David Brabham’s decision to follow his illustrious father in a career as a racing driver brought its own pressure and expectation, but you’ve probably seen the news that the former Le Mans winner and Grand Prix driver is going a step further by bringing back the family team.
The new Brabham will be a very different entity to the outfit that Sir Jack formed in the 1960s. He and Denny Hulme won consecutive F1 world championships in ’66 and ’67 respectively. After Jack’s retirement in 1970, Ron Tauranac briefly took charge before being bought out by Bernie Ecclestone. He then steered Brabham to further success, bringing designer Gordon Murray and driver Nelson Piquet on board – the latter winning the title in 1981 and ’83.
Ecclestone sold the team in 1988, and it carried on in various forms until 1992. The first task for David was therefore to bring everything back under family control, which turned out not to be the work of a moment.
“It was about nine years ago that I started looking ahead,” he says. “I thought: ‘In 10 years’ time, I’ll be 50. What will I do after driving? What’s my motivation going to be?’”
“I said to Dad: ‘We’ve got this name but don’t do anything with it.’ I knew nothing about trademarks, so I started looking at it and it turned out that Dad had a few ‘holes’ in his trademarks. We closed those up, but the ideas stopped there because we had to get the name back.”
They finally succeeded on Christmas Day, 2012. David finally had control of the Brabham name, and a clean sheet of paper to work with.
“Then I’d thought that I’d love to see it as a race team. The problem is, I’ve driven for a lot of them and it’s difficult for them to stay in business. Do I want to take Brabham back into that same market, or do I want to make it sustainable?”
That’s when David started to think laterally, to find a new way of launching a team. Modern motor racing can be a closed-off, secretive world. He wanted to do something different, and that started with raising the funds for the project’s first stage.
“About 14 months ago, we looked at crowdfunding but parked it,” he says. “Then we started developing it again. It’s a great way to get going, and engages people from a very early stage. It becomes a journey for everybody.”
Crowdfunding involves inviting online contributions from enthusiasts, who have then played their own part in getting a project off the ground. Three days after launching the Brabham appeal, 50% of the £250,000 target had been raised.
“[Crowdfunding site] Indiegogo came back and said how successful it had been. They’ve given us some tips and really got behind it. It’s been nerve-wracking, wondering whether or not people will like it.”
David need not have worried. By the 14 November deadline, the total stood at £278,057. At the time of writing, it is up to £285,866.
“It’s a different way of doing it,” admits David. “It’s reversing the whole thing - building the support first. But that’s what we want to do - get enthusiasts involved. It becomes interactive and changes the dynamics.”
The transparent, ‘open source’ nature of the team doesn’t stop there. The website offers various portals: Brabham-Engineer, Brabham-Driver and Brabham-Fan. The idea is that the community will be able to contribute directly to the running of the team, and – in the case of Engineer and Driver – learn about a potential career in motorsport.
“The digital platform allows people to have access,” says David. “Whether you’re a pro or an amateur, there is information that people will be able to find to help them as, for example, a driver. It’s somewhere to learn about their craft. I helped to develop the MSA Young Driver Programme; it’s part of passing on my experience.”
The plan is for Brabham to return initially as an entrant in the LMP2 category of sports car racing, before becoming an LMP1 constructor in its own right
“It’s a long-term programme, and we don’t want to go off half-cocked. Let’s do it properly - get the right partners, the right people. Let’s build the team.
“The way we’ve done it has raised a few eyebrows, but it’s not a genius idea - you just get used to the old ways of doing things. You need to look outside the box, like Dad used to do. It’s a fantastic challenge.
“As a driver you get into a routine. Driving has been my number-one priority. Now I’ve pulled back from that, and it’s not been an easy transition. I’ve gone back to school, if you like, and had conversations I’ve never had before.
“It’s not been an easy journey but the team has been very good. I found the right people to make it a reality, then it was a case of developing the ideas that we’d had. Between March and October, I did nothing but work on this programme. I squeezed in a Petit Le Mans race, and that felt so nice! Once we’re actually at a racetrack, I’ll be in my comfort zone.
“Obviously, Brabham has a lot of history, but I can detach myself emotionally from it. There will be opportunities in the historics world, but we can grow in that area once we’re up and running.
“Just getting a Brabham back on the grid would be my greatest moment because of the battles I’ve had to even get the ball rolling.”