TeamsJohn Fisher: 1959 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Throughout the history of Formula One there have been many names that have come and gone, many of which barely make a mark on the sport other than in the history books. However, in 1959, Bruce Halford would help John Fisher to make an impressive mark, albeit a rather brief one.
Later on in his life John Fisher would become Lord Mayor of Bristol. However, in 1959, Fisher was rather simply a motor racing fan with some extra money. And, in those days, it meant he could go racing for a relatively small amount of funds.
Bruce Halford was a bit on the other side of the spectrum. Scraping together just enough money to buy a Maserati 250F, one formerly owned by Prince Bira, Halford would travel from race to race keeping his racing ambitions alive by a thread taking prize money, starting money and whatever other source of income he could get, to fund the next race. As a result, Bruce lived a life akin to a gypsy and certainly traveled a mile or two throughout his racing career.
Halford earned modest results but was well-respected within the racing fraternity. This respect would be well-earned with a 3rd place result in the 1957 German Grand Prix, memorable for Fangio's fifth World Championship title. He would also earn another 3rd place in the Caen Grand Prix that same year.
Unfortunately for Halford, driving his own car had its disadvantages. Knowing he had to pay for any work or damage, he would routinely drive his car well off the limit in order to preserve it. This meant his true abilities were rather unknown within Formula One circles. Thankfully for him, John Fisher would recognize just what he could do. Furthermore, it would be Fisher paying the bills.
In the early part of 1959 John Fisher concentrated upon his Portsmouth dealership. He and Halford would make the trip to London to check out the Racing Car Show. There at the show would be a 1.25-liter Lotus 16. Apparently the two would immediately recognize it was the car for them as it was able to be purchased by a private owner and used in Formula One and Formula Two events. The small engine would have a hard go of it, but the two believed it was just right.
Fisher believed in the Lotus and Halford was just delighted he wasn't going to have to pay the bills.
John Fisher Equipe would be formed soon afterward and the small upstart team would look forward to the start of the season, which would come toward the end of March with the Easter Monday Races held at Goodwood.
The popular Easter Monday Races would be held on the 30th of March and offered the public the first opportunity to see the new teams and prepare for a busy season of racing. One of those new teams everyone would have been able to see was John Fisher Equipe with its Lotus 16.
The team's first race would be the 10th Lavant Cup race and it would be no easy fare. Though the race was just 15 laps of the 2.39 mile Goodwood Circuit, the competition in the race would be fierce as would be demonstrated with Jack Brabham starting from pole.
In spite of the obvious power disadvantage suffered by the Lotus 16, Halford would perform well and would demonstrate his potential. Having the freedom to let go, Halford would drive a very good race finishing 9th. The win would come down to a tremendous battle between Brabham and Roy Salvadori. At the very end, it would be Brabham by just four-tenths of a second.
A top ten finish in the team's first race looked good and Halford truly showed his skills having a car he didn't have to worry about all race long. He would need to keep this up however as the season was only going to get tougher as it went along.
The great start experienced at Goodwood would be followed up with a poor one at Oulton Park on the 11th of April. The event would be the British Empire Trophy race and would consist of a 40 lap race around the 2.75 mile Oulton Park Circuit.
Rain would make the conditions less than ideal, but they really wouldn't come into effect in Halford's race. While Jim Russell dominated the race up at the front, Bruce would find his race coming undone just after the halfway mark as a result of gearbox failure. Halford was free to push, but there were still limits he had to keep in mind.
In spite of the broken gearbox suffered at Oulton Park, the season appeared promising for Halford and the Fisher team. Therefore, it wouldn't be any surprise the team arrived at Aintree to take part in the BARC 200 on the 18th of April.
The BARC 200 would feature Formula One and Formula Two cars running concurrently in a 67 lap race around the purpose-built 3.0 mile Aintree circuit. The host of the 1959 British Grand Prix, Aintree's non-championship race would attract a large crowd and an international lineup, including a couple of Ferrari Dino 246s for Tony Brooks and Jean Behra.
Though a technically demanding circuit, Aintree still boasted of some high average speeds and this did not play to the strengths of the tiny Climax-powered Lotus 16 entered for Halford. Nonetheless, the traveling racer would look forward to his opportunity with a positive mindset.
He would need it after practice when he ended up 29th on the grid, dead-last. Masten Gregory would surprise many taking the overall pole by four-tenths of a second over Jean Behra and Harry Schell. The fastest of the Formula Two entries would be Jim Russell in a Climax-powered Lotus T45. His best lap would be nearly six seconds slower than Gregory. However, his effort would be nearly ten seconds quicker than Halford.
Doubtful the Formula Two cars would make it the full 67 laps before a Formula One car crossed the line, the race was to be shorter. However, there was still plenty of time for Halford to make up ground through attrition and sheer determination.
Halford would find his cause aided very early on when Jo Bonnier departed the race after just two laps with driveshaft failure. Ten laps into the race and Roy Salvadori left the scene. The Formula Two pole-sitter, Russell, would last just a couple more laps before his clutch would fail. Halford was moving up the order without even passing anybody. This was good because his Lotus was certainly struggling to do just that.
Top-flight drivers continued to be visited by attrition. Brabham, Gregory, Schell and Moss would all be out of the race before the halfway mark. This posed some very good news for Bruce, who steadily carried on. However, after completing 36 laps, Bruce would find his day coming to an early end. He had had to ask a lot from his Lotus and it had decided it just couldn't keep up with the demands.
In the end, Behra would go on to score the victory by about 10 seconds over Tony Brooks in the sister Ferrari. It would be a wonderful day for the Scuderia from Maranello. Cooper would also have a strong end to its day with Bruce McLaren completing the top three.
Cooper would absolutely dominate in Formula Two. Whereas the smaller Climax engine in the Lotus 16 struggled, the Climax FPF powering the T45 and T51 Coopers would soldier on in fine fashion. The top six finishers in Formula Two would all be Coopers. Leading them all would be Mike Taylor in a T45. He would defeat Keith Greene and Jack Lewis.
It was clear from the race at Aintree the Formula Two Lotus 16 was ideally-suited to specific circuits and others were to be avoided. This, however, was difficult for some like Halford to do. He was used to surviving from race to race, no matter whether conditions favored him or not. This would be especially true when the John Fisher team arrived in Sicily for the Gran Premio di Siracusa on the 25th of April.
The public road course outside of Syracuse had its places in which the Lotus 16 did not suffer, such as the hairpin closer to the city and the couple of ninety-degree corners that led back to the start/finish line. Still, it was a fast circuit everywhere else and demanded a consistency of pace, any missteps and all momentum was lost. This did not favor Halford's car, but he would still enter the race. Having lived in Italy for a few years, he could have seen it as his duty.
Bruce stood a chance since the race was now for Formula Two entries instead of Formula One, but he would need even more help than that, especially after Stirling Moss would end up on the pole with a lap of 2:02.7.
Bruce wouldn't be the only entry for John Fisher Equipe. Not only would the future Lord Mayor decide to go all-in with his passion for motor racing, but he would also help contribute to the cause of women by preparing a Lotus 12 for Maria Theresa di Filippis. Sadly, the race would be short for both.
The race would be 55 laps of the fast circuit set amongst the rolling countryside. Moss had started on the pole and would be incredibly strong throughout. He would find himself hunted by Jean Behra piloting a Dino 156.
The long journey to the Mediterranean would not prove all that successful for Halford as he would drop out of the running after just three laps with an oil leak. Maria Theresa would last a few laps longer but would suffer the same fate leaving Fisher's squad with a long trip back home.
Walker's Racing Team would make the same journey but would find their endeavor much more fruitful as Moss would take victory by more than twenty seconds over Behra. Jack Brabham would finish more than a lap behind in third place.
Fisher and Halford may have been excited about the Lotus 16, and they may have been sold on its potential, but it seemed as though the car was not being given the right opportunity to shine. In many respects, it was being asked to do more than it was capable.
The problem facing Halford and Fisher throughout the early part, and most of the 1959 season, was that the majority of the circuits were high-speed venues. These were serious tests for the team's exciting new car, but it was one they couldn't afford to avoid. To make a living in motor racing they had to face some serious challenges and deal with them head on.
These serious issues the team would face. The reality of their position, especially the costs associated with keeping their car, would lead them to skip the International Trophy race at Silverstone on the 2nd of May. Instead, the team would take time to prepare for its next race. However, enthusiasm would not be lacking within the team and their next target would seem as though they had learned no lesson at all.
The last few races for John Fisher's team had been nothing short of disasters. Unable to complete a race distance, the Lotus 16 appeared entirely out of its depth, even within the Formula Two ranks. The team desperately needed a good result and some momentum. In what would seem like a daft move the team would look to the one place that would appear more impossible than any other.
The first round of the 1959 Formula One World Championship would not take place in South America as it had the years previous. Instead, the first round would take place at the crown jewel of Formula One. In the middle of May, Halford and the John Fisher team would make its way through continental Europe to the Mediterranean coast. The destination, Monaco.
The tight streets of the principality posed more than just the obvious challenges. Besides the nature of the circuit there was also the plain and simple truth the organizers only allowed 16 cars to start the race. The slower nature of the circuit made making the race entirely possible, but it would take absolute perfection from Halford to make it happen.
The competition for the 16 spots on the grid would be tight. Only a few years earlier the field would be awash with Italian machinery. By 1959, the field would be overrun with British cars sporting front and rear engines. And, though the front engine cars remained, the balance was certainly swinging in favor of the rear-engined cars.
Brilliant sunshine would bath the principality. In practice, Stirling Moss would prove fastest in the Cooper T51. He would end up on pole with a lap time of 1:39.8. Jean Behra would end up occupying the middle of the front row with his Dino 246. His best lap would be two-tenths of a second slower. Jack Brabham would take the final spot on the front row just a tenth off from Behra.
One by one, drivers would take their best crack at the Monaco circuit. Ivor Bueb would be at the wheel of a Cooper T51 and would be close of taking the final spot on the grid having a lap time of 1:44.9. Giorgio Scarlatti would post a time of 1:45.0. The mark had been set. Halford knew just what he had to do.
Halford would need to keep his momentum up throughout his laps. He absolutely needed to be perfect, just to make it into the field. Bruce would do everything right and would end up with a lap time of 1:44.8. As it was, he was in, but there were certainly other drivers capable of stealing the team's elation.
Practice would come to an end and Bueb would be the only one that would come the closest. His lap time of 1:44.9 would be just a tenth off, but it wouldn't be enough to steal the spot from Halford and Fisher. The proposition had seemed impossible at the start, but the team had done it.
The warm Mediterranean sunshine and climate shone down upon the circuit the day of the race. An overwhelming crowd would gather around the circuit in preparation for the 100 lap race.
The drivers would take their places after the pomp and the drivers' meeting. Though Halford had been here before; he really appeared out of place. But, he had earned his place on the grid fair-and-square. Now he just needed it to pay off.
The usually chaotic start would again rear its head. Stirling Moss would be the first to the hairpin while the rest of the field fought just to make it around the corner. At the back, Bruse would negotiate the first moments of the lap easy enough and looked to settle into a rhythm.
Though Moss led the way into the first corner, Jean Behra would show the way at the completion of the first lap. Moss settled into second place with Brabham trailing along very closely in 3rd. Halford would also complete the first lap without incident, albeit at the tail-end of the field. Unfortunately, just when his race was beginning, Halford would find his day coming to a swift end.
Coming up toward St. Devote, Bruce would notice there was some kind of a problem but would have little time to react to Wolfgang von Trips turned totally sideways with Cliff Allison also in pieces as a result of hitting von Trips. Nowhere to go, Halford would plow into von Trips and would be out of the race as a result of no fault of his own. The team would get the car back and would immediately set about rebuilding it, but it would be supremely disappointing for sure.
In spite of the three Formula Two cars taking each other out in one swift move, the Formula One race would carry on unabated.
Moss would battle with Behra but would eventually get the better of the Frenchman to take over the lead of the race. About a lap later, Behra's race would come to an end when his Ferrari's engine let go. Jo Bonnier would be the first of the trio of BRMs to retire marking yet another terrible race for the British outfit. One-by-one, the cars began to fail.
Stirling would continue to lead while Brabham lurked quietly in second. Phil Hill battled to get up to third and stay there while Harry Schell started out well and then faded with time.
Only about 20 laps from the end, transmission troubles began to plague Moss who would come into the pits to have the situation addressed the best the team could. It would be to no avail and Moss would be out handing over the lead of the race to Brabham. Bu this point in time Brabham enjoyed a comfortable margin over Ferrari's Tony Brooks. The Australian would ride that advantage all the way to victory becoming the first Aussie to win a Formula One World Championship race.
Halford merely wanted to get back to finishing a race.
John Fisher's team would set about working hard to repair the damaged Lotus. It would take them just two weeks to get the car ready. Unfortunately, the work would not be done in time to make a trip to Pau, France for the Formula Two grand prix on the 18th of May. Instead, the team would look closer to home.
There would be the 7th London Trophy race held at Crystal Palace outside of London on the 18th of May as well. Being closer to home the repairs could be completed a little closer to the date of the race. This opened the window for the race at Crystal Palace. Sadly, it would have been better if the team had just taken the extra time to make sure the car was sound instead of pushing on to the next event. Twenty laps into the race, mechanical problems would show up again ruining Halford's race. It was now the middle of May and it had been more than a month since the team enjoyed a race finish.
Following the failure at Crystal Palace the races would be much fewer in number. There would be a couple of smaller regional Formula Two races during the spell between the middle of May and the middle of June but Fisher's team would not be present at either of these.
It would be July before Halford would take to the track with a Fisher entered car. Amazingly, the first effort for the team since Crystal Palace would come at a totally insane place—Reims.
Measuring a little more than 5 miles in length and with very little in the way of slow-speed corners, Reims was all about horsepower and speed. It was one of the few places in 1959 the best handling car didn't necessarily have an advantage over a car with more horsepower. This was the Lotus to the 'T'. It was a good handling car, and, it didn't have the biggest engine. Therefore, the 25 laps of the 3rd Coupe Internationale de Vitesse seemed absolutely ludicrous.
A whole lot of effort would need to be put forward by Halford and the Lotus. This task would be made all the more difficult with the terrible heat. Stirling Moss would start the race from on pole having set a time of 2:31.0.
Chased by some of the best names in the business at the time, Moss would go on to set the fastest lap of the race and would take a commanding victory over Hans Herrmann in a Behra-Porsche.
Halford would put together a respectable performance in the Lotus. Though he ran near the back of the field, he would still manage to make it more than halfway before the car failed, yet again, bringing about another early exit.
The costs were mounting. Halford and Fisher may have believed the Lotus was the right car for them before the start of the season, but they had to be reconsidering the notion by the middle of July.
Failure after failure continued to visit Halford. He had complained when he owned his own car how he needed to baby it and underperform in order to make it to the end. Well, with Fisher's team, Bruce may have been able to let go, but he now suffered terribly and wasn't able to do any better, and in many cases worse, than when he campaigned the old venerable Maserati 250F.
He and the team would give it another try on French soil. On the 12th of July, one week after failing to complete the race in Reims, the Fisher stable would be in Rouen at the public road course, Circuit de Rouen-les-Essarts for the 7th edition of the grand prix bearing its name.
Using a layout a little more than 4 miles in length, and nearly just as fast as Reims, it would appear as though Fisher's team had chosen poorly again, although there was very little either could do about it.
When it was all said and done, there would be just one Lotus that would finish the 35 lap race. Not surprisingly, Fisher's entry would not be that one. That honor would go to Graham Hill driving for Team Lotus. Bruce would give it his best effort however.
The victory would go to Stirling Moss, not surprisingly. Harry Schell would put together an impressive performance to finish 2nd while Masten Gregory would cross the line a fine 3rd.
Until he was forced to retire after 22 laps Bruce had managed to outlast no less than 10 others. Sadly, it would not be enough. The team was desperately looking for some good news, but, they were truly unable to find any. The real problem was that time was rapidly running out.
Fisher's team understood the situation. The British Grand Prix would be right around the corner on the 18th of July. This would be an important race for the British teams and Fisher and Halford knew it was of paramount to have a car capable of making the most of the situation.
Everyone involved had begun to sour on the Lotus. It was capable, but the British Grand Prix was to take place at Aintree and it was yet another circuit that didn't play to the strengths of the Lotus. The team needed a more competitive car, but there were few available options.
About the only competitive option out there happened to be a B-Type Connaught. These cars had outlived their useful life over a year earlier, but Halford and Fisher would have to deal with this if they wanted to take part in the race. A choice would be made and John Fisher Equipe would not arrive at Aintree for the British round of the World Championship.
Instead of heading to Liverpool to compete at Aintree, the team would head back across the Channel to France. Upon arriving on the continent the team would carry on to Clermont-Ferrand in the middle part of the country. There, among the hills, would be the 5.0 mile Circuit de Charade. The demanding circuit offered a lot of ups and downs and was, no question, an ideal setting for the 2nd Trophee d'Auvergne.
The circuit would be challenging for any of the Formula Two cars as a loss of momentum was not only easy to have, it was also multiplied by the many elevation changes. Not an out-right speed circuit, Circuit de Charade offered the Fisher Lotus 16 a ray of hope. Instead, all there would be was darkness.
The 26 lap race would draw the best cars and drivers. Stirling Moss, Bruce McLaren, Olivier Gendebien, Graham Hill, Maurice Trintignant and others would all enter the race on the 26th of July.
Stirling Moss would start from the pole position and a large crowd would assemble around the picturesque circuit to watch the 26 lap race.
Halford desperately needed a good result just to be able to salvage some of what was supposed to be an exciting season. Sadly, everything would be going wrong. After just two laps, Halford would pick up a puncture in his tire and would end up crashing out of the race. But as much as this hurt, it would pale in recognition to what was to happen at the same time.
One of Halford's best friends within the motor racing community was Ivor Bueb. Though not a top-flight driver like a Moss, Fangio or others, Bueb had a couple of Le Mans victories to his credit. Therefore, Bueb was no slouch behind the wheel of a racing car. Tragically, at the same time Halford found his race coming to a crashing end Bueb would slide off the circuit and would end up suffering terrible injuries. Bueb would be thrown free from his car and would lie in the fetal position at the nose of his car. He would be removed from the circuit but would later die from his injuries. It would prove to be the only fatality suffered at Charade and a death that would have a profound effect upon Halford. It had already been a difficult season and Bueb's death would only compound the feelings Bruce undoubtedly suffered.
At a time when death was very much a part of the spectacle, the race would go on. Moss would go on to take victory over Henry Taylor and Bruce McLaren. But, this would matter not at all to Halford.
Suffering from Bueb's death, Halford would not be present for the Whitchurch Formula 2 race held outside of Bristol on the 1st of August. The team would have an entry for the John Davy Trophy race at Brands Hatch on the 3rd of August. It was obvious the team was trying its best to overcome the hard season and feelings it had been experiencing. However, it would be clear there were still some lingering doubts as the team would fail to show for the race. It was clear there was a very good question as to whether the team would take part in another race again.
The team would answer the question come the end of August. On the 29th of August, Brands Hatch would play host to the 2nd Kentish '100'. This was to be a two heat race scored in the aggregate. Each heat would be 42 laps in length around the 1.23 mile shorter circuit. The event would prove popular and a number of entries would be put forward for the race. This meant each car needed to qualify for the race and Halford would be there with the Fisher Lotus.
Against such a large field, there would be a fight Bruce would have to fight just to get in to the race. Unfortunately, the season only proved more and more difficult as he would fail to qualify for the race. The season had continued its downhill trend. It seemed impossible to get any lower, and yet, it just seemed to get worse.
The calendar would head into the autumn season and John Fisher had some very important decisions to make. The season, which had been to that point an utter failure, was winding down. There were still a few races left on the calendar, but was it worth the trouble and disappoint to continue such a trend? There were no indications of momentum shifting. Everything seemed to be against the team. Halford's spirits were still high despite the struggles and the lost of his good friend Bueb, but it was clear that even he was questioning whether his gypsy days were coming to an end.
The year headed into October, and still no John Fisher Equipe at any Formula Two races. Fisher had decided he had had enough. The costs compared to the rewards were tipped terribly in one direction and this made it near impossible to contemplate continuing. Therefore, Fisher would draw a close to his season in Formula One and Formula Two. Halford, on the other hand, wasn't ready to give up racing, at least not just yet.
Halford had proven that if he was given a car in which he didn't have to concern himself with paying for the repairs afterward that he could be quite fast, among some of the best. Owen Racing would recognize this fact and would give him a drive in the troubled P25.
When it was clear Fisher was no longer interested in racing in 1959, Halford would return to his old Maserati 250F. He would enter the 6th International Gold Cup race at Oulton Park on the 26th of September and had proven impressive in practice ending up 9th on the grid in a car more than a few years the senior of every other car in the field.
Though he would not be able to start the race due to mechanical troubles with the Maserati, Halford had made his point clear and this would bring Owen Racing to his door.
Halford would take part in the 4th Silver City Trophy race at Snetterton on the 10th of October as part of the Owen Racing Organization. The race would be a 25 lap event taking place around the 2.70 mile Snetterton airfield circuit.
Bruce would be impressive in practice. Though he would be a few seconds off the pace of his teammate Ron Flockhart, he would still end up 4th, which was on the front row of the grid. Flockhart would be on pole with Salvadori 2nd, Graham Hill 3rd and Innes Ireland 5th.
After a season filled with disappointment, Halford would finally find a ride suitable. Though extremely fragile, the BRM had the pace to be very competitive, and thus provided Bruce with an opportunity to end the season with some positive results.
Graham Hill would retire after nine of the 25 laps. Bruce had the pace to beat-off all comers to hold down the third position. As the season had gone, the race was far from over despite the good place within the running order. Amazingly, at the wheel of a car that had virtually as much trouble getting to the finishing line as John Fisher's team had over the course of the season, it would all come good.
Ron Flockhart would end up untouchable over the course of the 25 lap race. He would go on to take the victory over Australia's Jack Brabham. Bruce Halford, the struggling gypsy of motor racing, would come through to finish in 3rd place. It would be a fantastic end to a very difficult season.