David Brabham Interview: Part 1

On Wednesday 17th June I was fortunate enough to interview former Formula One driver and Le Mans winner David Brabham. We discussed the new Brabham Project, Formula One and even young drivers and the most recent Le Mans 24 hours event. Here is the first part of the interview.

Last year you launched Project Brabham to bring the famous name back to racing. How is that progressing for you right now?

David: Very well actually. When we launched Project Brabham last September, it was to test the market in terms of our idea and the way we want to bring Brabham back: do people want to see it? We had a very successful crowdfunding campaign. It re-launched Brabham in a sense of what we are trying to achieve. We ended up with over 3,000 people in 64 countries involved, so it’s definitely demonstrated to us there is a real desire to see the Brabham name back out there but also the way we’re going to do it too.

The race team will become open and transparent, allow people to be involved, engaged and be part of the team to really give them a unique motorsport experience. Since then we have built the first stage of Brabham-Digital which took several months to complete, as well as an investment prospectus because a race team just doesn’t suffice on it’s own. You have got to have a business around the race team and that’s we’re trying to create with this model.

We’re probably now in week four going into having discussions with potential investors around the world. We’re definitely making progress. When I went to Le Mans last weekend, I had a lot of really positive meetings. Everyone from the press wanted to have a talk about what Brabham was doing and how we’re going back to racing and how we’re going to the World Endurance Championship first. We were at Le Mans so it all made sense for people to have a chat to us; it’s coming together quite nicely.

I understand it’s an LMP2 project you want to make a return with?

David: Yes, that’s as far as the racing is concerned. It seems to be the best option for us. We can buy a car, we can get racing, and we can start building on things from there. We need to build the Brabham-Digital side from the information, content and back-end access and how we deliver that to our community. That is a project in itself. It requires a budget so all of that is in our prospectus to raise the money to achieve and do that well.

So you’re buying a car, you’re not designing one yourselves?

David: No, not at the beginning. Ideally we’d like to do an LMP1 programme in the future and our community, particularly of engineers, will be a key part of that right down to collaboratively designing the first Brabham LMP1 sportscar. You can’t just go into a design project and build it from where we are at the moment; we’re taking this stage-by-stage. We’re going to do the LMP2, set the team up and start from scratch, build the factory and team and go LMP2 racing around the world, then start developing the business from there.

What a fantastic Le Mans at the weekend. We saw a lot of emphasis on the hybrid technology from Porsche and Audi. Would that be an engine idea for you?

David: Well, ideally we would look at aligning ourselves with partners to help us achieve that. I think if you don’t set your sights high, where are you going to end up? The ultimate goal in the short-term would be to do an LMP1 car, have the manufacturer support in what shape or form that is, to be able to go out there and go for victory at Le Mans and the World Championship.

Quick thoughts on Le Mans at the weekend, how did you enjoy it?

David: Great. I mean, that was my 20th trip there and only my second time as a spectator. However, I didn’t have much time to watch because I was doing back-to-back meetings and press interviews, but it was great. The racing in the WEC is absolutely fantastic at the moment; the manufacturers are getting right behind it. The first hour was insane. One thought there was going to be an accident here somewhere and of course it ended up that there was.

It was a great race all the way through. There was close battles, and in Le Mans anything can happen. You could get a puncture half way around the track or across the start finish line and your lap advantage is gone. That tension was all the way through the race, which was brilliant.

We saw that with quite a few cars, especially with a few having punctures early on in the lap and having to make it back.

David: It’s a nightmare. Believe me, I’ve been there.

With Project Brabham, how much do the fans get a say in what goes on. Do they get to choose, for example, colour schemes as well as other things?

David: That’s the plan. Through our crowdfunding campaign we’ve already asked the community to vote on various things and we plan to continually engage with them. We’ll come up with a whole load of potential designs on what Brabham is going to look like in the future because at the moment we don’t quite know what that is.

There are two distinct heritage colours of Dad’s era in the 60s and the white and blue of the Nelson Piquet era in the 80s, so then what is Brabham in the future? We’re just starting to talk to a few people about that, but again we will put it out to community vote. Our community is at the heart of the new Brabham Racing and they will very much feel part of the race team by being able to contribute to major decisions.

Would the fans even be part of the driver choices in the future?

David: Yes, that’s a possibility as well. There’s not going to be a whole shortage of drivers who want to be part of it. I mean as soon as we launched we were inundated with well over 100-150 CV’s in the first week from all sorts of people. We’ll put a list of drivers together and again put it out to a community vote.

That’s quite a lot of CV’s you’ve had handed in.

David: Yeah, it was, and it was also around the same time that two Formula 1 teams were looking like they were going to fold, so a lot of people perhaps felt a little bit insecure in their organisations.

One final question: would you consider getting the helmet back on inside your own car?

David: Well I haven’t taken the helmet off completely yet! It’s been half off for the last two years. I’ve had to park my career as a full time driver to purely work on this project. In terms of drivers, they are not decided, and until I get much further down the road I’m not really thinking too much about it as there is just so much to do behind the scenes and getting the investment to get it up and running because we’re trying to develop this as a proper business.

We’re a small team on a small budget. We’re trying to do the best we can and there is only so much we can do so we have to focus on the things we really do need to sort now, and that right now is going out there and raising the investment, which we are doing.

Sounds good. I think a lot of fans will be looking forward to seeing what happens with the Brabham project. I for one am definitely one of them.

David: Thank you. The response to it has blown us away. I think one because it’s Brabham coming back, but two, we’re coming back as the world’s first open source, community driven race team racing at that kind of level and Brabham is a big name. It’s a brand and I’m developing it as a brand through the team. We want to give people a very unique experience, which I think you can only do if you’re open and transparent, so we don’t have a problem with that: we embrace it. We’ve already discovered that there are a lot of advantages to doing it in a way that will make the company and the business become profitable and sustainable.

Stay tuned for more on our discussions about young drivers and the state of Formula One.