Only 33 men have won the F1 drivers’ world championship since its inception in 1950 and among them Sir Jack Brabham, who has died at the age of 88, was unique: the only driver to win the title in a car he built himself.
Brabham raced against some of the greats; Sir Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart.
He was part of the wave of innovation which swept through the sport in the late 1950s as John Cooper put the engine in the back of the car, rather than the front where it had been up to that point. Brabham won his first Grand Prix at Monaco in 1959, and went on to win 14 Grands Prix. He took the little Cooper to the world title in 1959 and 1960.
He started his own team with fellow Australian engineer Ron Tauranac and clinched his third world title in 1966. His team mate Denny Hulme won the title the following year again in one of Jack’s cars. One of the mechanics in that team was Ron Dennis, now the boss of McLaren.
After Jack retired from racing following the 1970 season, the Brabham team was acquired by a man called Bernie Ecclestone and so began another chapter of F1.
Jack got the chance to see another Brabham in a Brabham when his youngest son David made his F1 debut in 1990; the team at that time was owned by the Japanese Middlebridge company, which underestimated what it took in terms of investment to compete in F1. I know because I worked for the team in 1990 and 1991.
When David was announced we organised a photoshoot with father and son together with one of Jack’s 1960s racers, kindly loaned from Tom Wheatcoft’s Donington collection. As David sat in the cockpit he looked in the mirror, “He’s looking out for Clark!” quipped Sir Jack.
The great man continued to attend the Australian Grand Prix up to fairly recently and still got a kick out of seeing the technology on the cars and the innovative ideas the engineers came up with.
That side of the sport always fascinated this unique racing driver.
Mark Webber paid a heartfelt tribute to the great man on his website today,
“He provided me with endless support and advice over the years and became a close confidante – even right up until the last couple of years when, after hearing the rumors that I might move to Ferrari, he told me he would be very disappointed if I went there because for him, it was the absolute betrayal because they were his motivation – the ones he wanted to beat in his day,” wrote Webber.