One of motorsport’s true greats has gone.
Sir Jack Brabham – the oldest-surviving Formula 1 World Champion, the first motorsport Knight of the Realm and the only driver in history to take the crown in his own car – has passed aged 88.
Sydney-born Brabham was nicknamed ‘Black Jack’ by his peers, the title coming about not because of any affinity with gambling, but because of his uncompromising nature on the race track. Here was a man who combined commitment and determination with talent and technical know-how to create an incredibly successful career in Formula 1 that would net him three Drivers’ Championship crowns.
Having learned to drive by age twelve and competing in midget racing at the age of twenty, Brabham formed an alliance with Ron Tauranac, with whom he would later create the Brabham F1 team.
By 1955, Brabham had made his F1 debut with Cooper, and by 1959 the rear-engined Coopers had come on strongly, netting him his first victory at Monaco and a championship by the end of the year, brought about by dint of his consistency rather than sheer unadulterated speed. His championship was secured by pushing his out-of-fuel car over the finish line at Sebring to earn fourth place.
But if anyone had doubts that he deserved the 1959 title, they were proven wrong in 1960 when Brabham won five (all consecutively) of the eight races that season.
He then took the plunge of setting up his own team, with Tauranac by his side, and by 1964 he had picked up his first win and a third title in 1966. He would eventually retire from the sport in 1970, approaching his 44th birthday, and proving just as competitive as drivers half his age.
He sold his half of the Motor Racing Developments team to Tauranac and returned to Australia where he and his then-wife Betty hoped to raise their three boys – Geoff, Gary and David – in an environment free of the temptations that would inspire them to follow in Dad’s footsteps.
That aim didn’t work out, as all three went on to enjoy successful racing careers. Geoff raced in IndyCars, while Gary and David both made it into F1: the former with the appalling Life effort, while the latter had stints at both Brabham and with the ill-fated Simtek squad. Today, two of his grandsons, Sam and Matthew, are both well on the path to becoming third-generation racers with one of the most famous surnames in motorsport.
While Brabham would become the first racing driver to be awarded a Knighthood in 1979, his overseas profile was undoubtedly greater than what he enjoyed back home, where it – disgracefully – took many more years before his achievements were truly recognised back home.
In all, Brabham’s record continued to rank him as Australia’s most successful Formula 1 driver. He won fourteen of his 128 races in his fifteen-year F1 career, claimed three World Championships and earned a reputation as one of the toughest combatants on the track. He forged the path for future generations of Australian racing drivers to seek racing glory overseas, a journey followed over the years – and with varying measures of success – by the likes of Tim Schenken, Vern Schuppan, Alan Jones, Larry Perkins, Mark Webber and, today, Daniel Ricciardo.
He continued to appear at historic events until the mid-2000s, demonstrating his former Cooper and Brabham cars, but progressively worsening health finally put paid to further outings behind the wheel. Suffering chronic deafness as a result of not wearing earplugs, his eyesight was also fading as a result of macular degeneration and he was also on dialysis three times a week as a result of kidney disease.
We were privileged enough to have an exclusive long-form interview with him after he was declared a ‘National Living Treasure’, and he continued to appear – as his health allowed – at major motorsport events.
The RichardsF1.com team extends its deepest condolences to Sir Jack’s wife Margaret, his three sons Geoff, Gary and David, his grandchildren, extended family and friends.
Image via CAMS