An Old Name with a New Approach – An Interview with Sam Brabham

Some names are synonymous with motorsport. Ferrari, Tyrrell, Lotus. Senna, Andretti, Villeneuve. In September another one was reborn. Project Brabham was launched in a bid to make the legendary Brabham name become a top racing team once again. The initial interest was phenomenal, with half of the funds needed to reach their first target via crowd funding raised in just two weeks. Momentum is vital for a campaign like this to continue and realise its ambitions, and David Brabham’s appearance on The F1 Show in December helped to continue that.

Autosport International was Project Brabham’s first public showcase to the motorsport community. During an interview with myself after the show, Sam Brabham – grandson of the late Sir Jack Brabham and son of project leader David, expressed how delighted he was with the response.

“Oh it was fantastic. We didn’t really know what to expect when we first decided to go. Saturday and Sunday we had so many people coming in asking about it, signing up, buying t-shirts and hats. It was quite incredible really. We had a lot people come in and say ‘we want to know more’, and then we’ve had a few people sign up since, which is good to see as well. We just wanna help people understand what we’re doing, as it’s a hard concept to wrap your head around because it’s a completely new model for racing.”

Sam Brabham talking to Formula Kart Stars at Autosport International 2015

Sam Brabham talking to Formula Kart Stars at Autosport International 2015

Sam played an active part at the stand in raising awareness and recruiting backers for Project Brabham, but that didn’t stop him from attending interviews with Formula Kart Stars and looking around the Autosport International show itself.

“We had a little bit of a look, we had like an hour and a half, me and Dad after lunch, so had a bit of a walk around. It was cool though. Some of the simulators and some of the stands, like all the old classic cars was pretty awesome as well.”

Although Silverstone will most probably come a little too early for the project, the amount raised since September has been phenomenal, and they hope to have a presence at Le Mans, and enter the WEC Championship during the second half of the season. There was also the possibility that Brabham could have entered into Formula E, but that came too soon for them.

“It was a thought I guess. But we didn’t have any basis. Didn’t have a team, don’t have premises, don’t have any of that. It’s just one of those things. We’ve got to try and figure out how are we gonna go about it. And Formula E looks great, it’s worked better than anyone thought. But the idea of the electric cars, and how all that was going to run was very different, and we weren’t ready. It’s probably a good thing we didn’t because few teams are in a bit of trouble financially, there’s a lot of driver swaps going on. Maybe in the future, when Formula E develops a bit more, for sure it’s something that I guess we’d look at. But for now, we’re just focusing on the World Endurance Championship and LMP2.”

Project Brabham has taken great pride in having close interaction with its fans, which will continue as the team takes shape. Backers will be able to contribute their ideas and suggestions that could influence the team’s future – from small things such as the livery design to what drivers and series the team should be looking at in the future. With the intense competition and rivalry in Formula One, could this practice and level of transparency carry over? Sam thinks so.

“I think it could transfer to Formula One. I think Formula One has to change first before we do that. It’s a very, very difficult series to be in, with the financial backing that Marrusia and Caterham have, it isn’t even enough to stay afloat. Even with four paying drivers they can’t carry on. Maybe in the future, but I think Formula One will have to change a bit for that to happen.”

Sam Brabham participated in four rounds of the Formula Ford championship in 2014, racing in a retro Brabham livery, claiming two wins while looking towards a potential title challenge. This was eventually thwarted by budget constraints but Sam was upbeat about his performance.

“We knew from the start of the year that it was gonna be tough. And with Dad working on the project so much, it was always gonna be a tough season. Fortunately I drove well. At each round I came close to winning, at Thruxton I did win. I bounced back at Donington which was pretty tough – in the last race throwing it off in the lead to double pole and two wins at Thruxton, which for me showed good character and showed I was capable of bouncing back after a bad situation. Then at Oulton Park it was just a shame that the suspension broke, and ended up having a massive shunt and that dented it a bit. I might have made Croft, but it was so marginal, that the crash kind of did it in, and that was it. If I was slow, and I would have come mid-pack, people probably would’ve been like oh well, there’s always next year, but considering the pace we showed and the wins we had. I guess the two other thirds of the year would have been would have been really good, and I’m confident we could have been in with a shout for the championship.”

The FIA’s new superlicence points system was released three weeks ago albeit with good intentions, but as with all things this has also raised many questions. IndyLights, DTM and the FIA’s new Formula E series have all been excluded from the points system. As a young driver with an ultimate dream of reaching Formula One, Sam is in a unique position to tell us how the introduction of the new system and the exclusion of certain series could impact a driver’s future career.

“I think in some ways it’s good. It means drivers need to do more racing, and have to do more experience and do well. Better drivers will end up getting Formula One which is good. But what it does is, it suits certain people, because people who do World Series Renault have had Sainz, Magnussen, and Gasly there last year and Bianchi. All these guys have come from World Series Renault. And who’s to say that World Series Renault isn’t any better or worse than GP2. I think they’re pretty similar. Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari wouldn’t put their young drivers in that series if they didn’t think it was good for them.”

“Yeah, you see people start going to certain championships. You got a few drivers from World Series Renault, who have moved to GP3 & GP2 purposely so they can reach that Formula One dream. If I had the funds, my ultimate goal is to become a Formula One world champion, but I’m realistic enough to know that is very, very difficult, and it’s just got a little bit harder. What’s gonna happen is, people are gonna go to the right championship, but they’re gonna have to pay more money because it’s more of a sought after series. So the prices will go up. More people paying more money will increase [costs] in that championship. So, the likelihood of you getting a good deal is gonna be harder.”

Sam’s legendary family name has not meant that his been fast tracked in any way. As a team principal his father David Brabham must remain objective at all times and can’t factor sentiment into any of the decisions that he makes that could impact the project’s future. Sam suffers from a lot of the problems that many young drivers face such as under funding and doesn’t expect a seat at Brabham to just be handed to him.

“I’d like to drive. I won’t drive this year, or even next year I don’t think. Dad’s not gonna give it to me, and I wouldn’t want it that way either. I’ll be a part of it and I’ll want to be a part of the team and be involved, go to the tests, just learn and try and gather in as much information for my own career as possible. Whether Dad goes, one – I think you’re good enough, and two – it actually works as really good PR for us, for you to be driving as well, I do wanna drive for the team. It’s a bit of a dream to drive for Brabham. I’ve driven a few Brabham cars but never competitively. I’d love to do that and win, win in your own car.”

Many thanks to both Sam and David Brabham for making this interview happen and their work at Autosport International. They, along with their colleagues and team boss Piers Phillips, were all infectious with their enthusiasm and hospitality, and as a new backer myself I, along with many others cannot wait to see how far their ambition can take them.

The Project Brabham stand at Autosport International 2015

The Project Brabham stand at Autosport International 2015

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