Rear View Mirror|
Memories from the good old days
|by Don Capps, U.S.A.|
In this installment of Rear View Mirror, our Scribe sets the dial on the Way Back Machine for the first of two visits to 1959. Plus, more on the 1939 AIACR European Championship - an update and a plug; and, a
closing thought or two
1959: Part 1, Prelude to Monaco
The 1959 Grand Prix season, for all intents and purposes, started on October 20th, 1958 - the day after the last race of the 1958 season, the VII Grand Prix de Maroc, held on the Ain Diab circuit at Casablanca. Britain now had its first World Champion, Mike Hawthorn, albeit driving for Scuderia Ferrari. Tony Vandervell's Vanwall team carried back to Acton, its home base, the first Constructors Cup. In a triumphant year, Britain claimed both Champions for the 1958 season.
For many, the anticipation of more of the same in 1959 was reason enough to want to hurry through the off-season and get started on the next renewal of the epic Vanwall/Ferrari duels. The "bloody red cars" were finally beaten by green ones. During the coming season, it was anticipated that the battle between the red and green cars would pretty much pick up where it left off at Casablanca. Few doubted that the 1959 Champion would be British and that he would win the championship at the wheel of a British car. The tide seemed to have finally turned Britain's way.
However, by the time the first race for Grand Prix cars rolled around, at Goodwood on Easter Monday (March 30th), much had changed from the previous October. After becoming the first Briton to earn the right to wear the crown as the World Champion, Mike Hawthorn announced his retirement from racing.
After the deaths of teammates Luigi Musso and his "mon ami mate" Peter Collins, Hawthorn decided it was time to leave the sport. Then Stuart Lewis-Evans died from the burns and other injuries he suffered as the result of his terrible accident at Casablanca. On October 30th, to a large audience gathered at Pall Mall, the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) - the agency within the Federation Internationale Automobile (FIA) responsible for motor sports - revealed the new formula for Grands Prix beginning on January 1st, 1961 - it stipulated a maximum capacity of 1500 cc and a minimum weight of 500 kilograms.
It was not met with any great enthusiasm. Indeed, it was met by downright hostility by many of the British representatives present. There were many still upset with the CSI decisions to reduce race lengths from 500 km or three hours to 300 km and two hours. This latest CSI announcement seemed directed at the British effort to gain supremacy in Grand Prix racing. Many muttered about a Continental conspiracy and questioned any change to the formula since, after all, it was obviously working well.
Then Hawthorn was dead, the result of a road accident in late January. This was followed by the announcement that the Vanwall team, champions of the previous year, are withdrawing from racing, save the odd entry here and there. The stress and strain of business and racing finally began to assert itself on Tony Vandervell and he called it curtains on a very successful enterprise. Suddenly Tony Brooks and Stirling Moss found themselves redundant. It seemed that 1959 was already different and the first race had yet to even start. However, Aston Martin announced its entry into Grand Prix racing and in light of its highly successful sports cars, much was expected.
The teams for the 1959 season formed up as follows (more or less since several folks hopped around a bit during the season):
Scuderia Ferrari: Tony Brooks, Jean Behra, Phil Hill, Cliff Allison, Dan Gurney, Wolfgang von Trips and Olivier Gendebien, in the Ferrari Dino 246.
In addition, there were a number of private entrants that popped up from time to time.
What is interesting to note, is that the only rear-engined car on the list is the Cooper. The Aston Martin, BRM, Ferrari and Lotus machines - all had the engine where it was expected - in front of the driver, not behind him.
Unlike previous years, there was no season-opener in the Argentine. Nor did any of the usual suspects for a Grand Prix - Siracusa, Caen, Pau, Napoli, Pescara - hold an event that Spring or even later in the year. Instead, most staged events run as Formula Two races, since the cars basically looked the same and most importantly, were cheaper since the starting money was less. Grand Prix racing, Formula One, definitely appeared to have a British tone for 1959.
It was now possible to field a competitive effort for both Formula One and Formula Two using British components. Cooper would produce a chassis if their palm was crossed with the appropriate number of coins. An amazing number of Cooper racing cars were produced during the years 1957-1959. You also bought an engine to place in the chassis, usually the new 2.5 litre version of the Coventry Climax FPF, although the Maserati 250S engine was also a popular choice.
Cooper would help with the arrangements with Climax for the use of one of their engines. For a small fee, of course. Cooper produced at least 28 chassis to T51 specifications in 1959, perhaps more. One thing that Cooper would not sell you was a gearbox. The art of the transaxle was still in its infancy. Cooper had managed to work on a good, workable solution and was reluctant to make them available to customers since it would necessitate a gearbox shop several times that of the one they currently had, and it was their "unfair advantage" over the competition, their customers. A number of companies, Colatti and ZF among them, began to develop proprietary gearboxes, but Cooper was taking advantage of its head start in this area.
The Coventry Climax FPF signaled a sea change in how Grand Prix racing was changing. In late 1956, at the annual Motor Show, Climax unveiled a new engine developed exclusively for motor racing, unlike the FW series (the FWB and FWE in particular) which were automotive developments of the original, humble fire pump engine. The FPF was 1475cc four-cylinder, twin cam engine that was suitable for the new Formula Two that was to come into effect starting with the 1957 season. It was derived from the V-8 that Coventry Climax built in 1953 to be used by British team for the new 2.5 litre formula that Grand Prix races were to run to from 1954 until 1957, and which was extended until 1960. The Godiva was never produced because the horsepower numbers were not as close as the company wanted them to be to those of the Italian teams. It was not understood by Climax at the time that the Italians used smaller horses. At any rate, it was placed on the shelf.
The desirability of a readily available racing engine for the new Formula Two class spurred Climax into action and the result was the FPF. It proved a highly satisfactory racing engine and its availability was a huge factor in its success. It was flexible, strong, and available. Here did the designation "FPF" come from? The Godiva was known as the FPE at the factory and since the new engine was based essentially on one bank of the V-8, it was given the FPF designation.
The success of the FPF in 1957 got several minds wondering what would happen if it were enlarged and raced at the Grand Prix level. Rob Walker and Climax worked on an agreement that saw one block enlarged to a capacity of 1960cc. It was dropped into the back of the Walker T43 and shipped out to Buenos Aires for the 1958 Argentine GP. As luck would have it, it won! Stirling Moss gave Rob Walker, Cooper and Coventry Climax their first Championship victories. There were several other changes in the FPF for the Walker team.
At Monte Carlo, the FPF was now in 2015cc form. And it won again, this time with Maurice Trintignant at the wheel of the Walker Cooper. Amazing enough, both wins were considered flukes and few followed the lead of Cooper in fielding a rear-engined car.
In late 1958, Climax gathered the necessary funding and in a very short period of time, literally weeks, produced a full 2495cc version for GP racing. Externally, the FPF in either Formula One or Formula Two displacement looked the same and fit into the same cars with few problems. By late Spring, there were sufficient numbers of the "big" FPF available that the British works teams could field their teams and still have a spare handy.
Prior to the Monaco Grand Prix, there were three races held in Britain before the season's first Championship race. As mentioned, the first was the Glover Trophy at Goodwood on March 30th. On a dreary day, which saw Harry Schell in his BRM P25 win the pole, Stirling Moss came home first in the Rob Walker Cooper-Climax, as well as setting the fastest lap. He was followed across the line by Jack Brabham in a works Cooper-Climax and then the BRMs of Harry Schell and Joakim Bonnier.
The B.A.R.C. "200" at Aintree was run on April 18th as a combined Formula One and Formula Two event and as a result had a very large field. Masten Gregory set the fastest lap in practice and started from the pole. Scuderia Ferrari sent cars for Jean Behra and Tony Brooks and that is the order they finished in after 200 miles of racing. The only other car on the same lap was the works Cooper of Bruce McLaren, a distant third and barely avoiding being lapped. In fourth place was Nano da Silva Ramos in a Scuderia Centro Sud Maserati 250F, four laps back. On the same lap was the Formula Two winner, Mike Taylor, in an Alan Brown-entered Cooper T45-Climax. Moss set the fastest lap as usual.
The International Trophy was held at Silverstone on May 2nd, the weekend prior to the race at Monte Carlo. It had a good turn out, the Usual Suspects plus a very good Formula Two field running with the Grand Prix crowd. Moss sat on the pole in a works BRM P25. The Scuderia Ferrari drivers this time were Tony Brooks and Phil Hill. At the start, Jack Brabham motored off into the distance and that was that. In second was Roy Salvadori in an Aston Martin, who also set the fastest lap, followed by Ron Flockhart's BRM and Phil Hill's Ferrari.
Next time: the 1959 Championship Season
I welcome your comments and ideas. With so many of the Formula One audience new to autoracing, the purpose of this column is to provide some interest in its history and an appreciation not only for the past, but especially for the present.
|Don Capps||© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.|
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