Clockwise from top left, Bernie with Carlos Reutemann, Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Nikki Lauda
In 1971 Bernie bought the Brabham F1 team from Ron Tauranac for a reported $120,000. Forty years later that sum of money might seem laughable.
Tauranac had founded the Brabham team with fellow Australian driver the great Jack Brabham. He stayed on as Bernie's designer for a while, but there was soon a parting of the ways. Tauranac left the team in early 1972, and engineer Gordon Murray was promoted to the chief designer position. Herbie Blash became Team Manager in 1973.
During his time as Brabham boss Bernie employed a raft of famous motor racing names to drive his cars. Graham Hill, Carlos Reutemann, John Watson, Nikki Lauda, Ricardo Patrese, Elio de Angelis, and Nelson Piquet were just some of Bernie's wheelmen.
Ayrton Senna was considered for a seat at Brabham, and succesfully tested for the team at the Paul Ricard circuit in 1983. It has been reported that Nelson Piquet would not consider him as a partner and convinced Italian food firm Parmalat, Brabham's main sponsor, that an Italian driver should get the second seat. That Italian was Teo Fabi. Who?
As we now know, being turned down by Brabham let Senna's career take him to McLaren and three world championships; no driver can become a legend without being in the right car at the right time.
At the time of Senna's death in 1994 there was some ill-feeling against Bernie by Senna's family, and he was not allowed to attend the funeral. That seems to have blown over, and Bernie is now an advisor to the Senna foundation.
Bernie has been quoted as saying that he rates Senna as the best ever F1, capable of besting Michael Schumacher if they were in identical cars. I have no opinion on that eternal debate.
Under Jack Brabham the team had won two constructors world championships, in 1966 and 1967. During Bernie's reign the highest team placing was second, but Nelson Piquet won two of his three world championships with them.
Bernie sold Brabham for $5,000,000 in 1988, by which time his new career as F1 supremo was well under way, as we shall see.