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MARCH 1, 1990

David Brabham


It was a match made in heaven -- or so it seemed. David Brabham, Sir Jack Brabham's third son, had signed to drive for Brabham, the team his father had founded way back in the sixties.

David certainly had the right qualifications. As the reigning British F3 Champion he was following in illustrious footsteps: Derek Warwick, Stefan Johansson, Jonathan Palmer, Ayrton Senna, Mauricio Gugelmin, Johnny Herbert and JJ Lehto had all previously won the prestigious title.

David obviously had what it took to become a successful F1 driver. But somehow things did not go well. Sometimes such things are difficult to explain to outsiders, but even the best drivers do not always get the best opportunities. Things go wrong. The lucky ones move from one team to another, gradually scaling the F1 ladder until they arrive in a top team. Others hit trouble.

David hit trouble -- and there was nothing he could do about it.

The Brabham team, once among the very greatest in F1, had been going through hard times. There had been seemingly endless legal battles over the ownership and, in consequence, the money supply was in difficulties. In modern F1, without money, things cannot be achieved. At the last minute Brabham was bought by the Japanese Middlebridge Group, but by then the damage had already been done. Important parts of the car had been delayed and there had been insufficient testing of new pieces. It was obviously going to a hand-to-mouth kind of year.

Without sufficient money, teams cannot indulge in pre-race testing -- often as much as three day's running at a track before a Grand Prix -- and thus the ill-funded crews start with a disadvantage. Inexperienced drivers have even more problems.

David started his year with Brabham at the San Marino Grand Prix in May. He had no experience of F1 cars and circuits. There were higher power outputs, qualifying tyres, carbon-fibre brakes. Everything had to be learned.

At each track David has to learn his way around the circuit in an F1 car. While most drivers can "monster" a quick lap from a car -- caring little about the established driving lines and the subtleties involved -- each lap gives them a little extra experience to know exactly how hard they can push a car, how late they can brake and how hard they can accelerate. Such experience is invaluable and when added together it is this which often makes up the vital tenths and hundredths of seconds which mean the difference beteen the front of a Formula 1 grid and non-qualifying. Even after over 200 Grands Prix, Williams driver Riccardo Patrese admits that he is still learning new tricks.

It is perhaps unfair that performances are taken at face value and very often there is little consideration of the problems faced by drivers. Whether it is fair or not, a driver's performance is based entirely on how good his equipment is, and equipment is only good if a team has the right people and the right kind of money.

A driver, of course, can always blame his equipment for his lack of performance but, to his credit, David has not become a whinger when things have been going against him.

He shies away from blaming the equipment and keeps his frustrations to himself.

It is little consolation for F1 is very much a consumer society. If you do not immediately perform miracles, you are overlooked, written-off by the critics.

And it is a vicious circle, for poor performance means little chance of better opportunities in the future.

David, however, continues to fight against adversity. Many in his position -- and many of his peers in Australian motorsport -- have chosen an easier way out. You can always stay at home and make an honest buck in touring car racing. Brabham chose to pit himself against the best in the world and if, at times, the best in the world seem to be leaving him behind, he can be safe in the knowledge that at least he tried.

For David the future is uncertain in F1 but, as the first Australian F1 driver in many a year -- and a man who must also live down the reputation of a famous father -- his effort has not been wasted...