The flying dentist
- Felix Muelas, Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W July 2000 issue
- 1957 British GP - Vanwall's breakthrough win, by Felix Muelas/David Fox
- Jean Behra - The fighting man, by Mattijs Diepraam
- BRP - Dad, Ken Gregory and their dream team, by Felix Muelas
- Connaught - Complex mind, complex output, by Felix Muelas/Mattijs Diepraam
- Mike Hawthorn - The driver to lead the way to British dominance, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas
- Vanwall - The Green Comet: the brief history of the Vanwall, by Don Capps
Ferrari Dino 256
1959 French GP
Born on the 25th February 1932 in Dukinfield, Chesire, Charles Anthony Stanford Brooks arrived on the Grand Prix scene in an unusual way. He started racing in 1952, and for three years he was a successful club racer, first with a Healey and later with a Frazer-Nash. He had no thoughts of making a full-time profession of racing, even after joining the Aston Martin sports car team in 1955. Aged 23 at the time, he was studying dentistry at Manchester University, and looming on the horizon were his Finals. The 1955 season had witnessed Brooks first "serious" racing, as he had shared third place with Peter Collins in the Aston Martin DB3S at Goodwood. At the end of July that year, he was invited by John Riseley-Pritchard to drive his Connaught A3 - under the Equipe Endeavour brand - in the London Trophy at Crystal Palace. Brooks finished fourth with the F2 car, behind the Formula One cars of Hawthorn, Schell and Roy Salvadori. On September 3rd, Brooks was again driving the same car in the Daily Telegraph Trophy at Aintree and was fourth again, this time behind Salvadori, Bob Gerard and Graham Gould. A fifth overall meant a win in the F2 class of the Avon Trophy at Castle Combe on October 1st, his third result of the year.
He then received a phone call from Connaught. "They were doing the Syracuse Grand Prix, they said, and would I like to drive one of the cars? Frankly, they couldn't find anyone else and they were scraping the bottom of the barrel. I had never so much as sat in a Formula 1 car before, but I rather absent-mindedly said yes, and put the phone down."
Perhaps it was fortunate for Brooks that he was preoccupied with his exams because on the flight to Sicily he worked on his books and didn't give a lot of thought to the race.
With Ferraris absent, the favourites at Syracuse were three factory Maserati 250Fs, driven by Luigi Musso, Harry Schell and Luigi Villoresi. They had been very quick on the first day and it might have been some indication of Brooks's natural genius that he was soon lapping as fast as they were in a car that handled well, but was short of power.
"It wasn't terribly reliable, either," Tony said. "That old Alta engine had been developed to its limit, and the team's finishing record was awful. 'Don't do too much practice,' they said, because there were no spare engines, and they were terrified of not getting the starting money. Quite understandable, but it didn't really help me! When the Grand Prix started, I'd done no more than 12 or 15 laps."
By the end of it, he had won his first Formula 1 race.
After playing himself in, he took the lead from Musso on lap 11 and was never troubled again. "I was very pleased at the time, but it didn't really sink in. Quite honestly, all I could think about was my exams! I remember swotting on the plane all the way back, too."
After a wasted season with BRM, Brooks signed as number two to Moss in the Vanwall team for 1957, with Stuart Lewis-Evans as the third driver. Tony had no outright wins that year, but he did share victory with Moss in the British Grand Prix. A month before he had been injured at Le Mans and was by no means fit by the time Aintree came around. "I didn't break anything in the shunt, but I had very severe abrasions. There was a hole in the side of my thigh, and I could literally have put my fist into it." The day before practice began, Brooks was still in hospital, but he reported for duty on time, and remarkably qualified third, behind Moss and the Maserati of Jean Behra.
"I had no problem in going quickly, but I couldn't sustain it for long because I was weak after that time in hospital. In those days, of course, drivers could take over other team cars if their own had retired, and it was agreed that I'd keep going as quickly as I could, and that if Stirling had trouble he would take over my car." In the event, that is precisely what happened. After building up a good lead. Moss retired, took over Brooks's fifth-placed car, and put in a legendary drive to come through the field to win.
The Vanwall, according to both Stirling and Tony, was unquestionably a great car, but not an easy one to love. "Actually, Tony Vandervell thought his cars were a lot better than they were," Brooks said. "The Vanwall was quite a difficult car to drive, in that you couldn't chuck it into a comer, like, say, a Maserati 250F, and steer it on the throttle. You had to be very precise with it, and the gearbox was terrible."
Only at the Nürburgring were the Vanwalls off the pace through the 1957 season. Brooks, although fastest of the team's three drivers in qualifying, was 10 seconds away from Fangio, and in the race became ill, almost "seasick" as his car struggled to cope with the bumps.
This was the Grand Prix that went into legend, of course, as Fangio's greatest. The race in which, after stopping for fuel and tyres, he made up the best part of a minute on the Ferraris of Hawthorn and Collins, in the process lapping eight seconds faster than his own pole position time. "Une course d'anthologie," was how the French press described it, but a year later Brooks was virtually to duplicate it and his drive, the best of his life, has never received due tribute.
It was Vanwall versus Ferrari in 1958, but only Moss and Hawthorn were truly contesting the World Championship, for although Brooks was right there on pace (taking pole position - by a clear second - at Monte Carlo, for example), by the beginning of August there were only eight points on his tally, scored at Spa, where he won a Grand Prix 'on his own' for the first time. "I particularly loved Spa. I'd been there twice before with the Aston Martin, and had won both times. It seemed to me the essence of a true Grand Prix circuit, very quick and calling for great precision, with no margin for error at all. Stirling made one of his lightning starts, intent on leading all the way, and I've always believed that that day he was out to beat me as much as the Ferraris. I'd been to public school, where one learned that 'the team was the thing' and there was no way I was going to try and pass Stirling even if I might hustle him a bit. But I'm not sure he believed that, and he tore away, got as far as Stavelot and missed a gear!"
There was generally harmony in the Vanwall team, although Brooks admits being sometimes annoyed by the demands of Moss, the team leader. "I was never allowed as much practice as I wanted, because if I went quicker than Stirling they'd have to let him go out again, and all that did was to wear out the cars. And then he might want my chassis and his engine, or vice versa, which meant more work for the mechanics, so for David Yorke, the team manager, it made sense for them to keep this number two a few tenths slower. Stirling always made sure he had the best car, and if he thought he hadn't, he'd mix it! That said, we were always the best of friends, and still are."
The situation at Ferrari was rather less clear-cut. Enzo's three full-time Grand Prix drivers for 1958 were Hawthorn, Collins and Luigi Musso and some people have said that if anything, the friendship between Mike and Peter was detrimental to the team's competitiveness. "They were such close mates, Roy Salvadori says, that they really didn't care which of them won. That may sound hard to believe in today's world, but it was true. And I don't think it was necessarily good for the impetus of the team."
At Reims Hawthorn gave the team its first victory of the season, but 10 laps into the race, Musso, chasing him, crashed at the flat-out right-hander after the pits and was killed. "I have won at Reims," Ferrari said, "but the price is too high: I have lost the only Italian driver of note." Then, two weeks later, the Ferraris finished first and second at Silverstone, with Collins this time the leading driver. Collins may not have been a model of consistency, but in the British Grand Prix he took the lead from the start, held off a predictably solid challenge from Moss and following Stirling's retirement, was never threatened.
To Germany, then, where Hawthorn took pole position, followed by Brooks, Moss and Collins. Awful as they may have been at the Nürburgring the year before, the Vanwalls were pretty well sorted by now. Problem was, as usual Brooks's practice laps had been restricted, and although his car was handling well with a light fuel load, he had run not so much as a single lap on full tanks. Whilst Moss raced away in the early stages therefore, Tony thought it prudent to sit back a while.
In the early laps Stirling shattered Fangio's supposedly untouchable lap record of the year before, but the Vanwall's magneto failed on lap four, leaving the Ferraris in front, followed by Brooks. "My car was diabolical on full tanks, and by the time it began to handle properly again, after four laps or so, the Ferraris were half a minute ahead. After another five laps, I was right with them. The Vanwall and Ferrari were pretty evenly matched that day. On handling, there wasn't much in it, on braking I was better than them - we had discs, whereas Ferrari were still using drums - and on horsepower, particularly at the top end, they had the edge on me. My problem was that, although I was quicker overall, the last part of the lap was that long, long, straight, and although I knew I could get by them, so also I knew that they could pass me again at that point. My only hope was to snatch the lead very early in the lap, and pull out so much that they'd be too far back to slipstream me at the end of it. And eventually, that worked out." At the beginning of lap 11, Brooks outbraked Hawthorn into the South Turn and then swiftly got past Collins, who had led since the retirement of Moss. That done, he put everything into building the lead he needed to be out of reach on the straight.
"The tragedy was that Peter, trying to stay with me, overdid it and had his fatal accident. Obviously, I felt pretty bad about it at the time, although I didn't feel responsible or anything like that." Collins crashed at Pflanzgarten, turning into the uphill right-hander a little bit too fast, a little bit too wide, a little bit too late. The Ferrari went off the road, hit a bank and somersaulted, throwing the driver out against a tree. Eventually, he was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Bonn, but did not survive the journey.
Brooks knew nothing of this. "I finally reached the straight at the end of the lap, then looked in my mirrors to see if the Ferraris were still in touch. As it was, there was no sign of Peter, and Mike was a long way behind. I assumed that Peter's car must have blown up, and my immediate reaction was one of great disappointment - for me, the Nürburgring was always the greatest circuit, and I was now really into the swing of things, and had been greatly enjoying our battle. It wasn't until much later on, after the prize-giving, that I discovered Peter had died before reaching hospital."
Having seen Collins's car go over, seen a blur of his friend being thrown out, Hawthorn drove to his pit at the end of the lap, reporting that his clutch had failed, and that he had anyway no inclination to continue. Although he was to finish the season for Ferrari - indeed win the World Championship - he decided almost immediately that he would retire as soon as it was over.
In Italy Brooks won again, with Hawthorn second, and Moss retiring. Three victories in 1958 all of them at classic circuits: Spa-Francorchamps, the Nürburgring, Monza. Only Moss, with four, beat Tony's tally for the year, and yet both were beaten to the World Championship by Hawthorn, who won but once. The matter was settled at Casablanca, where Stirling could have done no more, winning the Moroccan Grand Prix, and taking the point then on offer for the fastest lap; in the closing stages. Hawthorn's new team-mate, Phil Hill, moved over, allowed him by for the six points he needed to take the title. Six years later, in Mexico City, Lorenzo Bandini would do exactly the same for John Surtees.
At the end of 1958, Tony Vandervell, sick at heart after the death of third Vanwall driver Stuart Lewis-Evans at Casablanca, decided to disband his racing team. And while Moss signed to drive for Rob Walker, Brooks became the latest Englishman to go to Ferrari.
It was a difficult year in many ways. Cooper's "rear-engine revolution" was underway with a vengeance and Ferrari, still front-engined, were hard-pressed to keep up on all but the quick circuits. For all that, Brooks remembered the 1959 season well. "It was a gorgeous car to drive, that Dino 246. Rather like a Maserati 250F in that you could drive it on the throttle through the comers. And its gearbox - after those two years with Vanwall - was a revelation."
Brooks's first victory of the year came at Reims in scorching conditions, where he simply drove away from the pack with a calm as relaxed as it was splendid.
This, by the way, was also the race where his volatile French team-mate, Jean Behra, finally fell out with the Ferrari management. "I didn't have any problem with Behra, but we didn't communicate much, because I didn't speak French and his Italian was not very good - mine was quite competent - but there were never any nasty words. I don't know what Behra's problem was. Perhaps he thought he should have been appointed number one driver. For my part, I just joined the team on the understanding that I was going to get a car as good as everybody else's. And at Ferrari I did get a car which was always the equal of my team-mates - which is more than I can say for my time with Vanwall."
Carlo Chiti, Ferrari's chief engineer, felt that Behra was cut adrift emotionally by Ferrari, having joined the team believing he would be designated team leader. At the Reims weekend, where he threw a punch at team manager Romolo Tavoni, he had got it into his mind that his Dino 246 was somehow mechanically deficient - and even reportedly made a protest to the sport's governing body to the effect that Ferrari had stitched him up, providing him with a chassis which had recently been shunted by Dan Gurney in testing at Monza.
"Jean was certainly not a very likeable character," recalled Chiti. "They called him 'the gypsy' because of his passionate temperament. He also had a particularly vulgar way of expressing himself. But the way he died led me, even so, to think deeply about it. We had completely abandoned that man to himself, with his brooding determination to win. We had obliged him to take refuge in his own desperation." Behra, who had led at Monaco before blowing up his Dino's engine, worked himself up into a fury of frustration over his disappointment with the season, culminating in his knocking out cold Tavoni in a restaurant at Reims on the evening after he had trashed another V6 engine.
As if that wasn't enough, he also had a major confrontation with a journalist in the same restaurant. "If you ever say that again, I'll punch you in the face," Behra threatened. He went to leave the restaurant, paused at the door and then back-tracked to the journalist's table. "I've just thought about this," he pondered. "It's not worth waiting for the next time." With that he duly punched the unlucky scribe in the face.
Enzo Ferrari may have been privately quite amused that a member of the fourth estate should have been subjected to such summary justice but thumping his own team manager was another matter altogether. The episode cost Behra his place in the Maranello line-up and the gallant Frenchman died soon afterwards when his Porsche sportscar crashed on the Avus banking during a supporting event at the German GP meeting.
Traditionally, the Grand Prix at Reims had been supported by at least one 12-hour sportscar race, but with the growing number of accidents attributed to driver fatigue the organisers decided to abandon this and restrict the supporting event to a Formula 2 race after the Grand Prix. In addition, practice was arranged for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, leaving the circuit completely clear on Saturday.
The first practice session started in ideal weather conditions and Brooks soon demonstrated that the fast Reims track suited the Ferrari. His lap times progressively quickened until he recorded 2m19.4 and only Moss, after a supreme effort, could get anywhere near him by going round in 2m19.9 in the BRP-prepared BRM. On Thursday evening Brooks and Moss did not bother to practice, being content to sit and watch the other drivers trying to improve their times. Hot weather intervened on Friday and times were generally slower.
Friday had been hot but Sunday was even worse and by lunchtime the tarmac on parts of the circuit was beginning to melt in the extreme heat. Before the start the drivers were permitted a short exploratory session and then lined up on the grid just before 2pm. As the flag fell Brooks went into an immediate lead but Behra stalled and, after everyone else had gone, had to be push-started. In no time at all the cars were streaming down to Thillois hairpin where Moss moved into second place under braking. Past the grandstands the order was Brooks, Moss, Gregory, Brabham, Phil Hill, Schell, Bonnier, Trintignant and McLaren ahead of the rest but while Brooks continued to lead, the seven cars behind, in particular, were having a tremendous scrap. Quite early on, though, the surface at Thillois started breaking up and before long stones and lumps of tar were being thrown off car tyres. Not unexpectedly this began to cause problems with Ireland being the first to stop for replacement goggles. Then on lap 8 Graham Hill came into the pits with a stone through his radiator and only another lap went by before Gregory stopped with a badly cut face and suffering from heat exhaustion. Bonnier and Davis also retired with engine problems.
By lap 10 Brooks had opened up a 4-second lead but the position behind him was entirely different: Trintignant was now second followed by Brabham, Moss, Phil Hill and, almost incredibly, Behra who had come right up through the field. Trintignant was driving superbly and determined to stay with Brooks but on lap 20 he overdid it at Thillois and stalled his engine in the resulting spin. Although he managed to push-start the Cooper he was so fatigued that a stop at the pits for refreshment was necessary before he could properly resume. Just before the incident Gumey's first Championship race had come to an end with a pierced radiator.
With half-distance approaching Brooks had a comfortable lead but the situation behind him was as tense as ever for Phil Hill and Behra had both passed Moss and were now on Brabham's tail. As they approached Thillois for the 25th time Behra made his challenge for second place but overdid it, went wide, and had to fall in behind again. On the next lap Hill succeeded in passing Brabham but his team-mate overstrained his engine shortly afterwards causing retirement on lap 32. It was soon after this that Moss seemed to find renewed inspiration and began to close up on Brabham until lap 38 when he moved into third place. Now his sights were on Hill and, aided by a new lap record on lap 40, closed up rapidly. An exciting climax was in the making but then on lap 43 Moss got caught out at Thillois and, as his clutch had been useless since before half-distance, could not prevent the engine from stalling. Being unable to restart without outside assistance he was automatically disqualified. Seven laps later Brooks received the chequered flag but the scene at the pits after the race was like a hospital with nearly every driver suffering from cuts and bruises caused by the flying stones and tar, not to mention the heat.
So Brooks won at Reims, as Hawthorn had done, and also at Avus, site of the German Grand Prix that year, and he went off to Sebring, for the last round of the World Championship, still in with a chance of winning, like Moss and Jack Brabham. "Amazingly, we set the three best times in practice, but I had to start fourth, because a faster time was 'found' for Harry Schell, who was in an old Cooper. Actually, he'd taken a short cut on the circuit... On the first lap, I was hit by Taffy von Trips, my team-mate, in the rear wheel, and a change in my philosophy may well have cost me the title."
Brooks, like all the Grand Prix drivers of the time, literally never discussed safety. "The attitude was that the spectators had to be protected at all costs and that was it. The big attraction was driving a racing car on closed roads, and we accepted that the name of the game was keeping the car on the island. If you went off, you were in the lap of the gods. You might get away with it, you might not. Nobody will persuade me that there isn't more of a challenge to the driver if he knows he might hurt himself if he goes off the road." For all that, Brooks did not believe in adding to the dangers of his profession. "My philosophy changed somewhat when I was thrown out of the wretched BRM at Silverstone in 1956, and completely after the Aston flipped at Le Mans the year after. In both cases, there was something wrong with the car, and I knew it. Eventually I made a firm mental decision never to try to compensate for a car's mechanical deficiencies: if something wasn't working properly, too bad. I always felt that it was morally wrong to take unnecessary risks with one's life because I believe that life is a gift from God. I don't want to get theological about it, and thousands will disagree, but that's my view: I felt I had a moral responsibility to take reasonable care of my life."
"After von Trips had run into me at Sebring, my natural inclination was to press on. Believe me, that would have been the easiest thing to do, but I made myself come in to have the car checked over. I lost half a lap doing that, and still finished third. As it turned out, Moss retired that day, and Brabham ran out of fuel near the end, so probably my coming in cost me the World Championship. Still, in my own mind, I think I did the right thing."
Brooks was never to win another Grand Prix. He admits he never had the dedication of a Moss and by the end of 1959 was already looking to a life beyond motor racing. To that end he bought a garage in Weybridge, Surrey, and decided, in the interests of building up his new business, it would make more sense to drive for a British team. Therefore, much to Enzo's regret, he left Ferrari, and drove outdated Coopers for the British Racing Partnership (with a rare one-off Vanwall drive in France) in 1960 and outclassed BRMs the following year. Third in his last race, at Watkins Glen in 1961, he announced his retirement.
Today Moss says that if he were running a Grand Prix team, and could have any two drivers from history in his cars, they would be Jimmy Clark and Tony Brooks. "I suppose that my choice of Tony would be a surprise to some people, but to my mind he is the greatest 'unknown' racing driver there has ever been - I say 'unknown', because he's such a modest man that he never became a celebrity, as such. But as a driver, boy, he was top drawer."
Reader's Why by David Fox
The last "real" Grand Prix victory for a front engined Ferrari. (and F1 car for that matter). Yes, Ferraris won 2 more races - Brooks at the 1959 German Grand Prix in Berlin's AVUS, but that was in 2 parts, and Phil Hill won the 1960 Italian Grand Prix, boycotted by the English "garagistes", as it was run on the combined Monza banked and road track. It was also the last works entered Ferrari F1 victory at the magnificent Reims circuit. Giancarlo Baghetti won in 1961, in the 1.5 litre Ferrari 156, but the car was entered by FISA (Federazione Italiana Scuderie Automobilistiche). Ferrari did not win the French Grand Prix again until 1968 when Jackie Ickx (Ferrari 312) won the wet, and tragic, GP at Rouen. Ferrari clung onto the front engined concept right until the end of the 2½-litre formula, like rivals Maserati ( by now only raced by privateers), Aston Martin and Scarab-- both of whom appeared probably at least 2 years too late. Bodied by Fantuzzi for the 1959 season the V6 car was actually derived from the 1957 156 F2 car, via the 1958 Championship winning car.
It was Tony Brooks' penultimate GP victory of the 6 he won between 1957 and 1959, and contributed to his 2nd place in the '59 championship-his highest position. Born in Cheshire, UK, often nicknamed "the Flying Dentist", Brooks leapt to fame as the winner of the 1955 non-championship Gran Premio di Siracusa in a Connaught B Type. There he beat a full factory line up of Maseratis. This drive saw him become the first English driver of an English car to win a "Continental" Grand prix since Sir Henry Seagrave victory in 1924 in the Sunbeam at San Sebastian. Brooks was actually studying for his dentistry exams at the time and sat on the plane home reading his textbooks! Brooks also shared the driving of the victorious Vanwall at the 1957 Aintree British Grand Prix with Stirling Moss, which was the first time a British car had won a World Championship event.
History is perhaps unkind to Brooks - many of his rivals really rated him. He would give his all when the car was OK, but was always very conservative. His experiences in the ill handling BRM P25 taught him caution. During the 1956 British Grand Prix, the throttle stuck wide open and deposited Brooks onto the tarmac at Abbey curve, breaking his jaw in the process. For the 1957 season he moved away from the Bourne-based team, down to London and the Acton team of Vanwalls run by Tony Vandervell. He was second to Fangio at Monaco after the "hot shot Brits"- Moss, Collins and Hawthorn all took themselves out at the chicane on lap 4. He shared the winning drive with Moss at Aintree. (He was happy to hand over to the team leader he was still feeling the after affects of his Le Mans crash - where he overturned his Aston Martin DBR1/300 at Mulsanne whilst trying to avoid Umberto Maglioli's spinning Porsche 718RSK.)
1958, still with Vanwall, saw victories for him at Spa Francorchamps (where he often excelled in sports cars too), Nürburgring and Monza. With Vandervell abandoning serious racing Brooks moved to Ferrari for '59 winning here at Reims, and AVUS, plus second at Monaco and a third at Sebring in the first US GP. (The strike bound team didn't make it Aintree so Brooks had a "one-off" drive in a slightly revised Vanwall, which lasted a mere 13 laps.)
1960 saw Brooks move to the Yeoman Credit team and their Cooper T53s - a fairly lacklustre year was followed by an equally poor year in 1961 with a return to the Owen Organisation and BRM team. He also had two drives in the last of the front-engined Vanwalls - at the Easter Goodwood where he finished 7th an last and struggled around for only 8 laps at Reims.
1961, not withstanding his previous experiences with the Lincolnshire based team Brooks moved back to BRM. With the new 1½-litre formula the BRM found themselves customers of the underpowered, but the ubiquitous Coventry Climax FPF engine whilst the V8 engine was being developed in house. Brooks' 3rd at Watkins Glen was his best showing all year - not that team mate Graham Hill did any better! He called it a day in the winter and concentrated on growing his FIAT dealership in Weybridge.