Top 10 Brabham drivers ranked: Piquet, Lauda, Gurney and more

Its 30 years since the Brabham team started its last world championship grand prix. Time to pick out the best drivers of the once-great Formula 1 squad.

Top 10 Brabham drivers ranked: Piquet, Lauda, Gurney and more
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Brabham’s final Formula 1 start came in the 1992 Hungarian Grand Prix, when Damon Hill scraped onto the 13th and final row before finishing 11th and last, four laps down. It was an ignominious way for such a great team to bow out, but its part in F1 history remains.

Between 1962 and 1992, Brabham scored two constructors’ crowns and four drivers’ titles. Its 35 victories put it eighth on the all-time wins list, having only recently been surpassed by Renault/Alpine.

For this top 10, we considered the amount of success the drivers scored with Brabham, the impact they had on the team and the circumstances of their time there. We didn’t include their achievements at other teams.

10. Carlos Pace

Pace flew to fourth in the 1976 German GP. Brabham boss Ecclestone was convinced his charge was the team's future until his untimely death

Pace flew to fourth in the 1976 German GP. Brabham boss Ecclestone was convinced his charge was the team's future until his untimely death

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Brabham years: 1974-77
Brabham starts: 39
Brabham wins: 1
Brabham poles: 1

After showing promise at Surtees, Pace joined Carlos Reutemann at Brabham during 1974.

The Brazilian demonstrated his talents early in 1975 with Gordon Murray’s iconic BT44B, winning his home race in round two and taking pole next time out in South Africa. A lack of development hurt Brabham as the season progressed, but Pace still finished a solid sixth – with Reutemann third – in the final standings.

As Reutemann started to lose interest in the Alfa Romeo-powered BT45, Pace picked up the cudgels in 1976. Reliability was poor, but Pace’s attitude pleased the team and boss Bernie Ecclestone was convinced he was a future great.

The revised BT45B would prove to be more competitive in 1977 and Pace finished second in the Argentinian GP season opener, but he would not live to fulfil his potential. Pace was killed in a light aircraft crash in Brazil that March.

“If Pace had lived, I would not have needed Niki Lauda,” said Ecclestone in Alan Henry’s book Brabham: The Grand Prix Cars.

9. John Watson

Bad luck cost Watson, pictured with designer Gordon Murray, several grand prix victories with Brabham

Bad luck cost Watson, pictured with designer Gordon Murray, several grand prix victories with Brabham

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Brabham years: 1973-74, 1977-78
Brabham starts: 50
Brabham wins: 0
Brabham poles: 1

Quite how Watson didn’t take a victory for Brabham is bewildering and his stats do not do justice to his time there. Watson contested his first world championship GP and first full F1 campaign in privateer Brabham machinery, but it’s his period with the factory squad in 1977-78 that gets him a place in this list.

The BT45 was a competitive proposition in 1977 and Watson took on the role of team leader following Pace’s death.

Watson took pole at Monaco and led 138 laps during the season, but incredible bad luck – most notably with mysterious fuel starvation on the final lap of the French GP while holding off Mario Andretti’s Lotus – denied him.

Lauda joined for 1978 but Watson was far from embarrassed by the then double world champion. Although there were still no wins for Watson, he scored a pole in France and three podiums on his way to sixth in the championship, with Lauda fourth. Brabham finished third in the constructors’ table before Watson moved to McLaren for 1979.

8. Jochen Rindt

Rindt showed his pace and potential despite poor finishing record of Brabham BT24 in 1968

Rindt showed his pace and potential despite poor finishing record of Brabham BT24 in 1968

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Brabham year: 1968
Brabham starts: 12
Brabham wins: 0
Brabham poles: 2

Rindt’s record at Brabham was appalling, largely thanks to problems with the four-cam 860 Repco engine that eventually forced the team to switch to the Cosworth DFV. But Rindt slotted into the squad well and led the line, with team boss Jack Brabham alongside.

Rindt qualified ahead of his new team-mate first time out in South Africa in the old BT24 and finished third behind the dominant Lotus 49s.

When the BT26 arrived, Rindt showed it had some pace by taking two poles, but a terrible finishing record meant he only saw the flag once – finishing third in the legendarily wet German GP at the Nurburgring.

Despite the poor results and Rindt heading to Lotus, team and driver remained on good terms. Jack Brabham hoped to get Rindt back for 1970 and was prepared to step down, but Colin Chapman was able to persuade his star driver to stay at Lotus.

Jack Brabham continued for one more year, proving that the BT33 was a frontrunning car, while Rindt ended 1970 as F1’s first (and so far only) posthumous world champion after being killed in practice at Monza.

7. Jacky Ickx

Ickx chased down Stewart to win at the Nurburgring in 1969, his first for Brabham

Ickx chased down Stewart to win at the Nurburgring in 1969, his first for Brabham

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Brabham year: 1969
Brabham starts: 11
Brabham wins: 2
Brabham poles: 2

Like Rindt, Ickx only had one season at Brabham. Unlike Rindt, the Belgian was able to take two victories, though it’s probably fair to say he wasn’t taken to the team’s heart in quite the same way.

Ickx joined from Ferrari for 1969, just in time for Brabham’s switch to Cosworth DFV power. The move proved what Rindt’s performances had hinted at: Ron Tauranac’s BT26 design was a good one.

In a strong season, Ickx took poles and wins at the Nurburgring and Mosport. His German GP win was particularly noteworthy as he recovered from a poor start to chase down and beat the season’s pacesetter, Jackie Stewart, setting a new lap record along the way.

Three other podiums helped Ickx to the runner-up spot in the world championship, albeit a long way behind runaway champion Stewart.

Jack Brabham, who managed a fine win in the non-championship International Trophy ahead of Ickx, struggled to finish races but the pairing was still strong enough to pip Lotus to second in the constructors’ table.

Ickx headed back to Ferrari for 1970, leaving Brabham to unsuccessfully try and entice Rindt to return.

6. Niki Lauda

Lauda was lured from Ferrari to Brabham for 1978 as reigning world champion, but his stint at the team was a stormy one

Lauda was lured from Ferrari to Brabham for 1978 as reigning world champion, but his stint at the team was a stormy one

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Brabham years: 1978-79
Brabham starts: 29
Brabham wins: 2
Brabham poles: 1

Lauda found Ecclestone’s Brabham team a refreshing change to his troubled final months with Ferrari – notwithstanding his second title with the Italian squad – and put in some superb performances.

Most famous is his victory in the Swedish GP in Murray’s BT46B ‘fan car’ and he also won the Italian GP after on-the-road pacesetters Mario Andretti and Gilles Villeneuve were penalised for jumping the start. But perhaps his finest performance came in Monte Carlo.

After being forced to pit due to a puncture, Lauda put in a stirring drive to recover to second and set a fastest lap nearly two seconds quicker than anyone else.

Reliability was a problem, but Lauda finished on the podium in all seven races in which he made the chequered flag. That was enough for fourth in the 1978 drivers’ table, second in the best-of-the-rest stakes behind Andretti and Ronnie Peterson in their game-changing, ground-effects Lotus.

Despite a well-executed victory in the non-championship Dino Ferrari GP at Imola, reliability was even worse in 1979. Lauda also had rapid young team-mate Nelson Piquet to contend with and he walked away from F1 during the Canadian GP weekend, just as Murray introduced one of the greatest Brabhams: the DFV-engined BT49.

5. Carlos Reutemann

Reutemann took third at his home grand prix for Brabham in 1975 as he ended the year third in the standings

Reutemann took third at his home grand prix for Brabham in 1975 as he ended the year third in the standings

Photo by: David Phipps

Brabham years: 1972-76
Brabham starts: 66
Brabham wins: 4
Brabham poles: 2

The enigmatic Argentinian took pole position on his world championship debut in a Brabham BT34. His soft tyres faded in his home race in 1972 but Reutemann became a mainstay of the team for five seasons and was highly rated by Ecclestone, who took over the team for 1972.

Reutemann’s breakthrough campaign came in 1974. Armed with Murray’s BT44, Reutemann flew to three wins. That matched the tally of champion Emerson Fittipaldi but Reutemann simply didn’t finish enough races to be in the title fight and ended up sixth in the points.

Brilliant on his day, Reutemann scored another fine victory from 10th on the grid in the 1975 German GP at the Nurburgring, winning by more than a minute and a half after the rapid Ferrari challenge wilted.

That was Reutemann’s only success of the year but better consistency – he scored five other podiums – meant he finished third in the table, behind only the dominant Lauda and Fittipaldi. Combined with the efforts of Pace, it was enough for Brabham to narrowly beat McLaren to second in the constructors’ contest.

Brabham’s switch from Cosworth DFV to Alfa Romeo flat-12 power for 1976 was fraught. Reutemann lost interest and had only taken one points-paying finish – fourth in Spain – when he moved to Ferrari in the wake of Lauda’s terrible German GP crash.

Brabham wouldn’t win for another two years, while Reutemann’s score of four victories (and a success in the non-championship 1972 Brazilian GP) puts him third on the team’s winners list.

4. Denny Hulme

Hulme won the 1967 world championship for Brabham, beating his boss to pick up the pieces as Lotus paid the price for unreliability

Hulme won the 1967 world championship for Brabham, beating his boss to pick up the pieces as Lotus paid the price for unreliability

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Brabham years: 1965-67
Brabham starts: 26
Brabham wins: 2
Brabham poles: 0

Usually a loyal back-up for Jack Brabham in both F1 and F2, Hulme got his big chance in 1967. The year before he’d finished fourth in the drivers’ table with four podiums as Jack romped to his third title with four victories, but Hulme’s consistency in 1967 was superb.

Brabham scored two poles before the Cosworth DFV-engined Lotus 49 arrived, with Jim Clark and Graham Hill then setting the pace everywhere. But the Lotus wasn’t sufficiently reliable and eight podiums from 11 races – including his first win at Monaco and an inherited success at the Nurburgring – was enough for Hulme (with no poles!) to pip his boss to the crown.

Hulme then moved to McLaren, where he played a key role in the early days of the famous team, but it’s for his world title with Brabham that he is best remembered.

3. Dan Gurney

Gurney's departure from Brabham couldn't have been more ill-timed, but in the years before it peaked he was its on-track lead driver

Gurney's departure from Brabham couldn't have been more ill-timed, but in the years before it peaked he was its on-track lead driver

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Brabham years: 1963-65
Brabham starts: 30
Brabham wins: 2
Brabham poles: 2

It didn’t take long for Gurney to become Brabham’s team leader in terms of on-track performance when he joined Brabham in 1963, no mean feat given his team-mate was boss and then two-time champion Jack Brabham.

Clark and the Lotus 25 left slim pickings for others, winning seven of the 10 rounds, but Gurney was one of the leaders of the chasing pack and finished fifth in the championship.

He was even more impressive in 1964. Gurney took Brabham’s first pole at Zandvoort, then topped the timesheets next time out at Spa. He was heading for victory when the BT7 ran out of fuel on the final lap, Gurney being classified sixth.

His luck changed two weeks later, Gurney inheriting the lead at Rouen when Clark’s Lotus suffered engine failure. He went on to take Brabham’s first world championship GP victory, with Jack in third.

Elsewhere, Gurney’s luck and the car’s reliability were appalling. His only other decent result came in the Mexican GP finale, Gurney inheriting victory when Clark’s Lotus again failed him late on.

His two wins left Gurney sixth in the table once again but really his own performances should have put him in the title fight with Clark, Hill and eventual champion John Surtees.

Clark and Lotus were again out of reach in 1965 and BRM was strong with Hill and star rookie Jackie Stewart. There were no wins or poles, but better reliability helped Gurney to fourth in the standings – and he famously pushed Clark into a rare error in the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch.

With Gurney leading the team, Jack Brabham was considering retiring at the end of 1965. But Gurney instead went off to set up his own Eagle project, thereby giving up the chance to drive the Brabhams that would win the next two world championships…

2. Nelson Piquet

Piquet was Brabham's most successful driver in terms of race wins, and won two world championships for the squad

Piquet was Brabham's most successful driver in terms of race wins, and won two world championships for the squad

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Brabham years: 1978-85
Brabham starts: 106
Brabham wins: 13
Brabham poles: 18

In terms of pure on-track performance, Piquet could top this list. He scored more wins, more poles, started a greater number of races and took more drivers’ titles for Brabham than any other driver. It’s really just the unique position of the person who tops this ranking that keeps Piquet in the number two slot.

Piquet joined Brabham at the end of 1978 for his first full season of F1. Race finishes were hard to come by but Piquet had obvious promise and became number one following Lauda’s sudden retirement and was a frontrunner with Murray’s BT49 in 1980.

His first victory came in dominant style at Long Beach. Piquet took pole by nearly a second, led throughout, set fastest lap by more than half a second and won by 49s. He added two more wins and fought Alan Jones for the crown but a clash with the Australian helped the Williams driver clinch the title at the penultimate round in Canada.

It was Piquet versus Williams again in 1981 and this time it went Piquet’s way. After three wins, fifth place in the Caesars Palace finale was enough to take the championship by one point over Reutemann, who faded inexplicably from pole to eighth.

Hector Rebaque was unable to provide enough support to stop Williams beating Brabham in the constructors’ table, but the team’s next big challenge was working with BMW to get its turbocharged engine working.

Piquet played a key part in pushing the project along. He bounced back from the ignominy of failing to qualify for the 1982 Detroit GP by winning the Canadian GP just a week later. Reliability remained suspect for much of the campaign, but the Brabham-BMW package was in a better place for 1983.

The last-minute scrapping of ground-effects resulted in Murray producing the dart-like BT52. Piquet won the season-opening Brazilian GP and kept racking up points even as Renault’s Alain Prost hit a purple patch. Once the B version and then improved fuel arrived Piquet put on a late charge, winning two of the last three races and pipping Prost to the title with third place in the Kyalami finale.

The Brabham-BMW package was not a match for McLaren-TAG (nee Porsche) in 1984, at least in the races. Piquet took nine poles – more than anyone else – but woeful reliability and the McLaren’s efficiency limited him to just two wins and fifth in the points.

Pirelli tyres provided another variable in 1985 and reliability was still dubious. A disgruntled Piquet took just one victory, in France, and eighth in the championship before heading off to Williams.

1. Jack Brabham

Team founder Brabham (flanked by Surtees and Rindt after winning the 1966 German GP) became the first driver to win the world championship in his own car, a feat unlikely ever to be repeated

Team founder Brabham (flanked by Surtees and Rindt after winning the 1966 German GP) became the first driver to win the world championship in his own car, a feat unlikely ever to be repeated

Photo by: David Phipps

Brabham years: 1962-70
Brabham starts: 80
Brabham wins: 7
Brabham poles: 8

The first driver to win a GP in a car bearing his own name and the first (and only) person to become a world champion in his own machine. Jack Brabham also contributed to constructors’ titles in 1966 and 1967, which he’d also helped to engineer thanks to a deal with Repco for reliable V8 engines for F1’s three-litre era. Only Piquet gets anywhere near the team co-founder on this list.

Brabham left Cooper to set up his own operation with Tauranac and ran Lotus chassis until the first Brabham was ready. While Brabham tended to play second fiddle to Gurney across 1963-65, he was ready to step up when the American left ahead of 1966.

Brabham knew his Repco-engined BT19 would be competitive as F1 switched to three-litre regulations and he reeled off four wins, including a fine victory at the Nurburgring, to secure his third title and forever take his place in history.

He could have won the following year, but he had a few too many problems. The same could be said for pacesetting Lotus duo Clark and Hill, helping Hulme to the drivers’ crown and the Brabham team took its second consecutive constructors’ title.

Brabham was again happy to allow Rindt (1968) and then Ickx (1969) to lead the way but Rindt’s decision to stay at Lotus for 1970 persuaded the then 43-year-old to extend his career for one more season.

And what a campaign it was. Brabham won the South African season-opener, could have won in Spain and should have won both the Monaco and British GPs. He ended up an unrepresentative sixth in the final table, but headed into retirement with his head held high.

Read Also:
Brabham was running third in his final F1 race, the 1970 Mexican GP, when his Brabham BT33's DFV let go

Brabham was running third in his final F1 race, the 1970 Mexican GP, when his Brabham BT33's DFV let go

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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