Jack Brabham Obituary

Sir Jack Brabham dies

“I never cared too much about what the press said about me. Now looking back, I think it was probably a mistake on my part. "

Jack Brabham (1929-2014) was a man who achieved great achievements during the 15 years (1955-1970) that he was in Formula 1. In that time, he transformed Cooper and Brabham into two winning teams, he was three times world champion drivers the only one to win with a self-made car, he became a leading manufacturer of F2, F3 and sports cars, inspired Bruce McLaren and Dan Gurney to develop their own racing teams, and gave Ron Dennis his first job in the queen category, among others.

It is a formidable list. Even Bernie Ecclestone owes a lot to Black Jack, as it was through the purchase of the Brabham team that he laid the foundation from which to take off towards his enormous power and fortune derived from F1. Nobody imagined it in 1971 ...

Despite these great achievements, Jack Brabham is rarely mentioned in the lists of the top 20 F1 drivers that are drawn up from time to time by the press and enthusiasts. Perhaps it was his destiny: As an Australian immigrant to England in the 1950s, he was an upstart who worked mountains of hours to achieve his goals. Author of simple and effective technical solutions, he drove the best cars on the circuit although he did not know how to extract all the juice from his success.

Jack Brabham Obituary
Jack Brabham, 1966 (By Lothar Spurzem)

The pioneer

Brabham was a pioneer, the spearhead of the group of talented Australians and New Zealanders (Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Chris Amon, Howden Ganley, Tim Schenken) who broke into European racing in the 60s and '70s.

As was often the case in Australia, Brabham learned to drive from a young age thanks to the freedom enjoyed in that country. He grew up in a family dedicated to the fruit and vegetable trade, so at the age of 12 he had fun driving the distribution trucks. From the beginning he was fascinated by mechanical engineering, being an apprentice mechanic and serving as a mechanic in the Australian air forces. Finally, his hobby expanded to motorsport when he built a small sports car for another fan.

When it came to testing the car it was very fast, and that test was the beginning of a remarkable career. Later in a hill race met Ron Tauranac, designer and engineer who would be his partner during the 60s and who would give life to the Brabhams of that era - and, later, to the equally successful RALTs of the 70s and 80s. Another fact to take into account in the rise of the pilot and constructor Australian was the purchase of a Cooper, the brand with which he would become world champion for the first time.

Jack Brabham Obituary
"Midget" supposedly similar to the first car built by Brabham (For Peter hamer)

John Cooper mentored countless drivers and engineers during the 1950s and 60s, pioneering mid-engined racing cars with his little 500cc cars in the early 29s. When Brabham finally launched into racing (aged XNUMX and married to a wife and son who remained in Sydney), Cooper Racing's doors were the first he knocked on. And Cooper gave him a job designing and manufacturing race cars, without pay but allowing him to race them.

Soon, in 1955, the Cooper-Bristol was on the grid for the British Grand Prix. Jack Brabham made his debut in high competition on that ugly but effective front-engined single-seater, while Moss and Fangio rolled in front of him in their Mercedes W196s engaged in titanic battle.

Brabham had come to Formula 1 to stay. His style was persistent and tough, he did not allow himself to be overtaken easily and he drove with his head bowed down, something that is still characteristic of fast and confident drivers. He was not the fastest as he understood that "To finish first, you have to finish first", so he preferred to loosen the throttle a bit rather than damage or break his mount. This perception had two advantages: one, it finished more races than the others in a time of compromised reliability; and two, it kept him alive for fifteen of F1's most dangerous years.

Jack Brabham Obituary
Cooper T51, car with which J. Brabham won two world championships (Por Darren)

Single pilot and builder

He always had the respect of his colleagues and worked tirelessly hand in hand with Cooper to develop a car that would begin to bear fruit in 1959. During that year, Cooper received the new Coventry-Climax engine that finally gave the unusual mid-engined chassis. the power to be a winning horse. Brabham won twice in 1959 and 1960, something that greatly enraged the Commendatore Enzo Ferrari

Ferrari hated watching his old-fashioned thoroughbreds get beaten by a mechanic of Surbiton and, thus the things, pulled the strings to obtain a change in the regulation of the World-wide Championship. As a result, for 1961-65 the rule restricting the size of engines to 1,5 liters was put in place so that the Ferrari "Sharknose" dominated at least 1961. Cooper struggled unsuccessfully against the circumstances, and Brabham was unhappy with it. these, so he decided to leave.

Unfortunately for Enzo, the Surbiton fans were the future. The Cooper Car Company laid the foundations for the English motorsport industry that would produce groundbreaking names like Lotus, Lola, McLaren, March, Williams, Benetton, Red Bull and, of course, Brabham. Returning to the exit plan of the sponsor of the latter, it contemplated the coming to the United Kingdom of the aforementioned Ron Tauranac with the aim of founding a company that was called Motor Racing Developments (MRD) and that was dedicated to the construction and sale of racing cars under the Brabham banner.

The cars they made were solid, stylish, and relatively cheap; perfect for young drivers who want to shine in the F2, F3 and sport categories.

Jack Brabham Obituary
Brabham pilots one of his unsatisfying 1.5-liter bolidos (For Lothar Spurzem)


The first years of the Brabham F1 team would be more difficult: The teammate of its founder was the young American Dan Gurney, who had some victories. As a driver, Brabham won nothing during the liter and a half days, and it was certainly a relief for him when the return to the 1966cc formula took place in 3.000. On the other hand, his idea was to stop running personally and focus on managing the team, something that finally could not do because Gurney left to create his own company, Eagle; Brabham would therefore pilot alongside Denny Hulme.

At that time he had already carried out negotiations with the Australian specialist Repco for the development of a V8. Based on the Buick / Oldsmobile V8 mechanics that would become the basis for the Rover V8 of the late 60s, it was a wise decision. In his image and likeness, Repco produced a simple, elegant and reliable engine; set in an effective and well finished frame, the Brabham-Repco led Brabram to win his third world championship in 1966, the first and the only one won by a car built by its driver.

Hulme put on a similar performance in the 1967 season, thus becoming champion himself. And yet a new era presided over by Cosworth V8 hearts was in the making. Cosworth first supplied Lotus exclusively during 1967, but for the following season it equipped other teams with its mechanics. Brabham knew how to accept the superiority of the new engine (which dominated the circuits until the end of the 80s), and this made it possible for the Brabhams driven by Jochen Rindt and himself in 68 and by Jackie Ickx and again Brabham in 69 to be competitive. A very young Ron Dennis was Rindt's mechanic in 1968 and became chief mechanic the following year.

Jack Brabham Obituary
Jack Brabham Obituary
Brabham-Repco recently sold at auction for RM Auctions (By Tim Scott)

Once again, Brabham had planned to leave the wheel by the end of 1969. He had expected Rindt to return to his team from Lotus, but when the Austrian decided to stay with Colin Chapman for the 1970 championship (he would die at the controls of the fragile Lotus 72 in the Italian GP practice) had to get back into his car, nothing more and nothing less than at 44 years of age. The car for the beginning of the decade was the beautiful BT33, simple but deliciously effective, as had been the rule.

The just memory

Brabham could have won his fourth crown at the helm of this bolido, but luck was not with him: In the British GP he set the pace for the others until the BT33 ran out of fuel on the last lap; the rest of the season was spent in dropouts due to rare mechanical failures.

But the most unfortunate event of that year, and probably the reason why the world does not recognize Jack Brabham for the magnificent driver that he was, occurred in the last corner of the last lap of the Monaco GP. There, Brabham, having quietly enjoyed the lead throughout the race, was being pursued by Rindt. In that corner, and when he had already won the race, he fell short in braking, inevitably hitting the barriers in front of television cameras from around the world. It was tremendously embarrassing and it's a cruel way to remind you.

Jack Brabham Obituary
Black Jack at the controls of the BT33 with which he was about to win his fourth world crown (Por Gerald swan)

He had promised his wife that they would return to Australia, and they did so at the end of 1970. Tauranac would take over MRD until 1971, when he sold the company to Bernie Ecclestone. Ron Dennis negotiated with Tauranac to lead a Brabhams F2 team under the name Rondel Racing… The story continued.

From then on Jack Brabham lived with his family in Sydney. His three sons, Geoff, Gary and David all became professional pilots, creating a dynasty. Brabham made frequent visits to the UK to oversee his business (garages in the South East, an active interest in Judd Racing Engines in the Midlands) and to enjoy the respect and admiration of the public at events such as the Goodwood Revival.

It is possible that if his legacy had been given more importance it would be even greater today than it is. However, it is inescapable to acknowledge and remember his great achievements and substantial contribution to motor sport (particularly in the UK) over fifteen decisive years. He was certainly not an upstart, but a man of great depth and talent.

* Header Image Credit: Richard
* Translation by Javier Romagosa

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Martin Horrocks

Written by Martin Horrocks

My name is Martin Horrocks. Since I came to live in Madrid in 2006, enjoying my passion with the rest of the fans is what has best helped me to integrate into Spanish society. Day by day I drive a Fiat Panda 100hp, an exciting and fun car, although I also have a ... View all


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