The last major interview with Sir Jack not long before he passed away.
Sir Jack Brabham - In His Own Words (from peterwindsor.com)
And so the greatest of all driver/constructors has passed on: Sir Jack Brabham not only won two successive World Championships as a professional racing driver (1959/60, with Cooper) but also the 1966 World Championship as a driver/constructor. I doubt we shall see his like again. A self-starter, a racer who enjoyed tinkering with damper rebound as much as he enjoyed flying his own aircraft and racing anything on wheels (from F1 cars to sports cars to touring cars to Indy cars), Sir Jack at heart was just a straightforward Aussie who loved motor racing first and the glamour and the publicity just about last. I count myself lucky to have seen him race on several occasions, most notably at Warwick Farm in 1963, when I was 10. It was sweltering, Jack started from the back of the grid – but through the field he drove in that turquoise new Brabham-Climax of his. I was a fan for life. Many will be the words written about Sir Jack but no-one is better-placed to comment than Dan Gurney, the winner of the first race for Brabham (1964 French GP). This is what he said earlier today:
“It is with great sadness that I received the news that my former Formula boss and team mate, the three-time F 1 World Champion, Sir Jack Brabham, passed away in Australia over the weekend. A motor racing giant has left our planet whose combined achievements of F 1 World Championship driver and car constructor in all likelihood will never be equaled. Dark-haired “Black Jack” was a fierce competitor, an outstanding engineer, a tiger of a driver, an excellent politician and a hands-on creator and visionary; he opened the rear-engine door at Indianapolis and raced there. He was a doer, a true Aussie pioneer!
“Jack and I go far back in history together. We raced against each other on the F 1 circuit from 1959, driving Coopers, Ferraris, BRMs and Porsches. In 1963 he hired me as his team-mate for his newly-established Brabham F I team and during the next three years we really got to know each other. We discovered we shared similar traits. We were not only interested in driving racing cars but in building them, improving them, searching for every tiny bit of technical advantage we could find. I see both of us sitting in garages all over the world bent over engines, talking to each other and to our team: Ron Tauraunac, Phil Kerr, Roy Billington, Tim Wall, Nick Gooze and Denis Hulme.
“Since we retired from driving, both in the fall of 1970, we have stayed in touch. I last spoke to Jack a few months ago on the phone. We were looking forward to the golden anniversary of the first World Championship F 1 victory for the Brabham marque: The French Grand Prix at Rouen, June 28, 1964, which I won for the team 50 years ago this summer.
“In 1966 we both went our separate ways. I followed the trail he had blazed by trying to build, race and win with my own F I cars. I have been told that only three men in the history of motor racing have managed to do that. Bruce McLaren and I won races but Sir Jack Brabham won World Championships. He will be forever in a class by himself.
“I will miss you Jack! You showed the way!”
Alan Brinton was an excellent British journalist with whom Jack always had a great rapport. Alan ghosted Jack’s regular column in Motor Racing magazine – and often interviewed him at a time when “interviews” were not really fashionable. When I first came to England, in 1972, I complimented Alan on his work and very kindly he gave me a bundle of tapes he had made over the years. Amongst them was a conversation he had had with Sir Jack just prior to his last Grand Prix, in Mexico, 1970. You can listen to it now (below). And by means of a postscript to this interview, I once had a long chat with Jack in his office near Chessington, during which he took up the story of what happened after his retirement: “Well, I retired, just like the family wanted,” he said in that way of his, “and then blow me if a year later the kids all wanted to come back to England to go motor racing! By then it was too late. Ron had sold the team” (for £750,000!) “and nothing was the same.” I always felt that the sport missed a huge opportunity when Jack wasn’t welcomed more into the post-1971 world of F1. He should have been at the front end of the Brabham team – the team he created – for at least the next couple of decades. And he would have been a brilliant ambassador for the sport, too. Jack took his disappointments well, however – as is clear in the interview here. He was a man of cast-iron strength.
Besides, his achievements will forever tell the story. For those that really know F1, and love F1 – like Dan Gurney – Jack was, and will always remain, a titan
7. Nelson Piquet
He once said he wasn’t there to make friends, “I don’t give a shit” was his opinion on that, and on anything that wasn’t winning. Ruthless, quick, total asshole on the track (and many times off it), but also a massive joker. Three times world champion, zero times chump.
Nelson Piquet, the winner of the 1985 French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, was visibly exhausted by the efforts of racing in the sweltering heat of early July. During the podium ceremony he reached out to steady himself on the shoulder of third place finisher Alain Prost.
Alain prost lead Nelson Piquet, seen here at Monaco, by two points before the final grand prix in 1983 at Kyalami and started the weekend well by out qualifying his opponents, Prost as well as third placed man Rene Arnoux for Ferrari (a further six points adrift), who were fifth and fourth whilst Piquet was on the front row.
The pressure was off, however, as first Arnoux and then later Prost both had their cars fail on them with Piquet’s third place more than enough to clinch the title.
To celebrate 1000 posts, I’m going to do a “Top Ten Favourite Drivers” list. I would just like to point out this is “favourite” not “best”, because we all know who the best drivers are. In no particular order. Here goes, in no particular order:
Francois Cevert. The handsome Parisian with eyes you could fall into was talented and earmarked to be successor to triple world champ Sir Jackie Stewart but unfortunately lost his life at Watkins Glen at what was to be JYS’ last Grand Prix, retiring immediately and not taking part in the race on Sunday. Hands down the most handsome man to have driven a Formula One car.
Gerhard Berger. The last man to be signed personally by Enzo Ferrari, the first and last man to take victories for Benetton Grand Prix, the original prankster of the Formula One paddock, and owner of the most stylish mullet in Formula One history. Favourite moments tied between that 1-2 at Monza in 1988 and that last victory at Hockenheim in 1997.
Felipe Massa. I give him a lot of stick recently, but the flood of emotions seeing him on the podium again brought back a lot of very fond memories. For three straight years he OWNED the Brazilian Grand Prix, and although it is my most heart wrenching Formula Moment watching him win the race but lose the title in 2008, and it is one that will stick with me for a long. He is Ferrari’s new guy, even if he isn’t the fasted. Like Michele and Clay and Jean and Gilles, he captured the passion and love for racing that is Ferrari and being beaten by three of the best drivers of the post-Senna era is nothing to be ashamed of.
Clay Regazzoni. Longtime Ferrari driver of the 70’s, Clay and his moustache always stood out for me. Team mate for Niki Lauda during the Championship years, Clay was also the first winner in a long line of great drivers for the Williams team. He would have his career ended after hitting an abadoned car at the USGP West at Long Beach 1980. Only his F1 career, that is, as he would go on to continue racing after being paralysed from the waste down. He had a custom Ferrari Daytona made for him that he could operate without the use of feet and fought for his right for a racing license and the acceptance of disable racers.
Mika Hakkinen. Spa 2000, nuff said.
Nigel Mansell. Il Leone. Our Nige. I’ve written at length about him before I think, and we all know who he is. Perhaps not quite as quick or naturally talented as Prost and Senna, he made up for it and then some. He earned his drive with Lotus, fighting tooth and nail, and again for his drive with Williams, and deservedly won a title in 1992 after many years of struggled. Should have stayed away from McLaren in 1995 though. Plus, dat moustache. Oh, and the reason why I like him? The way he drove. Oh buddy.
Jean Alesi. French-Sicilian and drove for Ferrari with his heart on his sleeve. The way he drove, the way he would lean his head into the corner, the tears when he won his sole race at Montreal, the tears after his car gave way after walking on water and leading by a country mile at Monza a year later. Was cursed to be at Ferrari during one of their worst periods since the 1980 season, but he chose the seat with his heart and not his head, turning down Williams which opened the door for Nigel Mansell. Imagining Jean Alesi winning a title for Williams feel weird, because although Williams has all that history, it just feels wrong separating Jean from Ferrari. Like Gilles and Clay before him and Felipe after, he was Ferrari.
Fangio. As far as I’m concerned, the greatest driver to have ever driven in Formula One. The Pelé or Johnny Unitas of Formula One, he wasn’t the first but oh boy is he the most well remembered. What he did at Nurburgring to clinch his final title is the stuff of legends. To come back from near death in 1952 to be the only man that didn’t drive a Ferrari to win in 1953, he then dominated three straight German Grand Prix in a row, won four straight championships (only matched by one man), and did it all while nearly twice the age of some of his closest competitors. The first great of Formula One and the finest.
Michael. When I was a little kid playing in the sand pit, five or six years old, every single car that had a 1 on its side was Michael Schumacher. He was my idol. All my friends cared about video games and football or whatever it was, all I cared about was Michael Schumacher. I hated McLaren, and Mercedes, and Williams, and DC and Mika and JV and Damo, and anything that wasn’t Michael and Ferrari. I have vivid memories of all these races, the elation of Hungary 1998, the devastating emptiness of Silverstone 1999, the amazing feeling when it all finally happened at Suzuka in 2000. All these strong memories tied to Ferrari and Michael. That final victory at Monza, oh boy, that one will stick with me a long time.
Sir Jack Brabham. Australia’s greatest ever driver, a national living treasure, the only man to win a World Championship as a driver and constructor. A true gentleman, only the second driver to win more than two titles, only the third to win more than one, and in a select club with Niki Lauda, JYS, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet of triple world champions (to be joined by Alonso soon -_O ). He is just one of the finest to have ever raced and as an Australian who is rarely ever patriotic, this is one of the proudest things I feel my country has done, creating this man and unleashing him onto motorsport, with two of his sons going on to win at Le Mans. Sir Jack, my favourite ever Formula One driver.
As always, photos courtesy of the Cahier Archive.