- April 02, 1926
- May 19, 2014
- Not Active
- Cooper Car Co.,Brabham Racing Organisation
Sir Jack Brabham (full name John Arthur Brabham) is definitely one of the greatest drivers in history of Formula 1. In fact, his career is so impressive that it is completely irrelevant whether his place is among the Top 10 or Top 20 drivers; those are just numbers which will never be able to fully give an idea of what Brabham achieved in his career as a driver and team owner.
Being one of the two Australian drivers who took the F1 crown (the other being Alan Jones), but also the only one to do it three times – 1959, 1960 and 1966. In 1966, Brabham became the first, and he is still the only man to win the F1 Championship title driving one of his own cars.
Impressive career over 15 years
Jack Brabham raced in the early days of Formula 1, when almost every race resulted in heavy injuries or fatal accidents. Nonetheless, he survived 126 F1 races over a career spanning 15 years (1955-1970) during which he achieved 14 wins and 31 podiums.
After retiring from racing, he lived a peaceful life in Australia, but 'grandpa Jack' occasionally drove racing cars as part of historic events, like the Goodwood Revival. Despite the big accident at the 2000 Revival—the first racing accident to put him in hospital overnight—he continued to drive until at 2004. He died on 19 May 2014, aged 88.
He started to drive as a 12-year-old boy
Jack Brabham was born 2 April 1926 in Hurstville near Sydney. At the age of 12, he began driving family car and trucks that belonged to his father's grocery business. Brabham attended technical college, studying metalwork, carpentry, and technical drawing. At the age of 15, he left school and began working, combining a job at a local garage with an evening course in mechanical engineering. Brabham soon launched his own business - buying, repairing and then selling refurbished motorbikes.
Short military career in the Royal Australian Air Force
One month after his 18th birthday, on 19 May 1944, Brabham enlisted into the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He worked as a flight mechanic and two years later was discharged from the RAAF at the rank of the leading aircraftsman. After his short military career, he started a small service, repair, and machining business.
It was in 1948 that Brabham started racing on dirt ovals, in a midget car with his American friend Johnny Schonberg. They drove the homemade car, powered by a modified JAP motorcycle engine built by Brabham in his workshop. Brabham won many races and pretty soon racing became his full-time occupation.
Moving to Europe in the early 1955
After being successful on the midgets, Brabham became interested in road racing. He bought and modified a series of racing cars from the Cooper Car Company and from 1953 onwards concentrated on this form of racing. He competed in Australia and New Zealand and won a number of races. It was during this time, that he picked up the nickname ‘Black Jack’.
In early 1955, Brabham moved to Europe and based himself in the UK, where he bought another Cooper to race in national events. The visits to the Cooper factory led to a friendship with Charlie and John Cooper, and soon he started working at the Cooper factory, building a mid-engined sports car, specifically designed for Formula 1.
Grand Prix debut with Cooper at 1955 British Grand Prix
He finally made his Grand Prix debut at the 1955 British Grand Prix. His car had a 2-litre engine, half a litre less than permitted, and ran slowly with a broken clutch before retiring. Later that year, Brabham once again drove the same car and fought with Stirling Moss for the third place in a non-championship race at Snetterton and once again proved that he could compete at this level.
During 1956, Brabham unsuccessfully campaigned his own second-hand Maserati 250F. The next year, Brabham drove a mid-engined Cooper at the Monaco Grand Prix. He avoided a large crash at the first corner and was running third towards the end of the race, when the fuel pump mount failed. He pushed his car to the end line and managed to secure the sixth position. In 1958, he was declared the Formula Two champion in a Cooper, while in F1 he finished 18th at the end of season.
First ever F1 win at 1959 Monaco Grand Prix
In 1959, Cooper finally started to use 2.5-litre engines, along with the other manufacturers. With the help of the extra power, Brabham secured his first ever F1 triumph at the season-opening Monaco Grand Prix. He soon matched that with a victory at the British Grand Prix at Aintree.
At the Portuguese Grand Prix at Monsanto Park, 'Black Jack' had a serious accident. He was chasing the race leader Stirling Moss, when his car took off into the air. The airborne car hit a telegraph pole, throwing Brabham onto the track, where he avoided being hit by one of his teammates by pure luck.
Pushing the car to the championship title
With two wins each, Brabham, Moss, and Ferrari's Tony Brooks, all had a chance of winning the championship at the final event of the season, the United States Grand Prix at Sebring. In this race, Brabham was pacing himself behind Moss, who soon retired with a broken gearbox. Brabham led almost to the end of the race, but then his luck, or shall we say fuel, ran out in the last lap. With incredible determination, he pushed his car to the finish line, and managed to finish fourth and win the championship!
The following year, Brabham helped design the more advanced Cooper T53, as per advice of his Australian friend Ron Tauranac. Brabham spun the new car out at the Monaco Grand Prix, but then embarked on a series of five straight victories. He won the championship and Cooper won constructors' title.
Revolution in Indy 500
1961 saw Brabham in poor shape when it comes to F1, as he scored only three points and finished 11th in the championship. On the other hand, the year was marked with his visit to Indianapolis 500. Brabham entered the famous Indy 500 oval for the first time in a modified version of F1 Cooper. It had 2.7-litre Climax engine producing 272 PS, as compared to the 436 PS of the 4.4-litre Offenhauser engines used by the front-engined roadsters driven by all the other entrants.
Brabham proved that the rear-engined Cooper had superior handling through the turns and was competitive to stronger cars. He finished ninth, completing all 200 laps. That was the moment that triggered the rear-engined revolution at Indy and within five years most of the cars that raced at Indianapolis would be rear-engined.
Brabham Racing Organisation since 1962
Brabham left Cooper in 1962 to drive for his own team – Brabham Racing Organisation, using cars built by Motor Racing Developments, his own company, which he set up with Ron Tauranac. A newly-introduced engine limit in Formula 1 of 1500cc did not suit Brabham and he did not win a single race. The following years were also unsuccessful, until 1965 when Dan Gurney, as the team's lead driver took the first victory.
Third championship title in 1966
After Gurney left, Jack Brabham was once again the lead driver. In 1966, new 3-litre engines were allowed in Formula 1. Most suppliers had 12-cylinder engines, but Brabham took a different approach. The Australian company Repco developed an 8-cylinder engine for Brabham T19 chassis and that proved to be a victorious combination. With four wins in nine races, Brabham took his third championship title. In 1967 Brabham-Repco was once again the best car on the track, only this time the championship title went to Brabham's teammate Denny Hulme, while Jack came second. The team also managed to secure the constructor's title.
The next few seasons weren't very good for Brabham, in fact, many predicted that his career was heading towards the end. In 1970, at the South African Grand Prix, Brabham won for the last time and retired at the end of the season. Following his retirement, Brabham and his family moved to a farm between Sydney and Melbourne.
Brabham dynasty still active in a world of racing
Brabham and his first wife Betty have three sons: Geoff, Gary and David and all three became very involved in motorsports, winning various titles, in different championships. He also has two grandsons - Matthew Brabham who competed in Indy Lights and Formula E championship, and Sam Brabham who debuted in 2013 in the British Formula Ford.
So, despite Jack Brabham no longer being around, his name is and forever will continue to live on in the world of racing.
Video: ABC TV's story about Sir Jack Brabham