Motor Racing Developments Ltd., commonly known as Brabham, was a British racing car manufacturer and Formula One racing team. Founded in 1960 by two Australians, driver Jack Brabham and designer Ron Tauranac, the team won four drivers' and two constructors' world championships in its 30-year Formula One history. Jack Brabham's 1966 drivers' championship remains the only such achievement using a car bearing the driver's own name.
In the 1960s, Brabham was the world's largest manufacturer of open wheel racing cars for sale to customer teams, and had built more than 500 cars by 1970. During this period, teams using Brabham cars won championships in Formula Two and Formula Three. Brabham cars also competed in the
Indianapolis 500 and in Formula 5000 racing. In the 1970s and 1980s, Brabham introduced innovations such as the Gordon Murray designed "fan
car" - which won its only race before being withdrawn - in-race
refuelling, carbon brakes, and hydropneumatic suspension.
The team won two more Formula One drivers' championships in the 1980s with Brazilian Nelson Piquet. He won his first championship in 1981 in the Ground effects
BT49-Ford, and became the first to win a drivers' championship with a turbocharged car in 1983. In 1983 the Brabham BT52, driven by Piquet and Italian Riccardo Patrese, was powered by the BMW M12 Straight-4
engine, and powered Brabham to four of the team's 35 Grand Prix victories.
British businessman Bernie Ecclestone owned Brabham during most of the 1970s and 1980s, and later became responsible for administering the commercial aspects of Formula One. Ecclestone sold the team in 1988. Its last owner was the Middlebridge Group, a
Japanese engineering firm. Midway through the 1992 season, the team collapsed financially as Middlebridge was unable to make repayments against loans provided by Landhurst Leasing. The case was investigated by the United Kingdom Serious Fraud Office. In 2009, an unsuccessful attempt was made by a German organisation to enter the 2010 Formula One season using the Brabham name.
The Brabham team was founded by Jack Brabham and Ron Tauranac, who met in 1951 while both were successfully building and racing cars in their native
Australia. Brabham was the more successful driver and went to the United Kingdom in 1955 to further his racing career. There he started driving for the Cooper Car Company works team and by 1958 had progressed with them to Formula One, the highest category of open wheel racing defined by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile
(FIA), motor sport's world governing body. In 1959 and 1960, Brabham won the Formula One world drivers' championship in Cooper's revolutionary mid-engined cars.
Despite their innovation of putting the engine behind the driver, the Coopers and their Chief Designer Owen Maddock were generally resistant to developing their cars. Brabham pushed for further advances, and played a significant role in developing Cooper's highly successful 1960 T53 "lowline" car, with input from his friend Tauranac. Brabham was confident he could do better than Cooper, and in late 1959 he asked Tauranac to come to the UK and work with him, initially producing upgrade kits for Sunbeam Rapier and Triumph Herald road cars at his car dealership, Jack Brabham Motors, but with the long-term aim of designing racing cars. Brabham describes Tauranac as "absolutely the only bloke I'd have gone into partnership with".
To meet that aim, Brabham and Tauranac set up Motor Racing Developments Ltd. (MRD), deliberately avoiding the use of either man's name. The new company would compete with Cooper in the market for customer racing cars; as Brabham was still employed by Cooper, Tauranac produced the first MRD car, for the entry level Formula Junior class, in secrecy. Unveiled in the summer of 1961, the "MRD" was soon renamed. Motoring journalist Jabby Crombac pointed out that "[the] way a Frenchman pronounces those initials—written phonetically, 'em air day'—sounded perilously like the French word... merde." The cars were subsequently known as Brabhams, with type numbers starting with BT for "Brabham Tauranac".
By the 1961 Formula One season, the Lotus and Ferrari teams had developed the mid-engined approach further than Cooper. Brabham had a poor season, scoring only four points, and—having run his own private Coopers in non-championship events during 1961—left the company in 1962 to drive for his own team: the Brabham Racing Organisation, using cars built by Motor Racing Developments.
Joachim Luhti (1989)
The Brabham team missed the 1988 season during the change of ownership. Alfa Romeo soon sold it on, this time to Swiss financier Joachim Luhti, who brought it back into Formula One for the 1989 season. The new BT58, powered by an engine from Judd (originally another of Jack Brabham's companies), was produced for the 1989 season. Italian driver Stefano Modena drove alongside the more experienced Martin Brundle. The team finished in eighth place, and Modena took the team's last podium: a third place at the
Monaco Grand Prix. The team also failed to make the grid sometimes: Brundle failed to prequalify at the
Canadian Grand Prix and the French Grand Prix. The team finished 9th in the constructors' championship at the end of the season.
Middlebridge Racing (1989–1992)
After Luhti's arrest on tax fraud charges in mid-1989, several parties disputed the ownership of the team. Middlebridge Group Limited, a Japanese engineering firm owned by billionaire Koji Nakauchi, was already involved with established Formula 3000 team Middlebridge Racing and gained control of Brabham for the 1990 season. Blash returned to run the team. Middlebridge paid for its purchase using
£1 million loaned to them by finance company Landhurst Leasing, but the team remained underfunded and would only score a few more points finishes in its last three seasons. Jack Brabham's youngest son, David, raced for the Formula One team for a short time in 1990, a disastrous year, with Modena's fifth place in the season opening United States Grand Prix being the only top six finish. The team finished ninth in the Constructors' Championship. Brundle and fellow Briton Mark Blundell, scored only three points during the 1991 season. Due to poor results in the first half of 1991, they had to prequalify in the second half of the season, Blundell failed to do so in Japan, as did Brundle in Australia. The team finished 10th in the Constructors Championship, behind another struggling British team, Lotus. In 1992, Damon Hill, the son of another former Brabham driver and World Champion, debuted in the team after Giovanna Amati, the last woman to attempt to race in Formula One, was dropped when her sponsorship failed to materialise.
Argentine Sergio Rinland designed the team's final cars around Judd engines, except for 1991 when Yamaha powered the cars. In the 1992 season the cars (which were updated versions of the 1991 car) rarely qualified for races. Hill gave the team its final finish, at the Hungarian Grand Prix, where he crossed the finish line 11th and last, four laps behind the winner, Ayrton Senna. After the end of that race the team ran out of funds and collapsed. Middlebridge Group Limited had been unable to continue making repayments against the £6 million ultimately provided by Landhurst Leasing, which went into administration. The Serious Fraud Office investigated the case. Landhurst's managing directors were found guilty of corruption and imprisoned, having accepted bribes for further loans to Middlebridge. It was one of four teams to leave Formula One that year. (cf March Engineering, Fondmetal and Andrea Moda Formula). Although there was talk of reviving the team for the following year, its assets passed to Landhurst Leasing and were auctioned by the company's receivers in 1993. Among these was the team's old factory in Chessington, which was acquired by Yamaha Motor Sports and used to house Activa Technology Limited, a company manufacturing
composite components for race and road cars run by Herbie Blash. The factory was bought by the Carlin DPR GP2 motor racing team in 2006.
Potential F1 revival (2010)
On 4 June 2009, Franz Hilmer confirmed that he had used the name to lodge an entry for the 2010 Formula One season as a cost capped team under the new budget cap regulations. The Brabham family was not involved and announced that it was seeking legal advice over the use of the name. The team's entry was not accepted.
The Brabham family contested the claim in court, and though the situation is not yet fully resolved, Jack Brabham's son David says "There is a possibility the Brabham team name could be heading back to
Formula One". "Right now this is a very sensitive issue," he told Totalrace. "But, yes, there is the possibility to bring the team back (to F1)."
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