The human touch

US Grand Prix, Sebring, December 1959
Brabham. Moss. Brooks. Formula 1’s first American venture featured a three-way title fight that ended in unconventional fashion
Writer Simon Arron, Illustrator Guy Allen

America had maintained a token presence on the F1 championship calendar from day one, thanks to the inclusion of the scarcely relevant Indianapolis 500, but this was the first time the nation had hosted a traditional Grande Épreuve.

It wasn’t quite business as usual, though. Reporting for Motor Sport, Michael Tee commented on “the motliest collection of ‘also-rans’ that ever graced a GP circuit”. These included Rodger Ward, a fine driver in a wholly unsuitable car – a two-speed, four-cylinder midget racer. “He drove with great skill,” wrote Michael, “but was completely outclassed.”

At the front, meanwhile, there was a three-way title fight between Jack Brabham (works Cooper), Stirling Moss (Rob Walker Cooper) and Tony Brooks (Ferrari).

Brabham led off the line, but Moss passed him before the first turn and began to pull away. His gearbox broke on lap five, however, and his title hopes were once again dashed.

Brooks had already suffered a setback, after team-mate Wolfgang von Trips clipped him during the opening lap. With the front of his car damaged, the Englishman made a precautionary stop before rejoining in pursuit.

That left Brabham and Bruce McLaren to run at a controlled pace in a Cooper one-two, while Brooks picked his way through a fast-dwindling field. He was up to fourth when, with a mile to go, Brabham stopped. A loose carburettor had been rubbing the bodywork, richening the fuel mixture, and he ran dry. McLaren thus won from Maurice Trintignant and Brooks, but that early stop cost the Ferrari driver any chance of the victory he needed to take the title.

Brabham would now be champion come what may – the first driver to accomplish the feat in a rear-engined car – but still he pushed his car uphill for the final 400 yards of the season, secured fourth place and then collapsed before a cheering, appreciative audience.