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Vanwall's breakthrough win



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Stirling Moss






1957 British GP


Almost 14 months after having had the opportunity to test the Vanwall for the first time - on that session held at Silverstone on 22 November 1955 where Vanwall, BRM and Connaught each put cars at his disposal in order to try and convince him to sign for a British constructor for the 1956 season - Stirling Moss finally decided that he was going to be a Vanwall driver for the 1957 WC season.

In reality, Moss had been monitoring the progress of the green cars all over 1956, either driving them in non-championship races, either being impressed by how fast the cars were, even in the hands of Schell or Trintignant. On the other hand, and after a traumatic year with BRM Tony Brooks was delighted to join Stirling in the team. Brooks was, in the opinion of many, at least Moss' equal in terms of talent and, as a quiet and modest man he was the ideal number two. From the beginning of the season it was felt that a three-car team made sense, but a decision on a third driver was deferred for the time being. As a result of experience, numerous small changes were made to the package, the most obvious being the fitting of coil springs at the rear. Patient work increased power to 285 bhp. There is a myth that the only non-British part of a Vanwall was the Bosch fuel injection, but the brakes were by Goodyear, the gearbox internals by Porsche, it ran on Pirelli tyres (until the end of 1957), there were Fitchel & Sachs shock absorbers and Scherdal valve springs, and GAV was in constant contact with other suppliers, mostly German, about other components - after all, Vandervell Products supplied the whole of the European motor industry with bearings.

So the 1957 season got under way. Vanwall missed the Argentine GP, but they entered Syracuse, where, against strong opposition, Moss and Brooks ran first and second until Moss had his fuel pipe break and Brooks a water pipe. Moss was able to rejoin and finish third. A second disappointment came in the Easter Monday Goodwood meeting, where Moss led for 13 laps (of 32) until the throttle linkage broke on the Lavant Straight, whilst Tony Brooks spent all race dealing with an inconsistent car. All the problems were solved by the Monaco GP, where the cars appeared with stub noses and bars across the air intakes, and while Moss crashed out of the lead on lap five (he maintains - well, actually he "swears", see My Cars, My Career, p.159 - his front brakes failed), Brooks finished second to Fangio's Maserati, despite the fact he had to drive most of the way without a clutch. The Vanwall's gear-change was not good at the best of times and Brooks' left gear-change hand finished up like raw steak.

Money squabbles led to the cancellation of the Dutch and Belgian GPs, and by the time the French GP at Rouen came along, Brooks was out of action following a crash at Le Mans and Moss had severe sinusitis. Roy Salvadori and Stuart Lewis-Evans took their places. Neither of the substitutes was particularly fast at Rouen, Salvadori retired with a broken valve spring and Lewis-Evans with a cracked cylinder head. The Grand Prix de Reims followed a week later and there Vanwall had its superb Costin-styled streamlined car, but neither of the subs were up to getting the best from it and it never did race. Lewis-Evans, however, qualified second in a standard car and calmly pulled away from a full WC field until, after 20 laps, oil started to blow from the engine onto his goggles and rear brakes, but he kept his cool and eased to compensate, finished third, and became the third member of the team.

A week later, for the British GP, Moss sat on pole with Brooks, not fully recovered from his accident, on the outside of the front row. There was a strong breeze on race morning. The good news was that it eventually blew away the heavy rain. The bad news: it brought with it an unpleasant smell from the nearby factories. Some spectators had other things on their minds. A bus and coach strike had made life difficult - but not impossible, judging by the massive crowd braving the poor weather. And anyone walking to the circuit early that morning would have been treated to the sight of Bertocchi, Maserati's chief mechanic, taking the Gilby 250F for a test run along Preston Road, a spare works engine having been borrowed by the British team and fitted during the night. The clouds began to clear; the odd shaft of sunlight illuminated the industrial environment and the track dried rapidly in the breeze. The drivers were marshalled for a lap of the circuit in Austin-Healeys before returning to the grid.

Two green cars on the front row. They had been close to victory before. Would they be reliable enough this time? Could Vanwall do it for Britain at last?

Not if Jean Behra had any say in the matter. The red Maserati shot into the lead but Moss had surged to the front by the time the field reached Tatts Corner. For 22 laps he stayed there, building up a nine-second lead over Behra. Then the Vanwall engine began to misfire and lose power. Immediately Behra began to close the gap. Moss rushed into the pits, an earth wire was ripped out on the assumption that the problem might be magneto trouble, and he rejoined in seventh place. But it was no good; the misfire was worse than ever and Moss was back again almost immediately.

From the outset, Brooks had known that he was not fit enough to last the full 90 laps. It had been agreed that he would keep his car running and hand over to Moss or Lewis-Evans if necessary. Finding the going difficult, Brooks was relieved to receive the call after 26 laps. He was helped from the car while Moss, agile as a cat, sprang onto the rear wheel, dropped into the cockpit and was away. He was in ninth place. The race was on. Ninth became eighth when Schell slowed, soon to retire with overheating. Then Moss caught and passed Menditeguy and set after Fangio. Apart from Behra pressing on relentlessly at the front, the Maserati attack was crumbling rapidly. As Menditeguy pulled in with transmission trouble, Moss took sixth place from Fangio's 250F and, five laps later, Musso's Ferrari succumbed to the rapid Vanwall. The atmosphere was electric. Moss was fifth. But the next bit would be more difficult. Behra held a comfortable lead over Hawthorn, with Lewis-Evans doing a magnificent job in third place, keeping everyone busy while Moss made ground on Collins. By lap 47, Moss was fourth. And still the task seemed impossible since Behra was 59 seconds ahead. The Maserati driver lowered the lap record; Moss responded by shaving a second off that to lap Aintree at an average of 90mph. With just over 20 laps to go, Moss was 22 seconds behind Behra. It was a lot to ask.

Then the scenario of the race changed entirely. The strain had been too much for the clutch/flywheel assembly on Behra's car. It suddenly crushed and deposited pieces of metal onto the track - and Hawthorn, about to inherit the lead, ran over one of them and punctured a tyre. And at the same time, Moss passed Lewis-Evans to take the lead! The grandstands erupted. What an incredible turnaround.

Given Moss's usual luck, it should have been the Vanwall which had picked up the puncture. But there he was, in the lead. Vanwalls first and second. Next question: would they last? Hearts sank when Lewis-Evans suddenly coasted to a halt. The throttle linkage, the Achilles heel of the Vanwall, had come apart. Moss pressed on, now feeling vulnerable even though the next man, Luigi Musso, was over a minute behind. There was time for a quick pit stop to take on a precautionary few gallons of fuel, Moss hurtling back into the race still with more than 40 seconds in hand. The car simply had to keep going - not an easy task considering that Brooks, having bravely continued in Moss's car, had finally stopped with a broken fuel pump while Lewis-Evans had struggled for some time to reconnect the throttle linkage. Having rigged up a temporary repair, he motored back to the pits for a permanent one, leaving the bonnet behind on the grass. That would cost him seventh place, the officials administering a rather severe disqualification.

As Moss headed towards an emotional victory, a disastrous day for Maserati was completed when Fangio retired with engine trouble. Ferrari, though, would take second, third and fourth places, Hawthorn finishing behind Musso after rejoining with a fresh tyre. Collins, having stopped with a water leak, took over Trintignant's car to finish fourth.

But the crowd only had eyes for one man. The majestic grandstands lining the finishing straight erupted in a wall of sound as Moss accelerated out of Tatts Corner for the last time, raised his right arm in the air and swept past the chequered flag. It was a truly heart-warming victory, not least for the man himself. "It was something I had dreamed about for years; winning a Grand Prix in a British car. Then, to do it at home into the bargain, you know, Tony and I being the first British drivers to win a Grand Prix since Segrave and Sunbeam back in 1923. And also to be the first all-British winners of the British Grand Prix. Fantastic experience."

Dammit, a green car had won! Those bloody red cars had been beaten at last. So far as British racing was concerned, it was the most important breakthrough but it was not isolated. In a few heady weeks there had been Aston Martin's triumph in the Nürburgring 1000kms, a Jaguar and Lotus whitewash at Le Mans, and domination by Cooper in F2. All the years of struggle and excuses, and the national humiliation which followed BRM's failure, seemed to be over.

There was, of course, muttering abroad about luck having favoured the British. Moss and Vanwall would silence the sceptics before the season was out. There were three rounds of the 1957 championship remaining. And each one would be a classic of its kind. Next on the agenda was the Nürburgring; a place that you either liked or hated. And Fangio loved all of its 14.2 miles. He had been strangely off form at Aintree but the opposition realised they were in for a hard time in Germany when the great man put his Maserati on pole by almost three seconds. It would be a battle between the Argentine and the Ferraris of Hawthorn and Collins; Vanwall, never having been to the Nürburgring before, took time to become tuned to the bumps, twists and turns. In any case, this circuit would play havoc with Brooks' injury.

Fangio took the lead and, running with less than a full tank of fuel, he pulled away from the Ferraris. When the Maserati stopped to refuel, the Ferraris swept by and, at the end of the next lap, they were 45 seconds ahead. At the end of the following tour, the gap had increased slightly. Hawthorn and Collins had it in the bag, so much so that they arranged between themselves who should finish first. Fangio, meanwhile, had gone to work. The Maserati 250F may not have been the most powerful car, but it was beautifully balanced; the perfect tool for a man of Fangio's skill on a circuit such as this. But, even then, he took the car to its absolute limit. All the way. He cut 15 seconds off the lap record. Hawthorn and Collins were stunned when their pit board showed the gap had shrunk to 35 seconds. Casting aside gentlemanly arrangements, they put the hammer down. And Fangio went quicker still. On the next lap he went round the Nürburgring eight seconds faster than he had managed during practice. It was, he would say later, a lap he would never forget.

He had never driven like that before. The chances he took made him shiver at the very thought.

It was a supreme effort - but one he would not care to repeat. As a result of this stunning performance, he had the Ferraris in his grasp with two laps to go. Of course, Hawthorn and Collins put up a stern fight, but on a day like this nothing would stop Juan Manuel Fangio. After perhaps one of the greatest drives in the annals of motor sport, he won the race and, appropriately, the championship.

Vanwall had their revenge at Pescara, a very fast road circuit on Italy's Adriatic coast. There was a rule that each country should host just one championship Grand Prix per season but the cancellation of the Dutch and Belgian races had allowed the FIA to make an exception at Italy's request. Moss simply outpaced Fangio's Maserati to score the first championship victory by a British car on Italian soil. And Monza was next. The Italians could put up with a lot - but not defeat at the Holy of Holies. With Ferrari no longer in serious contention with the Lancia V8, Maserati threw everything they could into this race. A glorious V12 car had appeared during practice at Monaco, and raced at Rouen. It had plenty of power at the top of the rev range and it was thought this might be the answer at Monza. Fangio, after trying the car during practice, opted for his trusty 6 cylinder, leaving Behra to race the V12. But they were struggling.

The green Vanwalls, led by Stuart Lewis-Evans, with Moss next, then Brooks, occupied the entire front row. Did they? Well, not quite. This was more than the Italians could bear and overnight they changed the grid from 3-2-3 formation to 4-3-4, thus allowing Fangio's red Maserati onto the front row! The first 20 laps were enthralling, the lead being carved up between the Vanwalls and the two Maseratis. Then Brooks went out, followed soon after by Lewis-Evans. Behra's V12, meanwhile, was rapidly consuming its rear tyres and he dropped back leaving Moss and Fangio to fight it out. In the end, not even Fangio's sheer determination and sublime skill could match the combination of Stirling Moss and the powerful Vanwall on this very fast track. It was yet another wonderful moment for Messrs Moss and Vandervell as they scored a convincing win on the doorstep of those bloody red cars.

Now, one gathers, they were really ready to fight for the World Championship.

Reader's Why by David Fox

A glorious day for Britain! For the very first time in 34 years a British car driven by British driver won a World Championship Grand Epreuve. The meeting started well. The full team of Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans were present at the Liverpool track, usually more famous for its Grand National Steeplechase than its car races. Moss (with sinus problems) and Brooks (Le Mans injuries) had missed the two previous Vanwall appearances that year - the French GP at Rouen and the following weeks Challenge International de Vitesse at Reims.

Moss was on pole, Brooks equal second to Jean Behra's 250F Maserati and Lewis- Evans 5th. Moss stormed off into the lead pulling away to almost 10 seconds by lap 20, but then almost immediately pulled into the pits with a misfire. Team manager David Yorke quickly signaled a still far from fit Tony Brooks in from 5th place and put in Moss. took over, Moss, having dropped to 9th,was fully fired up and was charging through the field, breaking records on his way, slicing through the field. First he dealt with the Maseratis - Schell on lap 29, Menditeguy lap 30, and an off form Fangio on lap 35. Then the Ferraris - Musso lap 40, Collins lap 47. By now Moss had clawed his way back up to 4th behind team mate Lewis-Evans, but some way back from Hawthorn in the Ferrari and race leader Behra. Both green cars were making progress towards Hawthorn, but Behra's lead seemed unassailable. Then on lap 69 motor racing history was made. The clutch on the Maserati not only failed, but also failed spectacularly, showering the track with fragments. The Ferrari, next by on the circuit, ran over the debris and Hawthorn hobbled slowly into the pits to change a punctured tyre. At the same time Moss drove passed his team mate and the crowds in the Tatts Corner and main grandstands first of all gasped and then cheered heartily as, on lap, 70 Moss lead Lewis-Evans over the line, Vanwalls 1st and 2nd with 20 laps to go! Only two laps later Lewis Evans experienced the usual Vanwall problem and sailed into the pits with throttle linkage problems. However, nothing could stop Moss-his lead now so great there was even time for a precautionary pit stop for a splash of fuel. He roared over the line to the great delight of the sun drenched English crowds. Musso inherited 2nd, then came Hawthorn, Trintignant with the Ferrari, Roy Salvadori's Cooper and in 6th Bob Gerard in the venerable Cooper Bristol.

Moss and Brooks had achieved Tony Vandervell's dream - and like Sir Henry Segrave's victory at the 1923 French GP in Tours - they had beaten those bloody red cars!

A postscript to the season saw Moss win against mainly Maserati opposition in the GP of Pescara, followed by an even more satisfying win at the Italian GP at Monza. The Vanwalls, the only British cars to make the trip to Milan, occupied the first three starting positions on the grid...all the other cars were painted red. Moss overcame stern opposition from initially Behra and then Fangio, to win again on Italian soil.

Tony Vandervell had truly taken British motor racing to the Italians, and slowly helped in the change of dominance from Italian red to British racing green.