Part 6 of the Formula 1 Constructors in History From A to Z looks at the iconic Brabham name in Formula 1.
Founded in Milton Keynes by Australians Jack Brabham and Ron Tauranac, the team scored two Constructors’ and four Drivers’ titles in its 30-year history. And to this day, Jack Brabham is the only driver to win a championship in a car bearing his own name.
Already a double-world champion in 1959 and 1960, Jack Brabham founded his own outfit in 1961. Throughout 1961 and 1962, Brabham and Tauranac built and sold cars to other racing series. Midway into 1962, the Brabham-Climax BT3 debuted at the German Grand Prix. It failed to finish due to a throttle issue but did achieve 4th place finishes at Watkins Glen and South Africa.
In 1963, the Brabham Racing Organisation was officially formed and took its maiden victory in the 1964 French Grand Prix courtesy of American Dan Gurney. Gurney won again in Mexico. Brabham-Climax finished the season in 4th place. 1965 delivered no wins and Ron Tauranac was quick to blame lack of resources. However, new regulations for 1966 brought the breakthrough the team desperately needed.
Australian-based Repco built a lightweight and reliable engine, allowing Jack Brabham to become the first man to win a championship race in a car bearing his name at the French Grand Prix. He became a triple-world champion in 1966 with the Brabham-Repco BT7 and is the only driver to win a title in a car bearing his name.
New Zealander Denny Hulme remained Brabham’s teammate for 1967 and enjoyed superior reliability in his BT20. He outperformed the Aussie to take the title and give Brabham its second consecutive Constructors’ win.
Jochen RIndt joined Brabham in 1968 but the more powerful Repco engine proved unreliable in the BT24 and BT26 chassis’. After finishing the season with just 8 points, Rindt left for Lotus. Hopes for improvement in 1969 were dashed as Matra-Ford and Jackie Stewart dominated. Jack Brabham decided that 1970 would be his final year.
The Tauranac-designed BT33 switched to Ford Cosworth V8’s. German Rolf Stommelen scored 1 podium and 10 points as Brabham won the season-opener in South Africa. 2 further second places gave him 25 points and 5th in the championship. Jochen Rindt became Formula 1’s only posthumous champion after he was killed at Monza: 5 wins out of 9 races awarded him 45 points. Brabham – true to his words – retired.
Tauranac, now in charge, signed British double-world champion Graham Hill and Aussie Tim Schenken to drive his BT34 in 1971, which featured ‘lobster claw’ twin radiators. The team scored 7 championship points.
Tauranac sold the team to Bernie Ecclestone for £100,000 before leaving himself, saying the relationship with Ecclestone ‘was never going to work’. After 2 poor seasons, Tauranac’s replacement, Gordon Murray, designed the 1974 BT44-chassis that Carlos Reutemann took 3 wins in his 3rd season for Brabham.
1975 began with a home win for Carlos Pace at the Interlagos circuit. However, performance soon tailed off and Reutemann and Pace slumped to 3rd and 6th in the championship respectively. Ecclestone negotiated a deal with Alfa Romeo to use their flat-12 engines for 1976 and 1977. Overweight and unreliable, Reutemann negotiated an early exit in 1976. Pace died in an aircraft accident the following year.
1978 saw the debut of the ‘fan car’. Murray’s BT46B-Alfa Romeo design was driven by world champion Niki Lauda to a stunning victory in Sweden before it was swiftly banned. The Austrian won again in Monza with the standard BT46 car.
Nelson Piquet joined in 1978 and partnered Lauda until his retirement the following year. Piquet scored 3 wins and lifted the team to 3rd in the championship in 1980 following a switch back to Ford Cosworth DFV engines in the BT49-chassis. Carbon brakes and hydropneumatic suspension in the BT49C enabled Piquet to take the drivers’ championship with 3 wins and 50 points in 1981.
Engine reliability spoiled the 1982 season. The BMW M10-turbo won its first race in Canada in the BT49D, but Brabham drivers Piquet and Riccardo Patrese finished 11th and 10th respectively that year. In 1983, Piquet took the championship lead in the final race from Alain Prost to win his 2nd title with Brabham in South Africa. He was the first driver to win the title in a turbo-powered car.
Piquet scored Brabham’s final victories in Canada and Detroit in 1984, then in France in 1985. He left at the end of 1985 after 2 championship titles and 7 years with Brabham. 1986 and 1987 were marred by disputes between Ecclestone and Gordon Murray. Murray left for McLaren in 1986 and after Ecclestone missed the FIA deadline for entry into the 1988 world championship, he announced the team’s withdrawal from Formula 1.
Ecclestone sold the team to Walter Brun, who sold the team to Swiss financier Joachim Luhti. He revived the team for the 1989 season with the BT58-Judd V8 but the team was a waste of money and resources. After Luhti’s arrest on corruption charges in late-1989, Brabham folded for the final time after giving Damon Hill his Formula 1 debut in 1992.
Other Achievements: Brabham won championships in Formula Two and Three, competed in Formula 5000, Indianapolis 500 and pioneered carbon brakes, mid-race refuelling and hydropneumatic suspension.