Moss and Villeneuve are the most obvious talents bereft of motor racing’s most prestigious title. But they are not the only drivers who possessed the skill to be world champion without ever acceding to the throne. We have selected half a dozen of them – and picked the season in which they came closest to achieving their goal. This is not to denigrate the men who did win the title in each of these years – They sttrung together all the right attributes and that vital bit of luck when it mattered – But to reflect on what might have been. As you will read, our magnificent six are often given the benefit of the doubt – but only when we think they earned it. Paul Fearnley and David Malsher present the cases for…
Tony Brooks 1959
In a season of transition, it was clear that the days of front-engined cars were numbered. But it was a missing date that hurt the title bid of Ferrari’s number one
Piling through Blanchimont for a second time. All flexing fingertips, silken style and arrowing accuracy. A glimpse in the mirrors provides a heartening sight: the gap is already substantial. Long straights, tall gearing, V6 at its full-throated happiest. Tony Brooks loved the high-speed challenge of Spa. He’d won the 1958 Belgian GP there for Vanwall, and was odds-on to repeat the dose for Ferrari in ’59. His Dino had been outmanoeuvred by the Coopers in Monte Carlo (where he drove intelligently to take second) and at Zandvoort, but Spa would at last allow him the space in which to unleash his ‘dinosaur’…
Trouble was, the 1959 Belgian GP didn’t happen. It was cancelled. And so eight points (nine if he’d set fastest lap) were sluiced away. Argentina, the supposed season-opener, had been cancelled too, but this was much less of a surprise given that county’s financial ills. And so the title would be decided by the best five scores from seven starts, not six from nine. Although the Moroccan GP, pencilled in for October, was shimmering on the horizon, it proved to be a mirage.
But Reims in June was a definite goer, and although the Coopers proved faster on the straights than had been anticipated, there was no touching Brooks. In searing heat and on a melting track, he led from start to finish. So parlous was the circuit, his winning average was 4mph slower than Hawthorn’s of 1958.
In July, though, Ferrari dropped a bombshell: a last-minute absence from Aintree. A metalworkers’ strike in Italy was cited as the reason. But small fry Scuderia Centro Sud made the trip.
The forlorn Brooks was rescued by Vanwall, but its reworked pace-setter of 1958 proved uncompetitive and was the first retirement. Even had the Dinos been there, however, any score would likely have become a dropped one, such was the dominance of the British brigade on home soil.
But what went around came around. The German GP just about dropped into Brooks’s lap. As much as he loved, and excelled at, the ‘Ring, there could be no denying that his Dino was better suited to the flat-out blands (sic) of Avus. He controlled proceedings, winning both 30-lap heats (setting fastest lap this time) as Ferrari swept the podiums.
The Maranello outfit expected to be competitive in Portugal, too, courtesy of Monsanto Park’s long, uphill straight. In fact, barring the third place of young gun Dan Gurney, the Dino was an also-ran. And if Brooks went off the boil at any point during the year, this was maybe it: a very slow start and a very distant ninth. A pitstop to complain about engine, brakes and handling did not completely convince his bosses. Disgruntled is the word.
The feeling was surely mutual after Monza. Brooks had split the Coopers of Moss and Brabham on the front row, and had a squadron of team-mates lined up behind him to take the fight to them. It never happened.
“You can be too pedantic, too much of a perfectionist,” admits Brooks. “After practice, I said I could smell Ferodo, that maybe it was the brakes. But my mechanics changed the clutch, too — and didn’t bed it in properly.”
He got as far as the Lesmos on lap one. Moss won, outsmarting Ferrari by running nonstop. Phil Hill’s Dino was second and set fastest lap, so six (perhaps seven) points could have been the order of Brooks’s day — especially as he reckons he could have run non-stop, too, as he had done to win at Monza in 1958.
However, he now had to win in America to stand any chance of taking the title. This was a tall order on an airfield track expected to suit the Coopers. Sure enough, the lap speed was below 100mph (the Ferrari and Brooks liked it above the 120 mark) and Tony bust a gut to qualify third, to be on the outside of the front row with an outside chance.
Until Harry Schell kicked up a stink. His 2.2-litre Cooper had been awarded a rogue time in practice, but he argued the toss and was elevated from 11th to third. Not on the night before the race, you understand, but just minutes before the start. Brooks steered clear of the bickering, perhaps consoling himself with the fact that he would have three teammates protecting his tail from the third row…
One of them, Wolfgang von Trips, punted him off the track on the first lap.
What Brooks did next has regularly been criticised: he pitted for a damage assessment. True, the title was at stake. True, the Ferrari was strong. But after his fiery BRM flip at the 1956 British GP, and Aston crash at Le Mans in ’57, he’d promised himself that he would never again race a car the integrity of which he was unsure of.
“I had half a lap to think about what to do. It wasn’t an easy decision. The natural inclination was to carry on. But I’d had two lucky escapes and felt that not to pit would be dishonourable to my resolution.” It took more courage to stop than continue.
He lost almost a lap, drove his heart out thereafter, and passed Brabham on the final tour to take third. Jack was pushing his out-of-fuel Cooper at the time — to the finish and the title. That third, though, would have been enough to give Brooks the tide had he finished second at Monza. And that’s without factoring in his absent, beloved Spa. PF