Glory and hope

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

After years of disappointment, it was ironic, says Paul Fearnley, that BRM’s debut grand prix win came just as the sport changed

BRM and controversy, BRM and disappointment: excellent examples of 1950s tautology. The team was subsumed by one, consumed by the other. They raised the British public’s hopes time and again. And dashed them time and again. Good intentions and advanced engineering, entangled in a web of mismanagement.

Zandvoort 1959 was no different. BRM were up in arms. Their owner had, not before time, given them a short, sharp shock. Egos were bruised, resignation letters penned. The previous GP had been a disaster: the speed of the Coopers — Monaco had seen Jack Brabham record the works team’s first GP victory — meant the writing on the wall for the front-engined cars was now in block capitals; what’s more, although BRM had spent four years honing their P25, they couldn’t prevent all three cars retiring with brake problems. There had been glimpses of potential, but there was precious little to show for the heartache and all-nighters the project had caused. And now, still unfulfilled, the car faced obsolescence. The recriminations swirled like sand whipped from Zandvoort’s dunes.

There was, however, an oasis of calm: Jo Bonnier. The high-born Swede was often accused of being aloof. He kept his racing and private life separate, chose his words carefully, and would retreat behind his neatly-trimmed beard when it pleased him. Signed by BRM after just 12 GP starts, all in Maserati 250Fs, he made a good impression by finishing fourth in the 1958 Moroccan GP. His quiet approach was in stark contrast to the playboy shenanigans of Harry Schell, but they were to be BRM’s unlikely duo for ’59. A midfield pairing, with perhaps a podium or two thrown in.

BRM had tried, but no amount of persuading could convince Stirling Moss to sign. His dislike of the team ran deep; when he called the V16 the worst car he’d ever driven, BRM’s co-founder Peter Berthon countered by stating that Moss was frightened of it. Such things are not easily forgotten. But there was a complication, Stirling liked the P25. A lot. A dilemma, then. One of many. For the immediate period following Vanwall’s withdrawal was the one for which Moss received most criticism. Every works team would have given their back teeth to have him on their books, but he went with Rob Walker and Ken Gregory’s new British Racing Partnership outfit instead. And so began his ‘car-breaker’ phase.

He could have sat back and relied on his talent, but the search for that vital extra tenth was too compelling. He became what most designers of the period would label a meddler. Let’s run a Cooper. Let’s try it with a BRM engine. And let’s try a Colotti gearbox. And we’d better assess the P25 as well. This constant striving is what stood him apart from the Bonniers and Schells — but it cost him wins too.

He couldn’t be criticised for his distrust of BRM, though. His hopes and fears were confirmed when he drove a works-run P25 in the International Trophy on 2 May. He set pole, took the lead, and was romping away — when the front brakes failed, pitching him into a mother-and-father spin. Good car, bad team, was how he saw it.

Sir Alfred Owen, the patron whose money BRM was sluicing away, was reaching the same conclusions. He had been patient, but when Moss approached him directly to ask for two P25s, to be run by BRP, he jumped at the chance — and no amount of argument from a slighted Berthon would change his mind.

The week after Monaco, therefore, a P25 was hooked up behind the team’s Standard Vanguard van and trailered to Zandvoort for a test. For Moss, that is — not Bonnier, not Schell.

“It was a peculiar session,” remembers chief engineer Tony Rudd. “We did one hell of a mileage, which gave us a lot of confidence. We learned a lot about tyre wear rates.” And improved the brakes. According to Rudd, Moss made no drastic changes. But Bonnier and Schell did not rush to revert to their old settings — that vital extra tenth thing. The biggest change was a switch to 15in Dunlops from 16in.

Then came the real bombshell: Moss would race a BRP-run P25 at selected GPs. He planned to debut the car at Reims on 5 July, so it was undergoing an overhaul at BRP’s Lots Road HQ while he used the Walker Cooper to set fastest time in Friday’s Zandvoort practice. It all seems unnecessarily complicated but, in Stirling’s defence, 1959 was a difficult season of huge transition.

Bonnier was eight-tenths of a second shy of Moss. But he was comfortable with that, happy to be competitive — and much quicker than his team-mate.

His determined mood was mirrored by the team’s sense of purpose. Despite the resignation letters that had been pressed into Rudd’s hand, nobody left. Quite the opposite in fact. “The BRP/Moss thing actually united the mechanics like nothing else,” remembers Rudd. Bonnier was not adept at keeping his spannermen sweet — despite his wealth — but his misanthropy was forgiven the next morning when he set a stunning 1min36sec lap to annex pole.

Rudd: “I don’t know who was more surprised, Jo or me.” Jo probably, but he didn’t show it. He retreated behind his beard and sat out the afternoon session. BRM, a team renowned for last-minute tinkering, blind panic even, had composed itself.

Moss, who was two-tenths off pole, sat it out too, but that had more to do with him nursing his Colotti gearbox. Its late-race failure had cost him victory in Monaco, and team-mate Maurice Trintignant had already broken his here.

Brabham went out, though, and matched Bonnier for a place in middle of the front row. But he was worried about excessive tyre wear. BRM made great play of practising wheel changes, even though they reckoned on going the distance on a single set. But they were enjoying the time and space to pull a flanker. Ferrari, meanwhile, stripped their out-of-sorts 246s and were constantly mixing and matching their V6s. BRM appeared, at last, to hold all the aces. Except a top-rank pilot.

What they had was a driver at the start of his works career. The BRM wasn’t the best seat in the house, but it was the best he’d ever plonked his backside on. This was only his fourth GP start with them, yet he had achieved something Peter Collins, Mike Hawthorn, Tony Brooks and Jean Behra had not — a pole position for BRM in a world championship GP. And best of all, he appeared to be taking it in his stride. The team had not yet realised the main aim of his GP career was to secure solid finishes; neither, probably, had he.

What they also had was a car well-suited to the track. Despite its long pit straight, Zandvoort was considered medium-speed; it was, in comparison to Reims and Spa. Whereas the powerful Ferraris had the edge on the latter, and Cooper held the upper hand on tighter circuits, the flowing Zandvoort was heaven-sent for the P25.

So how would the cool Swede have played it out in his mind? Brabham was quick, but hard on his tyres. Ferrari were all over the place. The new Aston Martins were cumbersome. The Lotus 16s appeared very stable but surely couldn’t be expected to last the pace. BRM had them all covered. Except that damn Moss.

Bonnier’s composure did not crack at the start, and he led into the banked Tarzan corner. Masten Gregory’s works Cooper made a lightning getaway from the third row to be second. The American was a firebrand behind the wheel, and he impatiently bullied his way into the lead on the second lap. Jo knew the score, though. He kept the pressure on, driving smoothly, and retook the lead on lap 12, by which time Gregory was already struggling with his gears.

What of Moss? He made a steady, gearbox-friendly start and was eighth at the end of the first lap. Then he got bottled up behind Jean Behra’s Ferrari, the Frenchman signalling Moss to pass on the straight, knowing full well the Cooper did not have the legs. A fuming Moss eventually drove around the outside of him at Tarzan on lap 25. Free at last. But had there been one hurried downshift too many?

Bonnier now had his mirrors full of Brabham, who took the lead on lap 30. But his gearbox was also baulking and, as Moss loomed, Jo upped the pace and retook the lead three laps later. He appeared unruffled. That pole position was no fluke. This was a driver in the right car, making the most of his opportunity.

But that still wasn’t enough to stave off a fired-up Moss. The gap didn’t close as quickly as it might, a combination of Bonnier’s day of days and Moss eking out his gearbox, but the inevitable happened on lap 60 of 75. That damned Moss was leading.

Brabham was 17sec back, but Jo did not back off into what would become his usual comfort zone. He was dropping away from Moss, but remained there and thereabouts, ready to pick up the pieces — one of which broke inside the leader’s Colotti on lap 63. For the first time in eight years, Rudd was able to give the ‘slow’ signal. Twelve laps remained — a distance often beyond BRMs in the past. But not this time. The wait was over.

Rudd remembers the transporter disappearing into the sunset with joyous mechanics perched on its roof. They surely deserved their moment. But it was no more than a moment.

Designer Aubrey Woods had been given a rare weekend off to watch the race, and he returned home subdued, Bonnier-like. For on his desk were blueprints of BRM’s first mid-engined F1 car. The recently-announced 1.5-litre formula, scheduled for 1961, was the real chance BRM had to break free of its shackles, to forget the past and make that engineering ability count.

Back to the drawing board.

Related articles

Related products