AO, OBE (born 2 April 1926) is an Australian former racing driver who was Formula One champion in 1959, 1960 and 1966. He was a founder of the Brabham racing team and race car constructor that bore his name.
Brabham was a Royal Australian Air Force flight mechanic and ran a small engineering workshop before he started racing midget cars in 1948. His successes in midgets and Australian and New Zealand road racing events led to him going to the United Kingdom to further his racing career. There he became part of the Cooper Car Company's racing team, building as well as racing cars. He contributed to the design of the mid-engined cars that Cooper introduced to Formula One and the Indianapolis 500, and won the Formula One world championship in 1959 and 1960. In 1962 he established his own Brabham marque with fellow Australian Ron Tauranac, which became the largest manufacturer of customer racing cars in the world in the 1960s. In 1966 Brabham became the only man to win the Formula One world championship driving one of his own cars.
Brabham retired to Australia after the 1970 Formula One season, where he bought a farm and maintained various business interests, which included the Engine Developments racing engine manufacturer and several garages. He is the oldest surviving Formula One world champion.
Brabham's early career continued the engineering theme. At the age of 15 he left school to work, combining a job at a local garage with an evening course in mechanical engineering. Brabham soon branched out into his own business selling motorbikes, which he bought and repaired for sale, using his parents' back veranda as his workshop.
One month after his 18th birthday on 19 May 1944 Brabham enlisted into the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Although keen on becoming a pilot, there was already a surplus of trained aircrew and the Air Force instead put his mechanical skills to use as a flight mechanic, of which there was a wartime shortage. He was based at RAAF Williamtown where he worked on maintaining Bristol Beaufighters at No 5 Operational Training Unit (5OTU). On his 20th birthday, 2 April 1946, Brabham was discharged from the RAAF at the rank of Leading Aircraftman (LAC). He then started a small service, repair and machining business in a workshop built by his uncle on a plot of land behind his grandfather's house.
Brabham started racing after an American friend, Johnny Schonberg, persuaded him to watch a midget car race. Midget racing was a category for small open-wheel cars racing on dirt ovals. It was popular in Australia, attracting crowds of up to 40,000. Brabham records that he was not taken with the idea of driving, being convinced that the drivers "were all lunatics" but he agreed to build a car with Schonberg.
At first Schonberg drove the homemade device, powered by a modified JAP motorcycle engine built by Brabham in his workshop. In 1948, Schonberg's wife persuaded him to stop racing and on his suggestion Brabham took over. He almost immediately found that he had a knack for the sport, winning on his third night's racing. Brabham has since said that it was "terrific driver training. You had to have quick reflexes: in effect you lived—or possibly died—on them." Due to the time required to prepare the car, the sport also became his living. Brabham won the 1948 Australian Speedway Championship, the 1949 Australian and South Australian Speedcar championships, and the 1950–1951 Australian championship with the car.
After successfully running the midget at some hillclimbing events in 1951, Brabham became interested in road racing. He bought and modified a series of racing cars from the Cooper Car Company, a prolific British constructor, and from 1953 concentrated on this form of racing, in which drivers compete on closed tarmac circuits. He was supported by his father and by the Redex fuel additive company, although his commercially-aware approach—including the title RedeX Special painted on the side of his Cooper-Bristol—did not go down well with the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS), which banned the advertisement. Brabham competed in Australia and New Zealand until early 1955, taking "a long succession of victories", including the 1953 Queensland Road Racing championship. During this time, he picked up the nickname "Black Jack", which motorsport author Phil Drackett suggests may have been due to his black hair, stubble and dark complexion or to his "ruthless" approach on the track. After the 1955 New Zealand Grand Prix, Brabham was persuaded by Dean Delamont, competitions manager of the Royal Automobile Club in the United Kingdom, to try a season of racing in Europe, then the international centre of road racing.
On arriving in Europe in early 1955, Brabham based himself in the UK, where he raced his own Cooper-Alta, bought from Peter Whitehead, in national events. His driving style initally betrayed his dirt track origins: as he put it, he took corners "by using full [steering] lock and lots of throttle", an approach that pleased spectators. As motorsport author Mike Lawrence describes it, Brabham soon "seemed to merge into Cooper Cars, turning up and turning his hand to anything and doing it all well." Brabham recollects that he started working at Cooper on a daily basis from the mid point of the 1955 season, although he was not paid. He built a Cooper Bobtail mid-engined sportscar at the factory, fitted with a Bristol engine and intended for Formula One, the top category of single seater racing. Brabham made his Grand Prix debut at the age of 29 driving the car at the 1955 British Grand Prix. It was underpowered, having an engine capacity half a litre less than the 2.5-litre maximum, and ran slowly with a broken clutch before retiring.
Later in the year Brabham, again driving the Bobtail, tussled with Stirling Moss in a 2.5-litre Maserati 250F for third place in a non-championship Formula One race at Snetterton. Although Moss finished ahead, Brabham sees the race as a turning point, proving that he could compete at this level. As a result he returned to the UK the following year, having used the Bobtail to win the 1955 Australian Grand Prix at Port Wakefield.
Using the proceeds from the sale of the Bobtail, Brabham bought his own Maserati 250F from BRM in 1956. The 250F was a popular and competitive model, but Brabham campaigned it only briefly and unsuccessfully before abandoning it. Brabham's 1956 season was saved by drives for Cooper in sports cars and Formula Two, the junior category to Formula One, where the mid-engined cars had been having increasing success. Having the engine behind the driver has the advantage that the weight is concentrated on the powered rear wheels for more traction. In 1957, he drove the first mid-engined Cooper-Climax at the Monaco Grand Prix. He was running third before a component broke. Brabham pushed the car to the line to finish sixth, just outside the points. The following year, Brabham was Autocar Formula Two champion in a Cooper, while continuing to score minor pointscoring positions with the small-engined Coopers in the World Drivers Championship and driving for Aston Martin in Sportscars.
In 1959, Brabham won the World Championship with a Coventry Climax engined Cooper. He started the season strongly, with his first F1 World Championship race victory in the season-opening Monaco Grand Prix. A second win in the British Grand Prix at Aintree gave him a 13-point championship lead with four races to go, although Brabham was fortunate to escape without serious injury from a major accident in the Portuguese Grand Prix at Monsanto Park. He was chasing race leader Stirling Moss when a backmarker, Nicha Cabral, moved over on him and launched the Cooper into the air. Brabham was thrown from the car after hitting a telegraph pole, saving him from plunging into a ravine, and landed on the track while his Cooper was destroyed. Brabham clinched the championship in the final race of the season, the United States Grand Prix at Sebring. He famously pushed his car over the line after running out of fuel while leading on the last lap, although his fourth-place finish didn't count towards his championship-winning tally because a driver only counted their best five results under that year's regulations. His winning margin over Ferrari's Tony Brooks was four points.
Despite their lead in putting the engine behind the driver, the Coopers and their Chief Designer Owen Maddock were resistant to developing their cars. Brabham pushed for further advances, and played a significant role in developing Cooper's highly successful 1960 T53 'lowline' car. Brabham won the championship again in 1960 driving the T53.
Brabham took the Championship-winning Cooper to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a test following the 1960 season, then entered the famous 500-mile race in a modified version of the Formula One car in 1961. The "funny" little car from Europe was mocked by the Americans with their front-engined roadsters, but Brabham ran as high as third before finishing ninth. To this day, Brabham is certain that he would have won had Dunlop supplied harder-wearing tyres better-suited to the track after having to make far more pit-stops than his rivals. The Indianapolis establishment gradually realized the writing was on the wall as Brabham and his team principal John Cooper had shown that the days of front-engined roadsters were numbered. Ironically, Cooper was not as competitive this year, as the 1.5 litre engine rules were introduced and the famous Shark Nose Ferrari dominated.
Despite his success with Cooper, Brabham was sure he could do better, and in late 1959 he asked his friend Ron Tauranac to come to the UK and work with him, initially producing upgrade kits for Sunbeam Rapier and Triumph Herald road cars at his car dealership, Jack Brabham Motors, but with the long-term aim of designing racing cars.
To meet that aim, Brabham and Tauranac set up Motor Racing Developments Ltd. (MRD), which initially produced customer racing cars, while Brabham himself continued to race for Cooper. By the 1961 Formula One season, the Lotus and Ferrari teams had developed the mid-engined approach further than Cooper, where Brabham had a poor season, scoring only four points. Having run his own private Coopers in non-championship events during 1961, Brabham left the company in 1962 to drive for his own team: the Brabham Racing Organisation, using cars built by Motor Racing Developments. A newly introduced engine limit in Formula One of 1500 cc did not suit Brabham and he did not win a single race with a 1500 cc car. His team suffered poor reliability during this period and motorsport authors Mike Lawrence and David Hodges have said that Brabham's reluctance to spend money may have cost the team results, a view echoed by Tauranac. During the 1965 season, Brabham started to consider retirement in order to manage his team. Gurney took the lead driver role, and the team's first world championship win, while Brabham gave up his car to several other drivers towards the end of the season. At the end of the season, Gurney announced his intention to leave and set up his own team and Brabham decided to carry on.
In 1966, a new 3-litre formula was created for Formula One. The new engines under development by other suppliers all had at least 12 cylinders and proved difficult to develop, being heavy and initially unreliable. Brabham took a different approach to the problem of obtaining a suitable engine: he persuaded Australian engineering company Repco to develop a new 3-litre eight cylinder engine for him. Repco had no experience in designing complete engines. Brabham had identified a supply of suitable engine blocks obtained from Oldsmobile's aluminium alloy 215 engine and persuaded the company that an engine could be designed around the block, largely using existing components. Brabham and Repco were aware that the engine would not compete in terms of outright power, but felt that a lightweight, reliable engine could achieve good championship results while other teams were still making their new designs reliable.
The combination of the Repco engine and the Brabham BT19 chassis designed by Tauranac worked. At the French Grand Prix at Reims-Gueux, Jack Brabham took his first Formula One world championship win since 1960 and became the first man to win such a race in a car of his own construction. Only his two former team mates, Bruce McLaren and Dan Gurney, have since matched this achievement. It was the first in a run of four straight wins for the Australian veteran. The 40-year-old Brabham was annoyed by press stories about his age and, in a highly uncharacteristic stunt, at the Dutch Grand Prix he hobbled to his car on the starting grid before the race wearing a long false beard and leaning on a cane before going on to win the race. Brabham confirmed his third championship at the Italian Grand Prix and became the only driver to win the Formula One World Championship in a car that carried his own name.
Honda in Formula Two. After a generally unsuccessful season in 1965, Honda revised their 1-litre engine completely. Brabham won ten of the year's 16 European Formula Two races in his Brabham-Honda. There was no European Formula Two championship that year, but Brabham won the Trophées de France, a championship consisting of six of the French Formula Two races.
In 1967, the Formula One title went to Brabham's teammate Denny Hulme. Hulme had better reliability through the year, possibly due to Jack Brabham's desire to try new parts first.
Brabham raced alongside his team mate Jochen Rindt during the 1968 season. Partway through the 1969 season, Brabham suffered serious injuries to his foot in a testing accident. He returned to racing before the end of the year, but promised his wife that he would retire after the season finished and sold his share of the team to Tauranac.
Finding no top drivers available despite coming close to bringing Rindt back to the team, Brabham decided to race for one more year. He began auspiciously, winning the first race of season, the South African Grand Prix, and then led the third race, the Monaco Grand Prix until the very last turn of the last lap. Brabham was about to hold off the onrushing Rindt (the eventual 1970 F1 champion) when his front wheels locked in a skid on the sharp right turn only yards from the finish and he ended up second. While leading at the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, he ran out of fuel at Clearways and Rindt passed him to take the win while Brabham coasted to the finish in second place. After the 13th and final race of the season, the Mexican Grand Prix, Brabham did retire. He had tied Jackie Stewart for fifth in the points standings in the season he drove at the age of 44. Brabham then made a complete break from racing and returned to Australia.
In 1976 Brabham competed at Bathurst in a Holden Torana with Stirling Moss. Although the car was crash-damaged on the starting grid, it was repaired, and survives still as a museum piece to this day.
In 1995 Sir Jack competed again in the James Hardie Sydney 12 hrs endurance race with Ross Palmer & G.Crick co-driving the No.15 Honda NSX car and recorded a highly respectable 5th place position which he recorded in pictures on his official website.
In 1998, Sir Jack Brabham returned to Europe and the old Nürburgring to race a VW New Beetle 1.8T in the 6 Hours VLN with Ross Palmer and Melinda Price, scoring the fastest lap among the three drivers with over 134 km/h in average. Brabham said he returned to the "Ring" for the first time since 1970, and was surprised about the changes in safety – and the sunshine.
He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990.
Brabham was honoured, along with featured marque Cooper, at the 2006 Monterey Historic Automobile Races.
In January 2008, Brabham was named an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) on Australia Day for services to motor sport. In June 2008, the Brisbane-based racing yacht 'Black Jack' was named in honour of Brabham, who attended the launch.
The couple divorced in 1994. Brabham married his second wife, Margaret in 1995 and they live on the Gold Coast, not far from where Geoff and Gary have made homes in retirement from their careers.
Brabham and Ron Tauranac founded Motor Racing Developments in 1960. The company built the cars the Brabham Racing Organisation used in the Formula One world championship, and was also the biggest manufacturer of customer racing cars in the world for a period in the late 1960s. Although references to Brabham "building his own cars" are exaggerated (the cars were designed by Tauranac and built by a small team of people), Brabham did machine components and build up chassis. He also contributed ideas to the design process and acted as a very highly rated test driver. Brabham himself was often on hand to help customers with the set up of their cars. The company pulled out of the customer car business soon after Tauranac left in 1972. The Brabham Formula One team won further world championships in 1981 and 1983 under the ownership of Bernie Ecclestone before going bankrupt in 1992 while owned by the Japanese Middlebridge group.
In 1970, Brabham set up Engine Developments Ltd. with John Judd; Brabham had employed Judd in 1966 to work at Repco on the V8 engine project. Engine Developments became a respected engine design company. A range of Judd racing engines are used in sportscars today, and Judd engines were used in Formula One and Indycar (branded as 'Brabham-Honda') in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Brabham played a small role as a consultant to the Simtek Formula One team for which his son David drove in 1994.
Sir John Arthur Brabham (Hurtsville, 2 aprile 1926) è un ex pilota di Formula 1 australiano, tre volte Campione del Mondo di Formula 1 nel 1959, 1960 e 1966 vincendo un totale di 14 Gran Premi. La vittoria del 1966 è avvenuta della guida della vettura col suo stesso nome costruita dalla Brabham Racing Organisation, che poi diventerà una delle principali scuderie di Formula 1.
Jack Brabham, o "Black Jack" fa una fugace apparizione al Gran Premio di Gran Bretagna 1955 alla guida di una Cooper, come pilota privato. Si qualifica ultimo e si ritira al 31º giro per la rottura del motore. Lo si rivede un anno dopo, sempre in Gran Bretagna e sempre con il motore ko, ma stavolta è fuori già al 4º passaggio. Nel 1957 partecipa con più frequenza alle gare di Formula 1.A Monaco conquista la sesta piazza, che all'epoca non veniva inclusa nel punteggio: solo i primi cinque andavano a punti. Per gran parte della stagione non riesce a finire le gare e termina il campionato a zero punti. Finalmente, nel 1958, Brabham ottiene il quarto posto a Monaco. Poi più niente.
In Italia poi arriverà un podio che sancirà la conquista del titolo, nonostante il recupero di Tony Brooks. Il 1960, anno del suo secondo titolo, è invece molto più facile. Con una serie di cinque vittorie consecutive Brabham fa via via affievolire le speranze di Bruce McLaren che si ritrova alla fine secondo, staccato di nove punti.
Dopo il secondo titolo Brabham cade in un lunghissimo periodo di crisi, che termina solo nel 1966. Il 1961 è un anno avaro di soddisfazioni. Nel 1962 l'australiano fonda un team che porta il suo nome, ma i risultati sono scarsini: con le "sue" macchine "Black Jack" non va oltre un quarto posto.
Nel 1963 ci sono lievi miglioramenti, col secondo posto in Messico, e così nella stagione successiva (due terzi posti). Poi nel 1965 fa un passo indietro, e conquista solo un terzo posto. Invece il suo compagno di squadra, l'americano Dan Gurney naviga sempre in posizioni alte, con ben sei risultati utili consecutivi.