TeamsOwen Racing Organization: 1957 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Finally, Owen Racing's new BRM P25 began to show promise. More than a couple of times throughout the 1956 season the car would show superior pace to the competition. There was still one big problem and it seemed to be a curse that would never be broken.
The T25 would make a rather embarrassing debut in 1955. It would only be fitting of the BRM reputation but it wasn't even close to the ambitions Sir Alfred Owen had for his team and new car. But while the car looked very much the part there were some rather intriguing decisions made that would tarnish the car's abilities.
To start, the rear brakes would rely upon just a single disc brake positioned inboard of the wheels. This actually reduced the braking power at the rear of the car to a level equal to, or less than, the older drum brakes. Berthon would design a further curious idiosyncrasy when he designed the car to forego the use of springs. This arrangement had been used before and it proved very unsuccessful, and yet, here it was on this new car.
Throughout the 1956 season the T25 would struggle with locking brakes. The team had switched from Dunlop to Lockheed brakes. This problem kept causing trouble and the team never seemed to get a handle on the situation. This, and the typical problem of a sticking throttle, would lead Mike Hawthorn to comment the T25 'tripled his laundry bills'. It would also lead to Tony Brooks leaving the team after he barely survived a terrible crash in the British Grand Prix.
The team's answer to the incessant problems was to simply lengthen the wheelbase of the car for the 1957 season, and, as if to make their drivers feel more secure, to strengthen the sides around the cockpit.
Mike Hawthorn and Tony Brooks would be gone for the 1957 season. One driver that remained would be Ron Flockhart. Flockhart was not one of the supreme drivers in the paddock and needed the best drive possible. Therefore, he would brave the danger to stay with the team. Roy Salvadori would leave Gilby Engineering at the end of the '56 season and would be in need of a competitive drive himself. A sportscar regular, Salvadori lacked the top drives in Formula One. Therefore, he would sign on with Owen Racing at the start of the season.
Armed with the lengthen T25, the Owen Racing Organization would look to the start of the '57 season. The team would not have the finances to head off to South America. And, as a result of the struggles with the car, would not be ready for the first couple of races of the European grand prix season. But, the races in Pau and Syracuse weren't really the team's goal for the first race of the new season. Their focus would be on the 22nd of April and the 5th Glover Trophy race held as part of the Goodwood Easter Monday Races.
Toward the end of April Goodwood would play host to its well-known Easter Monday Races. This event would include a number of races around the 2.39 mile circuit situated in the West Sussex region of England. The former auxiliary fighter base, known as RAF Westhampnett, would be a popular destination for regional and international racers and would usually be the first stop on the calendar for most British racers.
Owen Racing would come to Goodwood with a couple of their BRM T25s. Flockhart would be at the wheel of one while Roy Salvadori would be behind the wheel of the other. These two men would be going up against a Vandervell team that consisted of Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks. Then there would be the Connaught Engineering effort that would have three cars driven by Archie Scott-Brown, Jack Fairman and Stuart Lewis-Evans.
In practice, it would become quite clear just what the BRMs could do and it was not all that exciting. Stirling Moss would take the pole with a lap time of 1:28.2. His teammate, Brooks, would start right beside him in 2nd place posting a time just eight-tenths of a second slower. Archie Scott-Brown would start in the 3rd position while Flockhart would give Owen Racing the final spot on the front row. His best effort around the circuit would be a little more than four seconds slower than Moss. Roy Salvadori would be found in the second row of the grid in the 6th position. His best time would be exactly two seconds slower than Flockhart and didn't necessarily encourage great confidence. However, the year before the team had proven to be fast without reliability. Perhaps it would be more of the same, just for Vandervell.
Early on it didn't seem like it was the case. Both of the Vanwalls would be out front at the start of the 32 lap race. What made matters worse, the terrible brake problems would resurface for Owen Racing and would cause Salvadori to retire from the race without having completed a single lap.
Moss would be pulling away from Brooks at the front of the field. Still, both of the Vanwalls would be flying causing everyone else to look like an also-ran. Salvadori's brake problem on the first lap was just one of a number of problems both BRM drivers would complain about with the revised T25. The car's lengthened wheelbase was meant to help the car handle even better than it had in the past. Though it wasn't the greatest before, the evolutions made to the T25 would make the handling even worse. So while Salvadori would be out because of brake problems, Flockhart would not be able to make any headway as a result of fighting just to keep the car pointed straight.
Moss continued to pull away until his Vanwall ran into trouble of its own. A sticking throttle would cause him to retire from the race after 13 laps. This left Brooks in the lead, a position he would relish. Quickly, Brooks would post the fastest lap of the race with a new lap record. Unfortunately, his Vanwall would also run into trouble and would force him to back off the pace over the course of the rest of the race. This should have been a great opportunity for Flockhart but it wouldn't.
Archie Scott-Brown would be out of the race after 7 laps with oil pressure problems. However, Stuart Lewis-Evans would make his move early on in the race and would benefit from all the trouble later on. He would be in the lead of the race with Jack Fairman a good distance behind in 2nd place. Both of these Connaught drivers had started the race from the second row of the grid, but, the handling on Flockhart's BRM was so bad he could do absolutely nothing to hold them back. Encountering a couple of spins because of suspension problems, Flockhart would be doing everything he could just to make it to the finish. Ron's experience would be so bad that the only car he would be able to distance himself from would be the Cooper-Climax of Jack Brabham.
Aided by the misfortune of others, Lewis-Evans would take the Glover Trophy victory completing the race distance at an average speed of more than 90mph. Fairman would hold on to finish in 2nd place a bit further back of his teammate. Flockhart's 3rd place would be a good result for the team, but it would have to be a result that had to be looked upon with some concern. The team scored a podium result for sure but it was by no means as a result of improvements with the car. Flockhart had his hands full every step of the way. There had to be some real concern.
There was cause for concern within the Owen Racing team. The revisions to the T25 certainly were not taking the car in the right direction. Locking brakes and poor handling may not be the same as poor engine reliability but they have the same effect. Something had to be done, and soon, the second round of the Formula One World Championship, the first for Owen Racing, was right around the corner.
Immediately the team set to work, but they obviously needed someone with a fresh perspective that could come in and, in short order, provide some key points for improvement that would at least get the team headed back in the right direction again.
Vandervell, Owen Racing's rival British team, had approached Colin Chapman to work side-by-side with to help get the Vanwall up to speed. By the halfway point of the '56 season it was clear the influence was working. Of course the '57 season would only further cement the positive influence Chapman had on the Vanwall. This was still unknown at the start of the season but it was more than clear the Vanwall was headed in the direction the T25 needed to go. Therefore, Chapman would be approached and he would agree to come in an take a look at the car to see where improvements could be made.
Chapman would immediately set to work looking at the suspension components on the car. It had shown at Goodwood that had it actually handled better than it did the results could have been better. After taking a look around the whole of the car Chapman would ponder the reason why springs had not been used at all four points on the car. He would make his observations known and would suggest redesigning the car's suspension for the future. Surprisingly, he would not take the single disc brake to task but would at least start with the suspension.
There was just one problem. By the time Chapman finished his work and proposed his changes to the managers within the team it was clear there was not going to be enough time to redesign and build a new suspension layout for the front and rear of the car. The next race of the season was only a matter of a couple of weeks away. It was clear the changes would have to come after the Monaco Grand Prix on the 19th of May.
Although the race had not been a part of the World Championship each and every year since the inaugural season in 1950, the Monaco Grand Prix had already gained crown jewel status. It was not a race to be missed. And, even with the obvious problems suffered by the team, Owen Racing wasn't about to miss just a prestigious event. Therefore, the team would pack everything up and would head across the Channel and all the way down to the coast of the Mediterranean for the famed race around the principality.
Ever since the 13th century the House of Grimaldi had ruled Monaco. Francesco Grimaldi had become the ruler of the former colony of Genoa when he managed to capture the site posing as a Franciscan monk. Overrun with glamorous hotels and very affluent surroundings, the principality would pose as host for a grand prix that seemed out of place, even by 1957 standards.
There were grand prix, like those held at Pau and other places, that would take place on tight city streets providing very little room for error. But, compared to circuits like the Nurburgring, Aintree and Monza the Monaco Grand Prix certainly seemed out of place. Still, because it was the destination of the rich and famous, the Monaco Grand Prix was the race not to be missed and certainly one to be won.
The streets of Monaco were not the place for an ill-handling car. Because the average speeds around the 1.95 mile circuit were not anywhere near those of Goodwood or other places, good handling was of paramount. It was the way to victory. Without good handling there was really very little chance.
Owen Racing had arrived in Monaco as if already partly lame. This wasn't the condition to be in when faced with the presence of Scuderia Ferrari, Officine Alfieri Maserati and Vandervell Products. Hobbling around the circuit against these teams was like swimming amongst sharks with an open wound.
In practice, the first victim would fall prey to the pace of the other factory teams. Owen Racing had come to Monaco with two cars. As with the Glover Trophy race at Goodwood, Ron Flockhart and Roy Salvadori would be the two team drivers. In practice, Stirling Moss had shown the way throughout the first day and his lap time was far and above anything Salvadori could manage to coax out of the ill-handling BRM. Flockhart would be better off, but not by much.
Just the 16-fastest cars would make it into the field for the race. This put a lot of pressure on Salvadori in the slow BRM. Even more pressure would be applied when Juan Manuel Fangio would manage to go fastest and take pole with a lap time of 1:42.7. Peter Collins would end up 2nd on the grid with a time six-tenths slower. Moss' lap time would hold up to give him the final spot on the front row.
The lap times would be very difficult for Salvadori. He would be seen fighting with the car at just about every point on the circuit, even when it was pointed straight. Salvadori was in a fight with Ivor Bueb for the final starting spot on the grid. Bueb's best time would be 1:49.4. Salvadori would end up just missing out on the spot when he posted a best time of 1:49.6. One BRM would be out of the race even before the cars lined up on the grid.
The second would barely be in the race as well. Ron Flockhart would end up a second faster than his teammate around the circuit. This would give Flockhart a fifth row starting spot. Starting from 11th on the grid it was highly unlikely the second BRM would be seen at the front of the field unless something truly dramatic took place over the course of the race.
Each of the two days of practice had been filled with sunshine and warm temperatures. There was some concern heading into the day of the race however as there had been rain overnight and the circuit had been awash in the early morning hours. However, by the time the crowd began to fill in the grandstands and take their places along the balconies and roof tops overlooking the circuit the weather was absolutely fantastic. The circuit was dry and the setting was set for what many believed would be yet another memorable battle.
The cars took their places on the grid along with their pilots. Royalty were in their boxes, the engines were brought up to full-song. The race was ready. Some 105 laps waited. Then the flag would drop and the race would be underway. Immediately Moss and Fangio would be trying to out-sprint each other to the tight Gazometre hairpin. The two would arrive at the same time with Moss on the outside and Fangio very tight to the inside. Using a little wheelspin, Fangio would walk the backend of the Maserati around to stay right beside Moss heading toward another right-hander at Sainte Devote.
Heading through Sainte Devote it would be Moss ahead of Fangio with Collins sitting in 3rd place. Halfway around on the first lap of the race the order at the front would be unchanged. Further back, Flockhart would be down a position and fighting with Lewis-Evans and Maurice Trintignant.
At the completion of the first lap it would be Moss in the lead. Fangio would be in 2nd place but would be under heavy pressure by Collins for the position. Flockhart would fallow Lewis-Evans through completing the first lap of the race in the 12th position.
The ill-handling of the BRM prohibited Flockhart from really being able to mount any challenge of Lewis-Evans. However, because of the nature of the circuit, with its tight turns and few places to pass, Flockhart would be able to hold back Trintignant.
The first few laps of the race would look quite similar to the previous year when Moss ran away with the victory. However, on the 5th lap of the race Moss would make a mistake coming out of the tunnel. Missing his braking point, Moss would have the tail step out as he fought to bring the Vanwall under control. The speed would be too much and he would end up slamming into the sandbag barrier beside the entry to the chicane. Falling debris would end up striking Collins in 2nd place. He would make it through the chicane but would end up crashing into the barrier along the harbor front on the outside of the corner. Fangio and Tony Brooks would make it through. Mike Hawthorn would not as he would lose control and would strike the barrier right beside his Ferrari teammate. Two Ferrari's would be piled up together in the outside wall. In total, three British drivers would be out on one lap. Fangio would be in the lead. Being more than far enough behind Flockhart would manage to pick his way through the chaotic scene and would carry on, just now in 9th place instead of 12th.
All of the expected excitement would seem to come and go with the accident at the chicane on the 5th lap. Having Moss, Collins and Hawthorn out of the race meant three talented and fast drivers out of the mix to take the fight to Fangio. The task was left to Brooks. He was deceptively fast, but, against the likes of Fangio, seemed a little out of his element.
All of the excited would be found toward the back of the field. This included Flockhart and his sole BRM. Flockhart would make it through the melee on the 5th lap and would suddenly be inside the top ten with his ill-tempered car. He would put up a spirited battle with Trintignant for the 9th position but would soon lose out to the Frenchman. However, the retirements of Horace Gould and Harry Schell would further help him and he would be up to 7th place by the 15th lap.
The car would be handling so badly that even Jack Brabham would get by him in the 2.0-liter Cooper. In spite of losing battles on the track, the attrition rate with the other competitors would still help him to move up the order, and, by the halfway point in the race, would be up to 5th place following Brabham. In spite of all his troubles, Flockhart seemed to be on target for a surprising points-paying finish.
Any such thought, however, would prove to be rather premature as, on the 61st lap, the timing gear on the car would be stripped and his race would come to an end. He had points within sight but, once again, troubles with the reliability of the BRM would snatch the result away from him.
Brooks would do his best to snatch away victory from Fangio. But, against the Argentinean, and on the streets of Monaco, this would be an almost impossible endeavor. Brooks would give it his all keeping him honest over the course of the race. Still, it would be apparent by Fangio's pace that he was by no means pushing as hard as he could. Therefore, Brooks would be held in station by Fangio. The pace of the two, however, would practically ensure that Brooks stood on the podium with him as long as the Vanwall had it within itself to make it the entire race distance.
Anchored by the fastest lap of the race, there was nobody that was going to catch Fangio over the course of the 105 lap race. The retirement of the three British drivers early on ruined any chance of denying the Argentinean victory. Completing the race distance in a little more than three hours and 10 minutes, Fangio would cruise to an easy victory having about 25 seconds in hand over Brooks who would put together an impressive performance in 2nd place. These two men would leave behind everyone else still in the race. In 3rd place would be Masten Gregory. He would finish the race in 3rd place but he would be more than two laps behind.
It seemed, almost out of mercy, Owen Racing was going to come away from the weekend with some points. However, continued reliability issues would compound the terrible handling characteristics of the BRM to ensure the pain the team was suffering would continue searing away at the head and the heart of everyone within the team.
Thankfully, the team would receive a bit of a reprieve following the bitterly disappointing Monaco Grand Prix. Disputes over money and other such issues would cause the Belgian and Dutch Grand Prix to be dropped from the 1957 World Championship calendar. This enabled the drivers to get away and the engineers within the team the time needed to redesign the troublesome suspension.
Roy Salvadori would definitely enjoy getting away from the team. He would get so far as to not come back to the team for the remainder of the season. Both he and Ron Flockhart would enjoy the time away to focus on the 25th 24 Hours of Le Mans held on the 22nd and 23rd of June.
Salvadori would be at the wheel of a DBR1 for the Aston Martin team while the Scottish Ron Flockhart would be driving for the Ecurie Ecosse team in a Jaguar D-Type. The year before, Flockhart had come away with an overall victory as he and Ninian Sanderson co-drove a D-Type Jaguar to victory for Ecurie Ecosse. One year later, Salvadori would fail to finish after completing a total of 112 laps. Flockhart, on the other hand, would enjoy a back-to-back victory in the famed French classic co-driving with Ivor Bueb.
Renewed after the victory in Le Mans, Flockhart would come back to the Owen Racing team in time to test and prepare for the next race of the season. This next race would come in the early part of July and it would be across the Channel in France. Therefore, the team would have to do all that it could to ensure the car was ready as there would be very few opportunities to make any drastic changes over the next month or so.
A young driver by the name of Herbert MacKay-Fraser would join the team. He had shown himself to be fast and represented the future for the Owen Racing team. Paired together with the double Le Mans champ, the team believed they had a very capable driver lineup, and, with the changes to the car, believed they had a much more capable car as well. With all of these pieces together, the team would set off back across the Channel. Once on the continent, the team would have to travel less than an hour to its destination. Just about 50 miles inland from the port city of Le Havre is the city of Rouen. It would be in the area just outside of Grand-Couronne where the French Grand Prix would be held. There in the woods nestled above the Seine River was the Rouen-les-Essarts circuit, the 1957 host of the fourth round of the World Championship.
Situated along the banks of the Seine, Grand-Couronne is a small suburban town just to the south of the city of Rouen. Boasting of some small industry and ports for containers, this small town would play host to one of the more popular grand prix venues of its day. Sitting along the top of the banks, along public roads, were some rather modern pits and paddocks intended to host the best in motor racing.
Given the setting, the Rouen-les-Essarts circuit would be quite a bit different than the usual host for the French Grand Prix, Reims. Both would make use of public roads but the circuit to the south of Rouen would feature a much more prominent change in elevation over the course of a lap. The natural ravine or valley type setting would allow the banks of the hillside to become obvious grandstand seating all around the Nouveau Monde hairpin. Revised for 1957, the circuit would be extended from a little more than 3 miles to 4.05 miles. The greatest addition in length would come from the run up through Sanson back to L'Etole. Instead of a straight running between Beauval and L'Etole, the circuit would continue north along what is now D132 before making a right-hand turn onto N138. From there, the circuit led back to the start/finish line.
The entry list for the French Grand Prix would be surprisingly small. This had the potential of offering a good result for the Owen Racing team if they had managed to turn the corner with their T25. Practice would soon give the team an idea of where they stood.
Things still didn't look that promising after practice. Not all of the necessary changes had been made to the car at the time they had to set off across to France and it continued to show as Flockhart would end up more than 6 seconds off the pace of pole-sitter Juan Manuel Fangio's best. Fangio would end up on pole with a lap time of 2:21.5. He would be joined on the front row by Jean Behra and Luigi Musso, all running sub-2:23.0 laps. Flockhart, on the other hand, would be pushing it just to set a sub-2:28.0 lap time. Eventually, he would set a lap time of 2:27.8. This would enable the Scot to qualify on the fifth row of the grid in the 11th position. Herbert MacKay-Fraser would be a couple of seconds off of Flockhart's pace but would still manage to start beside his teammate in the 12th position. This was great news given the fact the only other round of the World Championship to that point in the season had seen just one car qualify.
The weather leading up to the start of the French Grand Prix would be nothing short of spectacular. The skies would be blue and dotted with clouds. The temperatures would be warm but not unbearable. The cars would be lined up on the grid. A total of 15 cars waited for the start of the 77 lap, 312 mile, race.
The flag would drop and the race would get underway with Jean Behra catapulting off the grid into the lead. Heading down the hill through the fast sweeping bends, Luigi Musso would soon find his way past into the lead. Behra would remain in 2nd place with Fangio in 3rd place as the field entered the arena-like section at the Nouveau Monde hairpin. While attentions would be obviously trained in the direction of Behra and Fangio at the front an incredible fast start had the potential of being overlooked further back. MacKay-Fraser had an absolutely meteoric start at the wheel of one of the BRMs. Starting all the way down in 12th place on the grid, the American would be up inside the top ten through the first half of the first lap and was moving up. Flockhart, on the other hand, seemed stuck right where he started.
At the end of the first lap it would be Musso leading the way ahead of Behra and Fangio. The remarkable sight would be who came through the first lap in the 6th position. Amazingly, MacKay-Fraser would jump all the way from his 12th place starting spot on the grid to finish the first lap just outside the points. It was a remarkable start for the young man. He just needed to make it stick for the whole of the race. Flockhart would complete the first lap in 12th position still looking uncomfortable behind the wheel.
While MacKay-Fraser would be enjoying an absolute stormer of a French Grand Prix, Flockhart would soon suffer mightily. Coming around on the 3rd lap of the race Flockhart would find some oil laid down on the circuit. Unaware of its presence, he would drive right through it. The oil would result in the BRM going into a spin and flying off the circuit. It would be a terrible accident and the car would be damaged terribly. Flockhart would be thrown from the car but would survive the crash with some bruising of his leg. It would be a terrifying moment but the team did not have a fatality on its hands so they could focus their attentions firmly upon MacKay-Fraser and his stupendous performance toward the front of the field.
Musso would lead the first few laps of the race before Fangio got his dander up and came by to take over the position. Behra would slip all the way down to 4th place in the order. About the same time Fangio took over the lead of the race MacKay-Fraser would lose a position in the running order to Menditeguy. Now running in 7th place, Herbert was putting together an impressive performance and was proving the car was finally heading in the right direction. He and Mike Hawthorn would become embroiled in a battle that would also include Stuart Lewis-Evans for more than 10 laps. MacKay-Fraser would fight hard and would trade positions back and forth with the other two drivers.
In contrast, at the front of the field, Fangio would be in the lead and pulling away from Collins, who had taken over 2nd place from Musso. Behra remained in 4th place unable to really mount a challenge against those ahead of him on the circuit.
Approaching the end of the first-third of the race it would be Fangio gaining an ever-widening margin over Collins. Musso would regain his footing and would be challenging Collins for the very position he had lost to the Englishman laps before. In the battle for 7th place, MacKay-Fraser had looked very strong and had actually taken the position back from Hawthorn when suddenly his BRM began to show signs of trouble. He would come into the pits and would then come to realize that his engine had broke leaving him unable to carry on. It would be a terrible moment for the American and the team. He had launched up to the front of the field and looked in a place to secure a couple of championship points if providence aided him. Instead, the problems continued for the team and they would end up beginning the process of packing up when the race hadn't even reached the halfway mark.
The race had turned uninteresting for Owen Racing and it wouldn't be much different for the rest of the thousands upon thousands of spectators assembled around the circuit. Once in the lead, everyone just watched the masterful Argentinean clip the apexes of the turns with incredible precision padding his margin over the rest of the field.
Still, with more than 40 laps remaining in the race there would be just seven cars still circulating out on the track. And, with a circuit measuring more than 4 miles in length, this meant there were large gaps between competitors making their way by spectators intently hoping and watching for some racing action.
Averaging a little less than 100mph for nearly three hours and eight minutes, Fangio would be all by himself as he rounded the final right-hand kink leading to the finish line. Sweeping across the line almost 51 seconds ahead of Musso, Fangio more than stemmed Musso's last ditch effort to draw the lead back toward himself. Peter Collins would end up in the 3rd position. He would be making his way toward Nouveau Monde one last time right about the same time Fangio crossed the finish line to take the victory.
It had ended up being a rather boring French Grand Prix despite the love the teams and drivers had for the venue. It also could not have been much more bitterly disappointing for Owen Racing. Not only did they have a driver in the hospital but they wouldn't even have the opportunity to revel in a points-paying finish after MacKay-Fraser's engine gave up the fight. And that was exactly the attitude the cars and the components seemed to have—retreat.
Owen Racing found itself in a difficult position following the French Grand Prix. Retreating seemed like the best option but they really couldn't at this point if they intended to ever improve. The team was at a point that either they gave it all up or they took their lumps in order to discover what they had been missing. What they wouldn't realize is that the lumps, though good for the future, had a price in the present that seemed a bit too steep to pay.
The team would have another race just one week following the French Grand Prix. Thankfully for the team, the event would take place not at all that far from Rouen. In fact, the destination was the more usual site for the French Grand Prix—Reims. The team would pack everything up and would head the 170 miles or so east to arrive in Reims in order to take part in what had been known in the past as the Grand Prix de la Marne, but now would simply be called the Grand Prix de Reims. It would be the 23rd edition of the grand prix and it would take place on the 14th of July.
Although the race was a non-championship affair most of the major manufacturers would be present to take part in the 61 lap race. This provided an important tune-up for the British teams as the British Grand Prix would take place just a week following the event. Therefore, it provided an opportunity for some confidence and momentum. It also, then, had the potential of dashing hopes altogether and leaving a team, or a driver, in compete despair.
Owen Racing would arrive to take part in the race and would find the usual suspects gathered at the event. In addition to the non-championship Formula One race there would also be the Reims 12 Hour race for sportscars and a Formula 2 event. Owen Racing would arrive at Reims with two cars but would be down to just a single driver as a result of Flockhart's injuries. But if things looked bad for the team coming into the weekend they would turn even worse prior to the Formula One race.
Taking to the 5.15 mile circuit for practice, MacKay-Fraser would show himself to be a quick study and fast. Although the car wasn't where it needed to be he would manage to take the car and turn a lap time that would be good enough to give him a fourth row starting position.
Before the Formula One race there would be a Formula 2 event known as the 1st Coupe International de Vitesse. MacKay-Fraser would be driving a Lotus Eleven for Team Lotus when he would suffer a crash just 10 laps away from the finish. It would be a terrible crash and would result in the American perishing as a result of the injuries suffered.
The events in the Formula 2 race would turn everything dark for the Owen Racing team. Flockhart was nursing some bad bruising and now they had just lost their second driver. To the outsider, it would appear as if the BRM program was cursed. Owen Racing had a car destined to start from the fourth row of the grid for the non-championship Formula One race, but now they had no drivers ready and willing to get behind the wheel. The team would do the only option they had left to them—withdraw.
It would be a terrible moment for the team with the British Grand Prix just a week away. Things really could not have looked much darker for the team and there was very little in the way of hope that suggested there was light at the end of the tunnel. It seemed the team just kept slugging it out and still suffered terribly for all the effort. Nonetheless, the team would make their way back across the Channel and to the home factory in Lincolnshire.
Time would be short for the team, and, despite the tragic events that had take place over the previous couple of weeks, they would forget what was past and would turn their sights to the British Grand Prix coming up on the 20th of July.
The most pressing issue the team had to deal with in the week between the fatal weekend at Reims and the return to Aintree for the British round of the World Championship would be the fact the team had no driver ready to take part in the race. Of course, MacKay-Fraser was now dead. Flockhart was in much better shape having a little more than a week to recover from the bruising he received in Rouen. Still, he was not in good enough shape to sit behind the wheel of the car for three hours. The team would need to look to replacement drivers then. The team would turn initially ask Archie Scott-Brown but he would turn the team down. So, the team would turn to Jack Fairman and he would decide to join the team for all-important grand prix. In addition to Fairman, the team would ask Les Leston to come and be a part of the team for the race. He too would agree. Owen Racing had two drivers. Both were experienced, but neither were spectacularly-fast. This didn't seem to suggest the team was very confident heading into the race but the team severely needed a race finish and the steady hands of Leston and Fairman provided just that.
The team would need drivers with experience as they made their way back to Aintree. Aintree had hosted the British Grand Prix for the first time back in 1955 and had provided a memorable moment when Stirling Moss brought him his first career Formula One World Championship victory. Many of the British drivers made the trip to Aintree once or more than once a year since its inception back in 1954, but, the race in 1957 would be just the second time the 3.0 mile played host to the British round of the World Championship.
Located in the village of Aintree, the racecourse bearing the name of the local village would become famous as the site for the Grand National steeplechase event. The horseracing event had formerly been held in nearby Maghull but would become synonymous with Aintree. The wide open area would seem like the perfect place to host horsepower of a different kind. And, with the numerous grandstands bordering the front stretch and other portions of the area there would be very little organizers would have to do to attract a crowd.
Everyone would come back to Aintree looking for and expecting a truly memorable moment in grand prix history. Stirling Moss would be back with the British Vandervell team and looked entirely capable to challenging the Italian machinery for another victory on the circuit. Owen Racing, however, wouldn't quite be in the driver's seat that Vandervell was in coming into the race. Two substitute drivers and poor reliability didn't necessarily foster a lot of confidence for much more than a top ten, or, at most, a low points-scoring performance. Still, the team could hope.
The entire weekend was under threat of rain and storms but the cars would unload and take part in practice anyway in less than ideal conditions. Still, the circuit would not be terrible and still quite fast. Not surprisingly, the fastest around the circuit over the course of practice would be one of the Vanwalls. Stirling Moss would remember his last time at the circuit with the Mercedes-Benz team and would hearken back to that moment taking the pole for the race with a lap time of 2:00.2. The rest of the front row would consist of Jean Behra in 2nd place and Tony Brooks rounding-out the front row in 3rd.
The much more cautious and steady Leston and Fairman were to be found in the later-half of the grid. Leston would end up on the fifth row of the grid in the 12th position while Fairman would find himself in the seventh row of the grid in the 16th position.
The likelihood of a victory seemed incredible remote as the team prepared for the 90 lap race on the 20th. Thankfully for the thousands upon thousands of spectators to come to the race the heavy rain would blow out of the area during the morning hours. The skies would be overcast early on but the circuit would at least be dry by the time the cars were rolled out to their grid positions.
After the usual parade of Austin Healeys the drivers would take to their cars and the engines brought to life. The field of 19 cars would be ready for the start. The flag would drop and the field would roar away toward Waterway corner for the first time. Heading through the first corner it would be Behra in the lead over Moss and Hawthorn with Brooks right there along with Collins. Leston would get away well from the grid and would be fighting for position a couple of spots ahead of his starting spot on the grid. Fairman would also get away well and would be fighting for a position further up as well.
Although Behra would lead through the first part of the lap, Moss would soon force his way by to take over the lead. Brooks would follow his teammate's example and would make his way past Hawthorn for 3rd place while Leston battled for a spot in the top ten.
At the end of the first lap the British faithful would be overcome with joy as Moss led the way over Behra with Brooks, Hawthorn and Collins following along. There would be four British drivers in the top five. The other British team, that of Owen Racing, would be a bit further down in the order after the first lap. Leston would complete the first lap in a healthy 10th spot after starting 12th. Fairman would also be up a position in 15th place after starting 16th.
Moss would continue to lead the way over Behra. Further back, Leston would begin a backward movement after his good start. Lewis-Evans would get his Vanwall righted after a poor start and would be the first to move past the BRM driver. Then, after 6 laps it would be Maurice Trintignant that would put him a further spot back in the running order. By the 11th lap of the race Leston would be running back in 14th spot just one position ahead of his BRM teammate Fairman.
The two BRM drivers had really very little fight throughout the first part of the race. Concerned about the longevity of the BRM, both drivers would remain at the tail end of the field. It was clear the only focus the team had left was merely finishing the race.
Moss had been focused on winning the event. That would take a serious hit after a misfire issue dropped him well down in the order, and then out. However, he was not out. Tony Brooks had agreed to give his teammate his car if he fell out of contention. Brooks came into the pits and Moss would leave with his sights set on tracking down the lead cars.
By the 30th lap of the race the order was Behra in the lead ahead of Hawthorn and Collins. Stuart Lewis-Evans had mounted a challenge and had powered his way up to 4th place. Moss, meanwhile, would be lapping as fast as he could and would be up to 7th. Further back, neither Leston nor Fairman would be lapping as fast as they could, just as fast as they dared. Leston would end up in a battle with Bob Gerard in a Cooper-Bristol and would be in 13th place while Fairman remained steady down in 15th spot, unable, or unwilling, to really try and fight his way forward in such fragile machine.
By the halfway mark of the race it seemed as not much had happened but there were quite a few changes. Yes, Behra still held onto the lead over Hawthorn and Lewis-Evans, but Moss was about to dispatch Collins for 4th place. Fairman would find himself also moving up the order, but not by any real effort of his own. Focusing on bringing the BRM home, Fairman would move up the order as a result of the failures of others. Jo Bonnier, Carlos Menditeguy and Harry Schell would all fall out of the race. This moved Fairman up a couple of places. But then there would be the retirement of his teammate Leston after 44 laps. Leston's engine would give up the fight. Yet more poor reliability from the BRM and the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. As a result of the failures, Fairman would be up to 11th. The team believed maybe Fairman's steady and sedate would prove the correct way. But when a car suffers from so much poor reliability there really is no correct way to drive it. This would be proved two laps later.
Behra would hold onto the lead but he had four British drivers lined up behind him ready to pounce. None of the British drivers looked more capable and desirous for the victory than Stirling Moss. Having taken over Brooks' Vanwall, Moss would force his way by Collins just past the halfway mark of the race. This would send out a chorus of cheers from the British crowd as it was apparent Moss was a man on the move. Lost in the ovation for Moss' performance out on the track would be Fairman's retirement after a poor performance by the BRM. Owen Racing had its two cars barely make it to and past the halfway mark in a race. This was certainly not what Sir Alfred Owen was looking for, especially not in his home grand prix.
Yet again, Owen Racing would have plenty of time to begin packing up all of its cars and equipment as there would be still half a race to be run when Fairman departed the scene. However, not many of the British would begin to pack it in, not with three of their countrymen running behind the leader in the British Grand Prix with just 20 laps remaining.
And then there would be a twist in the plot that could have only been written by British fans. Behra's gearbox in the Maserati would absolutely disintegrate showering the circuit with pieces of itself. Behra would be out of the race immediately. So too would Hawthorn as he would suffer a cut tire from running over the debris. Moss would just be making his way by Lewis-Evans at the time and would end up passing by the crowd along the front straight back in the lead of the race.
Once back in the lead of the race, Moss would back off the pace only slightly as he would turn his attentions to bringing the Vanwall home to a very important British Grand Prix victory. It would be a remarkable turn of events and it would certainly make the race a classic within the annals of Formula One history.
After posting the fastest lap of the race with a time a full second faster than his own qualifying effort, Moss would cruise over the line with his arm raised in the air in victory. The British fans would be absolutely beside themselves as they took in the significance of the moment. Raymond Mays had determined BRM to be the British racing team, the team that would take British manufacturing to glory in the World Championship. But, here was BRM, with its cars sitting in a very quiet and broken state and the Vanwall of Brooks and Moss would be crossing the line taking British Racing Green to World Championship glory. As Luigi Musso and Mike Hawthorn finished the race in 2nd and 3rd place, a very real sense of irony had to fall over all of those associated with BRM. That was to be their scene; their moment of glory. That is what Mays declared and promised. Instead, the team had suffered nothing but humiliation and loss. The reality of the team's situation had to really set in, especially in that moment.
The month of July would be a busy month and there would be a race each weekend of the month. Following the British Grand Prix there would be a non-championship event in the coastal city of Caen. That race, the 5th Grand Prix de Caen would take place on the 28th of July and would not have the number of participants that some of the other non-championship events would draw. So, Owen Racing would dispatch a couple of BRMs to the city to take part in the race in the hopes that they could come away with a much better result than what they had achieved to that point in the season.
What is curious about the whole trip to Caen is that it would be instigated by Jean Behra. Being French he wanted to take part in the race on his native soil. He had been close to victory in a couple of other events but had victory snatched from his hands more than once. He had, however, earned yet another victory in Pau. Still, Maserati would not supply him with a car for the race. So, he would turn to Owen Racing.
Amazingly, Behra believed in the team and the new T25. He would work out a contract with the team and two cars would be released for him and Harry Schell. Schell was also a driver for Maserati. He too had his car packed up and hauled away following the British Grand Prix. So, these two would make the jaunt across the Channel to Caen with the team.
Behra and Schell would work wonders with the maligned car. They would take the work done by the team in concert with Chapman's suggestions, at least to that point in the season, and would tweak the car even more. The difference would be remarkable as Behra would take the pole with a lap of 1:21.1 around the 2.18 mile circuit. Schell would struggle a little more posting a personal best of 1:28.4. Being a little more than 7 seconds slower than Behra, Schell would start the race from the third row of the grid in the 5th position.
The Caen circuit would take place along city streets surrounding La Prairie just to the south of the city's center. Flat throughout, given its location along the L'Orne River, the temporary circuit would be something of a rectangle shape with a hairpin turn completing the circuit before the run back to the start/finish line. As a result of the circuit's layout and nature, Behra and Schell would manage to tweak the BRM to enable it to really come online around the circuit. The only test remaining was whether or not the tweaking would make a difference in the race or not.
Although Schell failed to qualify with the same kind of speed as Behra and would start further back on the grid, his positioning would be such that he could follow Behra through to a much higher placement. Of course this depended upon Behra making a fast getaway from the grid as well.
Behra would do exactly what Schell needed. The two would make a fast getaway from the grid and would begin doing something nobody thought possible. Undoubtedly some people were unable to believe what they were seeing. An intense battle between Behra and Schell wasn't necessarily anything new. Both drivers were very talented and the two would absolutely delight the crowd with numerous lead changes and battles all around the two mile circuit. No, the surprise was the car in which they were driving while performing the incredible duel.
The BRM T25 had proven itself incapable of just about anything throughout the first part of the season. It wasn't all that fast, still suffered from bad handling and certainly didn't have the reliability to consider it for a top result in any race. But here Behra and Schell were, battling it out as if the 25 was the most reliable and most capable car known to man. What was all the more surprising was that both cars were responding. They had certainly been tweaked. They acted like entirely different machines as they left the rest of the field in their dust.
It would be an incredible demonstration. Then came Behra's fastest lap time. Posting a lap time actually faster than his own qualifying effort, the BRM would be truly astonishing. The difference couldn't have been more vast.
The race distance would be 86 laps. Behra and Schell would put on a demonstration that would wow the audience for more than 50 laps. Then, unfortunately, Schell's BRM would give up the fight with an engine failure. Behra's BRM, however, would continue to run without incident.
It would be an absolutely remarkable performance by the Frenchman and would demonstrate his prowess as a racing driver and as a car-preparer. Crossing the finish line after two hours, one minute and 55 seconds, Behra would win the race going away as Roy Salvadori would complete the race in 2nd place more than a lap down. In fact, Salvadori would pass the start/finish line less than 10 seconds ahead of Behra when he was coming to the line to take the checkered. It had been a conclusive victory and a real surprise for just about everyone. Certainly it had to be something of a surprise for the Owen Racing team as well. The day would have only been better had Schell made it to the finish. Instead, the third, and final, spot on the podium would go to Bruce Halford.
What a remarkable turn-around. It would be as though Behra went and redesigned the BRM prior to the race. Both he and Schell got the best from the car and it was truly remarkable what they had been able to achieve. Certainly, Schell's failure to finish was not a sweet flavor in the team's mouth. However, there had to be some pleasure in the kind of pace Schell had been able to coax out of the car prior to it failing. Suddenly, the BRM T25 seemed like a competitive car.
The team had a problem. Behra and Schell had managed to work wonders with the BRM. The problem was that they were contracted to drive for the factory Maserati team. The next race on the calendar would be the German Grand Prix held on the 4th of August. This would have been a perfect opportunity just to see how far the car had come compared to the competition. Unfortunately, neither Behra nor Schell would be available as they would be back with Maserati for the World Championship round.
Owen Racing really only had one driver following the death of MacKay-Fraser. Unfortunately, Flockhart was still nursing his seriously bruised body from an accident in Rouen a month earlier. The team would enter a single car in the German round of the World Championship in hopes that Flockhart would be able to participate. However, his bruising would be still too much of a concern to enable him to take part.
The team could have turned to other drivers like Les Leston and Jack Fairman. However, neither of these two drivers really impressed at the British Grand Prix. Additionally, it became clear after the performance in Caen that the team needed drivers capable of working with the team to tweak the setup of the car. This was something Leston and Fairman lacked.
Owen Racing had an important decision to make. They could take part in the last three rounds of the World Championship with less-than-stellar drivers that likely lacked the skill to get the most from the T25, or, the team could wait until the end of the World Championship season and approach Behra again. When the championship ended Behra would likely be willing to come back to the team and help them really get their car going in the right direction.
Owen Racing would choose discretion and would take the month of August to really get to work at the rear of the car. Some of the changes had been made but the time off would really allow the team to implement Chapman's recommendations. The time off would also allow the team time to prepare for the non-championship events so that they could lure Behra back to the team.
While it certainly wouldn't look like it, events throughout 1957 would actually play into the hands of Owen Racing. Certainly, the team would avoid the final three rounds of the World Championship, but, world events would cause one of the more popular non-championship events to move its date. The BRDC International Trophy race usually took place in the early part of May. However, the events around the Suez would lead to the event being postponed until the 14th of September.
Having a little more than a month to make changes and to prepare, Owen Racing would make its way to Silverstone with three BRM T25 chassis. This apparent show of force would only be further legitimized when the names Jean Behra, Harry Schell and Ron Flockhart were added beside each of the entries.
Owen had managed to do it. He had managed to lure Behra and Schell back to the team following the conclusion of the championship. The addition of these drivers to the team would be so very important as they had turned the team's season around with their performance in the Caen Grand Prix.
The International Trophy race had first been held at Silverstone in 1949 and it would be the first to use the 2.9 mile perimeter road of the former bomber training base as the circuit layout. Ever a popular non-championship event, some of the best teams and drivers had made their way to the former airfield just outside the small village of Silverstone.
Fast and wide open, the team would need to get the maximum out of their T25 if they had any hopes of coming away with a strong result. The team had an advantage though. Seeing that the race came after the conclusion of the World Championship the number of factory teams that would make it to the race would be few in number. In fact, if there were any foreign cars in the field they were likely entered by privateer British drivers.
Up until the last couple of years the format of the International Trophy race had included two heat races and a final. This format would return for 1957 and meant the Owen Racing team would be split up amongst the two 15 lap heat races.
Although the conditions were overcast they at least would be dry. This meant the circuit would be fast. The BRM had proven to be fast at Silverstone in 1956. Twice the car would shoot out to an early lead only to fall prey to mechanical problems. But while this lack of success would be frustrating for the team they at least knew the car was capable of great pace around the circuit. If the car could be harnessed for the whole of an event, similar to what Behra had done in Caen, then the team could have reason for confidence.
Coming back to the team after a month away, Behra and Schell would need a little bit of time to get up to speed in the BRM. However, it wouldn't take all that long before the two men made their tweaks and began going faster.
The three BRMs would be split up between the two heats. In the first heat would be Behra and Flockhart. These two would set out onto the circuit for practice. Tweaks were still being made to the BRM. Behra wasn't quite up to speed yet when practice came to an end. And, in the end, it would be Tony Brooks starting from pole in a Formula 2 Cooper-Climax. A Formula 2 car on pole certainly didn't make things look good. But, Behra would begin to find the pace and would end up not far off of Brooks' time. Posting a time of 1:44.6, Behra would be a second and a half slower than Brooks but would be fast enough to capture the 2nd place spot on the front row. Flockhart would be a little more than a second slower than Behra but would end up in 3rd place on the front row. The final spot on the front row would end up going to Masten Gergory.
The team had confidence the car would be able to make it the 15 lap heat race distance. When the race started, Behra would shoot into the lead with Flockhart following closely behind. Brooks started the race from the pole but would quickly run into trouble. Wheel problems would cause him to retire before even completing a single lap.
In Caen, Behra had shown great speed against a field of privateer Maserati 250Fs. It would be the same story in the first heat of the International Trophy race. Flockhart would benefit from the wisdom of the Frenchman and would find himself chasing Behra in 2nd place. Behra would be on the gas and would be quickly leaving his teammate, and the rest of the field, well behind.
Aided by a fastest lap time that was more than two and a half seconds faster than his practice time, it was clear Behra had tweaked the car even more heading into the race and that was providing great speed. Behra would be leaving Flockhart behind and Flockhart's pace would be such that Masten Gregory would have to push incredibly hard just to keep up.
Behra would be flying in the first heat race. Averaging a little more than 101mph, Behra would easily take victory enjoying about a 43 second advantage over Flockhart finishing in 2nd place. Masten Gregory would give it everything he had but even he would be unable to keep up with the BRM. He would end up finishing eight seconds behind Flockhart.
What a difference. Behra and Flockhart would leave everybody behind in their wake. Nearly two minutes would be the difference between Behra and the 4th and 5th place finisher. Behra had demonstrated his prowess once again. Flockhart would benefit from the influence and would be impressive in his own right. But there was another heat race to go.
Schell would find the second heat race rather lonely. In total, there would be 17 cars in the second heat race and only about two would be really serious contenders. Of course there were a slew of Formula 2 entries in the field just waiting to clean up any discarded opportunity.
Schell had tweaked his BRM as well and looked rather fast. Surmising the situation, Schell realized quite quickly the competition was a little thin in the second heat. Therefore, he would not push as quite as hard as what he likely could have. Schell would take the pole easily posting a lap time nearly four seconds faster than the second-place qualifier, Keith Hall. The complete front row would look like this: Schell would be in pole with Hall starting 2nd. In 3rd position would be Ivor Bueb and in 4th would be George Wicken.
There would be a bit of drama at the start of the second heat race. Alessandro de Tomaso would suffer a crash after the first lap and would be out of the race. Keith Hall would also depart the race very early on.
Chased by Jack Brabham more than a few seconds back, Schell would be cruising at the head of the field. Brabham would be ahead of Bueb and Bonnier in their 250Fs and this only further seemed to calm Schell at the front. Still, he had Brabham behind him who was looking quite good in his T43 Cooper.
Schell would run a controlled race and would cruise to an easy victory in a somewhat different way than had Behra. Behra had demolished his competition and won easily. Schell controlled his competition and won easily taking a 7 second advantage across the line ahead of Brabham in 2nd place. Jo Bonnier would complete the podium from the second heat. He would finish 10 seconds behind Schell in 3rd place.
Both heat races finished, it was time to set the grid for the 35 lap final. As in the past, finishing times for each respective competitor in their heat race would be used to determine the starting grid. Obviously, this meant Behra started from the pole. Ron Flockhart would start in 2nd place. Masten Gregory's determined performance in the Maserati would earn him 3rd place on the front row. The final spot on the front row would go to Schell following his controlled and commanding performance in the second heat race.
As the times were not aggregate, Schell's slower time in the second heat race didn't hurt him as he would still start from the front row and would be in striking distance of his teammates when the race got underway.
All three of the BRM pilots had been congratulated by the team following their performances in their respective heat races. Now the team held its collective breath as they stood in the best position they had ever been in over the course of the '57 season. All three of their cars would be aligned along the front row of the grid. They just needed their cars, preferably more than one, to cross the finish line in 1st place. Then, in that moment, the terrible season would be vindicated, well at least somewhat.
Then the flag dropped. All three BRMs would go to the front. Heading into Copse for the first time in the final, it would be BRMs in the top three positions. Behra would be leading marginally ahead of Schell. Flockhart would be following his teammates through looking to exert himself into the fight. It would be important with all three cars running at the front of the field there was no stupid move made by either driver to ruin the team's chances. All three would keep their heads and it would be a dramatic sight for the team that had struggled for so much of the season to see its three cars up front leading the way.
With each and every lap it became more and more of a mystery how the team could have been so bad, how the car could have been so bad, throughout the majority of the season. Behra would increase his pace. Schell would respond. So too would the BRM.
Schell had been fighting with Behra in Caen when his engine gave up the fight. After an early battle with Behra, the American-Parisian would back off slightly to run a comfortable 2nd a few ticks of the second hand ahead of Flockhart who was under attack from Jo Bonnier. Although he wasn't under attack, Behra would only increase his speed over the course of the final. He would not run quite as fast as what he had during the first heat race but it would be more than adequate compared to the pace of the rest of the competitors in the final. With his teammates effectively controlling the pace of the field behind him, Behra would be allowed to roam free and he would do just that.
As the race developed so too would Behra's advantage over the rest of the field. Averaging nearly 100mph over the course of the final it seemed as though the BRM was an entirely different car then had been seen most of the rest of the season. What's more, all three were still in the race and up at the front. The only question mark heading into the final moments of the race would be the condition of Flockhart's 3rd place. He would be under heavy pressure from Bonnier but would still be in front, but just barely.
The only doubt would not have to do with Behra but with the chariot he was piloting. But on this day, the BRMs would be absolutely indomitable. Behra would bring home the easy victory completing the race distance in one hour, one minute and 30 seconds. A minute and a half later the second jewel in Owen Racing's crown, Harry Schell, would come through to finish in 2nd place. The only question that remained would be just 6 seconds behind. And, to the absolute delight of the down-trodden team, Flockhart would hold off Bonnier by just a second to give Owen Racing a clean sweep of the podium.
It would be a remarkable moment in a season that could not have been characterized in any other way than terrible. Suddenly, the team and the maligned car seemed entirely different. The presence of Behra and Schell had taken things to a whole new, and prosperous, level! While too early to make any predictions, the result at Silverstone seemed to be a turning point for the team. Unfortunately, it would be too late to really make a difference in 1957, but, the team could really set itself up well for 1958.
Earlier in the season races coming back to back were not necessarily welcome sights for Owen Racing. All that meant was a never-ending struggle. But something seemed to change following the race in Caen and it would be further bolstered by the incredible result at Silverstone. Back to back races at the end of the season were now a good sign for the team as it enabled them to head into the offseason with a good amount of confidence and momentum, which would be important for 1958.
One week after the surprise sweep in the International Trophy race, the Owen racing team would be in Italy preparing to take on the Italians on their home soil. Furthermore, they would be in the heart of Ferrari and Maserati territory. The team would be in Modena for the 5th Gran Premio di Modena and the race presented a great test to the team to see how far they have come.
Had the team ventured onto Italian soil at any other point in the season a terrible rout would have been in the offering. But things had changed. The team seemed to be entirely different. Chapman's changes to the rear had seemed to taken hold and the car suddenly became much easier to handle. The only question the remained was the reliability of the four-cylinder engine. Otherwise, the team and the drivers had reason to be confident of the BRM 25. The team would need all the confidence they could get as they unloaded their two cars at the site where both Ferrari and Maserati would test their latest grand prix and sportscars.
Modena is a city located in the Po Valley. The city would be the seat of an archbishop and would be absolutely overrun with history dating back to the 3rd century BC. Filled with tight alleyways and filled to the brim with ancient architecture, the city seemed like the last place for the breeding of mechanized thoroughbreds. But that would all change when a certain Enzo Ferrari would be born in the city. Before and even after making the move to Maranello, Ferrari would use the aerodrome situated just to the west of the city's center to test and race its latest model racing cars.
Just the setting would be daunting. But then there would be the issue of Behra being back with Maserati along with Schell. Once again, Owen Racing would be forced to look to substitute a substitute driver for one of their cars. The decision would be made rather easy by looking at the International Trophy race one week earlier. Of course Ron Flockhart would be behind the wheel of one of the BRMs. The man that finished a second behind him in that race happened to be a privateer and the perfect option in this situation. Therefore, Jo Bonnier would be given the opportunity to drive with the team and would jump all over it.
So the team believed they had two drivers capable of putting up a fight against the Italian might. They would need to put up a fight considering the 1.46 mile Modena circuit played into the hands of the Ferraris and the Maseratis much better than it did the BRM. Featuring some slow hairpin corners, quick corners and some short straights the ill-handling BRM of earlier in the season would have never stood a chance. Though much better, the edge still had to go to the 250F and the new single-seaters from Ferrari.
Once again, the team would find itself taking part in a race consisting of a couple of heat races. However, the format for the race in Modena would be different from that of the International Trophy race. Instead of two heat races and a final there would be just two heats that counted in aggregate to provide the final result. This meant finishing time in the first heat race meant as much as it did in the second. This way the cars and the drivers would have to push hard through each of the two 40 lap heat events.
Practice would determine the starting grid positions for the first heat. And in practice the reality of the pace of the Ferraris and Maseratis would become more than obvious. Luigi Musso would take pole in one of the new Dino 156s. Harry Schell would be impressive earning the second spot on the front row. Jean Behra would then claim the final spot on the front row making it Ferrari-Maserati-Maserati.
Flockhart would be enjoying the new updates and tweaks to the BRM and he would just miss out on the front row. Instead, he would start from the second row in the 4th position. Bonnier, not having any experience with the team, would be slower than Flockhart but would still be in a good position starting from the third row of the grid in the 7th position. His position on the grid would be just off the left should of Flockhart.
Right at the start of the race there would be an incredible battle between Behra, Musso and Schell. Both Behra and Musso would set the same fastest lap times and would be leading the way at the front of the field. Only the top four would remain relatively in touch over the course of the first 40 heat race. Unfortunately for Owen Racing, none of their BRMs would be amongst the top four.
Bonnier would gain an edge on Flockhart and would show superior pace over the course of the 40 laps. Even still, Bonnier just would not be able to stem the tide at the front of the field and he would eventually fall a lap behind the leaders before the end of the 40 laps. Flockhart would drop two laps behind unable to find the speed necessary to keep up, even with his inexperienced teammate.
Bonnier would still be in a fight. He and Giorgio Scarlatti would remain within a second or so of each other throughout the later part of the race and would provide about the only excitement there was to be found around the circuit.
Behra and Musso would continue to do battle. Musso would be fast but Behra would be consistently faster extending his advantage over the Italian and having a sizable margin in hand coming down to the end of the first heat. Both BRMs would still be in the race and Bonnier would still be locked in a fight with Scarlatti. They may not be challenging for the lead like they were in Silverstone but they were still in the fight at least.
Behra would pull away. Completing the first heat in 42 minutes and 23 seconds, the Frenchman would enjoy a margin of more than 20 seconds over Musso. Harry Schell would remain composed driving similar to how he drove his heat race at Silverstone. Finishing more than 40 seconds behind Behra, his only hope going forward would be trouble with his Maserati teammate.
Bonnier would put up a tremendous fight despite being a lap down. His target was right in front of him. He had been locked in a battle with Scarlatti for 5th place and in the race to the line he would end up coming up short by just a little more than a second. Sixth place would go to Bonnier. Right behind him in the order, and nearly another lap down, would be Flockhart finishing in 7th place.
Sixth and seventh weren't exactly the top of the order but they were still pleasant results nonetheless. Unfortunately, they did signal that the BRM wasn't quite up to the speed of its competition still. There was still more work to be done.
The starting order for the second heat race would be reversed. Therefore, instead of starting on pole, Behra would start in 3rd place. Harry Schell would start on pole while Musso would start in the middle in 2nd. On the third row of the grid Flockhart would start in 7th place while Bonnier would start 8th.
The cars had just covered 40 laps. They were prepared for the second heat but had already gone through a lot of wear and tear. This was not a good thing for the usually fragile BRMs. Still, the flag would drop and the cars would get away with a very similar story begin to play itself out.
Behra would head to the front once again. Musso and Schell would be right there while Peter Collins lagged behind just a little bit. The two BRMs would get away from the grid as well and would be in a strong position throughout the first part of the race.
It was clear it was going to take a miracle for the Owen Racing team to end up on the podium, especially considering the pace at which Behra, Musso and Schell were running at the front. But, their pace did suggest there was the opportunity. But Behra would stand in the way.
Behra and Musso would run remarkably consistent times from the first to the second heat. Over the course of the first heat race Behra had averaged 80mph. In the second heat race his average speed over the course of the race would be just a little under 81mph. Both men at the front were running nearly identical lap times to what they had run previous. The man that would pick it up in the second would be Schell. Threatened by Peter Collins every step of the way, Schell would pick up his pace and would be just a couple of seconds behind Musso.
The pace was absolutely torrid and it was wreaking havoc on just two cars. Flockhart's race would come to an end just past the halfway mark of the race when his fuel pump failed. Four laps later, Bonnier's race would come to an end after a problem was discovered with his suspension. The BRMs had battled valiantly for 60 laps. Unfortunately, the race was 80.
Behra had quickly found his groove and began to pull away just like he had in the first heat. Running consistent lap times, Behra would cruise to victory again 20 seconds ahead of Musso. Both Behra and Musso would end the second heat race just one second slower than their times in the first heat. Harry Schell had picked up his pace and would manage to hold off Collins by just three-tenths of a second. But, without Behra's or Musso's retirement from the race he was fighting for 3rd and the final step on the podium.
When the final results were tallied, Behra would win the race by 40 seconds over Musso. Musso, in turn, would earn his 2nd place with nearly 29 seconds in hand over Schell. Both of the BRM drivers would not be included in the final results.
Although the team would come away without another race result there seemed to be more of a straight-up fight with the BRM and the Italian machinery. The British car still came up short in the end but it had certainly regained a lot of lost ground and looked nowhere near what it had earlier in the season. The main problem though remained—reliability.
The month of September had been a rather strange one for the team. Certainly, they had experienced great success at Silverstone, but then came the failure at Modena. It would have seemed like a wash. But, in light of the rest of the season it should have been seen as anything but.
At Silverstone the BRMs were dominant. At Modena, the BRMs were not dominant, and then they failed to make it the entire distance. However, at Modena, the team was performing far better than it had throughout most of the season. And that would be the difference. When compared to the season up until the turn-around in Caen, the month of September would look vastly different. In many ways, the BRM T25 acted like a totally different car. The failed finish in Modena had the look of any other race where Ferrari or Maserati would fail to have a couple of their cars make it an entire race distance. Following Caen, Owen Racing had every reason to forget what was past because the car was now performing much better and appeared much more competitive. The season was drawing to a close, but there was certainly good reason to be pleased and to look ahead with confidence.
The team wouldn't be able to look ahead too far too soon. There was still one more race on the season in which the team could participate. In many ways, this non-championship event was like a championship race. Not only was the upcoming race going to be on the World Championship calendar the following year, but, for Owen Racing, it provided one last 'big' event of the season.
Jean Behra and Harry Schell had negotiated drives with Owen Racing at the end of July. This is when the BRM made a turn-around. The problem is that both Behra and Schell would leave to go back to Maserati following the Caen Grand Prix. It was obvious these two had the ability of taking the car to the next level. What's more, their suggested tweaks would take some time for the factory to fully investigate and take advantage of moving forward.
Certainly the revised rear suspension had already been adapted to the car, but, Behra and Schell would manage to tweak that arrangement with other aspects of the car to make it truly powerful. The team would be smart to take the time and investigate further how to fully adapt these tweaks to make the car even better. The obvious decision then was to forego the German, Pescara and Italian Grand Prix in order to further develop the new changes and to wait for Behra and Schell to end their seasons with Maserati.
The decision would prove to be a smart one in that the team finally had a dominant performance in a race bringing home a sweep of the podium in the International Trophy race at Silverstone. But, to achieve that momentous victory the team had abandoned three rounds of the World Championship to better understand the T25. Therefore, in many ways, the 6th Grand Prix de Maroc provided a splendid opportunity.
Held on the 27th of October, the Grand Prix de Maroc would be like one more round of the World Championship. Most all of the major factory efforts, like Scuderia Ferrari, Officine Alfieri Maserati and Vandervell Products would make the trip across the Mediterranean precisely because the race was to be a part of the World Championship for 1958. And so, for Owen Racing, it was as if their sacrifice of foregoing rounds of the World Championship would be rewarded with one important curtain-call performance; a test for the upcoming season.
Heading to Morocco for the non-championship event held in Casablanca could have seemed like a trip into an entirely different world. However, having been under French and Spanish control for more than a century meant there was some European influence evident throughout the major cities.
The coming of the World Championship for 1958 and the non-championship event in 1957 would be very monumental given the fact France had only just allowed the return of the previously-exiled Mohammed V and that he had just become king that same year as a result of negotiating with France for the country's independence.
Morocco's history, of course, extends well beyond the 19th century and even the important Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship from 1777. The Phoenicians would establish trading settlements throughout the area of Morocco during the 6th century BC. Not long afterward the Romans came and took control of the area and represented the furthermost reach of that empire on the African continent. But while kingdoms would come and go, the native Berber people would remain, inhabiting the high mountains of the interior portions of the region.
By the 1950s, one of the most, if not the most, prominent cities in Morocco would be Casablanca. Situated right along the Atlantic coast, the flat coastal plain would be a popular destination as a result of the currents from the Atlantic keeping the temperatures moderate year-around. Having a Portuguese name for 'white house', the European affect on the city is undeniable. From being the famous site where Roosevelt and Churchill discussed the progress of the Second World War to its French-styled architecture, Casablanca is certainly an amalgamation of cultures and influences. Therefore, it made sense the city would host the best teams, drivers and cars grand prix racing had to offer.
The circuit would be called Ain-Diab and would be comprised of public roads, or streets, that literally ran right up to the edge of the Atlantic and amongst the tightly-packed homes to the west of the city's center. Because of the coastal plain, the 4.74 mile Ain-Diab would be virtually flat all the way around but the setting near the beach and the Atlantic would certainly make it rather picturesque and ideally-suited to the culture of Formula One.
Owen Racing would decide, despite its struggles over the course of the season, to make the trip across the Mediterranean to Morocco. They would come to the race with two cars. Ron Flockhart would be behind the wheel of one. The experienced veteran Maurice Trintignant would be behind the wheel of the other.
The nature of the circuit seemed to provide a level playing field to Ferrari, Maserati and Vandervell. The only question was whether the BRM would also take to the circuit. In practice, Moss would be fast in one of the Vanwalls. However, he would get ill and would be unable to take part in the race. It would seemingly matter little as Tony Brooks would end up fastest around the circuit posting a time of 2:23.3. Jean Behra would be back with Maserati again and he would be just two-tenths slower than Brooks and would gain the second spot on the front row. Stuart Lewis-Evans, the other Vanwall driver, would earn the final spot on the front row.
As far as the Owen Racing team was concerned, bringing Trintignant on, even though it was a rather last minute thing, would prove key. Very soon he would be up to speed in the BRM and would perform well with the car in practice around Ain-Diab. By the end of practice he would be in the third row in the 8th position having posted a best lap a little less than 6 seconds slower than Brooks. Flockhart could be found right off of Trintignant's left shoulder. Posting a best lap exactly a second slower than Maurice, Flockhart would be in the fourth row in the 10th position.
Heading closer toward the start of the 55 lap race on the 27th of October, the crowd would become increasingly excited. The weather would be absolutely beautiful with bright blue skies and warm temperatures. It is believed that 50,000, or more, spectators would assemble around the circuit preparing for the start of the last race of the season.
The cars would be lined up on the grid with crews standing alongside. The drivers would make their way by slowly as part of a parade. The spectators would look on with excitement. Finally, the drivers would take to their cars. The engines would come to life and the race was about to get underway.
Given the wave of the flag by Raymond 'Toto' Roche, the field would stream into life with tires smoking and engines roaring. It would be a run down the long straight toward the tight, tricky right-hand turn one. The first turn had proven to be very difficult throughout practice. More than one car would slide off through the corner because it not only was a rather sharp right-hand bend but it also rose sharply for a short period. This was a corner that a driver could very easily get wrong.
However, as the field fed into the first turn it would become apparent everyone would make it through without incident. The one who would make it through the corner first would be Jean Behra. The BRMs of Flockhart and Trintignant would be away well but were not able to really challenge the front-runners. Instead, the two men would settle into their paces and would look to let providence bring the race to them.
Confusion and frustration would come to Fangio. Suddenly, after just 7 laps, and with no apparent problems, he would be black flagged and forced to retire from the race. Ever the gentleman, the Argentinean would do just that. He had already earned his fifth World Championship and had nothing to prove so he wouldn't put up much of a fight. However, there would be some uncertainty as to the reason why he had been disqualified. The truth was the officials got it wrong. The wrong driver had been shown the black flag. The error corrected, Fangio would head back into the race, but now well down as a result of the confusion.
The other drivers in the field would do their best to help Fangio out. Brabham would be the car to be disqualified. Then came Hawthorn. He too was ill and would retire after just 8 laps. After 12 laps, Brooks would retire with electrical problems. Then came Roy Salvadori and Peter Collins. All of these retirements went a ways to help Fangio climb back up the order. They also helped the BRM pilots.
Now chased by Fangio, Trintignant would find himself all the way up to 3rd place and would be holding onto the position heading into the last portion of the race. Flockhart had been aided by the retirements until he too suffered a retirement. The BRM had performed well but a throttle issue would cause him to have to retire after 25 laps.
Once again, Owen Racing had a car out of the race. This was nothing new for the team, but what was new for the team toward the later part of the year was that Trintignant looked strong in 3rd place, even with Fangio pushing extremely hard behind him on the road. It was a picture of where Owen Racing found itself in the last couple of months of the season. Yes, they were still struggling, but they were also succeeding.
Boasting of average speeds in excess of 112mph, the Ain-Diab circuit seemed ideally-suited to the Vanwalls of Brooks and Lewis-Evans. Had Moss been able to take part in the race this may have been even more true. But as the race carried on it was also obvious the circuit suited Behra and his 250F. Though chased by Lewis-Evans, Behra would only add to his lead over the course of the race.
Behra would be too strong over the course of the race. Completing the race distance in two hours, 18 minutes and 23 seconds, Behra would cruise to a 30 second victory over Lewis-Evans. But Owen Racing wasn't nearly as interested in who would come across the line in 1st place as who would end up 3rd.
Fangio would be pushing extremely hard in his Maserati. He would post the fastest lap of the race with a time that would have been good enough to start him from the front row. With a fastest lap average speed of more than 116mph, Fangio would be applying a lot of pressure to Trintignant running in 3rd place. Thankfully for the team, they had the wily veteran behind the wheel. He would deal with the pressure easily and would still take great care to ensure the car would make it to the end of the race. When it was all said and done, Trintignant would easily hold onto 3rd place coming across the line a little more than 34 seconds ahead of Fangio.
It would be a strong end to the season for Owen Racing. They would have one car fail to finish but to end up on the podium with the other meant the team could hold its collective head up high heading into the offseason. It certainly appeared they had turned a corner with the T25. Now they just needed to make sure they built upon what they had managed to achieve in such a short period of time.
As far as Owen Racing was concerned, there were a couple of important pieces to the puzzle they really needed in order to really look forward to 1958 with any kind of confidence, and those components really had nothing to do with the car other than they had displayed an understanding of the car and what made it better. The team seriously needed and wanted Jean Behra and Harry Schell. Thankfully, Maserati would withdraw from Formula One starting in 1958 so both men would be without a drive. As a result, both men would agree to drive with the team for the following season.
Owen Racing had their drivers. Now they really needed to focus on their cars. Sure, Behra had gone a long way to improving the car's handling by suggesting his few tweaks. But, to really take strides forward the team needed to turn to an expert. There was really only one man to call. He had been the one to fix the problems at the rear of the car. It was time for Chapman to come back in and fix the issues at the front. If he could do that, perhaps then BRM could truly become Britain's Racing Motors. Owen Racing Organisation