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F1 ICONS: David Brabham on his father Jack, the legendary three-time world champion

Former F1 driver

David Brabham
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Today marks 10 years since the passing of legendary Formula 1 racer Jack Brabham, who claimed three world titles across his career in the top echelon, including one with a team that bore his own name. For the latest instalment of our F1 Icons series, the Australian’s son, David, shares what made ‘Black Jack’ so special and how his influence is still felt strongly by the family…

My dad retired from F1 when I was five. We moved from England to Australia after that and I grew up in Sydney with probably the most famous Australian person at that time. Everyone knew who Jack Brabham was. Everyone.

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I had to get used to people’s reactions when they saw Jack or they talked about me. I was always Jack’s son. I didn’t really get it because I saw dad as dad.

There were lots of trophies around. They all looked great, but they didn’t really mean anything to me then. My brother Geoff was around when my dad was racing and picking up those trophies, but for me it was a slightly different thing.

It wasn’t until I got older when I realised the significance of what my dad had done.

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Jack Brabham won his first two F1 world titles aboard Cooper machinery in 1959 and 1960

I’ve seen pictures of dad holding me at some tracks. I don’t remember it, but apparently I went to the South African Grand Prix in 1970, where he won his last race.

He was not someone who pushed his sons into racing. It was actually the opposite; he did everything possible for us not to go racing! I was sent to an agricultural boarding school and shoved on a farm.

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I didn’t experience any real racing until I was 16 or 17. I went to America to watch my brother race. It was the first time I went, ‘Wow, this is what racing is all about’.

I loved driving fast on the tractors and the utes and the motorbikes. Speed was a big thing for me, pushing the boundaries of grip from a very early age on the farm. I was training myself for a racing career that I didn’t know I was going to have!

When I saw a go-kart and said to dad, ‘I’d like to have a go’, I think he just went white, thinking ‘No, not another one!’ He wasn’t particularly helpful at that point, to be fair.

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David Brabham’s brother, Geoff, pictured in the F1 paddock alongside their father Jack

I went to a go-kart race at Griffith Go-Kart Club with my neighbour from the agricultural boarding school, saw karting for the first time, and we looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got to do this’. We bought a second-hand go-kart together and went racing.

Even then I didn’t think I was going to have a career in it, it was just something I wanted to do. It was going out there and having some fun. I was still working on the farm, but once I got into it, it was pretty clear that’s what I wanted to do.

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I started karting, did some races, started to do okay, and my dad sat me down and said, ‘Well, how serious are you about this?’ Up until then I’d showed no interest in racing, so it was like, ‘Is this a fad, is this something you want to do?’

I was still batting around in a second-hand go-kart, punching above my weight a bit, so he said, ‘Let’s get you a new go-kart, a new engine’, blah, blah, blah. We did that and off we went.

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Jack Brabham’s wife, Betty, and sons (left to right) Gary and David, watch him compete at Monza in 1966

I think it was a race at Orange Kart Club… it was half wet, half damp, and I won by like half a lap. He thought, ‘Okay, I can see the kid can drive, he’s committed to it’, and then he got more involved.

I had his support leading up to the point I left Formula Ford in Australia. I then went into a team to do Formula Atlantic and Formula 2, and they were already established, they had budget and so forth, so I was chosen as one of their drivers and I came over to Europe.

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After that he would just rock up at a race, watch me, and he might look at something and go, ‘You need to do something different there, David’. He didn’t say much, but when he said it, it really was spot on. It was awkward because it came from your father telling you you’d done something wrong, so it was that dynamic.

If I was more like him on the engineering side, I think I would have tapped into a different Jack, because he was so into that. I think we would have had a different relationship. That’s where dad was brilliant, he could think outside the box from an engineering point of view, make it and fix it.

Jack Brabham’s F1 career in numbers
First entryGreat Britain, 1955
Last entryMexico, 1970
Pole positions13
Podium finishes31
Race wins14
Points scored261
First race winMonaco, 1959
Last race winSouth Africa, 1970

But he was very much like, ‘There’s your steering wheel, you’ve got to learn how to do it’. He wasn’t an intrusive father; he was there if I needed him.

There’s a lot of people who end up following a career that someone’s been at the very top of and it can be a bumpy road. When my brother Geoff went racing, he was the first of the famous sons, and no one took him seriously. By the time I got there, there was still high expectation, but at least there were a few of us out there doing it.

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You still had to establish yourself, you had to be comfortable in your own skin, not worry about what other people said. It took time as I built up my career and my success, and did things on my own, for those things to disappear.

It’s definitely a double-edged sword; sometimes it worked for you, sometimes it didn’t.

After making it to F1, sitting on the grid in Monaco for my first Grand Prix, seeing all my childhood heroes in front of me on the grid, like Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Gerhard Berger, Riccardo Patrese, Thierry Boutsen… I still have very strong memories.

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It was a full circle moment for the Brabham family when David made his F1 debut with the team his father had founded

I had the Brabham logo on my steering wheel, I was on the track my dad had won at in 1959, so it was such a proud moment for me.

Many years later, I went through a court case to get the Brabham name back, which finished in 2012. I thought, ‘That’s the end of my full-time racing… I need to focus on building the brand’, taking an iconic racing name from the past and bringing it into the future.

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Out of that journey came Brabham Automotive in Australia, producing the BT62 and 63, and the 62R. The relationship has finished now, but it doesn’t mean it’s the end. Since that announcement we’ve had a number of approaches about other projects, as well as some interesting stuff that I’m going to do personally. It’s still a great future there.

Brabham is such an iconic name, it can sit with McLaren and it can sit with Ferrari in terms of F1 success, and it’s a very, very strong and well-respected brand.

My son Sam is racing in the GT4 Series in Australia, grabbing pole position for his first race at Phillip Island, while my nephew Matthew is racing in the IMSA SportsCar Championship in America, so there’s three generations of racing drivers as well as other exciting projects around the brand.

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Jack Brabham’s legacy remains strong as son David and the next generation add to the family name

Looking back, I think it really hit home what my dad had achieved when I turned 40. I thought about what dad had done up until the age of 40… he’d just won his third F1 championship, Brabham was the biggest racing car manufacturer at that time, he had other businesses, he’d won in F2, he’d won the F1 title in a car of his own construction, which no one had done…

I just sit there and go, ‘How the hell did he do all that?!’ All they had back then was a telephone, they didn’t even have a fax machine! He is one of a kind, I guess, because no one has done what he’s done in F1.

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He obviously couldn’t do it on his own, he had great people like Ron Tauranac with him, who was his partner and designer – they were a fantastic combination and very successful.

But as a family, we’re just immensely proud.

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