To many he will be remembered as a triple world champion of supreme talent, but more than that, Sir Jack was a pioneer, a sharp-witted Aussie and a real hard bastard of a racer. His tactics when driving, particularly when defending his position, hardly enamoured him to the many that dubbed him ‘Black Jack’; he wouldn’t think twice about showering his pursuers with dirt and stones from the track’s perimeter, but his talent and engineering prowess earned him masses of respect from all that knew him.
After making a name for himself in Australian dirt track racing, Jack came to Europe alone – without even his wife or eldest son Geoff – and forged a strong relationship with the British Cooper team and their revolutionary mid-engined cars.
Brabham and Cooper’s first world title came in 1959 amidst scenes of extraordinary endeavour and strength in Sebring: having taking the lead on lap 5, Brabham, having also seemingly seen off the championship challenge of Tony Brooks and his Ferrari, ran out of fuel within sight of the finish line!
Bruce McLaren, the New Zealander who would come to find inspiration in Brabham’s later achievements, took an inherited victory from Frenchman Maurice Trintignant and Brooks in third.
Brabham, showing no signs of fatigue after racing hard for all of 400 yards of the Grand Prix, pushed his Cooper to cross the line fourth and claim his first world championship.
The following season Jack reinforced his status as a true great by claiming a second world championship for Cooper.
In 1962 Brabham began another chapter of his Formula One career by establishing his own team. The Brabham team performed well with Jack at the wheel but following 1965 Brabham planned to retire from racing and focus on running the team alongside engineering partner Ron Tauranac. Star driver Dan Gurney threw a spanner in the works however, by taking the decision to emulate his team boss and start his own team, All American Racers.
So for 1966 ‘Black Jack’ was back behind the wheel for a season which saw him claim a memorable and unique third world title, the first and so far only title for a driver driving a car of his own construction – his name was above the door as well as on the car. It was a feat that even Dan Gurney and Bruce McLaren, students of Brabham, would fail to emulate.
Brabham eventually hung up his helmet following the 1970 season but the team bearing his name – having delivered another championship for Denny Hulme in 1967 – would become a powerhouse of Grand Prix racing, delivering two more titles for Nelson Piquet in the early ’80s under the reign of new owner Bernie Ecclestone.
The Brabham team eventually dwindled and disappeared in mid-1992 but the innovations brought to life by Jack and his team went on to revolutionise Formula One and play a huge part in changing the philosophy of car design, particularly at the famous Indy 500. The man himself continued to race for enjoyment more than competition into his 80s at events such as those held at Goodwood.
Sir Jack was a pioneer, a real character who helped shape the future of Formula One, and his views on modern racing, as well as his typical sharp Aussie wit will be sorely missed.