The BRM P57 was first introduced in 1961, as the car developed from the 1960 P48, to become the P48/57, and finally the P57. Like many other teams, BRM had been caught off guard by new regulations for the 1961 Formula 1 season that limited engines to 1½ litres, and were forced to use the Coventry Climax engine, which was underpowered by comparison to Ferrari's engine.
By 1962 though, the team's new 1½ litre, V8 engine was ready. The car, complete with its new eight cylinder engine was originally designated the P578, but both types have since been commonly referred to as the P57.
A Good Start
After a disappointing season in 1961, BRM started the 1962 campaign in the best possible way, with Graham Hill taking victory at Zandvoort. Last season's winners Ferrari were still in turmoil, due to internal upheavals, the loss of most of the engineering team, a prolonged industrial strike, and Stirling Moss's retirement. So, as the season progressed Hill's main competitor proved to be Jim Clark in the revolutionary, monocoque construction Lotus 25. The result was undecided going into the final race.
Now every account in the world will tell you that, but for an oil leak in the season's finale at East London in South Africa, Jim Clark could have won the Diver's Championship.
Whilst that is true, there is a little more to it. Please allow me to explain...
The rules in Formula One have often been impenetrable and incomprehensible. In 1962 the points system only counted the best five results out of the nine Grands Prix in the season.
At the start of the final race Clark was nine points behind and needed to win. Hill needed to stop him winning, as with three victories, and two second places already in the bag, only another victory would add to his total. If he only finished second or lower, he wouldn't have been given a single extra point for that.
Rules are rules I guess, and in the end it was irrelevant as the unreliable Lotus failed to finish. But the truth is that by the end of the season, Graham Hill in the BRM P578 had finished every single race, won four, finished second in two, and only finished one race out of the points.
If we add up the points without discounting any results, then Hill would have finished on 52 points and Clark on 30.
The BRM P578 hadn't been quite as quick as the Lotus, but it was reliable, and that was down to lessons that BRM had learned through bitter experience. The team had promoted Tony Rudd to produce a quick, reliable car, and he'd achieved that.
The BRM P578 proved to be the better car. Graham Hill and BRM were worthy World Champions.
It was BRM's finest hour.
1962 BRM P578 "Stackpipe"
BRM used the P578 again in 1963, whilst they developed the monocoque chassised P61. Unfortunately for BRM, the Lotus 25 had by this stage added reliability to its undoubted pace. So although Hill took an encouraging victory in the first race of the season at Monaco, Jim Clark claimed wins in each of the next four races, and never finished outside of the podium places from there on.
BRM and Graham Hill still finished a creditable, if distant second in both Championships, but Jim Clark and Lotus were the clear winners.
BRM tested the P61 at the French and Italian Grands Prix, but the car suffered from severe chassis flex, and the team saw out the season with the P578.
By 1964 BRM had developed the Mark II version of the P61, officially designated the P261.
But the BRM P57 continued racing in F1 for a couple more years, in the hands of privateers such as Maurice Trintignant and Scuderia Centro Sud.
The BRM P56 engine, however, continued in service with the team, and had also been taken up by privateers such as R.R.C. Walker Racing Team, Reg Parnell, British Racing Partnership, Siffert Racing Team and others. Like the P57, the P56 engine also continued to race in F1 right up until the regulation changes of 1966.
The longevity and popularity of the P578 and its engine, suggests that BRM had now achieved the level of quality and performance which it had aimed for since the team's inception.