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The BT49 was created by South African designer Gordon Murray for the Brabham team during the 1979 season of the Formula One motor racing World Championship.

The Brabham team had been competing in partnership with engine supplier Alfa Romeo since 1976 and won races in the 1978 season. However, the team's 1979 car, the BT48, was not a great success. Alfa Romeo started entering their own Type 177 and Type 179 cars in Formula One Grands Prix that summer, helping to convince the Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone that the partnership was over. Motorsport author Alan Henry writes that Ecclestone did not want his team to take second place to an Alfa Romeo works team, and that the team designing Alfa Romeo's cars were drawing on Brabham knowledge.

Alfa's engines were powerful, but had proved troublesome and according to Henry, "the days during which pure power was the main criterion had temporarily vanished by the start of 1979". Instead aerodynamic ground effect, as brought to Formula One by the Lotus 78 two years earlier, was the most important factor. To allow them to focus on this, the Brabham team reverted to a known quantity, the reliable and widely-used Ford Cosworth DFV engine that it had last used in 1975. Three BT49s were designed and built in only six weeks for the Canadian Grand Prix on 30 September 1979; two of them were converted BT48 chassis and one was newly built.

The BT49's racing career got off to an unsettled start when Brabham's lead driver, Niki Lauda, abruptly quit the sport after 10 laps of the first practice session at the penultimate race of the 1979 season, the Canadian Grand Prix.

Nelson Piquet
The car soon showed promise: Piquet ran third in the race on the high speed Circuit Île Notre-Dame before retiring with a broken gearbox. Lauda's replacement, Argentine novice Ricardo Zunino, was seventh of the nine who completed the race.

At the season finale in wet conditions at the Watkins Glen International circuit, Zunino spun off although Piquet set the fastest lap before a driveshaft failed, putting his car out of the race.

After being pipped at the post for the drivers championship by Alan Jones (Williams) in 1980, the 1981 season saw Goodyears temporary withdrawal from Formula One after a disagreement between the teams and the sport's administrators over technical regulations.

The South African Grand Prix was run by the teams to 1980 regulations using cars with sliding skirts. Piquet finished second in a BT49B, but the race did not count towards the championship. The season proper opened with the United States Grand Prix West, at which the BT49C was introduced. To the team's surprise, it was the only car to exploit the "obvious" loophole in the new ground clearance regulation by lowering itself, but the BT49Cs raced with conventional suspension after the hydropneumatic system repeatedly jammed. The team revised the system continuously over the next three races and used it to set pole position at the Brazilian and Argentine Grand Prix and win the Argentine and San Marino races.

Later that year
, despite the virtually solid suspension now required to maintain a consistent ride height, which put components under greater strain, Piquet built a championship challenge on the back of consistent reliability: by the end of the season, his BT49Cs had finished 10 of 15 races, with only one mechanical failure. Piquet finished fifth at the final race of the season—the Caesars Palace Grand Prix—to take the title from Carlos Reutemann in a Williams FW07 by one point.

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6 100% Ringspun Cotton, 160gsm
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Since 1995, BT49s have competed regularly in the FIA Historic Formula One Championship. The championship is open to cars that competed in Formula One in the DFV era, between 1967 and 1985, in several classes to allow for equal competition.

Brabham BT49
Photo courtesy

The BT49 competes in class C, for post 1971 ground effects cars. In 1999, Motor Sport magazine tested a BT49D from the series featuring 530 bhp (395 kW) from its developed DFV at 11,200 rpm, but the championship has since introduced rules to restrict engines to 10,500 rpm to keep costs down.

While the cars' original skirts can be kept, they must be set up such that there is 40 mm (1.6 in) clearance beneath the car, a rule that removes most of the advantage of ground effect. The hydropneumatic suspension employed during 1981 is not permitted. The carbon-carbon brakes originally used in 1981 and 1982 are also banned and the cars must run with conventional brake pads and steel brakes. The cars use Avon slick tyres.

Christian Glaesel won the 2005 FIA Historic Formula One Championship driving a BT49D and Joaquin Folch finished second in the 2006 and 2009 championships in a BT49C.