Brabham, who claimed the drivers’ title in 1959, ’60 and ’66 – and who remains the only man to have won a championship in a car bearing his own name – passed away peacefully at his home in Australia on Monday morning.
“It’s a very sad day for all of us,” said Brabham’s youngest son David on behalf of the family. “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 was one of the most accomplished drivers and team owners in F1 history. The first driver to be knighted for services to motorsport, ‘Black Jack’ rose from racing midgets on dirt ovals in his native Australia to dominate motorsport’s most prestigious formula.
His first two titles in a Cooper-Climax marked the end for front-engined Formula One cars, while his third made him the only driver in history to win a world championship in a car of his own manufacture, the Brabham BT19 – a feat unlikely to be repeated.
“Jack was a very special person and driver,” said Formula One group CEO (and former Brabham team owner) Bernie Ecclestone. “[He was] a tribute to the sport. There are not too many left. I will miss my good friend.”
Acclaimed as a brilliant engineer as well as a driver, technological innovations brought about by Brabham’s team helped to shape Formula One racing. Through his partnership with Ron Tauranac, over 500 Brabham race cars were built from the team’s British Surrey base in the 1960s alone, while the Brabham name continued in F1 competition for 30 years.
“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,” said McLaren group CEO Ron Dennis.
“When I started out in Formula One 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. I learned a lot from him too.”
Former F1 driver Mark Webber, a nine-time Grand Prix winner, said his countryman had been a huge inspiration and a lasting influence on his own Formula One career.
“Jack is the epitome of a champion racing driver and a true blue Aussie. He was a trailblazer; he took the hardest road and made it easier for the rest of us to follow,” Webber said.
“What he achieved taking on the best in the world and winning one of his three world titles in his own machinery is the stuff of pure legends.
“On a personal note, Jack was simply the biggest name in the Webber household. He was inspirational. My dad followed his career from when he raced in Australia and then did his best to keep track of Jack’s progress when he moved overseas to take on the best in the world. I was very fortunate that I was introduced to Jack before I left Australia and to be in his presence just blew me away. He provided me with endless support and advice over the years and became a close confidante.”
Although Brabham scored the last of his 14 F1 wins in the 1970 South African Grand Prix, his legacy has continued with all three of his sons achieving their own global motorsport success, while third generation drivers Matthew and Sam are building their own notable racing careers.
“Australia has lost a legend,” said Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, on Monday. “With his pioneering spirit, Sir Jack Brabham personified many great Australian characteristics. He was respected and admired for his spirit, and for his great skill as an engineer.”
Brabham is one of only two Australians to have won the Formula One drivers’ title and one of only three to have taken a Grand Prix victory. The country’s latest F1 star, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, described him as “A great Australian who inspired many Aussies to pursue our dreams”.
Brabham is survived by his wife, Lady Margaret, sons Geoff, Gary and David and their families.
For our full Hall of Fame profile on Sir Jack Brabham, click here.