Legendary race driver Sir Jack Brabham dies aged 88
A tribute to the first Australian F1 champion
Australian race driver, three-time Formula One champion Sir Jack Brabham died on 19 May at his home in Queensland. A rival of Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart, Brabham won the F1 world championship in 1959, 1960, and, driving the car he designed and built himself, in 1966. His passion for engineering and design urged him to become involved in designing race cars early in his career and set up his own race car manufacturing company MRD at the height of his fame.
Jack Brabham was a Royal Australian Air Force flight mechanic and ran a small engineering workshop before he started racing midget cars, small open-wheel cars racing on dirt ovals in 1948, switching to road racing in which drivers compete on closed tarmac circuits in 1953. He bought and modified a series of racing cars from the Cooper Car Company, a British constructor. Business savvy Brabham was well ahead of his time accepting sponsorship, but the Australian motorsporting authorities made him remove the RedeX Special logo painted on the side of his Cooper-Bristol.
Aspiring to a professional racing career he left for Britain in 1955. Ditching the dirt tracks Brabham started taking part in national racing events, quickly becoming a favourite of spectators due to his crowd-pleasing driving style which he summed up as “using full and lots of throttle”. During visits to the Cooper factory for parts he became friends with father-and-son racing car builders Charlie and John Cooper who revolutionized contemporary car performance with their rear-engined models.
After a brief stint driving a private Maserati 250F Brabham joined the Cooper team, becoming more and more involved in the design process. Soon he was working at Cooper daily, building a mid-engined, central-seater Bobtail Formula One sports car which he drove at the 1955 British Grand Prix at Aintree making his F1Grand Prix debut at the age of 29. After winning the 1955 Australian Grand Prix, he sold the car to help fund a permanent move to the UK but continued to drive for the Cooper team winning the world championship in 1959 driving a Cooper T51, and in 1960 driving both a Cooper T51 and a T53.
Brabham had been toying with the idea of designing and manufacturing racing cars in his own right from the very beginning. In 1962 he teamed up with his old friend, engineer and fellow Australian Ron Tauranac, and set up a company called Motor Racing Developments (MRD), which produced customer racing cars for Formula Junior. Brabham soon left Cooper to drive for his own team, the Brabham Racing Organisation, using cars built by MRD. MRD constructed Brabham's own Formula One cars, the rear-engined BT20 and BT19, both driven by a Repco V8 engine. Using the latter and proving the press claiming he was past it at 40 wrong, Brabham won the world championship in 1966, becoming the first man to win the Formula One world championship driving one of his own constructions.
Black Jack, as he was called from an early age due to his dark hair, stubble, and ruthless driving ways, raced on into his 40s. He competed in 126 GPs altogether, winning on 14 occasions. He retired from professional car racing after the 1970 Formula One season and his last F1 victory at the South African Grand Prix at the age of 43. Brabham moved to Australia, sold his team to Bernie Ecclestone, bought a farm and maintained business interests including the Engine Developments racing engine manufacturer and several garages. He continued to be involved in motorsport, though, appearing at numerous events the world over, often driving his former Cooper and Brabham cars. He suffered the very first racing accident to put him in hospital overnight at the 2000 Goodwood Revival, but
continued to drive until 2004, when he turned 78.
In 1978, Brabham was the first post-war racing driver to be knighted, receiving the honour for services to motorsport. In 2011, a suburb in Perth was named after him. Sir Jack Brabham died on 19 May at his home on the Gold Coast, Queensland after a long battle with liver disease.