Rise, fall and disappearance of Brabham Formula 1 team
Brabham name is famous in the world of motorsports. Famous Australian driver Jack Brabham founded his own Formula 1 team in 1960 and the rest is history.
Two-time champion wanted his own Formula 1 team
Brabham dynasty is one of the best-known racing families in the world while Brabham team is one of the most iconic F1 teams and it was a very successful team, especially between the 1960s and mid-1980s when they won two Constructors’ Championships and four Drivers’ Championship titles. Sir Jack Brabham, together with his Australian compatriot and a racing designer Ron Tauranac, formed the Motor Racing Developments Ltd. which quickly became a leader in open-wheels cars production.
Jack Brabham was the star of that time. He won Formula 1 World Championship titles in 1959 and 1960, driving for Cooper. Brabham had an excellent idea that was supposed to help him make more money from selling his name and knowledge. Soon after he called Tauranac to join him in the UK and that was one of the best partnerships in the history of motorsports.
Slow but good start
In the beginning, the two started developing cars like Triumph or Sunbeam and soon they were able to produce and run their own cars. However, they had to wait until 1962 to achieve something. Jack Brabham started driving for his own team, named Brabham Racing Organization, using cars made by his Motor Racing Developments company.
The first season wasn’t glorious. The new car debuted at German Grand Prix but Brabham retired from the race on lap 9 because of a problem with the throttle. However, he managed to collect some points until the end of the year. The following year, another famous Australian, Dan Gurney, joined Jack Brabham in the team and that was the beginning of the success.
Jack Brabham scored first victory for his team in 1963
Brabham F1 team scored its first win in the non-championship race near Stuttgart in 1963, while in 1964 Gurney won two championship races, the French and the Mexican Grand Prix. Jack Brabham also won two non-championship races, proving that he and his team are on the right path. Now the team had a solid foundation for the future but relatively poor financial backing.
Lack of money was probably the reason why Brabham in 1965 couldn’t repeat the results achieved in the previous year. The cars weren’t reliable enough to compete against better-funded teams and there wasn’t too much room for improvement. However, Brabham team finished 3rd or 4th in the Constructors’ Championship standings for three years in a row and desperately wanted to make a step further.
Brabham won two Constructors’ championship titles in a row
New engine rules implemented by FIA before the start of 1966 campaign proved to be good for Brabham. The team decided to use engines made by Australian company Repco and nobody expected that Brabham could be competitive but they were all wrong. From the beginning of the season, it was obvious that Brabham has light, fast and reliable cars that could push the team in the title battle.
Jack Brabham won the Drivers’ Championship title for the third time, becoming the only driver to win the Formula One Championship and it was in the car that carried his name. Brabham team also won the Constructors’ Championship title which was the beginning of a pretty successful era.
In 1967, Brabham defended its Constructors’ crown but Jack missed an opportunity to clinch another trophy. However, everybody in the team was happy after the second driver Denny Hulme took the title, completing another double for Brabham.
Ups and downs in the late 1960s
After two years and a lot of silverware in the showcase, 1968 season was a disaster. Hulme left the team but Jochen Rindt arrived as a replacement to drive alongside Jack. Unfortunately, Brabham cars again lacked reliability and the fact they were very fast wasn’t enough for success. Two drivers managed to finish only three races that year, scoring a total of 10 points what was far below the expectations.
The season of 1969 was much better. The cars had more reliable Cosworth engines and results improved. Belgian Jacky Ickx arrived as a replacement for Rindt who left for Lotus and did an excellent job. He finished the season as a vice-champion, losing to Jackie Stewart. At the same time, Jack Brabham failed to finish half of the races but the team still managed to finish 2nd in the Constructors’ Championship.
Jack Brabham leaves the team
Jack Brabham drove his last season in 1970 but sold his shares of the team to Tauranac who will take a charge of the operations in 1971. Brabham obviously needed some fresh blood as the results were unconvincing. Jack did well in the first half of the year while the second driver Rolf Stommelen had only one podium finish.
The following season was a transitional period for Brabham team. Under Tauranac’s guidance, Brabham was on the way to becoming a mediocre team, even after he signed experienced driver Graham Hill who scored his final win driving for Brabham, but it was in the non-championship race. However, Tauranac knew that he as an engineer cannot lead a team, so at the end of the season, he sold Brabham to British businessman Bernie Ecclestone while he continued working as a designer of the cars, but after only a few months he left, unhappy with the way new owner reorganized the team.
Beginning of the new era under Bernie Ecclestone
Even though Brabham didn’t win Formula 1 Constructors’ championship title again, the era under Ecclestone has a special place in the history of team and Formula 1. Brabham was near the top over the years, many legendary drivers were its members and that was immortalized with two Drivers’ championship triumphs, both by famous Brazilian Nelson Piquet.
The first two years with Bernie were pretty bad, with rare glints like it was Carlos Reutemann’s victory in 1972 Interlagos Grand Prix. The following year was probably crucial. Ecclestone promoted Gordon Murray to chief designer while Herbie Blash became team manager. They both stayed with Brabham in the next 15 years and played a huge role in the success that will come.
South American drivers always were good choice for Brabham
Their efforts were noticed already in 1974 when Reutemann won three Grand Prix events and those triumphs were the first championship races wins for Brabham after almost four years. Brabham moved up to the 5th place in the championship and the future looked optimistic. For the 1975 campaign, Reutemann was accompanied with the Brazilian driver Carlos Pace and the two looked like a good combination. The team was 2nd in the standings that year, behind Ferrari, after winning two races and having other five podiums.
The following two years have resulted in a significant decline, so big that Reutemann left the team unhappy with the way things were heading. Ecclestone decided to take powerful Alfa Romeo’s flat 12 engines, but they proved to be unreliable and made the cars overweighted. Brabham fell to the 9th in standings while one year after he was 5th, without a single race win. Another thing that made 1977 season miserable was the death of Carlos Pace who was killed in the aircraft accident.
Learning from the mistakes
The new, improved BT46 model had to be a step forward but 1978 again was miserable. New sponsor, Italian Parmalat, allowed signing with two-time Formula 1 champion Niki Lauda from Ferrari and the situation became better. Brabham took 3rd place in the championship running three cars that year. Except Lauda, who finished 4th in the standings, John Watson and the Brazilian hot prospect Nelson Piquet were the drivers.
The following year was a big step backward. Before the end of the season, Brabham parted ways with Alfa Romeo and acquired Ford engines for the last two rounds of 1979 campaign. Even the famous Austrian, who retired from racing that year, couldn’t help the team to achieve something. The team finished 8th overall, without any win nor the podium finish, retiring from most of the races.
Nelson Piquet took the team forward
In 1980, Nelson Piquet became the first driver of Brabham team. South American drivers always performed well driving a Brabham’s cars but Piquet was the one who left the deepest mark. With the new Ford-powered BT49 which was fast and reliable, the team reached its peak during the 1980s. Piquet finished the season of 1980 as a runner-up, scoring three wins and losing the title battle by Alan Jones while the team was 3rd in the Constructors’ championship.
Video – Nelson Piquet, 1983 Formula 1 World champion with Brabham
Piquet stepped up to the highest podium spot in 1981, after a very close battle with Carlos Reutemann and won his first title with the team. However, Brabham won the title in the Constructors’ championship, taking 2nd place, well behind Williams. People thought that this team will reach the top in 1982, but they again made one step backward, mainly because of the Ford and BMW engines issue. Brabham dropped to fifth in the standings, Riccardo Patrese took the 10th place in the standings while reigning champion Piquet was only the 11th.
Then another bounce came from Brabham. In 1983, Piquet was crowned for the second time. Driving a BMW-powered BT52 he won three races that year and beat Alain Prost, taking the title in the last race of the year. The team moved up to third in the standings, because Patrese was able to win the races, unlike previous drivers who were running the second car.
Beginning of the downfall
In 1984, Brabham scored two victories, both by Piquet, but the other drivers who were driving the second car weren’t convincing and Brabham again dropped in the standings, this time to the 4th place. Piquet clinched the last victory for Brabham team, in 1985 French Grand Prix. The team finished 5th at the end of the season and that was the beginning of the downfall.
The season of 1986 was a complete disaster. Brabham scored only two points. BT 55 car proved to be a failure and the team picked only two points. Misfortune never comes alone and a death of driver Elio de Angelis during testing at Circuit Paul Ricard added more misery to the team that was on the way of decomposing.
Bernie sold Brabham to suspicious snout
Bernie Ecclestone lost the interest of running the team as he became more involved in F1 Constructors Association, leaving the team’s staff disappointed and unmotivated. In 1987, Brabham drivers did the best they could do but that was still enough for only 10 points and 8th position in the championship.
For the first time since 1961, Brabham team wasn’t on the grid for 1988 campaign. Unable to find new engines after parting ways with BMW, Ecclestone confirmed that the team will retire from the Formula 1. Soon after, Bernie sold Brabham to the Swiss financier Joachim Luhti.
Unsuccessful return and inglorious end
Brabham returned to Formula 1 in 1989. Stefano Modena scored last podium finish for the team finishing 3rd in Monaco Grand Prix. The team finished 4th in the Constructors’ championship that year which was a solid achievement considering all circumstances but the future didn’t look bright at all.
Luhti was arrested in the middle of the season, so the Middlebridge Racing took the control of the team in 1990. The last three years were survival on the artificial respiration apparatus. Team’s budget has always been tight, the cars weren’t reliable and competitive, so the results were really poor. After the 1992 Hungarian Grand Prix, Brabham team collapsed and it was left without funding. Brabham went into the administration, team’s officials were imprisoned because of tax frauds and that was the end of one glorious story.
Glimmer of hope
Over the years, there have been many speculations and rumors about Brabham revival and return to Formula 1, but that has never happened. In 2014, David Brabham, the son of the team’s founder Jack, formed a new team under the name Project Brabham, with a wish to enter many racing competitions, like the FIA World Endurance Championship and Formula E.
Video – Brief history of Brabham Formula 1 team