A recent conversation with Tony Brooks highlighted the gulf in pay between then and now – the chances of a driver surviving a crash are higher, too
Stirling Moss has always been a fan of his former Vanwall and Aston Martin team-mate, Tony Brooks. Tony was wonderfully neat, stylish and tidy as well as being blindingly fast. He was plainly one of the racing world’s top three drivers.
He famously won his very first Formula 1 race – the 1955 Syracuse Grand Prix – as a 21-year-old dental student, catapulted from obscurity to fill in for Connaught, beating Maserati hollow. He was signed up by Tony Vandervell for the 1957-58 Vanwall team, as number two to Stirling. They shared the winning car in the 1957 British GP, and in 1958 Tony won the Belgian, German and Italian GPs at Spa, the Nürburgring and Monza – a truly triple crown achievement.
Talking to him recently about the Lewis Hamilton phenomenon, Tony was quick to recognise the newcomer’s self-evident class while equally quickly highlighting how very few parallels can be drawn between Formula 1 stars of different eras.
For a start, Hamilton at 22 already had 14 years of competition experience, having learned racecraft in karts and the classroom car formulae. But Tony added that in his view the critical difference between racing then and now involves the pre-1980s driver’s certain knowledge that should he make one mistake, it could well be his last: “It was something we all appreciated, we all took on board, and which we all buried or handled in our own ways. Almost wherever one might have fallen off one of those old circuits, in those old cars, there were hard things to hit, and it was going to hurt.”
In contrast, today’s drivers can compete virtually unconcerned, safely cocooned within amazingly protective cars amid generally wide-open spaces. They must endure far higher g-loadings than their predecessors, but for half the time – 90-minute GPs compared to the 1950s three-hour ones. And boy is the pay better!
Hamilton’s maiden-season McLaren retainer has been quoted as ‘just’ £350,000, much enhanced by personal sponsorship deals and certainly by place bonuses. In contrast, when Tony won the 1958 Belgian GP, Vandervell Products paid him 50 per cent of 124,640 Belgian Francs starting money, plus 50 per cent of 100,000 BF prize money for first place, plus 50 per cent each of the team’s win bonuses from Shell Mex & BP (£250), KLG spark plugs (£100), Ferodo brake pads (£60) and Hepworth & Grandage pistons (£15!). His total for winning that day was £1014 14s 8d – his first-place prize money contributing only £357 2s 10d of that.
His German GP win half-share of the starting money was then £452 0s 3d, and of the first-place prize money £428 9s 0d – the total with bonuses £1585 9s 3d. But the prime exhibit is his prize money for winning the mighty Italian GP at Monza – 50 per cent of 1,440,000 Lire, equalling £411 8s 7d. With bonuses, his overall payment for winning this major Grand Prix totalled only £623 18s 7d.
This was still big money at a time when £14 per week was a good working wage in Britain, but hardly compares to the zillions paid to the Formula 1 crop today – worry-free as they are.
Interestingly, when Tony struggled with the revamped Vanwall in the 1959 British GP at Aintree, his entrant Tony Vandervell wrote to him as follows: “I enclose herewith cheque for £850 0s 0d which was the [total] amount I received from Aintree. I was so disgusted with the performance of the car that I could not possibly take any money. Yours sincerely, Tony.”
Different times, and very different players.
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