Formula One great Sir Jack Brabham, who claimed three world drivers’ titles and remains the only man to win the championship in a car he built himself, died on Monday, his family said.
The Australian, acclaimed as one of the sport’s most influential figures with the technological innovations brought about by the team he created helping shape F1, was also the first driver to be knighted for services to motorsport.
After serving in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, Brabham took up racing cars and went on to win drivers’ championships in 1959 and 1960 with the Cooper Racing Team and again in 1966 in his own Brabham car.
The motorsport world mourned his passing, with fellow Australian Formula One champion Alan Jones hailing him as “inspirational.”
“I think he was inspirational for any young bloke that wanted to go across overseas and race cars,” said Jones, who won the world championship in 1980. “He was the man they looked up to and he was the man they wanted to emulate.”
McLaren chief Ron Dennis, who worked first for Cooper and then Brabham in the 1960s, said that the late Australian was a hero.
“Even as a callow youth, I could recognize greatness when I saw it and I’ll always regard it as an honor and a privilege to have worked for Sir Jack. I learned a lot from him too,” Dennis said.
The Confederation of Australian Motorsport revered the trailblazer known as “Black Jack.”
“Always a man of few words — his nickname ‘Black Jack’ referred to both his dark hair and his propensity for maintaining a shadowy silence — he avoided small talk and was undemonstrative in the extreme, but behind the wheel he was anything but shy and retiring. He put his head down and drove exceedingly forcefully,” the confederation said in a statement on its Web site.
Brabham’s first two titles in the Cooper Climax marked the end of the era of front-engined F1 cars. In 1959, he famously ran out of fuel at the US Grand Prix and pushed his car across the finish line to take fourth place and become Australia’s first F1 world champion.
Brabham recounted the amazing tale in later years, saying: “I eventually stopped about 100 yards [about 92m] from the finishing line and I started pushing. If anybody assisted me, I’d be disqualified.”
“It was a big thrill to me to find out after I was exhausted on the ground, I found out that I’d actually won the championship. It was a fantastic thing,” he said.
In 1966, the Australian became the only driver to win the world championship in a car bearing his own name: the Brabham BT19 Repco, which he designed and built himself. He also won the constructors’ championship that year and again in 1967.
Brabham started in 126 Grand Prix from 1955 to 1970, amassing 14 wins, 31 podiums, 13 pole positions and 12 fastest laps.
Through his partnership with Ron Tauranac, more than 500 Brabham race cars were built from the team’s British base in the 1960s alone, while the Brabham name lived on in Formula One for 30 years.
Brabham claimed his final win in the 1970 South African Grand Prix before retiring that year.
Briton Stirling Moss, one of his fiercest rivals, told Australian Broadcasting Corp in 2009 that Brabham was always held in the highest esteem in racing circles.
“Sir Jack was the first Australian to come over and really make a mark. I mean, he is after all, he is one of the best known Australians in the world,” Moss said.