In the hot seat

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Tony Brooks explains why he gave up the number one seat at Ferrari to run a small garage in Weybridge, why you should keep your in-car orange squash in a flask and why his mum thought he was the Pope!

Do you think you drove better on the more challenging circuits? Mark L Shore, High Wycombe

I think I drove the same at all the circuits, but perhaps the more challenging ones, Spa and the Nürburgring, allowed you more scope in which to maximise your skills. Certainly, the gaps between certain drivers tended to be bigger on this type of circuit.

Did you ever practise as a dentist? Gordon Laing, Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire

Yes, but only briefly. I qualified in December 1956 and worked for a few months at the Dental Hospital in Manchester. They were very good to me and allowed me time off to go motor racing. But I started to feel a bit embarrassed about abusing their goodwill, and decided it was better to resign, say thank you and give racing my full attention. I never regretted my degree, though. I think that kind of education stands you in good stead no matter what you end up doing.

Just how hot was it during the 1959 French Grand Prix at Reims? Robin Middleton, Newbury

I think they said it was the hottest day for more than 100 years. Jenks wrote about drivers collapsing in the paddock after the race, but I didn’t feel shattered. I was pretty fit and had always had a good constitution – but you always feel better when you lead from start to finish. I had a plastic bottle of orange squash with me in the cockpit, but I should have put it in a thermos flask… it was like drinking water from a hot radiator! The track was breaking up in the heat – especially at Thillois hairpin – but I enjoyed a relatively smooth race. My only problem was a sticking throttle that bothered me for two or three laps and forced me to use the ignition switch to slow down. The problem cured itself, and the team reckoned that a stone must have got caught in the linkage and then been shaken free by the vibrations of the engine.

Aston Martin DBR1 or Ferrari Testa Rossa? Tim Scott, Newport Beach, California

The DBR1 handled beautifully, but the Ferrari had the better engine and gearbox. An amalgamation of the two would have given you the mother and father of all sportscars from that period.

How would you explain your decision to leave the Ferrari team at the end of 1959 to a modern-day F1 fan? Tim Casey, London

It was a big decision for me to take at the time. It was pretty clear by 1959 that the world champion of 1961, the first year of the new GP formula, would be in a Ferrari, because its 1.5-litre V6 had been running competitively as early as 1957. But things were very different back then. I had to think of my future, and I had just bought a small filling station in Weybridge. What I knew about the motor trade and the quid at that time amounted to very little. I couldn’t afford to pay a manager to run it for me, and when the two staff I inherited realised that I was not happy with their system of working, they left! I was on my tod and couldn’t spare the time to drive for a foreign team. So when Tony Vandervell signed me up to drive a properly built Lotus 18 fitted with a Vanwall engine in 1960,1 thought that I could have my cake and eat it. Sadly, that project didn’t work out.

You clearly didn’t like 1.5-litre F1, but were you already thinking about retiring? David Docherty, Chiswick

‘Didn’t like’ is an understatement: 140bhp in a chassis designed for a 2.5-litre engine – a go-kart would have given you more of a thrill. The 1.5-litre formula made it easier for me to retire. There were other factors, of course; I had got married and started a family, and they had to come first. You have to remember that this was at a time when we were losing three or four top drivers every year. I’d had 10 seasons and reckoned that I’d had a pretty good innings. I would have liked the kudos of being world champion, but when Stirling and I, with four and three victories respectively, failed to beat Mike Hawthorn, who had just one win to his name that year, to the 1958 world title, I realised that it wasn’t the be-all and end-all, and that I could go on and on for years without ever winning it…

You were part of a golden age of British drivers. With all that talent about-what gave Stirling Moss the edge? Ian Sage, Hounslow

Stirling was a dedicated professional and perhaps he pushed a little harder than I did. He loved racing, but it was his business too; I considered it a sport. Everything I did was within my limits. I wasn’t the sort of driver who closed his eyes and kept his foot down in order to find out if a corner could be taken flat or not. I’m not saying that Stirling did that It’s more a question of where you draw your own line. For instance, he would go like a bat out of hell right from the flag, whereas I preferred to start races in a more conservative fashion. That seemed sensible to me because there was always rubber and oil down from previous races – and the GPs then were longer, so we had plenty of time to sort ourselves out Stirling had a different outlook and he made it work for him.

Do you remember the first dice you had with Stirling Moss? Casper Nelson-Smith, London

Off the cuff, I’m afraid I don’t.

Do you remember your first race? Will Peverett, Sutton Valence, Kent

It was on March 22, 1952, at Goodwood. My father and I drove down in our Healey Silverstone from Manchester and stayed in a B&B in Bognor. I practised and raced the car on the Saturday and drove it home that evening. Going racing this way taught you a good lesson: don’t blow your engine up. If you did, you had to take the train home. I did two races: a handicap and a sportscar scratch race. I didn’t win them; there was not much chance of that in the Healey when you were competing against Frazer Nash Le Mans Replicas.

Were both your parents supportive of your racing career? Thomas Robson, Carlisle

Yes. Dad attended all those early races. And my mum was madly enthusiastic. In fact, she was disappointed when I retired, which is unusual for a racing mum. She seemed to think that I was incapable of hurting myself. She viewed me as some sort of Pope behind the wheel: infallible.

Enzo Ferrari is said to have been a bad payer. Would you concur with that? Lavinia Picken, Silloth, Cumbria

No team paid you terribly well in those days. I recently read somewhere that Dan Gurney, who was one of my team-mates at Ferrari in 1959, was paid something like $160 per month and a share of the prize money. But I was happy with my deal. As for Enzo, I think his view was that he provided the cars that enabled you to win races, so why would you want paying as well?