Drivers becoming Constructors: Jack Brabham

  • 26 May 2024
  • 2 min read
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Drivers becoming Constructors: Jack Brabham image

Enzo Ferrari, with that air of contempt that only a real constructor can afford, called them “The English garage owners”. They went by the names of Cooper and Lotus and built Formula 1 cars with parts readily available on the market, such as engines, suspension, brakes and gearboxes, creating simple and light cars that troubled the conventional manufacturers of the likes of BRM, Vanwall, Connaught, Maserati and, of course, Ferrari. At the wheel of these diminutive machines with their rear-mounted engine layouts, new drivers brimming with talent emerged. Among these was an Australian driver named Jack Brabham, who had conquered two world titles in 1959 and 1960 with Cooper. Precise, apparently emotionless, always impeccable, Brabham had a particular sensitivity towards the car’s development, a fundamental gift for drivers of the time who did not have the luxury of today’s telemetry and gigabytes of data to analyse. Not only that: in those days the prizes were modest and the engagements somewhat tenuous. So, in 1962 Brabham combined his own skills and racing titles with the talent of one of his countrymen, the designer Ron Tauranac, and decided to become a constructor. The market was booming with a great demand for British-designed Formula 3 cars after the sad and sudden demise of the Italian Stanguellini cars who followed the old beaten path of the front engine.

1-Brabham-BT3-1962-Nurburgring-German-GP Jack Brabham driving his BT3 single seater at the Nürburgring during the 1962 Formula 1 German GP

The technical route went in the direction of maximum results for minimum cost: no extensive chassis innovation which remained tubular, but a lot of work was put into the technical solutions and in the details. The result: the first wins arrived and the two Brabhams, driven by Jack and Dan Gurney conquered victories. They had to wait for the rules to be changed before they could claim their first title: the engine displacement was raised to 3,000 cc and the Australian team, to everyone's surprise, opted for a V8 engine produced at home by Repco based on an Oldsmobile. Surprise that quickly transformed into clear superiority when Brabham won the 1966 World Title, a feat repeated by the other team driver Dennis Hulme the following year.

2-Brabham-BT20-Denny-Hulme-Jack-Brabham-1966-German-GP Jack Brabham and his team mate Denny Hulme in the pit lane during the 1966 F1 season. Brabham won the title that year, Hulme in 1967

The simple rationality of Tauranac was no longer sufficient, however. Brabham was over 40 and Formula 1 needed capital and innovation. Seasons 68, 69 and 70 were disappointing and Brabham, at 44, retired after his final success at the South African GP. The spirit of the constructor driver ends there: Bernie Ecclestone's attempt to take over the team and return to glory was very tiring but he succeeded in 1981 and 1983. But no one spoke about the constructor driver any more. Jack had retired and passed away in 2014 at the age of 78.…

3-Piquet-Brabham-1981-Monaco-GP Nelson Piquet at the wheel of BT49 in 1981, the year Brabham returned to success by winning the World Championship