Tony Brooks, the gentleman winner from F1's golden age, dies aged 90


Tony Brooks, the last surviving 1950s F1 race-winner, has died at the age of 90

The winner - Tony Brooks, Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps. (Photo by Yves Debraine/Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images)

Brooks has passed away aged 90

Yves Debraine/Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images

Tony Brooks, the last surviving 1950s Formula 1 race-winner, has passed away at the age of 90.

Held in high regard by both followers of the sport and competitors, the six-time grand prix winner is thought of as one of the greatest never to win the F1 drivers’ title.

A smooth technician behind the wheel, Brooks somehow managed to always get the very best out of his machinery, pushing his cars to the limit whilst rarely going over it.

The quiet, self-effacing Englishman hailed from Dukinfield, Cheshire and was in the final stages of his dentistry studies when he won the Syracuse Grand Prix in 1955 at the age of 23.

His victory in a Connaught Type B was the first grand prix win for a British car since 1924.

It mattered not that the budding dentist had found himself revising on the flight to Sicily for his grand prix debut. The Englishman saw off the Maseratis of Juan Manuel Fangio, Luigi Musso and Harry Schell the day after landing on the island, having learnt the circuit the previous night on a scooter.

Tony Brooks in the winning Aston Martin DBR1/300 which he shared with Noel Cunningham-Reid, Nürburgring 1000km. (Photo by Yves Debraine/Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images)

Victorious appearance at ’57 Nürburgring 1000Kms

Yves Debraine/Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images

His career now up and running, Brooks found himself entering the 1956 British Grand Prix in the BRM P25, a car which Brooks himself described as “lethal”. A crash in that race, and another the next year at Le Mans driving for Aston Martin meant Brooks began to rethink his racing approach, deciding to only race cars he had full confidence in terms of safety.

Days after this second shunt – and the day after leaving hospital, still suffering from his injuries – Brooks took third in qualifying for the ’57 British GP at Aintree.

From the archive

Now driving for the fledgling Vanwall squad alongside Stirling Moss, Brooks was running fifth when he was asked to hand his car over to his team-mate whose own machine had failed.

Ever the gentleman, Brooks did so, before Moss stormed through the field to claim a famous first shared championship win for the marque.

The Cheshire-native would show his sports car credentials that season also by claiming the Nürburgring 1000Kms and RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood.

In 1958 Brooks would truly prove his F1 pedigree with wins at Nürburgring, Monza, and Spa-Francorchamps for Vanwall, later professing real affection for the latter.

“I particularly loved Spa,” he said. “It seemed to me the essence of a true grand prix circuit: very quick and calling for great precision, with no margin for error.

13th September 1958: Stirling Moss (left) and co-driver Tony Brooks with the trophy after winning the Tourist Trophy Sports Car Race at Goodwood. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Celebrating ’57 Tourist Trophy win at Goodwood with Moss

Keystone/Getty Images

“Nobody will persuade me there isn’t more of a challenge to the driver if he knows he might hurt himself if he goes off. Brick walls and trees and ditches instil a discipline, believe me! I can remember drivers who were quick on ‘aerodrome circuits’, but no threat at all on true road circuits.”

From the archive

Come ’59 and Brooks switched to Ferrari. The Brit maintained similar form to claim two more wins that season, with many feeling he could have taken the title had the Scuderia not elected to miss the British GP that year – he would ultimately lose to Jack Brabham after being shunted by team-mate Wolfgang von Trips early on at Sebring.

That was Brooks’ last competitive season as an F1 driver, and in 1961 at the age of 29, he elected to retire to focus on his family and burgeoning car dealership business.

The F1 winner, whilst never one to hog the limelight, would still charm the crowds on his public appearances, with Goodwood holding a tribute for him in 2008.

Brooks’ cautious approach might have stopped him from carrying on racing and claiming the ultimate prize, but it allowed a man who enjoyed life as much as racing to seize the day.

Tony Brooks in Ferrari Dino 246

Brooks’ ’59 title challenge ended with a shunt in Sebring

Grand Prix Photo

“By doing Formula 1 in the 1950s, I had the best time of it,” he said to Simon Taylor in 2013. “And I’m fortunate enough to have survived, and to be here to tell you my tale.”

Motor Sport extends its condolences to the family, friends and fans of Tony Brooks.