TeamsDick Gibson: 1958 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Richard 'Dick' Gibson had made a rather unassuming debut in Formula One in 1957. Driving a Climax-powered Cooper T43 amongst the Formula 2 ranks, Gibson would have been easily spotted by looking for last place on the starting grid. Unfortunately, the race would do little to help change perspectives of the Englishman at the back. However, Gibson would return to try and right those perceptions.
To say Gibson was something of a world traveler would be failing to capture the true gravity of his life. Gibson had been born in Bourne, England. That much is true. However, when his racing career really got going in the late 1950s, Gibson would live in nearly three different places, all around the globe.
Gibson was a racer, that much is certainly true. However, to say that he participated purely out of passion would not be correct. Gibson was a dealer as well as a racer. He would take part in races to help him sell cars. Therefore, after competing in grand prix and sportscar events in Europe throughout the spring, summer and fall in the northern hemisphere, Richard would depart for South Africa and New Zealand to take part in championships in those nations during their summer months in the southern hemisphere. Gibson was actually one of the few that would take part in championships on multiple continents.
This is what he would do following the conclusion of the 1957 season. In May of 1957, Gibson had taken delivery of a Cooper T43, chassis number F2-20-57. He would take delivery of another Cooper later in the year. It is believed he then took these cars to New Zealand at the end of the year to take part in the championship there. He would use the cars to help promote sales. He had done this before with the Connaughts he had started out racing years prior.
At the start of the '58 season Gibson would still be 'down under' racing his Coopers and drumming up business. Gibson recognized times were changing and that Cooper offered a car capable of competing in Formula 2 and Formula One provided the right engine was installed in the car.
Usually, Gibson focused on Formula 2. However, and as was the case the season before, organizers and the change in Formula One made it possible to race Formula 2 cars alongside Formula One entries. This had not been really possible, not since the Formula 2 days of the World Championship obviously, and then, in the immediate years following the reintroduction of Formula One regulations.
The change in Formula One was bolstered by the victory secured by Stirling Moss in Rob Walker's Cooper at the start of the season. But, even though the race took part in the same part of the hemisphere in which he found himself at the moment, Gibson would not be present in Argentina to take part in the first round of the 1958 Formula One World Championship.
Gibson wouldn't even be around to take part in either the Glover Trophy or Lavant Cup races at Goodwood in early April. In fact, Gibson would be out of the European racing scene right up through the early part of May. Gibson would have an entry for the Crystal Palace Trophy race on the 26th of May, but he wouldn't even make it to that. Richard really was an international traveler and dealer. Racing was a passion, but it certainly gave way to business. Gibson would finally make his way back to Europe by the early summer months. However, his season wouldn't actually start until the early part of July.
The Cooper was already showing itself to be the future of Formula One. The mid-engined Coopers were mostly just contenders in Formula 2 races due to their small size, and therefore, limited room for the bigger engines. So, in spite of the power handicaps, Formula 2 represented the future of Formula One, and this is why Gibson could be found among the mix.
The Formula 2 season had already been in full swing by the time July rolled around. However, Gibson would arrive at the site of the next race on the calendar. The French Grand Prix would return to Reims in 1958. Over the course of the weekend, the 5.15 mile circuit would also play host to a Formula 2 race known as the 2nd Coupe Internationale de Vitesse. This race would take place on the 6th of July and would feature no less than 24 cars preparing for the 30 lap race.
The race would host many of the big names. Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Peter Collins, Jack Brabham and even a young Bruce McLaren would be amongst those entered in the race. Behra would start the race from pole but it would be Moss that would turn the fastest lap of the race. However, Moss' fastest lap meant very little since his Cooper T45 couldn't make it the entire race distance. In the end, Behra would earn a rather easy victory defeating Peter Collins by some 20 seconds. Gibson would make it all the way to the finish and would show his abilities by finishing in 10th place, a little more than two laps behind Behra.
The British Grand Prix would take place on the 19th of July and there would be a couple of Coopers entered in the race, just with larger-than-normal engines. Gibson, however, would not look to his home grand prix. Instead, he would take off across the English Channel to France. Upon reaching the European continent he would carry on a short distance to the coastal city of Caen, for it would be there, on the 20th of July, the 6th Grand Prix de Caen would be held.
Caen had been strategically important during the Battle of Normandy as the city was very important for controlling the Normandy coast and the full-on invasion coming later. In Gibson's case, Caen would be strategically important for his invasion that would culminate a couple of weeks later in western Germany.
The Grand Prix de Caen would take place around the same 2.18 mile circuit as had been used in the past. Situated right in the heart of Caen, La Prairie would serve as the heart for the street circuit. Quick and sporting only a few slower speed corners, the Caen circuit required a driver to be on the limit from start to finish.
In spite of the fact the British Grand Prix would take place just the day before the field for the Grand Prix de Caen would include such drivers as Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Harry Schell and Maurice Trintignant. Therefore, the race would be anything but easy for Gibson if he had any aspirations of finishing toward the top of the leaderboard.
In spite of the presence of such big names, Gibson would be thoroughly surprising in his performance during practice. Though Moss would take the pole and Jean Behra would start alongside him on the front row, Gibson would end up not far behind. In fact, by the end of practice Gibson would end up on the second row of the grid in the 3rd position!
The race itself would see a lot of drama right from the very beginning. Les Leston and Keith Ballisat would both retire after completing just a single lap as a result of a crash and a lost wheel. Up at the front of the field, Jean Behra would be pushing Moss hard. The Frenchman would turn what would end up being the fastest lap of the race and seemed more than capable of defending his win in Caen. Behra would be burning it up in an effort to battle with Moss for the lead. It seemed that one of them would break before the end.
The pace would end up causing others to break. One of those that would falter would be Gibson. His impressive pace in practice would perhaps do more damage than he thought as his Cooper would suffer overheating issues during the race and would end up having to retire losing out on a great opportunity.
Behra would be flying around the circuit. The pace would already take out his BRM teammate Schell with gearbox problems. The pace would also come back to haunt Jean as he too would end up out of the race just past the halfway mark. This left Moss out front and in control.
Moss would have some very capable racers chasing after him but the Englishman would be more than equal to the task following Behra's departure from the race. Averaging nearly 94mph over the course of the race there wouldn't be another one of the capable drivers that could keep pace with Moss in the Cooper.
Moss would not let up at any time over the entire race. In just a little more than two hours, Stirling would come flying across the finish line to take the victory. Jo Bonnier would be thankful for all the attrition. He would manage to climb up from 6th place on the grid to finish in 2nd place, albeit more than a lap behind. The journeyman privateer, Bruce Halford, would come through all the drama as well to finish in 3rd place.
For all of the promise shown in practice, it was clear Gibson had used it all up heading into the race. The second row starting position suggested something special could happen. Instead, Richard would suffer as any other mortal and would come away with a car that needed to be repaired before his biggest race of the season.
In spite of the overheating suffered in Caen, Gibson would push on and would ready himself to take part in a Formula 2 race on the 27th of July, just one week later. Leaving Caen, Gibson head to the Auvergne region of France and the dramatic Charade Circuit situated in Clermont-Ferrand.
Participating in a 20 lap race around the winding circuit, Gibson would be competitive in his T43. He would remain inside the top ten throughout the whole of the race and would end up amongst a group of cars that would be just a lap down by the end of the race.
The veteran French driver, Maurice Trintignant, would take the victory driving for Rob Walker Racing. He would defeat Ivor Bueb by a very comfortable margin while Stuart Lewis-Evans would just miss out on 2nd place finishing a mere second behind Bueb in another Cooper, this one a T45 entered by British Racing Partnership.
Gibson would not be fast enough to finish on the podium or inside the top five. However, he would be quick enough to hold off the T45 piloted by Tim Parnell. In fact, Gibson would finish the race just a lap down in 8th place. Richard's consistency was carrying him through. Interestingly, Gibson had an entry for the 3rd Vanwall Trophy race held at Snetterton for the 27th of July, the following day. However, it would be obvious he would not make it to the event at Snetterton. Following the race at Charade, Gibson's focus shifted toward what would be his biggest race of the season, at least during his time in Europe.
After the race at the Charade Circuit in the heart of France, the month of July was nearly over. This meant the season was heading into the month of August and one very important race amongst the Formula 2 ranks. On the 3rd of August, Formula 2 teams and privateers, like Gibson, would have the opportunity to go up against the Formula One cars in the German Grand Prix. It was an opportunity to demonstrate to Formula One the future of motor racing, and the notion of being able to beat a Formula One car, with a similar caliber of driver, certainly would have been reason to salivate.
In 1957, the German Grand Prix had consisted of Formula One and Formula 2 cars running concurrently around the Nurburgring. However, this fact would be slightly lost to Fangio's incredible drive that would see him overcome a deficit of some 45 seconds to take the win and his fifth World Championship. It was widely considered the greatest performance of his career and certainly reason enough for the dual races to be somewhat forgotten about.
The race had been Gibson's first foray into the World Championship and it wasn't as memorable as what some would have believed. Besides starting from dead-last on the grid, Gibson's race would come to an end after just 3 laps as a result of a suspension failure. The numerous elevation changes, quick drops and bumpy concrete in the Carrousel had all taken their toll. One year later, Gibson would be back looking to secure a much stronger showing as it certainly make him happy, but it would also help out sales at the same time.
Measuring a little more than 14 miles in length, the Nurburgring would be something of the ultimate testing ground. Featuring an elevation change of more than a thousand feet and more than 170 corners over the course of a single lap, the Nordschleife would demand incredible focus and concentration. Furthermore, the constant rising and falling, twisting and turning would put the car through its own paces. Over a single lap, the Formula 2 cars would be tested. However, the race distance of 15 laps, or 212 miles, would be an incredible test. The one bright spot the Formula 2 entries, like Gibson, would have in their favor would be the fact the race distance in 1958 would be much shorter than what it had been the year previous. In fact, had Fangio tried his incredible charge to the front in 1958, he would have come up short and the Ferraris of Hawthorn and Collins would have carried on to victory. The unfortunate news for Gibson would be the fact that the story would have been the same for him seeing that his race came to an end after just three laps.
After Fangio's incredible performance in practice the year before that had seen the German beat his own lap record by an incredible 16 seconds, the lap times would continue to fall the following year. Facing the threat of rain in the usually unpredictable Eifel Mountains, Mike Hawthorn would prove to be the fastest around the 14.1 mile circuit. His lap time would be an incredible 9:14.0 in the Ferrari Dino 246. This lap time would be remarkable as Tony Brooks would take 2nd place on the grid in a Vanwall but would be a full second slower. Stirling Moss, Hawthorn's main rival for the championship, would start in 3rd place but would be five seconds slower. Finally, in the last spot on the front row, would be the Ferrari driver Peter Collins. This meant Ferraris bookended two Vanwalls along the front row of the grid.
Gibson would be less concerned about the front row of the grid as much as he would be concerned about the front row of the Formula 2 field. There would be a couple of factory Coopers that would actually not qualify for Formula 2 as they would have 2.2-liter engines. However, the Cooper T43 driven by Ian Burgess would fall within the Formula 2 category and he would be locked in a battle with the American Phil Hill for the top spot amongst Formula 2 entries. Hill would be behind the wheel of a Ferrari Dino 156 and would be turning laps at better than nine minutes and fifty seconds. If Burgess could get his time below that mark there would be a real battle in Formula 2.
However, the battle would not materialize in practice. Hill would prove the fastest of the Formula 2 field turning a lap of 9:48.9. In fact, he would open the gap between himself and Burgess over the course of practice. Burgess' best effort of 9:55.3 would still give him 2nd amongst the Formula 2 field.
Gibson would not have the same pace he managed to find in Caen. His fastest lap time in practice would end up being a rather sedate 10:55.0. And, while the he would end up on the fifth row of the grid in the 18th position, Gibson would outdo himself setting a lap time nearly a minute quicker than what he had achieved a year earlier.
Unlike the year before, the 1958 German Grand Prix would be greeted with overcast skies and some threatening conditions. The cars would line up on the grid and the drivers would soon take their places behind the wheel of their cars. The engines would be brought to life and the immense crowd readied for an exciting day of racing.
Some 15 laps awaited the field. The flag would drop and Hawthorn would be caught unawares and would slip down, spinning his tires in an effort to get going. Brooks and Moss would break from the grid in good order and would be leading the field as they powered by the main grandstands. Gibson's starting spot would be a difficult place in which to be as he would find himself bottled-up in the field trying to keep clear of trouble and move up the running order.
Heading into the Sudkurve for the first time, Moss would be in the lead with Brooks running right behind him in 2nd place. Harry Schell would make a great start from the third row of the grid to be in 3rd place into the first turn. However, as the field wound its way out of the stadium section and headed off into the woods, the running order would certainly change a number of times before the completion of the first lap.
At the end of the first lap it would be Moss in the lead with Hawthorn having gotten around Schell, Collins and Brooks to be in 2nd place. Collins would sit comfortably in 3rd place while Brooks tried to recover sitting in 4th place.
Gibson's first lap would be less than stellar. His poor start would only get worse over the course of the first lap. By the end of the first circuit, Richard would be well down crossing the line in 23rd place.
While Gibson would be mired down outside the top 20 after the first lap, Moss would be out front and under considerable pressure from Hawthorn for the lead. Moss would manage to hold on to the lead through the first three laps of the race. However, the pressure from Hawthorn could not be held back forever and a magneto problem would force Moss out of the race after just three laps. He would join Jo Bonnier, Brian Naylor and Jack Brabham as a fellow retiree.
Unfortunately, Gibson would be one of those right there with Moss and the rest of the retirees. In '57, Gibson's race would last 3 laps before a suspension failure brought his race to an end. One year later, Gibson's race would last just 2 laps and would come to an end as a result of a mechanical problem. But at least Gibson would escape with his life. Another driver in the field wouldn't be so fortunate.
Hawthorn would lead a lap before Collins took over the lead. Peter would hold onto the lead for more than five laps before Brooks finally got his wheels underneath himself and mounted a challenge of his own. Heading into the final five laps of the race, Brooks would end up passing Hawthorn and Collins to take over the lead of the race. Collins had been in the lead for a number of laps and would be a little miffed by the fact Brooks had been able to take the lead. Therefore, Collins would mount a challenge to try and retake the lead he had lost.
Hawthorn would be right behind Collins as the lead Ferrari attempted to mount a challenge on Brooks. Brooks' Vanwall had a major advantage around major portions of the circuit. Its lighter weight made up for the fact it had less horsepower than the Ferrari Dino 246. So while Collins had the power in hand, he needed to push harder than normal perhaps to try and retake the lead from Brooks. Collins was willing and the stage was set for a tragedy.
Collins wouldn't give up as he had the year before when Fangio powered his way by. He wasn't about to hold back this time. Unfortunately, he would push it a little too hard. Brooks, Collins and Hawthorn were together as they approached Plfanzgarten. The corner is part of a series of breaks back and forth and some blind crests. Collins would come over the top of the final crest too hard and would be unable to make the rather sharp right-hander that immediately followed. Collins would slide wide and off the circuit. Just off the edge of the circuit there was a ditch upon which the Ferrari's wheel would become hooked swinging Collins up into the air and around. The car would flip over a number of times throwing Collins out of the car. Unfortunately, Peter would be thrown into a tree where his body sustained serious injuries.
Collins would be airlifted to the hospital but it would be too late. On the same lap, Collins' good friend and teammate, Hawthorn would also retire handing Brooks what would amount to an unassailable lead.
The race would carry on in spite of the tragic events. Brooks would be out front with more than a couple of minutes lead over Roy Salvadori and Maurice Trintignant. Averaging more than 90mph over the whole of the 15 laps, Brooks would ease to victory completing the race with about three and a half minutes in hand over Salvadori in 2nd place. Another couple of minutes would pass before Maurice Trintignant would come along in 3rd place. This provided Cooper with two factory cars on the podium. The victory would also be Brooks' first since the shared drive with Moss at the British Grand Prix the year before. It should have been a time of great celebration for these British entities, but it would not.
The German Grand Prix would not be a reason for celebration for Gibson either. His second effort at a World Championship race had ended up a shorter experience than the year before. The failed couple of races would really cause Gibson to think heavily about the rest of the year.
Not only had the season not gone entirely the best for Gibson, but he also had a broken car following the German Grand Prix. With no guarantee of success in future events, Gibson started to look forward to his business interests a little more than just his motor racing career.
By the fall of the year, Gibson would again be in the southern hemisphere doing business dealings and racing. The German Grand Prix in 1958 would be Gibson's final foray into the World Championship. He would not take part in another World Championship from then on. In many respects, he would drop of the radar of the racing scene. He would continue taking part in Formula 2 and sportscar events throughout the early 1960s, and would still be successful in more than a few of those events. However, by the mid-1960s, he was retired from racing and living a quiet life in a couple of different locations around the globe. For a period of a decade or so he would live in Mesa, Arizona. He would also live for a period of years in Cadiz, Spain.
Though his experiences in Europe throughout the 1958 season would prove to be unsuccessful, Richard would go on to win the RAC International South African Championship in both 1958 and 1959. Gibson would continue to remain sharp and full of life right up to the moment he passed away on December 17th, 2010.