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Q&A with Sam Brabham

by Formula Scout
Sam Brabham

Photo: Paul Davies Photography

A third generation racer as the grandson of Sir Jack Brabham and son of David, Sam Brabham made his own talents behind the wheel clear with victories in Formula Ford earlier in 2014. A big accident and funding limitations brought his season to an early end, but Sam is now looking ahead to 2015 and was present at the final round of the British F3 campaign at Donington Park last month, when he spoke to Paul Davies about future plans and the family’s racing history past and present.

It?s the last round of British F3, what brings you here today?

Just to come and have a look really. I?ve spent a bit of time with the Carlin guys, and Max [Marshall] and Camren [Kaminsky] were my team-mates last year and Max is my team-mate this year, so I thought I?d come up and support them, and have a bit of a look around really.

Your season started okay, and then you came to a bit of a halt. What actually happened there?

Well, the season started quite well. At Brands Hatch, if I hadn?t got hit then we would have had some really good results. Donington went well, even though I came off, and then Thruxton was awesome. We got two wins and poles, and with no testing either, which was fantastic.

Oulton Park was a learning curve, to say the least. I came off two laps before and dropped a wheel, and I didn?t really think anything of it, it happens all the time. So I carried on and the car felt fine, I thought maybe a rollbar had come off or had broken ? not the end of the world, I can still salvage a result. And then I?ve turned into Island and the thing?s just squatted down, and I ended up going into the grass and barrel rolling, and landed on top of the tyres.

Is it actually scary when you have an incident like that?

I didn?t really know about it. As soon as I felt it dig into the ground I knew exactly what was going to happen, even though I?ve never felt that feeling before. So I just held my shoulders, tensed up and just waited until I had stopped completely, and hoped that I didn?t land upside down.

You?ve got two Formula Ford meetings left. Any chance of getting back out?

Not at the moment. I?d love to, that would be absolutely incredible, but at the moment I think it?s a bit out of reach. I?m confident that if I did, I?d come in and do well, but at the moment it is what it is and I just have to focus on next year now. Towards the end of the season it?s hard for people to put money in just for two races, so now I?m just focussed on next year and making sure I get a drive for the whole season.

Sam Brabham

Brabham scored his first car racing wins in Formula Ford earlier in 2014 (Photo: Paul Davies Photography)

In an ideal world, what would you prefer to be doing next season?

I?d like to do an F3 championship, whether that?s Euroformula Open or British F3 or whatever it might be next year. I?d like to be in a championship with numbers as well, because unfortunately this year British F3 doesn?t quite have numbers that it deserves. Having driven the car here at Donington earlier in the year, it was absolutely incredible, and I couldn?t see why people wouldn?t want to do it. But that?s not for me to decide for others. It?s a shame but at the same time, next year hopefully they?ll have good numbers and if so, then I?d quite like to do that. But we?ll have to wait and see.

You tested the F3 car on the media day here. How does it feel to drive one of those?

It?s nothing like I?ve ever really experienced. The MRF?s a good car, it?s got a lot of grip, it?s an F3 tub, but the grip that these British F3 cars have is just unreal. You?ve got so much ground effect and so much grip, and the tyres are good and they?re grippy. This circuit is one of my favourites in anything, and it?s one of those experiences you can?t really describe. You just have so much more grip than you?d ever imagine and you go through a corner and you?re like ?oh that was quick, OK, I?ll go a bit quicker?, and then you have more grip than you did before because you?re using more of the aero and it?s working more efficiently. That concept is quite hard to get around. Mechanically, through the slow stuff, it?s a really good car as well.

Was it difficult to go back from that to sitting in a Formula Ford?

It certainly helped me. The next day I was at Thruxton testing, and I was quick. The car?s a lot heavier, the tyres are bigger, more grip. In a straight line they?re not so different, but through the corners, massively so. The Formula Ford?s got quite good grip, but the Formula 3 is just a whole another world away. But that experience certainly helped me in what I was doing in Formula Ford anyway.

What are you working on so far to get you into F3 next season?

The sponsors I?ve had this year have been fantastic, they?ve been there since the start and hopefully those relationships will continue. But on top of that you?ve got to look at other options, people who will want to get involved, but someone who?s going to commit to get me there. Everyone?s doing the best they can, which I can?t appreciate enough, without them I would never have raced ever.

Dad couldn’t fund my racing alone, so some sponsors took a gamble on me and it seems to have paid off. I’ve worked hard to retain those sponsors as I’ve progressed up the ladder. Hopefully we?ll manage to get there next year. There?s a few things happening which are looking very positive. It?s all going to happen in time, so we?ll have to wait and see really, but if everything we?re working on as Brabham works out, it?s going to be mega, so I?m quite excited.

Sam Brabham

Brabham tested with top F3 squad Carlin at Donington in April (Photo: Paul Davies Photography)

You?re obviously from a racing family ? does that put any pressures on you, or do you put extra pressure on yourself, because of the family name and reputation?

Well, I don?t really think about it, to be honest. Sometimes, I?m more appreciative of it. It?s something that, whether I chose to have it or not, it?s a privilege and to have that rich history so close is amazing. Out on track, you don?t think about it. A lot of people say, ?It must be quite cool to have this person, this person?? but at the same time, it?s just my granddad or my dad, I don?t really think of them as anything else.

When granddad passed it was quite a realisation as to how big, and how much he had achieved. Before, you know but the reception it had was unreal. Absolutely unreal. But I put more pressure on myself to do well because I expect myself to go out there and perform. No-one else expects as much as I do ? other than dad maybe!

Having seen your dad around the paddock, he seems to be pretty calm.

Yeah, he is. Early on he was a bit nervous, but as soon as he saw the results start to come and the potential that was there start to come out? He gets annoyed when he sees me not do so well when he knows I can be better, and so do I. At Rockingham last year I qualified third, but it took me a while to get to that pace. So I?ve come in like ?third, I?m pretty happy? and then dad was like ?you took the whole session to get there? and I said ?well yeah, this is true, I?m a bit disappointed?. So he?ll only put pressure on me when he knows that I know I?ve not done the job as well, and fortunately this year we haven?t had too much to argue about, this year?s been pretty good.

It must be great having someone with your dad?s experience.

Yeah, I think as I?ve got older we?ve become a lot closer and have been able to bounce off each other quite well. The Radical race we did together was incredible. I?ve never really been that close to him when he?s racing, and to race with him? it was cool to see how he acts and how he goes through every little bit of data and every little bit of the car that he might change. I?m not the most mechanically minded ? neither?s he but he?s worked at it.

Sam Brabham

Photo: Paul Davies Photography

Are you still at college?

University? I start the second year in a couple of weeks.

How do you find combing university with the racing?

It?s difficult. Sometimes I think I don?t have a lot of time but at the same time, not many people are doing what I?m doing.

What are you studying?

Sport and exercise science. It?s pretty hectic and the work?s a lot more different to what I?m used to. It?s a lot more in depth. Nutrition, I thought ?I?ll be alright, it?s just about what to eat and that? and then the first lecture was ?What?s the chemical compound of a carbohydrate?? and I thought, ?What have I got myself into?. But you get there in the end.

With racing and the other events you have to do, the uni are quite good about it, they respect that you?ve got something that you?re doing to a high level and it?s important to you, so they?ll allow you to have time off and they gave me extra time for exams. I went out to Bahrain and the week I got back I had three, four exams. I didn?t have time to revise so I went in there blind but they gave me a bit of extra time at the end.

Are you enjoying the university experience?

Yeah, I love it. I guess I don?t experience uni like a lot of other people. I have a lot of friends that go out all the time. I?m not really into that anyway, but because of racing I have to discipline myself and eat properly. Most people just eat pot noodles whereas I spend my money not on going out, but eating the right food and training and making sure I?m the best I can be not just on track but off track as well.

I want to get the best grades as possible. I had the offer to go to Exeter but it?s so far away. Northampton?s good for me to get to Silverstone, Donington, Rockingham and home?s not too far away, and it worked out for the best. I didn?t have to go at all but I thought, if racing doesn?t work out ? in this business, you never know when it might end. I found that this year, and the potential for next year and year after is good but, you still don?t know if that will happen. So you have to have a fall-back and if I can get a good degree at the same time, then that?s perfect.

David Brabham, Sam Brabham, Matthew Braham

Photo: Paul Davies Photography

It?s obvious your family are very supportive of you

Yeah. Mum?s family used to race, mum used to race. She?s tough on me, she?s tougher on me than dad is. Now I drive myself to races, and if they can come, great, if not then they?ll be the first ones to call me once I?ve finished.

I know that with Pietro Fittipaldi, the first phone call he has after a race is from his granddad… Did you get to talk about your racing much with your granddad?

Yeah. I?d always get an email or a phone call, ?well done, we saw the results?. He didn?t have to do that but I really appreciated it. When we were over there we?d always have a good chat. The last time we actually saw him was a couple of years ago and he had a new hearing aid, so that was one of the first times I?ve actually had a proper conversation with him, which was absolutely awesome because he was telling me stories from when he was racing, giving me a few tips on what to do.

His approach and dad?s approach were so different. He was very much just get in and just drive the thing to the limit whereas dad?s like ?how do I drive it to the limit?? Grandad was more mechanical, his feel for the car was incredible. Back then they didn?t have data to plug-in, you had to go out and feel what the car does and try something different and then go again. What he did as a driver and as a team owner was incredible.

As much as it was sad when he passed away, it was quite nice to see how much people respected and loved him. There were 800 people at the funeral, and I was stood with Matthew, not really knowing what to expect. We walked in as a family and sat down and didn?t know how many people were there. But I looked around and? never expected that to be the case.

Talking of Matthew, you?re in different parts of the world and at slightly different stages of your career, but do you two keep in touch?

Yeah, we speak quite often. We never used to, and then he came over for that Renault BARC event and that was the first time we started to talk to each other. We get on really well; we?re quite similar as well, which is quite amusing in some ways. When he came over for the Formula E test, that was really cool to have him over in England, staying with us. To come up here to Donington and watch them was quite impressive as well.

I know your dad was interested in getting you involved with Formula E at one stage? a Brabham team with Sam and Matt driving?

Oh, that would be awesome. Who knows what the future holds. At the moment we?re just trying to get out there and eventually get into Formula 3 next year. Matthew is working hard on getting to IndyCar and he?s going a great job of it at the moment. In his first year of Indy Lights he did a great job, won races, and against some strong drivers, people who did it last year, and Jack Harvey and Luiz Razia have done a lot of racing.

Eventually I?d love to do a race with me, dad and Matt but we?ll have to wait and see. Le Mans would be the best one I think, definitely. I wouldn?t say I?m ready for Le Mans yet. I think Matt could do it, obviously dad could do it, but give it a few more years and hopefully we?ll get there.

Sam Brabham

Photo: Paul Davies Photography

You?ve had the chance to drive some of the family?s old cars at various events, how did that feel?

Just special. The first one, the 1967 Brabham, was just incredible. To think how far it?s come from then to now? the technology then was incredible. I had no idea what I was doing, I thought if I break this I?m done. I thought, ?this is just the coolest sound and feeling in the world?. Dad and I were sat on the Brabham Straight at Brands Hatch and the Australian national anthem was playing just the weekend after grandad died. I didn?t cry but it was very emotional and a nice tribute to Jack.

And then I drove a 1960 Cooper-Climax, around the Silverstone GP circuit on Sunday of the British Grand Prix weekend, on the same track as Prost, Fittipaldi, Stewart. That was cool, and that car was incredible itself. More difficult to drive ? the gearbox, I?d have to heel and toe and then have to bring the revs up really slowly, and then it would pop into gear. It goes to show how good those guys were, on the limit. I was nowhere near close to the limit, I don?t want to break the thing, I don?t want to over-rev it. The technique and what they had to do back then was incredible. It makes you appreciate how good they really were.

When you?re actually sat in the BT24, does it feel very different from being sat in the Formula Ford car?

Yeah. You feel so exposed. You feel so open. You?ve got the fuel tank right next to you. And back then, it wasn?t just on a nice open Silverstone circuit with nothing around you, there was the track and then a couple of trees and a brick wall. Those cars are just something really special. The brakes were pretty good. I got it up to a bit of speed down the straights, and then through the corner I was trying to tip-toe my way around so I didn?t spin and make myself look like a bit of an idiot. It was awesome, and it was the first time I?ve actually driven round and seen how many people were there, it was amazing to see. People say British motorsport?s a bit dead but I saw no reason to believe that, there were so many people there.

You?ve got a New Zealand mother, Australian father, you were born in Britain. What nationality do you feel you are?

I don?t really go under any, to be honest. At the end of the day, we?re all kind of from the same place anyway, aren?t we? When I did MRF they asked me what flag I wanted and I was just like, ?I don?t want one?. On my suits, on my cars, I don?t have a flag. My family are from a lot of places. For me, you have too much division. We?re all born on the same piece of earth so why not appreciate that.