GOOD AS GOLD
As the F1 grid assembles at Albert Park this weekend, triple world champion Sir Jack Brabham will be watching . . . and recalling what it’s like to push yourself at the elite level, writes PAUL GOVER
JACK Brabham won his first world championship the hard way — pushing his car over the line after running out of fuel. He still remembers the day at Sebring in Florida when he took the 1959 title driving, then pushing, his rear-engined Cooper F1 to a victory which changed the direction of racing.
Sir Jack recalls how his boss, John Cooper, forgot to add one can as he topped his tank, and how his mechanics circled the car as he pushed it 500m to the finish, ensuring there was no outside assistance and no chance of disqualification.
‘‘The drama at the end of it, when I ran out of petrol, is something I will never forget,’’ Sir Jack says from his home on the Gold Coast.
‘‘I managed to get the car over the line and was informed I was in fourth place and got the championship. It was quite a surprise.’’
No bigger than the surprise of realising it is now 50 years since his championship. And that, at 82, he is now a national treasure for any Australian with an appreciation of sporting success.
‘‘It’s a long time, isn’t it? At least I’m still here to talk about it, which is the main thing,’’ Brabham says. But his health is fading. Brabham has been deaf for more than 40 years, but now he needs regular dialysis sessions and he is much frailer than the robust youngster who headed to Europe in 1955 after winning his first Australian Grand Prix.
He was already a top-notch dirttrack speedway driver with incredible car control and a gift with machinery that would see him found his own Formula One team.
Brabham still follows F1, even if his health keeps him from the races. He watches with an insider’s eye but he does not like some of what he sees.
‘‘It’s really not a sport any more, is it? It’s big business,’’ he says.
‘‘A lot of money and a lot of technology, but at least they are trying to curb the technology now. The driver assistance from the technology has been there for quite a while. In my opinion, it spoils the racing.
‘‘My era of racing was a lot different to what we’ve got today, and it was more of a sport. The drivers really enjoyed racing with one another and mixing with one another. It does not seem to happen today.’’
Brabham lost a lot of friends and rivals during his career, which lasted more than 15 years through one of the most dangerous periods in F1 history. He began as a young tearaway and jokingly hobbled to the grid for one of his last races, aged 44, with a fake beard and cane.
‘‘I lost 30 friends when I was racing. It was so dangerous. People
of Formula One still watches the races with an insider’s eye.