TeamsTony Crook: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
From out of the Bristol Aeroplane Company would come Bristol Cars. In much the same way, Manchester's Anthony 'Tony' Crook would come out of World War II as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Born in 1920, the young RAF officer would take part in a race at Gransden Lodge in 1946 and would launch his motor racing career.
Crook would take part in a few motor races throughout the late 1940s and would take part in his first World Championship race in 1952 at the British Grand Prix. While against the international competition present at the British Grand Prix Crook would not fair all that well, against British racing drivers he would do quite well.
During the war, Crook had become very familiar with the Bristol Aeroplane Company and was convinced of the company's commitment to quality. After the war, Bristol had come to acquire the rights to the pre-war BMW 328 engine that had been quite successful. Bristol began to produce models of engines following after the pattern of the BMW 328. In the British Grand Prix in 1952, Crook would actually use a BMW engine to no avail as he would finish 'Not Classified'. Crook would still believe in the BMW and the Bristol derivative of the engine. And, heading into the 1953 he would stick with the Bristol derivative to hopefully provide him with the necessary power to be successful.
Cooper had made a splash with its T20 chassis the previous season. Armed with the Bristol engine, the car was able to produce some rather tremendous results. This would be what Crook would be banking on heading into the season—the Cooper-Bristol's ability to surprise. Although Cooper had built some new evolutions of the chassis, Crook would stay with what had been rather successful and surprising in 1952. Therefore, he would purchase a Cooper-Bristol T20 to use. Crook knew all about the effectiveness of surprise and he hoped the T20 still had some hidden moves upon which he could rely over the course of the season.
As with many privateer entries, the grand prix season wouldn't start for Crook when the World Championship officially kicked off. In 1953, the World Championship actually headed away from Europe. The first round of the World Championship that year would be the Argentine Grand Prix and it would be held toward the middle of January since it was late-summer in the southern hemisphere. Besides a non-championship race that would also take place in Argentina a couple of weeks later, it would be another couple of months before the European motor racing season would kick off.
The season intended to kick-off in mid April for Crook. He had an entry in the 2nd Aston Martin Owners Club Formula 2 Race. This event took place at the former Snetterton-Heath airbase, of which Crook surely was familiar. However, he would decide not to participate in the race.
Crook would also have an entry in the 5th BRDC International Trophy race held at Silverstone in early May. He would take part in some practice sessions and seemed set to take part in the event. However, when it came time to split up the entries into the heats and prepare for those heat races, Crook would determine not to start and would pack up and leave.
After all of the early issues and indecisions, Crook would finally take part in his first race of the season. He had made his way to Crystal Palace Park in south London in order to prepare to take part in the 3rd Coronation Trophy race on the 25th of May.
Once the haunt of gypsies and many local legends, including one that says Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind had its timbers cut from the trees in the area, Crystal Palace Park would become a place of recreation and retreat throughout the later part of the 19th century. Named for the cast-iron and glass building moved to the site after the Great Exhibition in 1851, the park would come to host a number of different sporting events besides motor racing. But nonetheless, motor racing would come to the tranquil park using the 1.34 mile perimeter road as a circuit.
The Coronation Trophy race was one of a number of races that featured and heat and final format. The entire field would be split up into two heats that ran for 10 laps. All that was left from the heats would then assemble to take part in yet another 10 lap final.
In the first heat, it would be Archie Bryde that would surprise and take the pole. He would be joined on the front row by Bill Aston, another surprise, Stirling Moss and Tony Rolt.
As the race got underway, Rolt would be very quick and would battle with Ken Wharton, who had made an incredible start from down in 5th place, for the lead. Almost all of the front row would go through some upheaval as Lance Macklin would get by Stirling Moss. And Bill Aston would get shoved further down the running order behind Moss. Bryde's run would come to an end two laps short when mechanical troubles ended his race.
Tony Rolt would be the only front row starter that would manage to hold on to anything. He would end up turning the fastest lap of the heat and would need it to stay ahead of Wharton. At the finish, it would be Rolt by just six-tenths of a second ahead of Wharton. Macklin would finish eighteen seconds behind in 3rd.
Crook would be in the second heat with drivers like Peter Collins, Peter Whitehead and Bobbie Baird. But in practice it would be Jack Fairman that would be fastest. Graham and Peter Whitehead would line up on the front row in 2nd and 4th while Collins would be 3rd on the grid.
Crook would get his Cooper-Bristol up to speed and would line up on the grid in 6th place, which was in the middle of the second row. He would end up starting pretty much right in the middle of the field.
The heat would see a couple of competitors not even make it off the line. Alan Brown would have a fuel pump fail while the chain drive would break on Donald Bennett's Cooper T19. Peter Whitehead would make a great break off the line and would jump into the lead ahead of Fairman. Peter Collins would be right there with him, as would Graham Whitehead. Fairman would be shoved right out of the way.
Crook would be another shoved right out of the way. He would break fine off the line and would settle in amongst the other competitors. However, after two laps, mechanical problems would arrive taking him right out of the race.
Peter Whitehead would pull away at the front courtesy of the battle between Collins and Graham Whitehead. Jack Fairman would end up going from the pole to battling Leslie Marr for 4th place.
Peter Whitehead would set the fastest lap and would power his way to the victory. He would cross the line about eleven seconds in front of Peter Collins who would hold off Graham Whitehead by just six-tenths of a second.
Finishing times from each heat would determine the starting grid for the final. Tony Rolt would start from the pole while Wharton, Peter Whitehead and Lance Macklin would complete the front row.
The final would see the field break off the line and head into the first turn almost in the same order in which they had lined up on the grid. Once in front, Rolt began to push hard. His increase in pace would be further pushed with Ken Wharton behind him. However, the closest battle would end up being between Peter Whitehead and Lance Macklin. Nothing more than a car length or two would separate the two over the course of the final 10 lap race.
Rolt would take the lead at the start and would hold onto it throughout. His fastest lap time of one minute and eight seconds would help him hold onto a comfortable margin over Wharton. Averaging a little more than 71 mph, Rolt would need just eleven minutes and forty-two seconds to complete the 10 lap final and take the win. He would enjoy a two second advantage over Wharton at the line. The tightest battle was for 3rd. Coming to the line, only half a car length would separate the two. At the line, it would be Peter Whitehead that would take 3rd over Macklin.
In what was Crook's first race of the season, it had lasted all of two laps and came to an end due to mechanical ailments. All of these early troubles would cause Crook to think twice about what car he would use for the rest of the season.
After all of the problems with reliability and pace Crook would make an important decision. Though he was an ardent supporter of Bristol he would decide to switch to an Alta-powered Cooper T24 for his next race.
While most of the top level British competitors and other grand prix drivers and teams were focusing on the third and fourth rounds of the World Championship, Crook would be busy getting comfortable with a new car and engine combination. Crook would be part of a rather small field entered in the 1st Midlands MECC Formula 2 Race held at the Silverstone circuit on the 27th of June.
Most all of the circuits to spring up around England after the war had been former decommissioned airbases. One of those decommissioned airbases would become the 'Home of British Motor Racing'. Once a station for Vickers Wellington bombers, RAF Silverstone would come to host the most advanced grand prix cars in the world after the end of the war.
The Midlands MECC Formula 2 race was something more akin to an exhibition race as it would only be 6 laps of the 2.88 mile circuit. Nonetheless, the small field would push each other hard for top results.
Crook was about the only one in the field that had actually gone up against top level competition. Most everybody else were something of 'local' racers. One driver, Alex McMillan, would even take part in the race with an old pre-war BMW 328.
Everything was advantage Crook. His experience and his new car put him at a level all by himself. And it would be of little surprise that he would take the Cooper-Alta T24 and would score the victory. He would finish the race distance in just seven minutes and thirty-four seconds. He would beat Austen Nurse for the victory by a margin of twenty-three seconds. Nurse would have his hands full holding off Charles Headland in a Norton-powered car that Headland had redesigned from a Kieft Formula 3 car. In the end, Nurse would beat Headland by just a little over a second.
While against competitors without the international level experience he had, the victory was still something of a confidence-builder for Crook before he took part in the British Grand Prix that was to come in a little less than a month's time.
The World Championship headed across the English Channel to England for what was the sixth round of the series. Crook had been busy repairing his Cooper-Bristol T20 during the three or more weeks he had since his last race at the very same Silverstone circuit. However, it was pretty much a guarantee that he wouldn't experience quite the same result.
The Silverstone circuit was all abuzz. Just two weeks prior, Briton Mike Hawthorn pulled off an incredible duel with Juan Manuel Fangio to earn his first-ever World Championship victory. The English fans undoubtedly came with hopes held high there would be a repeat of the same feat. In Crook's case, after his non-classification the previous year, the only other time he had taken part in the World Championship, he would have been happy with finishing in the classified results.
Finishing in the official results would be about his only hope coming into the 90 lap race. Not only was Scuderia Ferrari still as dominant as ever, but they even had competition from the factory Maserati team. Each of those teams would enter four cars apiece, and if they all finished the race, it was likely the top eight positions would be occupied. So even a top ten performance seemed highly unlikely. Going back to the days of World War II, the key would be to merely survive.
The benchmark would be set early in practice. Alberto Ascari would be quickest his time of one minute and forty-eight seconds would end up nearly a second faster than anybody else and would earn him the pole. The next two positions on the front row would be separated by mere tenths. Jose Froilan Gonzalez, who had scored the first-ever World Championship victory for Ferrari back in 1951, was now with the factory Maserati team and would just pip the hero Mike Hawthorn for 2nd. Hawthorn's challenger in Reims, Juan Manuel Fangio, would round-out the front row with a 4th place starting spot.
The speeds in practice would see a difference of at least 15 mph between Ascari's average around the circuit and that of Crook. His best time in the Cooper-Bristol T20 would end up being two minutes and seven seconds. This would absolutely bury him in the back of the starting grid. In fact, he would end up starting the race from 25th on the grid, which was the last position on the seventh row. But his starting position would not be anywhere near as important as where he would finish.
The 90 lap race would begin under overcast skies. It was well known rain was on the way. Therefore, everyone would try and push hard at the beginning in order to be in a strong position when the rains came.
As the race got underway, Fangio would make the best start of all and actually had the lead heading into Copse. However, he would make a mistake going into the corner and would lose position to Ascari. Ascari and Fangio would lead the rest of the pack around on the first lap of the race.
While Crook knew where one finished to be more important than where one started, if he knew just how short his race would have been he may have tried even harder in practice to at least earn a good starting position. Right at the start of the race, Crook's Bristol engine coughed and struggled. Fuel Feed problems would end his second World Championship attempt before he even really left the grid. But Crook wouldn't be alone. Kenneth McAlpine would have a hose failure that would strike him out of the running before leaving the grid as well.
Out of the race, Crook could again sit back and watch the action. Like the crowd, he would witness Ascari pulling away from the rest of the field, even Fangio. Early on, Ascari would set the fastest lap of the race as he was busy doing everything he could to build up an unassailable lead before the rains began to fall.
Soon the rains would come and absolute havoc would break out as a result. Mike Hawthorn would feel the air going out of his countrymen's hopes when he would lose control in the wet conditions and would spin off the circuit. Although he would recover and get back under way he would slip all the way down to 5th overall and would go down more than a couple of laps to Ascari and Fangio.
While Hawthorn would manage to keep going after his 'moment', many others would not be so fortunate. Maintaining control in the wet conditions would not be easy and it meant the elements within the car would go through extra torture. The clutch, brakes and other aspects would all be subjected to increase wear and tear. And out of the twenty-eight that started the race, eighteen would retire from the race. Most of those that would retire would be as a result of clutch failure and other related ailments as drivers really worked the clutches to try and maintain grip around the circuit.
Ascari would seem to have absolutely no trouble with grip throughout the entire race. Averaging a little more than 92 mph, it would take his just two hours and fifty minutes flat to complete the 90 laps and take the victory. His lead over Fangio in 2nd place would be exactly a minute. After Fangio it was quite a gap. Just within the last couple of laps Ascari would pass Giuseppe Farina, who was running in 3rd place. But Ascari wouldn't just put him one lap down. Getting by him that last time, Ascari would have a two lap margin over Farina.
Crook wished he could have been so lucky as to have only been two laps behind Ascari. He would have taken that result any day compared to breaking right there on the grid at the start of the race. After such a disappointing second attempt at the World Championship, Crook would decide he was done. Throughout the remainder of the 1953 season he would merely take part in non-championship races. Not only would he not attempt another World Championship race that year, he would not take part in another for the rest of his career.
While his World Championship career had come to a disastrous end on the grid at Silverstone, he motor racing career was still ongoing. One week after the British Grand Prix, Tony would make his way to yet another former airbase. On the 25th of July he would be busy preparing his Cooper-Bristol T20 for the 2nd United States Air Force Trophy race held at Snetterton.
Back in the spring time Crook had put in an entry for a race at Snetterton but would not arrive. This time, however, he would be present and ready to compete.
Constructed at a cost of £950,000 during the war, RAF Snetterton-Heath would become home to Crook's American counterpart. The 386th Medium and the 96th Heavy Bombardment Groups would be stationed at the base starting in 1943. The base, with its three runways, would see action right up through the end of the war. The circuit would not be used for a number of years until it would be privately purchased in 1952. As with Silverstone, the base's 2.70 miles of perimeter road would serve as the venue's road course.
Memories of the war would come flooding back as even before the race would start tragedy would strike. The small racing fraternity would lose one of its own during practice. Bobbie Baird would take part in a supporting sports car race. During that race he would roll his Ferrari and would be killed. This was a difficult loss, especially right before the start of the Formula 2 race in which Baird was intended to be a part.
The race would nonetheless go on and would feature a number of other talented British drivers in the field. Tony Rolt, Roy Salvadori and Bob Gerard were all part of the 15 lap race around Snetterton.
A number of competitors would find the going tough even before the race really went anywhere. Two drivers would drop out due to breaking right on the grid at the start. Two more would only make in two laps before trouble would strike.
Thankfully for Crook, after all of the ups and downs, he would be in the race and would be up near the top five throughout the course of the event. He would run right there with Alan Brown's Equipe Anglaise entry with Jimmy Somervail at the wheel. What's more, Crook would have Salvadori running behind him on the circuit. The day was going well.
It wasn't going as well as it was for Tony Rolt. He was out in front, but would have Bob Gerard close behind trying to chase him down. Despite all that Rolt would do he could not shake Gerard. Gerard would also make life tough for Rolt as he would increase his pace and would even turn the fastest lap of the race.
Crook would hit a wall. He just could not keep up with Horace Gould and others in front of him. Thankfully, he could manage those that were running right there with him. But managing meant he wasn't really at all competitive. And when he would be lapped before the end by Rolt and Gerard, it was obvious he still needed to find some more speed and reliability.
Although Gerard would be fast, Rolt would be consistently fast. And that would make the difference. Coming to the line, Rolt would have Gerard in tow about two seconds behind. It had been a well-deserved victory for Rolt. He and Gerard had left the rest of the field in the dust. Leslie Marr, who would finish in 3rd, would end up crossing the line fifty seconds behind. Again, Crook would have like to have only been fifty seconds behind. But at least this time he was finishing. He had worked hard and would be rewarded with a 5th place result.
Priorities were really beginning to change for Crook. It was becoming more and more difficult to be competitive and the costs were also still relatively high. As he stared the end of his racing career in the face, he would still have a couple more non-championship races left in which he would take part in 1953, but they were running out.
The next race in which Crook would take part would be in the middle of September. On the 12th of September, Crook was back at Snetterton preparing to take part in the 1st RedeX Trophy race. This would be another short affair (only 10 laps).
Eric Thompson would be strong in the R.R.C. Walker Racing Connaught. He would be up near the front with Peter Whitehead and Les Leston right there as well. Only eight cars would actually start the 10 lap race although it seemed there would be nine until Brian Naylor suffered an accident in practice and would not start. While Thompson, Whitehead and others were performing well up at the front of the field, things couldn't have gotten much worse for Crook.
When it rains it pours cabbage. Coming to the final couple of laps of the race there were only five cars still running. The rest had suffered failures or accidents that caused them to be out of the running. Crook was running in that 5th, and final, position when all of a sudden his clutch breaks into a thousand pieces. The catastrophic failure also takes with it the brake pedal. Unable to stop, Crook goes barreling and spinning through one of the fields surrounding the former airbase. While tearing through the field trying to stop, he would kick up a head of cabbage that would strike him in the head and would knock him out. That head of cabbage would not only knock Crook out, but by Crook being out of consciousness, it also knocked the car out of the running. This, in a head of cabbage, would be representative of Crook's season.
The last couple of laps would carry on without delay. Peter Whitehead would try and do his best to delay Thompson but Whitehead would be caught up in a battle of his own. Aided by the fastest lap of the race, Thompson would go on to take the victory. The battle between Whitehead and Leston would go right down to the wire. At the line, it would be Whitehead taking 2nd place by only half a car length.
All that Crook would leave with would be a broken car, unconsciousness and some cabbage. It was become the perfect time to call it a season.
Tony Crook's last race of the season would come the very next week after the flying cabbage incident at Snetterton. Perhaps for his safety, Crook would leave Snetterton and would head on down to London and Crystal Palace Park once again. He was on his way to take part in what was to be the 1st London Trophy race on the 19th of September.
The London Trophy race followed a format of heat races and aggregate scoring. This meant each competitor would take part in the two heat races (if they could) and the final results would be determined by finishing times from the two heats combined. Each of the two heats would be 10 laps around the 2.70 mile circuit. The total race distance would be just 27 miles.
Looking forward to the race, Crook would find trouble coming his way even before qualifying. As a result of the problems he would end up withdrawing from the event before practice and would be left standing to the side watching his fellow competitors take to the grid for the race.
Stirling Moss would line up in the 1st position. The plan was that Moss would have Tony Rolt and Ron Flockhart joining him on the front row in 2nd and 3rd. However, more trouble would come and Flockhart also would not start the first heat.
The race would come down to a great battle between Moss and Rolt. Everyone else would be left behind. Lap after lap the two drivers would be separated by no more than a car length and at times even less.
Moss would try everything he knew but he just could not shake Rolt. Therefore his attention had to switch from trying to break away, and instead, on keeping him behind him. This would also take everything from Moss. But coming to the line, Moss would manage to take the first heat victory by a margin of just half a car length. Bob Gerard would complete the top three finishing about sixteen seconds back.
The second heat would be much of the same. However, there would be an addition to the field. Flockhart would end up joining the race in the second part. And although he would be clearly out of the running he would come to play something of an influence.
Bob Gerard would fall out of the running. This would open the door up to a number of other competitors that had finished much further down in the first heat. All of a sudden, the battle between Horace Gould and Rodney Nuckey became very interesting.
The battle between Moss and Rolt remained quite interesting until the final couple of laps. The two had dueled lap after lap, but coming to the finishing line, Rolt had kind of given up and was merely hoping for trouble to come Moss' way. It wouldn't.
Under pressure from Rolt, the pace in the second heat would just increase. But no matter how hard Rolt tried he just couldn't break Moss. Moss would end up taking the victory by just two and a half seconds over Rolt. Ron Flockhart would recuperate well by coming home in 3rd place. In the battle between Horace Gould and Rodney Nuckey, Gould would end up rising above in the second heat although Nuckey had won the first.
In the aggregate scoring it was no surprise Moss took the overall victory over Rolt. But between Gould and Nuckey, it would be Gould that would edge out Nuckey as a result of his time advantage earned in the second heat.
The final race of the season would represent well the direction in which Tony Crook's career was going. 1953 would see Crook take part in his final World Championship race. The final failed attempt to start the London Trophy race would signal his shift from the racing scene to fine automobile dealer.
Upon stepping away from motor racing, Crook would become a dealer for Bristol Cars. These luxury cars would use nearly the same BMW-derived Bristol engine Crook had used during the 1953 season.
Then in 1960, Crook would join forces with Sir George White and actually bought the Bristol car division from Bristol when it was acquired by British Aerospace as part of a nationalization program. This union would be quite successful.
Just prior to 1970, Crook would come to acquire the whole of Bristol Cars as a result of White's inability to run the company due to injuries suffered in an accident. The company would carry on under Crook and would remain in existence right up into the 21st century.
All of life is made up of phases. Crook's life has been marked by big historical events and opportunities. From World War II, to the World Championship grand prix racing and on to owning Bristol Cars, Crook has done his best to try and make the best of every situation and embrace any new challenge that may come his way. This perhaps is the greatest of Crook's legacy—his ability to adapt and enjoy the opportunities when they come.