Triple Formula 1 World Champion Sir Jack Brabham has died at the age of 88. The Australian was one of the most popular racing drivers ever.
Although Brabham’s three titles wins in 1959, 1960 and 1966 were even surpassed by the Likes of Michael Schumacher (7), Alain Prost (4) and Sebastian Vettel (4), Sir Jack will most likely keep one record forever. Following his first two championship wins in the Cooper Climax, which marked the end for front-engined F1 cars, he triumphed in 1966 in a car of his own manufacture, the Brabham BT19. “The third title in 1966 was the most important to me, really because it was an Australian effort. The team had an Australian designer in Ron Tauranac, Australian mechanics, and an Australian-built engine from Repco. It was effectively Australia against the rest of the world, and to win with that package and group of people behind it was a huge thrill. To do it all in a car bearing my own name is a record that will never be broken”, Sir Jack revealed. Under his ownership, the team took both of its constructors’ titles and a further drivers’ crown, Denny Hulme continuing the Brabham Repco’s domination in 1967, with Sir Jack coming second.
It’s true that I was competitive and, frankly, I could have continued racing for another couple of years.
An outstanding racer
Born on the outskirts of Sydney, Brabham was an Aussie Air Force flight mechanic, who ran a small engineering workshop, before he started racing midget cars in 1948. His immediate success in Australian and New Zealand road racing events led to his going to the UK to further his career. On arriving in Europe in early 1955, Sir Jack bought a Cooper to race in national events and his driving style pleased the crowd. He became friends with Charlie and John Cooper, and was taken up into the Cooper Cars building a Bobtail mid-engined sports car. Brabham made his F1 debut aged 29 driving at the 1955 British Grand Prix in a hardly competitive car, which ran slowly with a broken clutch before retiring. However, later in the year Brabham showed a great battle with Stirling Moss for third place at Snetterton, which he saw as a turning point. “Without question Stirling was the toughest racer I competed against. I couldn’t recall a standout race where he gave me a particularly hard time, because that applied to every race where we competed against each other. He always gave me a hard time (laughs). There were many excellent drivers in my era, including Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt, Dan Gurney and Graham Hill. I was great friends with them all, but I rarely had the opportunity to socialise with them while I was racing and trying to run a team.” Brabham had proven that he could compete at this level and he became part of the Cooper racing team. In his mid-engined cars he won the Formula One world championship in 1959 and 1960, before establishing his own marque with fellow Australian Ron Tauranac. It was also in a Cooper that Sir Jack shook the establishment at Indianapolis as the first driver to race a modern mid-engined car at the 500. His eventual ninth place triggered the rear-engine revolution at Indy.
Remaining a dominant force right up until 1970 with one win and three podiums – his last victory at the South African Grand Prix – Sir Jack decided to retire regardless and sell his team share to Tauranac. “Ultimately, it was the right decision. It’s true that I was competitive and, frankly, I could have continued racing for another couple of years. In the end, it was wise though. We lost three drivers that year – Bruce McLaren, Piers Courage and Jochen Rindt – to fatal accidents. Piers was killed in a custom-made Brabham, and that was particularly hard. Over the course of my career, I lost upwards of thirty men – many of whom were dear friends to me – to accidents at the race track or on the road, and I didn’t want to be part of that honour roll. I’d been extremely close to Bruce, particularly, when he first made his way into Formula 1, and his death was extremely difficult for me. Piers was a fine racer, who died in a custom-made Brabham chassis at the Dutch Grand Prix. And Jochen was another friend whose time was up too soon. He’d driven for Brabham before he was poached by Lotus, and his death at Italy was so unnecessary.”
An engineering genius
Building on Sir Jack’s and Ron Tauranac’s pioneering influence, the marque became renowned for its engineering excellence and went on to introduce innovations such as in-race refuelling, hydropneumatic suspension and carbon-carbon brakes, which are still used in motor racing today. “I met Ron (Tauranac) when he came and bought a motorcycle engine from me that he’d wanted to put into a racing car he had designed. I did some work for him, and he did some work for me. Later on when I was racing for Cooper, I would secretly send him design and engineering concepts to look at that we were thinking of trying on the car, and Ron would give me some guidance. Ultimately, I wanted to go it alone and set up my own team, and who better to help me with this than Ron? It took a lot of convincing by me for him to up sticks and come to the UK (laughs)”, Brabham recalled. Founded in 1961, Brabham won a total of four drivers’ and two constructors’ Formula 1 World Championships. It quickly rose to the world’s largest manufacturer of over 500 single-seater racing cars from its Surbiton workshop in the 1960s. In 30 years, the team won 35 Grands Prix and totaled 120 podiums. Notable drivers such as Dan Gurney, Denny Hulme, Jochen Rindt, Jacky Ickx, Graham Hill, Niki Lauda, John Watson, Nelson Piquet or Riccardo Patrese competed in Brabhams. From its first full season in 1962, it wasn’t long before Sir Jack’s team became a force in Formula One claiming its first victory at the non-championship 1963 Solitude Grand Prix in Germany. While Gurney earned the first World Championship race victories in France and Mexico in 1964, the team came third twice and fourth in the constructors’ championships between ’63 and ’65. Following a consecutive switch of owners after Eccelstone’s sale of the team in 1988, two years later the Brabham brand went full circle, when Jack’s youngest son David made his F1 debut. But with the then under-funded outfit struggling to keep pace with its rivals, he was afforded a single season before the team ceased competition in 1992.