It’s 50 years since Jack Brabham won his first World Championship. To celebrate, we return to his perfect win from pole at Aintree
By Doug Nye
Fifty years ago this December, Sir Jack Brabham clinched the first of his three Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship titles by pushing his stricken Cooper-Climax across the finish line in the United States GP at Sebring. He had previously won that year’s Monaco and British GPs, and at Sebring he had better luck than his two title challengers, Stirling Moss (Rob Walker Cooper) and Tony Brooks (works Ferrari).
Perhaps Jack’s finest drive that year had been his win in the British GP at Aintree. Imagine yourself there that sunny day. Sniff the air. Scent the nearby chemical industry, enhanced by the tang of hot racing oil as Formula 1’s finest blast past.
This was the summer of Formula 1’s rear-engined revolution.
The latest 2½-litre Coventry Climax FPF engines had put the little Coopers on a power par with their front-engined opposition from BRM, Aston Martin and Ferrari. But the big FPFs’ extra torque left Cooper’s production-derived Citroën-ERSA gearboxes desperately marginal. For Aintree new gearbox oil pumps were introduced on all three works Coopers, while roller-bearings replaced plain. The result was race-distance survival. But Cooper had refused to supply gearboxes to Rob Walker’s team for Moss and Maurice Trintignant. They ran the new Italian Colotti ’box instead, its teething troubles having lost Stirling the lead in both Monaco and Holland. At Aintree he drove instead the BRP-entered front-engined BRM Type 25.
But perhaps the most significant Aintree factor was absent. Having finished 1-2 in the April Aintree ‘200’ Ferrari’s front-engined Dino 246s on their latest Dunlop tyres and disc brakes could have been a potent threat. Tony Brooks – co-winner of the last GP to be run at Aintree (in ’57) – had dominated the preceding World Championship round at Reims. But there, obsessed by the notion that Ferrari had favoured his team-mate, Aintree ‘200’ winner Jean Behra had hit team manager Romolo Tavoni and was sacked. Meanwhile, Ferrari’s Aintree start money demands had stalled. Coincidentally, Italy’s metal-working unions called a strike, so Ferrari scratched its British GP entries.
In his works Cooper, ‘Black Jack’ ran the only straight-port, big-valve Mark II-headed Climax FPF engine in the field, plus the pressure-lubricated gearbox… and his rivals had to watch in awe as he left them for dead. As he recalled: “The big drama was tyre wear. I put a thick-tread sports car tyre on my car’s left-front. Even so, around half-distance I could see its tread was disappearing… so I began tossing the car tail-out into the corners to reduce the load on that marginal left-front. Moss had to make a late stop, and that clinched it for me. I was able to ease to the finish with a completely bald left-front.”
A winning Hand for ‘Black Jack’
Jack Brabham waves exultantly as he takes the flag to win the 1959 British GP at Aintree. Last time the race had been run here, in 1957, Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks had won for Vanwall. In between, at Silverstone ’58 the late duo of Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn had finished 1-2 for Ferrari. So the Liverpool circuit was becoming a lucky one for the new wave of British F1 teams. Jack had won earlier that 1959 season, in the non-championship BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone, before his maiden Grande Epreuve win at Monaco. For the nut brown Australian and the Cooper works team Aintree was the icing on the cake.
Battle of the British cars
Front-engined British F1 contenders from Lotus and Aston Martin – private owner David Piper in his Lotus 16 under pressure from Texan works driver Carroll Shelby in his DBR4/250. ‘Pipes’s race ended after 19 laps with ‘queerbox’ failure and ‘Ole Shel’ went out when Aston’s ignition lost its spark. The Astons had qualified well, Salvadori second and Shelby sixth.
Shelby practices his lines…
During practice at Aintree some blokes had found it hard to concentrate on the job at hand – Shelby of Aston Martin – while others could only look on and approve of their rival’s taste (and inattention) like Brabham, all dressed up and raring to go. Jack put in almost the perfect performance, qualifying convincingly on pole, then leading throughout the race. But he did not set fastest lap, Moss and McLaren sharing it during their late-race duel for second. The BARC timekeepers still used fifth-of-a-second ‘eggtimers’ to credit Stirl and Bruce with 1min 58sec each – against Jack’s 1min 59sec for pole.
Breakaway from tradition
First lap out in the country, with four rear-engined runners against five front-engined traditionalists: Brabham’s Cooper Type 51 is haring away from Harry Schell’s BRM Type 25, Salvadori’s Aston Martin, Jo Bonnier’s BRM, on the wide line Moss’s BRP-entered BRM, then Masten Gregory’s tail-wagging works Cooper, Maurice Trintignant’s Rob Walker-entered Cooper (18), McLaren’s works Cooper (16)… and Graham Hill’s ultra-light Lotus 16 (28).
In Ferrari’s absence, French GP winner Tony Brooks tried to add to his World Championship points in an updated Vanwall. John Bolster reported: “It would appear the delicate art of tuning the fuel injection system for clean acceleration has been temporarily lost, for last year’s triumphant exhaust note was never heard… the abortive comeback of the Vanwall made me wince at the sight of that magnificent driver… being condemned to circulate among the F2 cars.” Here chief mechanic Cyril Atkins (right) looks on while Norman Burkinshaw competes with the windscreen wrap-around’s confines. Oh dear…
Moss makes the best of BRM
On ‘Easter Tuesday’ Moss had tested BRM’s much-improved Type 25 and clocked Goodwood’s first 100mph lap. He had raced a works car at May Silverstone but the brakes failed. Suspicious of BRM preparation, he asked Alfred Owen to loan a car to the BRP team. When his first-choice Rob Walker Cooper lost the Monaco and Dutch GPs with gearbox failure he played the BRP-BRM card at Reims and Aintree… where he wrung the car’s neck but still finished second.
An eggtimer finish!
The last-gasp dash for the finish line between Moss’s BRP-liveried BRM Type 25 (left) and Kiwi newcomer McLaren’s works Cooper Type 51 as Bourne’s best beat Surbiton’s finest to second by – according to those eggtimers – their smallest recordable margin of one fifth of a second.
A grin and a wince…
Varying fortunes, bygone style and real substance – sober lounge suits and horn-rimmed spectacles alike for team chiefs Charles Cooper and Tony Vandervell. The latter’s teardrop cars had won here in 1957 and clinched the inaugural F1 constructors’ title in ’58. He’d withdrawn his Vanwall team from full-time racing for ’59, but ran one modified car here for Brooks. When it performed pathetically he gave the start and appearance money to the driver. After such a scintillating performance from Jack and his Type 51, Cooper had no such problem.
McLaren shows true grit
Bruce McLaren drove a stupendous Aintree race in his Cooper, still wearing the grit-blasted nose cone from Reims where the sun-cooked track surface broke up. That day ‘Pop’ McLaren and his wife were spectating for the first time at a real GP. When they saw their exhausted son stagger from his car, his goggles smashed and awash with a mix of sweat and blood “like pink Champagne”, they had wondered if F1 “is always like this?” At Aintree, Bruce showed them the other side of the coin.