How bust-up with legendary father ignited F1 career

David Brabham has spoken of the bust-up with his world champion father that kick-started his own motor racing career and set him on the path to Formula One.

The youngest of Sir Jack’s three sons, David was a relative latecomer to motor racing, with the triple world champion not keen on his children following him into the sport.

Sir Jack, who won the world title in 1959, 1960 and 1966, had retired in 1970 following the deaths of close friends Bruce McLaren and Jochen Rindt in racing accidents.

Sir Jack Brabham with son David. (Supplied)

But the motor racing bug bit David on a trip to the United States as a teenager, when he watched older brother Geoff compete.

By 1987 he had progressed to the Australian Formula 2 series, and in November that year the 22-year-old made the trip to Adelaide to compete in a support race for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix.

But away from the track there was drama. David’s girlfriend was pregnant, a situation that didn’t please Sir Jack one bit, given the single-minded focus a driver needs to reach Formula One.

Sir Jack Brabham with David in 1994. (Fairfax Media)

It reached the point where Sir Jack and David had barely spoken for three months. But that was just the prelude to the all-out war that exploded in Adelaide.

“My girlfriend had got pregnant earlier that year, and it was like a disaster for Dad because he could see the dream of F1 disappearing,” David told Wide World of Sports.

“I didn’t qualify well, I was last in a field of 30-something. My father had a Formula One pass, as a former world champion. And I said: ‘You better get me one of those, for when I’m in F1.’

David Brabham in action at the 1990 Australian Grand Prix. (Fairfax Media)

“And he said: ‘The days of you ever getting to Formula One are finished’. And he said it deadpan, dead serious. 

His father completely dismissing his Formula One ambitions was too much for David, who left Sir Jack in no doubt what he thought of him.

“It just triggered a switch in me. I screamed at him to f— off, and I walked off,” he said.

“I had steam coming out of my ears, I was so angry, so incredibly pissed off with him.”

But David was able to channel that emotion and put it to good use, making a stunning charge through the field to win the 15-lap event.

Jack Brabham at the wheel in 1965. (Fairfax Media)

“I look at it now as a real gift. At the time I was still young, stubborn and opinionated, a bit like Dad actually!” David remembers.

“When we had the bust up just before the race, I’d never gone into a race feeling so angry, or so determined as I did that day.

“The world changed in a sense, because I put the car in places I would never have done if I had a different mindset.

“It really taught me a lot. I went from last to first and won the race.

“You have to be in that mindset to perform, and I got out of the car at the end of the race and thought: ‘How the hell did I just do that?’

“It was something I took with me through my career.”

David reached the very top in motorsport, starting in 24 Formula One races and winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2009. Now retired at the age of 54, he says it’s interesting to compare his experience with other athletes.

“I was watching The Last Dance recently and it was interesting to see how Michael Jordan used to find something that really pissed him off, to take it to the next level. I found myself doing something similar,” David explained.

“I’m fairly laidback, but I can be quite fiery, so I tried to find something in my career that fired me up, to get that little bit extra performance.

David Brabham driving for Simtek at the 1994 German Grand Prix. (Getty)

“But I wouldn’t have learned that except for the experience in Adelaide in 1987. If I hadn’t have had that, I probably wouldn’t have had a long career.”

Sir Jack, who died in 2014 at the age of 88, is the subject of the just-released Stan documentary Brabham, which includes extensive interviews with many legends of the sport.

David was back on the grid in Adelaide just three years after his F2 heroics, following Alan Jones as the second Australian to race in the Adelaide Grand Prix. Appropriately, he was at the wheel of a Brabham, driving for the team his father founded, the pair by this time enjoying a much better relationship.

“It’s funny, you kind of look at your parents, and when you’re younger you’re probably more judgemental. You have opinions and you judge people harshly. But as you get older and have more experiences you realise that actually judging people doesn’t work,” he said.

“Then I’d catch myself out thinking that, ‘Wow, I just did something that was so much like Dad.”

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