F1 legend Sir Jack Brabham dead at 88

19 May 2014 08:01

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 Formula One, was also the first driver to be knighted for services to motorsport.

"It's a very sad day for all of us. My father passed away peacefully at home at the age of 88 this morning," son David Brabham said in a statement.

"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."

After serving in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, he 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 worked first for Cooper and then Brabham in the 1960s and said Brabham was a hero.

"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," he said.

The Confederation of Australian Motorsport (CAMS) 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," a statement on the CAMS website said.

"But behind the wheel he was anything but shy and retiring. He put his head down and drove exceedingly forcefully."

Brabham's first two titles in the Cooper Climax marked the end of the era of front-engined Formula One cars.

In 1959 he famously ran out of fuel at the United States Grand Prix and pushed his car across the finish line to take fourth place and become Australia's first Formula One world champion.

Brabham in later years recounted the amazing tale.

"I eventually stopped about 100 yards from the finishing line, and I started pushing. If anybody assisted me, I'd be disqualified," he said.

"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."

In 1966, he 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 continued in Formula One for 30 years.

He claimed his final win in the 1970 South African Grand Prix before retiring that year.

Briton Stirling Moss, one of his fiercest rivals, told the ABC 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," he said.

Brabham was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1967 and was knighted in 1979.

In his final years, he battled failing eyesight and problems with his kidneys and liver.

He died at his home on Australia's Gold Coast and is survived by his wife, Margaret, and sons Geoff, Gary and David.