We look back at the ca­reer high­lights of the three-time cham­pion and rac­ing leg­end, Sir Jack Brab­ham

Sir Jack Brab­ham has left us. Aus­tralian mo­tor rac­ing has lost its great­est ever; world mo­tor rac­ing has lost a cham­pion whose in­flu­ence on the sport ex­tended far be­yond the act of mere driv­ing, a man whose achieve­ments in For­mula One will never be matched. But how high does the name Brab­ham sit on the list of all-time greats of the sport?

Michael Schu­macher, Juan-Manuel Fan­gio, Alain Prost, Se­bas­tian Vet­tel. Those four men are the only driv­ers in the 63 years of the World Driv­ers’ Cham­pi­onship to have been crowned more times than Sir Jack Brab­ham. Sir Jack’s For­mula One score­card of three world ti­tles is matched only by Ayr­ton Senna, Sir Jackie Ste­wart, Niki Lauda and Nel­son Pi­quet.

These are Brab­ham’s peers in the hon­our roll of the great­est driv­ers in the his­tory of the For­mula One world cham­pi­onship. Yet in a way Brab­ham’s achieve­ments stand alone, be­cause no one else ever won the world crown in a car bear­ing their own name.

That, of course, was the 1966 ti­tle which Jack won in a Repco Brab­ham BT19, pow­ered by a 3-litre sin­gle-cam V8 en­gine de­vel­oped by, of all people, Repco, in, of all places, Mel­bourne.

But just as Brab­ham’s third and fi­nal crown had added merit for the un­par­al­leled tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ment it rep­re­sented, so too did his first ti­tle. His 1959 world cham­pi­onship win in a Cooper T51-Cli­max was the first for a mid-en­gined rac­ing car, and it laid down the driv­e­train blue­print for the fu­ture of world mo­tor rac­ing. At Cooper, Brab­ham was the key driv­ing force be­hind the de­vel­op­ment of its mid-en­gined rac­ing cars.

This achieve­ment shouldn’t be down­played. It was mo­men­tous; it truly did amount to a revo­lu­tion in rac­ing car de­sign.

Even in the late ’50s the mere idea that a mid-en­gined grand prix car could be su­pe­rior to the time-hon­oured front-en­gined lay­out was

some­thing akin to declar­ing the world was flat. But to­gether Brab­ham and Cooper took that idea and made it work – and they changed For­mula One (and also the In­di­anapo­lis 500) from fron­tengine to mid-en­gine.

How do you prop­erly rate the place in mo­tor rac­ing his­tory of a fig­ure such as Brab­ham? It’s al­ways dif­fi­cult to make mean­ing­ful com­par­isons be­tween great driv­ers from dif­fer­ent eras, but the en­gi­neer­ing com­po­nent of Brab­ham’s suc­cesses makes him a par­tic­u­larly tricky case.

Not that there’s ever been much de­bate among the ex­perts when it comes to Jack Brab­ham, how­ever: in most of the all-time great driver polls over the years, it’s rare that Brab­ham fea­tures near the top. Of­ten he doesn’t even make the top 20. It’s not even just the jour­nal­ists who don’t rate Sir Jack. In the cur­rent is­sue of Mo­tor Sport mag­a­zine’s reader’s poll of the top three driv­ers of the 1960s, Brab­ham is nowhere to be seen. Clark tops that poll, over Mario An­dretti and

Brab­ham’s 1959 world cham­pi­onship win was the first for a mid-en­gined rac­ing car and laid down the driv­e­train blue­print for the fu­ture of world mo­tor rac­ing

Gra­ham Hill.

If this se­rial un­der­valu­ing of Brab­ham is a bit puz­zling, it is at least un­der­stand­able when put in con­text.

For one thing, when it came to pop­u­lar­ity con­tests Jack tended to be his own worst en­emy. Fiercely com­pet­i­tive though he was, Brab­ham was never one to ac­tively seek the lime­light. He even once con­ceded that he prob­a­bly did not ‘do him­self any favours’ dur­ing his F1 ca­reer by fail­ing to in­dulge the (largely Bri­tish) me­dia. A man of few words at the best of times, Brab­ham had more im­por­tant things to do when he was not be­hind the wheel of a rac­ing car than but­ter up the press – like work on the next spon­sor­ship deal or help de­velop the next grand prix ma­chine or cus­tomer MRD/Brab­ham car. It also can’t have helped that he raced in an era of so many Bri­tish greats – the likes of Stir­ling Moss, Jim Clark, Jackie Ste­wart, Gra­ham Hill and John Sur­tees. A case can be made for rank­ing Moss and Clark above Brab­ham. But Gra­ham Hill? The Mo­tor Sport read­ers’ poll is just one of many that has ranked Hill ahead of Brab­ham – and yet the hard sta­tis­tics to sup­port Hill over Brab­ham aren’t easy to find. The two driv­ers scored both the same num­ber of grand prix race wins and pole po­si­tions, and while Brab­ham set more fastest race laps, Hill had five more podi­ums. Hill’s time in F1 spanned 18 years, two longer than Brab­ham. So sta­tis­ti­cally there’s not much be­tween them – ex­cept for the big one, which is the fact that Hill was world cham­pion only twice, and Brab­ham did it three times.

Like Brab­ham, Hill went on to be­come a For­mula One constructor. While the Em­bassyHill team’s for­tunes looked to be on the up just when Hill died in a plane crash, the sin­gle world cham­pi­onship point the team scored in its three sea­sons stands in stark con­trast to what was

achieved by the Brab­ham team.

Sir Jack’s grand prix win record – which at 14 vic­to­ries com­pares un­favourably with those of con­tem­po­raries Clark and Ste­wart – was badly af­fected by the de­ci­sion to es­tab­lish his own team. Fol­low­ing an un­happy and win­less fi­nal (1961) sea­son with Cooper, Brab­ham won not a sin­gle grand prix with his own team from 1962 through to the end of 1965. World cham­pi­onship ti­tles in 1959 and ’60, fol­lowed by five years with­out a race win…

You could call this his Emer­son Fit­ti­paldi/ Cop­er­su­car or Jac­ques Vil­leneuve/BAR pe­riod. How­ever, where the de­ci­sions of those two for­mer world cham­pi­ons to leave per­fectly suc­cess­ful teams to set up their own ended up killing their F1 ca­reers, Brab­ham not only went on to make the team he built with Ron Tau­ranac work, but also to achieve a sin­gu­lar great­ness which will surely never be matched.

Yet here, cu­ri­ously, is one of the few things for which Sir Jack is un­duly cred­ited. It is of­ten said he is the only man to win the world cham­pi­onship in a car of his own de­sign – this is sim­ply not true. Ron Tau­ranac de­signed the cars. Brab­ham of course had im­por­tant en­gi­neer­ing in­put into what Tau­ranac cre­ated, but in re­al­ity Brab­ham was the constructor, the fa­cil­i­ta­tor who did the deals to make it all hap­pen.

As a part­ner­ship, Brab­ham and Tau­ranac were for­mi­da­ble. The var­i­ous ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the two Aus­tralians com­ple­mented one an­other per­fectly, and to­gether they were able to achieve much more than they’d have man­aged sin­gu­larly (with­out Tau­ranac, there’d prob­a­bly have been no Brab­ham car; with­out Jack, the Tau­ranac-owned Brab­ham team lasted just one sea­son in F1).

The Brab­ham/Tau­ranac col­lab­o­ra­tion dates back to the early 1950s in Syd­ney, but later when Jack was at Cooper, the pair cor­re­sponded – be­lieve it or not – via letters in the mail as they com­pared ideas as to how to im­prove the per­for­mance of the Coop­ers. Brab­ham and Tau­ranac may have been col­lud­ing be­hind Charles Cooper’s back, but Tau­ranac had al­most noth­ing to do with the mi­dengine ‘revo­lu­tion’. The im­pe­tus for that came from Jack. It was Brab­ham who honed the mi­dengined Cooper pack­age into a race win­ner.

No mat­ter how ex­cel­lent the Cooper T51 was in 1959, how­ever, it still needed a good, fast driver like Brab­ham to ful­fil its po­ten­tial on the track. But just how good, just how fast was he? Ac­cord­ing to driv­ers who raced against him – the likes of Moss and Ste­wart – Brab­ham was chron­i­cally dif­fi­cult to over­take; in all re­spects a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent.

Yet Sir Jackie also reck­ons that Jack ‘wasn’t the fastest driver’. There is cer­tainly a widely held per­cep­tion that Brab­ham lacked the ul­ti­mate pace of some of his ri­vals. It is an easy thing to say, but how true is it re­ally?

The im­por­tant thing to con­sider about Brab­ham the rac­ing driver was that he was a dif­fer­ent kind of com­peti­tor. His en­gi­neer­ing back­ground and his re­spect for the ma­chin­ery he was op­er­at­ing – and which, un­like most of his ri­vals, he was usu­ally pay­ing for – fre­quently saw him opt not take it to its ab­so­lute limit of per­for­mance. Sir Jack was fa­mous for the phrase ‘win at the slow­est pos­si­ble speed’, and it was no idle slo­gan.

In some ways, too, a touch of con­ser­vatism in the cock­pit was prob­a­bly a pru­dent way to go rac­ing dur­ing what was one of the most dan­ger­ous eras in the sport’s his­tory. Brab­ham lost many friends dur­ing his time in mo­tor rac­ing, dat­ing right back to his be­gin­nings in NSW speed­way rac­ing in the late ’40s. His abid­ing mem­ory of win­ning the 1960 Bel­gian Grand Prix is not the vic­tory it­self, but the deaths dur­ing that race of Alan Stacey and Chris Bris­tow, in sep­a­rate crashes.

Ron Tau­ranac says it is im­pos­si­ble to com­pare Brab­ham’s pace against the other top men of his era be­cause Jack only ever went as fast as was nec­es­sary. He re­calls, for in­stance, that Jack al­ways used less revs than Jochen Rindt when they were team-mates in 1968; be­tween races Brab­ham’s en­gines needed far less at­ten­tion than Rindt’s. More than that, Tau­ranac adds, it was com­mon for Brab­ham to back off on straights to avoid over-revving the en­gine. He would some­times even de­lib­er­ately avoid a gear change or two by back­ing off if there was a cor­ner com­ing up. If he had just driven flat out all the time like ev­ery­one else, Tau­ranac claims, Brab­ham would have re­ceived a lot more ac­claim than he did.

Brab­ham also went close to win­ning more

Ron Tau­ranac says it is im­pos­si­ble to com­pare Brab­ham’s pace against the other top men of his era be­cause Jack only ever went as fast as nec­es­sary

cham­pi­onships than he ul­ti­mately did. He was within a whisker of suc­cess­fully de­fend­ing his 1966 crown – but then be­ing run­ner up in ‘67 was hardly a de­feat, be­cause it meant a Brab­ham one-two as Denny Hulme claimed his only world ti­tle, and the Brab­ham mar­que scored its sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Constructor’s ti­tle.

Then there’s 1970, his last sea­son. Brab­ham went to his grave be­liev­ing not only that he could, but should have been world cham­pion that year.

In later life he ex­pressed pro­found re­gret at be­ing forced, by fam­ily pres­sures, to re­tire when he did not want to. Look­ing back, he reck­oned he was driv­ing as well in his fi­nal year as he ever had. He even felt that he could have gone on for an­other four or five years. That may sound like a bit of a stretch, but dur­ing that swan­song sea­son there was no sign that Brab­ham was slow­ing down, even at the age of 44.

Could he have gone on? We’ll never know, but a still-com­pet­i­tive Brab­ham (whose F1 ca­reer, let’s re­mind our­selves, be­gan with him com­pet­ing against Fan­gio and the Mercedes W196) rac­ing against the likes of Niki Lauda, James Hunt and Ron­nie Peter­son into the mid ‘70s, on the eve of the ground ef­fects era… That’s one tan­ta­lis­ing hy­po­thet­i­cal.

Brab­ham’s fi­nal F1 cam­paign started like a whirl­wind: vic­tory in the first round (South Africa), then pole in Spain, fol­lowed by what was a race-win­ning drive in Monaco – against Rindt, no less – un­til the very fi­nal cor­ner, where Brab­ham slid off, gift­ing the race to the Lo­tus driver. If that wasn’t heart­break enough, Brab­ham went on to run out of fuel while leading the Bri­tish Grand Prix…

If not for all that, and the string of me­chan­i­cal fail­ures that hit him in sub­se­quent races, who knows? Yet had Brab­ham been cham­pion in 1970, it would have been some­what of a pyrrhic vic­tory, be­cause he would have beaten his friend and for­mer team-mate Rindt, who died in prac­tice at Monza, four races be­fore the end of the sea­son.

There is not much point in mo­tor rac­ing of talk­ing about ifs and buts. How­ever… Brab­ham could eas­ily have got up in 1967, and might also have done so in 1970 had a few things not gone the way they did that year. That would have made him a five-time world champ – the same as Fan­gio. Or, if you add in the two Con­struc­tors Cham­pi­onships (some­thing no other world cham­pion driver can claim), seven ti­tles – the same as Schu­macher.

Main: Jack Brab­ham’s Brab­ham BT24-Repco heads Brab­ham team-mate Denny Hulme at Sil­ver­stone in 1967. Be­low left: Early days in Aus­tralia with the Redex Spe­cial. Be­low cen­tre: Brab­ham’s Cooper T51-Cli­max helped rev­o­lu­tionise mo­tor rac­ing and de­liv­ered Jack his first world crown. Be­low right: Brab­ham BT2, the first Brab­ham Grand Prix car, on de­but in the 1962 Ger­man GP BT3 Cli­max.

Main: Jack ‘s rear-en­gined Cooper heads a quar­tet of ‘con­ven­tional’ front-en­gined cars - Tony Brooks ‘ Fer­rari, Harry Schell’s BRM, Jean Behra’s Fer­rari and Gra­ham Hill’s Lo­tus - in the ‘59 Dutch Grand Prix. Bot­tom left: Muted vic­tory cel­e­bra­tion at the 1960 Bel­gium Grand Prix af­ter Alan Stacey and Chris Bris­tow were killed in the race in sep­a­rate crashes. Be­low: Clas­sic shot of Brab­ham in text book four-wheel-drift at Sil­ver­stone in 1960.

Left: The Brab­ham team was a front run­ner in F1 al­most im­me­di­ately. Jim Clark ‘s Lo­tus 25 and the Brab­ham BT7s of Jack and Dan Gur­ney lead off the front row of the grid. Right: Brab­ham wres­tles the BT 19-Repco in the ‘66 Ger­man GP Be­low: Brab­ham leads Jackie Ste­wart and Rindt at Spa in 1970. Be­low right: Brab­ham was 44 in his fi­nal F1 sea­son but the ad­vanc­ing years had done lit­tle to slow his pace.

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