Blimey, is that car covered in dirt or what?! Has it had an almighty off and found its way back onto the circuit through a mud bath?! On another day maybe, but not on this one. The car here has been intentionally caked in dirt, or chocolate, or more likely paint.

The machine in question is the mighty fine Brabham BT52 of Bernie Ecclestone’s Fila Sport operation. Fila sponsored the team in 1983 and so ended up being the name of the team too. The driver amongst the muck is none other than Brazil’s super fast Nelson Piquet Sr.

A lot of things changed in F1 at the end of 1982, most notably the fact that ‘ground-effect wing-cars’ and ‘skirts’ were out and flat bottomed cars were in, all in the name of safety. Therefore, the rule book had had some sections re-written, and folk like Gordon Murray read them and then went back¬† to the drawing board – ¬†literally. South African Murray had been employed at Brabham for the previous 10 years, and probably felt that his offering for the 1983 season should be kept a closely guarded secret for as long as possible. He was a clever bloke that should be listened, to as had created a few winners in his time.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that before the new car’s first test at Brands Hatch, Bernie had called up Aussie artist Rolf Harris to come down to the factory with a large paint brush and work on a new livery for the upcoming season! But what’s actually going on here is the art of camouflage! Where you have an F1 test, you have spies. Not men in long coats with sunglasses looking shifty, but paparazzi photographers poking their long lenses through the fence and having a nosey at what’s going on. As in all uses of ‘camo’, a bit dabbed on here and a bit dabbed on there, can obscure the main lines of the structure. So the idea here is to hide the actual shape, and not really about merging the car ‘commando stlye’ into the Kent scenery. Sometimes designers arranged strips of black tape randomly on the bodywork, which can create a fuzzy flicker effect on images when recorded by a TV or video camera apparently. Intriguing stuff. Camouflaging prototype cars has been around for a long while, and in modern times a road car may get a few bits of plastic bolted on too for extra visual trickery! In our photo, Piquet just gets a bonus dab of paint across his helmet for good measure.

In March 1983, the Brabham was unveiled in Brazil at the Jacarepagua circuit near Rio. Without camouflage, Nelson Piquet drove the car to victory. No messing about! He scored further victories in Italy at Monza and at the European GP at Brands Hatch, the location of the initial test of course. Piquet’s endeavour was enough to win him the Driver’s Championship by just 2 points from Alain Prost in the Renault. This was Piquet’s second title and the first for a car powered by a turbocharged engine, which gave BMW something to cheer about! However, only third place was achieved in the Constructor’s Championship, as Ferrari and Renault stole the top two spots. Nevermind – at least Bernie’s team had their hands on one trophy!

So, who knows, did the camouflage help hide the car’s design? In one respect, no other car really looked like the Brabham that year, as all the teams implemented their own ideas, so yes a bit of camo could have helped!

Photo credit: Unknown, but sourced from Autosprint magazine. If you are/know the copyright holder please drop us a line at

  1. There’s only really 2 painting designs (i can think of) that teams could use in testing which would hide the body shape, contours and stuff. Firstly; black like Honda used to use on their test cars, presumably to disguise just how wrong they got it. Another black car was the 1998 Arrows A19, which also wasn’t particularly quick in its day.

    But what i haven’t seen and i think is a great idea, why not completely cover the car in chrome paint? If it’s sunny the spies would have major difficulties analysing the body shape due to the excessive reflections. Any teams listening?

  2. Riccardo Monza says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Dave H. Regarding chrome or bare reflective metal, military aircraft have used this colour scheme since the days of the English Electric Lightning etc. I don’t really know if the ‘silver’ look made an aircraft disappear amongst the clouds and haze, but in theory yes I agree, a highly reflective car or plane should confuse its form to an onlooker.

    Of course the ultimate camouflage is what the alien used in the Predator film! Or to go one better -the cloaking device used by the Romulans in Star Trek!

    I was pleased to find out this week what your H stands for – Highkinen! Goodstuff!

  3. Riccardo Monza says:

    Either that Oudinot, or the opposite in a day-glo orange paintjob, with flashing lights and a siren, so that Sutil could have seen/heard Trulli coming round the outside!

  4. Riccardo Monza says:

    A modern F1 car engine produces about 120 to 140 decibels at top end apparently, so I suppose an audible siren would have to be upwards of 141 decibels!

  5. McLaren used to do this with new rear wing designs a few years back when they were West sponsored. Instead of the White/Silver rear wing they would show up with a wing in bare carbon. As you may know, modern autofocus cameras use algorithms to get the maximum contrast over the target area to sort out the autofocus ranging maths (and at 10 frames per second on a car moving at 160mph that can be pretty quick number crunching). Satin black is an absolute Ba**ard to lock onto accurately when moving at speed…..

  6. Riccardo Monza says:

    Hello CraigB, you sound like you have some good knowledge and experience in photographing fast moving cars, especially ones coloured satin black! Thanks for the insight.

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