Tauranac on Brabham
Brabham has said it was a mistake to call it quits at the end of 1970, and that he could have gone on another four or so years. Tauranac reckons Jack might well have lasted that long, because of the different type of driver that he was
RT: Who knows? He was still quite good then. The thing about Jack was that while the other drivers used to drive as fast as they could all the time, Jack looked after the car and wasn’t ever running at that limit. He doesn’t get the same respect that other drivers did. So with his way of driving, I think he could have driven a lot longer, and he probably had a different lifestyle that would have helped. He was never a drinker, but all the others were. They had a completely different lifestyle to what Jack did. Jack was a bit like me, he worked all the time. You saw a lot of drivers during that era, a lot of the all-time greats. How would you rate Brabham against people like Clark and Stewart? Well, it is hard to give a judgement in terms of outright speed because Jack looked after the car, but the other people knew nothing about that – they just drove flat out. Jack only went as fast as necessary to beat the person, and if he couldn’t beat the bloke ahead of him he didn’t push him to the point where that chap might have blown his engine or something. He just conserved the car because it was going to cost to fix it, and he knew all about mechanics – he was a very good mechanic. So he was able to be very sympathetic. When we ran other drivers, like Rindt, and if we’d had a maximum rev limit of say 7,500 or something, he would go up to that in every gear, every time. But Jack didn’t. He just drove it up to what he knew mechanically was good for the engine. At some circuits, because of gearing, the car would be over revving coming down the straight, but instead of letting it over-rev, Jack would just back off. He would sometimes avoid a gear change or two occasionally by backing off if there was a corner coming. If he had just driven flat out like everyone else he would have got a lot more acclaim than he did.
F1R: Do you think this is why he often isn’t rated highly when people talk about the greatest drivers of that period?
RT: They go by the race results; they don’t realise that some people aren’t going that hard, that they want to look after their car. We had to do that to survive. And that was because of, again, Jack’s mechanical knowledge, and knowing what could be done to the engine. From a driver input point of view, also, he was very good – he was the best. He was very good at being able to tell you what the car was doing and what adjustments might be needed; in that aspect he was excellent.
F1R: In the final year he quite possibly could have won the World Championship, he says that he was still driving as well as ever. Do you think that was the case?
RT: For sure. I mean, he lost the race in Mexico because you can cut the corner by going over a grass field, and he did that and something happened – I don’t remember what – but that cost him the race.
F1R: He went off in the last corner at Monaco and then he ran out of fuel at Brands Hatch – while leading both races. That was two other races he could have won.
RT: Yes, the last corner at Monaco. He had a 15-second lead I think early on, but he was again conserving the car, and then on the last lap he was still nicely ahead. There were some slow cars going down the proper race path on the last straight, just back side of the pits. And so he took the inside line. If he had just followed the others he would have been right. He took the inside line and there was dirt and everything thrown over there, and the grip wasn’t there, so he couldn’t brake enough and ran wide at the end of the corner. He still had time to put it in reverse and back out and win, but the marshals at the time wanted to push him off, and that would have disqualified him. Not knowing their language, he had to force them to leave him alone. He lost a fair bit of time, and then he drove back off and in the meantime he got second.
F1R: Can you remember talking to him about how he felt after that race?
RT: We never talked about those things. We just didn’t know, we talked about work and things like that, but as far as just having chats about it all, how he felt after a race or whatever, it was ever my thing. I’ve never been a talker, I suppose.
“So it became very public,” Tauranac says. “Charlie Cooper then got to know about it, and that Jack was involved, and he decided that Jack was stealing their ideas. So Jack lost his drive for that year.
“But Charlie Cooper lived in the past; he didn’t like spending money on anything. So at Cooper there was no innovation, nothing, except what Jack put in. Jack had decided before I left here that he was going into the business of making cars, and I think he anticipated racing for Cooper for a bit longer, to give me a chance to get the business
up and running and do the Formula 1 car. It didn’t happen that way.”
Instead, Brabham was forced to go into the 1962 season with a customer Lotus 24 until Tauranac’s first F1 design was ready. It was a difficult time: the F1 car had to wait while Tauranac filled half a dozen orders for Formula Junior cars – because income from this was what funded the racing.
“I worked normally running the factory; the customer cars were built during the day and then at night I would go and work with three or four race mechanics doing the Formula One car. Then Jack would come down occasionally and help. I went home for my dinner one night and when I came back he had done something different with mounting parts on the back, so when I came back I said ’oh, I was going to do it like this’. So after that he didn’t do any more original work!”
When the pair formed the company to build the first MRD/Brabham cars, Jack put up £2,000 capital. Says Ron: “It was going to be a 50/50 deal between the two of us, but because he put up the £2,000 he suggested it become 60/40. He was the 60 percent obviously, and so that is what happened for a number of years.”
Clearly there were some financial tensions between the two Australians. While it would perhaps be a stretch to say it was an uneasy partnership, it was certainly an unusual one. For instance, after that first season, 1962, Brabham had the idea that it would be best for Tauranac to stay at the factory and look after the production side of things rather than accompany Jack at grands prix. So from 1963 through to the end of ’65, Tauranac was never there at the track to help fine-tune Brabham’s cars. It was an odd arrangement to say the least, with the operation basically being split into two autonomous parts: the travelling race team and the factory that made the cars. It was not the way Tauranac wanted to run things.
“It was at the end of the first year of Formula One,” Tauranac recalls, “and Jack had his own team of mechanics to do the Tasman series. I couldn’t go with them because it was Christmas and that was when we had a big period of making cars. During the Tasman Jack had these mechanics, and then he got a separate workshop that he hired, and so they moved out of the joint business, and then he suggested that he uses Tasman series mechanics all the year to maintain the Formula 1 car. I wasn’t going to races, so I had little input into any development of the car from there.
“This went on like this until ‘65, and I told Jack I didn’t want to be involved in Formula 1 anymore because there is nothing I can do. I needed to go to the races to see how we had to do adjustments and so forth, so I could build that into the next year’s car. Myself not going to the races probably had an influence on his lack of progress in the Formula One car over that period.
“He could have with hindsight done it a better way, so that I had some involvement. We could have put his Tasman mechanics on a joint business and paid them from there and just run it as a normal team again. Anyway, I didn’t bother arguing about it, I never argued with him. I did my thing. Right throughout life I’ve always just done my own thing.
“So I told Jack I didn’t want to do Formula One
anymore, I wasn’t going to build any more cars, and I would just do the production car business, which I was running anyway. I think he thought about it for a while – I think he might have had a look round for another drive somewhere, but I don’t know – and he came back eventually and said ‘right, let’s change the business again and make it back to 50/50, and I’ll double your wage or triple it’. So that is how it started off in 1966. I had a lot of input into the cars at the track from then on.” What the Brabham team went on to achieve in 1966-67 remains unprecedented. Two world drivers’ championship and two constructors’ championships; the one and only time a driver has been crowned world champion in a car bearing his own name, using an engine that was a Jack Brabham idea turned into reality by fellow Aussie Phil Irving and developed into a world beater by an Australian automotive parts manufacturer in Melbourne.
What made it even more laudable was that the BT19 chassis had not been designed to take the Repco-Brabham V8 engine – it was intended to be powered by Coventry Climax’s new flat 16. Instead, the Repco engine design had to be compromised to fit the BT19.
“The engine was being drawn by Phil Irving in the outskirts of London,” Tauranac explains, “and Jack and I would go in there after normal work, at night, to influence what was going to be in the design. To fit that engine in, we would have had to redesign the back of the chassis because there was no room to fit twin-cam cylinder heads. So that’s why it has got a single cam. It worked out alright anyway.”
The end of the Brabham-Tauranac partnership was by then already nigh, however, because Jack’s first wife Betty was pushing hard for him to retire and settle back in Australia – so that their three sons might enjoy a conventional upbringing and not be lured into following in the wheel tracks of their father (history would prove this plan to be spectacularly wrong).
Tauranac bought out Jack’s share of the company at the end of 1969, but Jack stayed on for one more season due to the unexpected departure (to Lotus) of Jochen Rindt. Tauranac was now an F1 team owner.
But times were changing. The burgeoning era of sponsor signage on cars was opening up new and vast revenue streams to teams, for those who knew how to do the deals. The old days of surviving on free fuel, tyre and spark plug deals, prizemoney, and profits from the sale of customer cars, were over. In any case, the corporate side had always been Jack’s domain, not Ron’s.
As an F1 team owner Tauranac went just one year without Jack. At the end of 1971 he sold the Brabham team to one Bernard Ecclestone.
Tauranac and Brabham didn’t always get along but they were first and foremost a team – and a highly effective one at that. For Ron, things weren’t quite the same once Jack had returned to Australia. “What used to happen was that we would work through the day, and then Jack and I would go and have our evening meal together, and then the two of us would go back and work till about 10 o’clock.
“What happened after I acquired Jack’s share of the business was that in the evenings at work, I would be alone. There was no company at all; that’s what I missed.”
Above: Brabham on the way to second place in the 1967 German GP. Left: Brabham and Tauranac pose for the cameras.
Above: Tauranac chats with Brabham at the Nurburgring in 1967. The man on Jack’s left looks suspiciously like the Brabham’s young mechanic, Ron Dennis...