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United States Robert O' Brien   |  Stats  |  1952 F1 Articles

1952 Formula One Season   By Jeremy McMullen

The years after the end of World War II were still very dangerous. Suspicion abounded; nations were split. And then there are people like Robert O'Brien.

Born in Lyndhurst, New Jersey in 1908, O'Brien's life passes out of the memories of people faster than the details of any given day during the course of a year. He is a mystery. Nothing of the gentleman is truly known until after World War II.

In the very early 1950s, O'Brien suddenly appeared amongst the endurance racing scene. While much of his personal life, and therefore also the purpose of his racing career, is in doubt, O'Brien managed to turn in some competitive performances in the sports car racing scene. This includes a 4th place result at the 1952 12 Hours of Sebring in a Ferrari 166MM.

Instead of taking part in the Indianapolis 500 in May, which counted toward the Formula One World Championship, O'Brien's focus was actually across the Atlantic Ocean, and apparently, one specific race.

In June, O'Brien left the United States and made his way to Belgium to take part in the third round of the Formula One World Championship. The third round was the Belgian Grand Prix and it took place at the ultra-fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the heart of the Ardennes forest.

At 8.77 miles in length, the circuit wound through the Belgian countryside and up and down its hills In spite of the many elevation changes and sweeping turns, the circuit was driven with the foot flat to the floor almost the whole lap. Technically a very demanding track, Spa also demanded something else—bravery. Climbing up the hill through Eau Rouge, flying through the Masta Kink and hanging on around Stavelot all required a willingness to ride on the edge of the limit. Doing this in the wet was another matter all-together. This was the race O'Brien wanted to enter—a true test of his skill and bravery.

O'Brien arrived at the event without a car. However, he would talk to Johnny Claes, who had started the Ecurie Belge Racing Team, and would convince Claes to provide him one of his Simca-Gordini T15 chassis.

Having taken part mostly in sports car racing, O'Brien would have to get used to driving the T15 grand prix car. It was no wonder, then, that his times during practice were quite a bit slower than the top teams and drivers.

Had he taken part in the first round of the World Championship, O'Brien would have not had to race against the speed of Alberto Ascari. However, by the time of the Belgian Grand Prix, Alberto was back driving for Scuderia Ferrari. And, in practice, Ascari would set the pace. During practice, Ascari would turn in the fastest lap. He would lap the 8.77 mile circuit in four minutes and thirty-seven seconds. This gave Ascari the pole. Fellow Ferrari driver, and former World Champion, Giuseppe Farina, would turn in the second-fastest lap time. His best time was three seconds slower. Piero Taruffi, another Ferrari driver, would make it a Ferrari one-two-three when he turned in a lap nine seconds slower.

In contrast, O'Brien's best time was quite a bit slower than that of the Ferrari's drivers. Robert's best time in practice would end up being quite slow. His best time around the circuit would be six minutes. This was one minute and twenty-three seconds slower than Ascari.

In spite of being the last starter on the twenty-two car grid, O'Brien proved he was capable of holding onto the car and making it into the race, and at a circuit that was tough on even the best drivers in the world.

A new challenge and threat was thrown O'Brien's way before the start of the race. Rain had begun to fall throughout the circuit. This made many very tentative at the start of the race, except Ascari. Ascari was able to get away well. However, he was closely followed by his fellow Ferrari teammates and a couple of the Equipe Gordini drivers. O'Brien was careful at the start of the race and focused on keeping the car on the circuit.

Behra would prove strong, and would even lead a lap of the race. Unfortunately, Behra and Ferrari driver, Piero Taruffi would suffer an accident on the 13th lap of the race and would be out of the running. This left Ascari all alone at the front of the field. In spite of the rain, Ascari would pull away from the rest of the field.

O'Brien was surprising in the conditions. He kept the car under control, albeit at a slow pace, and continued to complete lap-after-lap. While many others were suffering accidents, O'Brien exhibited good car control and continued to climb the order.

Ascari would pull out a good-sized advantage by the end of the race. It would take him a little over three hours and three minutes to finish the race 1st. His margin of victory was almost two minutes over Giuseppe Farina. Robert Manzon was running for dear life and would only just begin his 36th, and final, lap when Ascari was coming in to take the checkered flag. Manzon would finish 3rd, four and a half minutes down.

While seven of the starters would end up out of the race due to one problem or another, O'Brien would end up making it all the way to the end of the race. Though he would end up not classified for being too far behind Ascari at the end, he would at least make it to the end. Though not official, O'Brien would finish 14th, down six laps. He also was not the last car running on the circuit.

Many other teams and individuals would have a Formula One career that lasted much less than what O'Brien was able to accomplish. His footnote in Formula One history includes starting 22nd and finishing 14th. He had completed 30 laps in his Formula One career. On this occasion, he fared better than Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Louis Rosier, Peter Collins and Piero Taruffi. Truly, this was some good competition.


If O'Brien's single appearance in the Formula One World Championship was rather strange, then the next race in which he would take part would truly add to the mystery surrounding him.

After the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of June, O'Brien would wait around until the end of the August to take part in another race. On the 31st of August, O'Brien was only about an hour further northeast from Spa-Francorchamps at Grenzlandring for the 5th DMV Grenzlandringrennen.

Even though this race took place in Western Germany, this was O'Brien's next race and it was in Germany just as the Cold War was just beginning to heat up. O'Brien would again use the T15 from Johnny Claes and Ecurie Belge.

The race was 12 laps and took place on the 5.58 mile egg-shaped road course that surrounded the small villages of Wegberg, Beeck and Dorp. Being that the circuit was long, and the corners were also rather gentle in nature, the average speeds around the circuit usually ran very high. This was an ultra-fast circuit, even more than what Spa-Francorchamps had been.

Besides O'Brien, the only other 'foreigners' in the race were the pairing of the Alan Brown and Eric Brandon from the small Ecurie Richmond team. Besides Ecurie Richmond's Cooper-Bristols, the only other 'foreign' car was the T15 driven by O'Brien, loaned to him by Ecurie Belge.

Toni Ulmen was dominant in his Veritas Meteor. During the course of the 12 lap race, Ulmen would turn in the fastest lap. The time of the lap was two minutes and thirty-one seconds. This meant Ulmen covered the 5.58 mile road course with an average speed of over 132 mph. Hans Klenk, in another Veritas Meteor, was the only other one that seemed to be able to stay anywhere close to Ulmen. O'Brien proved he couldn't keep up with Ulmen when his T15 failed on him, causing him to retire from the race.

Ulmen would go on to win the race by eighteen seconds over Klenk. Josef Peters would finish 3rd in a Veritas RS. However, his finishing time was almost two minutes behind that of Ulmen.

After the failure of the T15 at the Grenzlandringrennen, O'Brien promptly disappeared from the grand prix racing in Europe. In fact, he would disappear from racing for the rest of the season after the trip into West Germany. This was the one and only trip the American made to Europe as a racing driver. After competing in two events separated by only a little over an hour, but over a month apart, O'Brien would not return to Europe again, but would take part in SCCA races throughout the United States all the way up into the very early 1960s.

Robert O'Brien's grand prix history is amazingly devoid of details. This man of little accomplishment in motor racing would be the first American-born driver to take part in a Formula One World Championship race, and only one at that. What's even more egregious is the fact this 'common' racing driver would head into East Germany, during the warming up period of the Cold War, and would take part in one non-championship grand prix. Surely there are more questions than answers surrounding Robert O'Brien. Truly this was one competitor throughout the pages of World Championship history that could easily be overlooked. It seemed that was the point.
United States Drivers  F1 Drivers From United States 
Dennis Aase

Tony Adamowicz

Jim Adams

Fred Agabashian

Warren Agor

George Alderman

Bill Amick

George Amick

Richard 'Red' Amick

Mario Gabriele Andretti

Michael Mario Andretti

Cliff Apel

Fred Armbruster

Chuck Arnold

Fred Baker

John 'Skip' Barber III

Dick Barbour

Melvin E. 'Tony' Bettenhausen

Art Bisch

Harry Blanchard

Robert Bondurant

Johnny Boyd

Don Branson

Merle Brennan

Mike Brockman

Bobby Brown

Dick Brown

James Ernest Bryan

Bob Bucher

Ronnie Bucknum

Temple Hoyne Buell

Stan Burnett

Jim Butcher

Tom Butz

Joe Buzzetta

Philip Cade

Duane Carter

David Causey

Bob Challman

Jay Chamberlain

Bill Cheesbourg

Edward McKay 'Eddie' Cheever, Jr.

Paul Christianson

Bob Christie

Kevin Cogan

George Constantine

Ron Courtney

Jerry Crawford

Ray Crawford

Bill Cuddy

Chuck Daigh

Candido DaMota

Jimmy Daywalt

Norman Demler

John Dennis

Eno DePasquale

Steve Diulo

Frank J. Dochnal

Mark Neary Donohue, Jr.

Brooke Doran

Bob Drake

George Drolsom

Dick Durant

Steve Durst

Tom Dutton

Don Edmunds

Ed Elisian

Jerry Entin

Bill Eve

Walt Faulkner

Len Faustina

Ed Felter

Gene Fisher

John Cooper Fitch

George Francis 'Pat' Flaherty, Jr.

George Follmer

Billy Foster

Anthony Joseph 'A.J.' Foyt, Jr.,

Chuck Frederick

Don Freeland

David Fry

Richard Galloway

Fred Gamble

Mike Gammino

Billy Garrett

Bud Gates

Elmer George

Paul Richard 'Richie' Ginther

Ron Goldleaf

Paul Goldsmith

Mike Goth

Jerry Grant

Ross Greenville

Peter Holden Gregg

Masten Gregory

Robert 'Bobby' Grim

Dick Guldstrand

John Gunn

Miles Gupton

Daniel Sexton Gurney

Jim Hall

Ed Hamill

Sam Hanks

Jerry Hansen

Walt Hansgen

Bob Harris

Dennis Harrison

J Frank Harrison

Leslie 'Gene' Hartley

Charlie Hayes

Hurley Haywood

Al Herman

Ron Herrera

Tom Heyser

Philip Toll Hill, Jr

Jay Hills

Mike Hiss

Bill Holland

George Hollinger

Doug Hooper

Danny Hopkins

Skip Hudson

Gus Hutchison

Leonard Janke

Don Jensen

Anson Johnson

Eddie Johnson

Earl Jones

Parnelli Jones

Tom Jones

Dave Jordan

Frank Kahlich

Al Keller

Charlie Kemp

Bruce Kessler

Charlie Kolb

Oscar Koveleski

Mak Kronn

Roy Kumnick

Lynn Kysar

Ron LaPeer

Clarence Walter 'Jud' Larson

Bob Lazier

Joe Leonard

Ed Leslie

Andy Linden

Gerard Carlton 'Pete' Lovely

Joe Lubin

Robert Brett Lunger

Herbert MacKay-Fraser

Charles Michael 'Mike' Magill

Timothy A. Mayer II

Roger McCluskey

Jim McWithey

Rick Miaskiewicz

Jack Millikan

Milt Minter

Don Morin

Bud Morley

William Morrow

Lothar Motschenbacher

Rick Muther

Bob Nagel

Dennis 'Duke' Nalon

Danny Ongais

Robert O' Brien

Pat O'Connor

Brian O'Neil

Chuck Parsons

Johnnie Parsons

Scooter Patrick

Jim Paul

Bob Peckham

Roger S. Penske

Ted Peterson

Fred Pipin

Sam Posey

Hugh Powell

Wedge Rafferty

Robert Woodward 'Bobby' Rahal

George Ralph

Dick Rathmann

Jim Rathmann

Jimmy Reece

Paul Reinhart

Doug Revson

Peter Jeffrey Revson

Lloyd Ruby

Eddie Russo

Paul Russo

Troy Ruttman

Jack Ryan

Edward Julius Sachs, Jr

Boris 'Bob' Said

Ralph Salyer

David Earl 'Swede' Savage Jr.

Harry Schell

Robert Schroeder

Skip Scott

Tony Settember

James 'Hap' Sharp

Carroll Hall Shelby

Monte Shelton

Pete Sherman

Norman Smith

Scott Andrew Speed

Gene Stanton

Jef Stevens

Spencer Stoddard

Daniel John 'Danny' Sullivan III

Len Sutton

Tom Swindell

Marshall Teague

Clark 'Shorty' Templeman

Tom Terrell

Johnny Thomson

Bud Tinglestad

Jerry Titus

Tom Tobin

Johnnie Tolan

Ralph Treischmann

Jack Turner

Alfred 'Al' Unser

Robert William 'Bobby' Unser

Jerry Unser Jr.

Alfred 'Little Al' Unser, Jr.

Bob Veith

Fred Wacker

Lee Wallard

Rodger M. Ward

Herb Wetanson

Chuck Weyant

Dempsey Wilson

Gary Wilson

William Wonder

Roy Woods

John M Wyatt III

Bill Young

Gregg Young

Formula One World Drivers' Champions
1950 G. Farina

1951 J. Fangio

1952 A. Ascari

1953 A. Ascari

1954 J. Fangio

1955 J. Fangio

1956 J. Fangio

1957 J. Fangio

1958 M. Hawthorn

1959 S. Brabham

1960 S. Brabham

1961 P. Hill, Jr

1962 N. Hill

1963 J. Clark, Jr.

1964 J. Surtees

1965 J. Clark, Jr.

1966 S. Brabham

1967 D. Hulme

1968 N. Hill

1969 S. Stewart

1970 K. Rindt

1971 S. Stewart

1972 E. Fittipaldi

1973 S. Stewart

1974 E. Fittipaldi

1975 A. Lauda

1976 J. Hunt

1977 A. Lauda

1978 M. Andretti

1979 J. Scheckter

1980 A. Jones

1981 N. Piquet

1982 K. Rosberg

1983 N. Piquet

1984 A. Lauda

1985 A. Prost

1986 A. Prost

1987 N. Piquet

1988 A. Senna

1989 A. Prost

1990 A. Senna

1991 A. Senna

1992 N. Mansell

1993 A. Prost

1994 M. Schumacher

1995 M. Schumacher

1996 D. Hill

1997 J. Villeneuve

1998 M. Hakkinen

1999 M. Hakkinen

2000 M. Schumacher

2001 M. Schumacher

2002 M. Schumacher

2003 M. Schumacher

2004 M. Schumacher

2005 F. Alonso

2006 F. Alonso

2007 K. Raikkonen

2008 L. Hamilton

2009 J. Button

2010 S. Vettel

2011 S. Vettel

2012 S. Vettel

2013 S. Vettel

2014 L. Hamilton

2015 L. Hamilton

2016 N. Rosberg

2017 L. Hamilton

2018 L. Hamilton

2019 L. Hamilton


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