002 - 18:09

Excellent, many thanks folks.

And wsshores, that must be where I heard it from, I recognise those words clearly.

#11 ghinzani

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 19:35

AFAIK, Santál is the fruit juice and packed wine subsidiary of Parmalat... Italians might disagree, of course, but Parmalat's products are hardly the kind of toxic brew that helped Piquet win the '83 title :D

Now I never knew that, I assumed they were a Brazillian or at least latino fuel/oil company of some type, just by the name.