Formula 1 Legend Sir Jack Brabham Passes Away at the Age of 88

Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2014

Jack Brabham, driver of the #1 Brabham Repco BT20 at the Daily Mail Race of Champions on 12 March 1967 at the Brands Hatch circuit in Fawkham, Great Britain. (Photo by Getty Images)
Getty Images/Getty Images

Formula One legend Sir Jack Brabham passed away at his home on Australia's Gold Coast on Monday morning. He was 88.

The sad news was confirmed in a statement on the family website. His son David said on behalf of the family:

It’s a very sad day for all of us. My father passed away peacefully at home at the age of 88 this morning. He lived an incredible life, achieving more than anyone would ever dream of and he will continue to live on through the astounding legacy he leaves behind.

Brabham won the Formula One World Championship on three occasions, including once in a car bearing his own name. He remains the only man in the sport's history to have achieved this feat.

Born John Arthur Brabham in 1926, he showed an aptitude for all things mechanical from a young age. After attending a local technical college, working in a garage and repairing motorcycles, Brabham joined the Australian Air Force in 1944 and saw the end of the Second World War.

He served as a flight mechanic for two years and was discharged in 1946.

Brabham's first taste of racing came in 1948, and he won the Australian Speedcar Championship for the first time that very year. In 1955, he moved to Europe to further his racing career and became involved with Cooper Cars.

His F1 debut came in the same year as the British Grand Prix, which was held at Aintree. He qualified his Cooper in last place and retired before half distance. In 1956, he entered the race under his own name in a Maserati 250F, again retiring.

The rear-engined revolution in F1 was coming, and Brabham and Cooper were leading the charge. The company plugged away through the mid- to late-1950s, perfecting their design, which finally came good in 1959.

Brabham and the Cooper team won their first race at the 1959 Monaco Grand Prix. With another win in Britain, along with three other podiums, Brabham became the first Australian to win the world championship.

Brabham pushes his car home.
Brabham pushes his car home.Associated Press/Associated Press

It was clinched at the final race of the year, the United States Grand Prix. This was the race in which Brabham famously pushed his out-of-fuel car around 300 metres to the finish line to claim fourth place. He had been leading until the final corner, but was passed by Bruce McLaren, Maurice Trintignant and Tony Brooks.

The long push exhausted Brabham, who collapsed to the ground after crossing the line five minutes behind the winners. He later said of the incident, per ESPN, "I just wanted to finish. . .but there was the matter of the lolly as well. It was all uphill, so I pushed it but I thought it was going to beat me."

It was the second time he'd done it, having also pushed his car home for sixth at the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix, and all the more admirable because he didn't need to do ithe knew the title was secure even if he scored no points.

A run of five successive victories the following year, in a car he helped design, secured his second world title, but 1961 proved difficult. He had long been considering driving for himself and decided now was the right time.

Along with friend Ron Tauranac, Brabham founded Motor Racing Developments to build the cars and his own team, Brabham Racing Organisation, to race them.

Anonymous/Associated Press

Dan Gurney scored the team's first win in 1964, and two years later came the season that made Brabham a legend.

Driving alongside Kiwi Denny Hulme, Black Jack reeled off four victories in a row on his way to a third world championship at the age of 40. That alone was a monumental featthat he did it in his own car makes it all the more remarkable.

The 1967 season saw Hulme become the first New Zealander to win the world title, with runner-up Brabham close behind. The team recorded its second successive constructors' championship.

Despite his advancing years, Brabham raced on into 1968, but it was a disappointing year. 1969 was a little better, but the Australian decided he'd had enough and was set to retire at the end of the season.

The driver market had other ideas.

Lacking a suitable alternative to race alongside Rolf Stommelen in 1970, Brabham put himself in the car and won the opening race of the year. Three further podiums proved that, at the age of 44, he still had what it took to succeed, but he stuck to his guns and the 1970 Mexican Grand Prix was his last.

Brabham retired to the Australian countryside to raise his children Geoff, Gary and David.

All three went on to have some success in motorsport, with two of them winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Brabham in 2006.
Brabham in 2006.HANS PUNZ/Associated Press

McLaren boss Ron Dennis, who worked first alongside and then for Brabham in his early years, released a statement early on Monday through the McLaren website. It read:

The word 'legend' is often used to describe successful sportsmen, but often it exaggerates their status. In the case of Sir Jack Brabham, however, it's entirely justified.

A three-time Formula 1 world champion, he remains the only driver to win a Formula 1 world championship driving a car bearing his own namea unique achievement that will surely never be matched.

When I started out in Formula 1 in the late 1960s, I worked first for Cooper and then for Brabham. Even as a callow youth, I could recognise greatness when I saw it, and I'll always regard it as an honour and a privilege to have worked for Sir Jack.

Brabham was a true all-time great who excelled at everything he did, and his achievements will never be forgotten.