Sixty years after the Australian Grand Prix was first staged at Albert Park, the two men who did most to place Australia firmly on the world motor racing map will be honoured at a unique ceremony before the 2013 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix on Sunday 17 March.
Bronze busts of Sir Jack Brabham AO OBE, Formula One World Champion in 1959, 1960 and 1966, and Alan Jones MBE, who became Australia’s second Formula One World Champion in 1980, will be unveiled in a special ceremony at the Albert Park circuit at 2 pm on race day.
Commissioned jointly by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) and Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS), the busts are the work of well-known Melbourne artist Barbara McLean, whose sculptures already grace the public areas of Rod Laver Arena, as well as public and private collections here and overseas.
“It is entirely fitting that, sixty years on from the first Australian Grand Prix to be held at Albert Park in 1953, these two great names should be honoured here in Melbourne,” said Ron Walker, Chairman of the AGPC.
“The names Brabham and Jones are part of the foundations on which our motor racing heritage was built. In 1953 Jack Brabham, as he then was, encountered the established front-runners of the Australian scene – men like Lex Davison and Alan’s father, Stan Jones.
“Just three years later at the same circuit Brabham then took on Stan Jones as the Aussies competed against Stirling Moss, Jean Behra and the mighty Maseratis when international racing first came to Australia.
“Soon after, Jack Brabham left these shores to win three Formula One World Championships, put Australia firmly on the motor racing map and earn a knighthood. A generation later, Alan Jones became Australia’s second World Champion.
“We are intensely proud that these wonderful statues will stand guard over the circuit where Australia’s motorsport reputation was forged, and where the Formula One world is such a welcome visitor every year.”
CAMS President Andrew Papadopoulos said, "There wouldn't be many Australians that wouldn't know of these two men and what they achieved in their heyday. It's great they have been honoured in such a way. We can only hope there are more than two bronze busts in the future and a young star of today or tomorrow joins Sir Jack Brabham and Alan Jones in their exclusive club of Australian Formula One World Champions.”
Parramatta Speedway and the Geelong Sprints may not immediately suggest the glamour we associate with the world of Formula One, but those two local venues were crucial to the careers of the two men now being immortalised in bronze.
Born in Hurstville, Sydney, on April 2 1926, Jack Brabham tried his hand at motor racing for the first time at Parramatta Speedway in Sydney’s west and quickly summed it up. “They were all lunatics!” he said, but the madness was infectious.
Through midget cars on cinder tracks, hillclimbs and iconic cars such as his RedeX Special – which he sold to Stan Jones – Jack Brabham graduated to Formula 1 in a Cooper in the British Grand Prix at Aintree in England on July 16 1955.
Almost exactly four years later at the same venue Brabham, by now a member of the Cooper factory team, won his first Grand Prix. It was the first of 14 World Championship Grand Prix victories from 126 races in which Brabham also took 13 pole positions and set 10 fastest laps.
His proudest boast was that no fewer than 80 of those Grands Prix were in cars of his own manufacture; six of his 14 wins were achieved in the famous Repco-engined Brabhams of the great F1 era from 1966 to 1968.
“I still have vivid memories of those meetings here at Albert Park,” said Sir Jack, who made his final Grand Prix appearance in 1970 and was knighted in 1979. “The rivalries were friendly, but no less intense for that! Seeing thousands flock to this circuit to watch us race made me realise just how much this sport of motor racing mattered to so many people.
“I won many trophies, many titles and was thrilled to take Australia’s name to the top of the motor racing world. But I have never felt as honoured as I did when I learned that my achievements and Alan’s were to be commemorated in this way.
“It is absolutely wonderful for me to know that while my Repco Brabham sits here in Melbourne in the National Museum of Sport, just a short distance away its driver is commemorated so strikingly here at Albert Park where our Formula 1 heritage began.”
Born in Melbourne on November 2 1946, Alan Jones, determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, got to grips with motor sport at the Geelong Sprints but quickly realised the path to glory led overseas.
While he first headed for the UK in 1967, it was not until 1973 that results started to fall his way. Three wins in Formula Atlantic in 1974 opened the door for a Formula 1 debut in 1975 in a second-hand Hesketh at Silverstone’s non-Championship International Trophy meeting.
The Hesketh days were short-lived, however, and in the following two years Jones drove for former World Champions Graham Hill and John Surtees with some success but little enjoyment. That changed in 1977 when he was called up by Shadow.
Alan Jones took the first of his 12 World Championship victories in Austria that season and brought himself to the attention of one Frank Williams. The rest, as they say, is history: by 1979 Frank’s new car, the FW07, and A. Jones had become the partnership to beat. They took four wins in 1979; five more in 1980 made Alan Australia’s second World Champion.
Despite further victories in 1981, Jones – exhausted by the brutality of the ‘ground-effect’ cars of the era – brought down the curtain on his F1 career. A one-off race for Arrows in 1983 was followed by a full-time return with Lola in 1985-86. Alan Jones contested 116 World Championship races, winning 12 (he will maintain it should be 13 but his victory in Spain in 1980 was deemed ‘unofficial’), took pole position six times and set 13 fastest laps.
“It’s hard enough for me to accept that three decades have flown by since I was World Champion, let alone remember 60 years ago when as a very small boy I watched my father race at Albert Park!” says Alan.
“But I am delighted that our home town, Melbourne, has decided to acknowledge our contribution to Australia’s motor racing history with these marvellous sculptures.
“For a boy whose first outing was in a Morris 850 at the Geelong Sprints it’s quite something to end up immortalised in bronze at Albert Park! I am very proud and honoured to be remembered alongside Sir Jack at a circuit which has such happy memories for my family.”
In true Formula One fashion, speed was of the essence when it came to Barbara McLean’s work. “The timeframe was very demanding,” she says. “True to the nature of the commission it was a very fast journey!” Barbara had only 10 days studio time with each work – and far less than that with her subjects.
“I was able to grab Alan for just five minutes in transit at Melbourne airport,” she explained, “and for the whole time I was like a rabbit in the headlights, just staring because I wanted to record as much as I could.” With Sir Jack, afternoon tea allowed Barbara to weigh up the triple World Champion in a more leisurely way.
“It made a huge difference to meet them both,” she explains. “With photographs, which are a major source for my work, a lot of distortion can take place, but when you have met the subject, even for a short time, you can see the truth of the character through the photographs.”
She was keen to capture the mischievous sense of humour that lies just under the surface with Sir Jack, while both men impressed her with the intensity of their concentration and their astuteness, both qualities forged in the fierce heat of F1 competition.
The other challenge is that these two World Champion busts are larger than much of her work, meaning that she had to ‘scale up’ all round. But the end result is the same, and the artist sums it up best. “In bronze,” she smiles, “these two great men will outlast all of us!”