TeamsCooper Car Company: 1955 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
In 1952, during the Formula 2 era of the World Championship, Mike Hawthorn would come to show his talent. At a rain-soaked Spa-Francorchamps circuit, his Formula One debut, he would make it through the treacherous conditions to finish a fine 4th. Then, at Boreham, in the early rain, Hawthorn would lead the much more powerful Ferrari 375s. He seemed destined to take victory until the circuit dried out and the natural order had been restored. In both instances, it was a tiny company from Surbiton that had provided the opportunity for Hawthorn to demonstrate his prowess. However, what people were also witnessing was the rise of a company leading the way in technological revolution. And, in 1955, the presence of an Aussie would help to lead Formula One into a new era.
The Formula 2 era was mostly a time of making do until the new Formula One regulations could be determined. And, while the Ferrari 500 would go on to dominate the two year period of the Formula 2 campaign there would be a great opportunity for smaller companies and drivers to cut their teeth in the World Championship. One of those companies that would take advantage of the opportunity would be Cooper Car Company.
Based in Surbiton, the Cooper Car Company had first gained a momentous amount of success building Formula 3 cars. These rear-engined cars became the car to have and the company's success in Formula 3 would be incredible. However, the rear-engined car was so created out of necessity rather than with an eye toward the future.
The Formula 3 experience would make a couple of things abundantly clear: to be fast requires cars to be as small and as light as possible. Secondly, it required a great emphasis on aerodynamics. Combining these elements together gave a car, even with an underpowered engine, an opportunity to compete.
This understanding would be important come 1954, when the new Formula One regulations were implemented and the Formula 2 cars were immediately found to have a disadvantage. Still, the principles were sound, and in England, where manufacturers still trailed behind the efforts of Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Maserati, any advantage that could be exploited would be important.
Cooper Car Company wasn't just interested in Formula One or Formula 3. The small effort would also show an interest in sportscars and would determine to build an aerodynamically-efficient and light car that would be able to compete against the likes of Lotus in the 1100cc and the 1500cc class.
Besides a couple of Cooper chassis that would take part in the 1954 British Grand Prix, Cooper would be mostly a no-show in the World Championship when the new Formula One regulations came into play. Therefore, the focus on sportscars seemed a natural direction for the company given its penchant for designing small, tidy single-seaters that would find themselves at a serious disadvantage against the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Maserati. The smaller classes of sportscar racing, however, seemed the perfect suit for the team. And in this case, would actually help to lead Formula One into a new technological revolution.
Enter Jack Brabham. Jack Brabham would arrive in England in 1955 from Australia and would be keen to develop a Formula One career. However, to jump-start that career required taking part in some lower formula races in order to get his name and reputation out there. Brabham, however, would do things a little differently.
Brabham would take part in lower formula races and would attract the attention of many. In fact, many would comment on their belief that they would hear a lot from the Aussie in single-seater grand prix racing in the years to come. And while this would prove to be true in time, in 1955, it was really nothing more than gossip that Brabham could take advantage of to try and push his way into a full-time ride in Formula One.
Brabham would end up not relying on the opinions and beliefs of others and, instead, would not even let his talents as a driver do the talking. According to John Cooper, 'He didn't so much start working for us as just start working with us. He just began coming in more often, and we got used to having him around. He acted as a kind of fitter-cum-welder-cum-driver and he was bloody good at all of it.'
Brabham certainly was good at the mechanical side of things having an engineering background. And his willingness to create and prepare a race car would earn him even greater respect with the Cooper Car Company.
As much as the tiny Cooper Car Company had managed to achieve, the presence of Jack Brabham in the fold would help to make the company into the revolutionary it would become. And, it would start right away in 1955.
Brabham's engineering mind helped him to understand the present and the future of motor racing. Therefore, he understood well what an aerodynamically-efficient car, with a mid-engine layout meant. Such a package could be made smaller, more compact, and therefore would increase the handling and stability of the car. If made light enough, he also understood that such a car could get by with a smaller engine, and yet, still remain quite competitive.
Ivor Bueb drove Cooper's 1100cc rear-engined Bob-tail in the Easter Monday races at Goodwood in 1955. It was the car's debut and it would end up battling with larger 1500cc Connaughts before it would be relegated to a still fine 3rd place finish. Brabham had also made his debut at the Easter Monday races at Goodwood driving an ex-Whitehead Cooper-Alta T24. He had seen the Bob-tail in action and was determined to build a Formula One example to drive himself.
Brabham and the Cooper Car Company would set to work creating a Formula One version of their Bob-tail powered by a 2.0-liter Bristol engine instead of the 1100cc engine that had been used in the sportscar version of the car. Still, even despite the increase up to 2.0-liters, the engine was still undersized compared to the limit of the Formula One regulations imposed starting in 1954. In fact, the new car was to have a 2.2-liter engine just like the Cooper of Bob Gerard. But, when the car would be completed and ready to run in Formula One events it would appear in 2.0-liter form. However, Brabham and the company were out to prove that a smaller engine in a tighter, more aerodynamic design could still be competitive.
The company would have some issues just with an increase to 2.0-liters. The main problem the team would run into would be fitting the larger engine into the car itself. This would require the car's wheelbase to be increased by some two inches. The removal of such elements, such as lights and other such sportscar equipment from the car, the T40, as it would become known, would be quite light. This would even enable the first gear from the transmission to be removed as it was really quite useless.
The whole T40 project would get a rather late start. By the time the engine had even been fitted to the car the season was already into the summer months and the rounds of the 1955 Formula One season were becoming fewer and farther between, especially given the tragic events at Le Mans that year.
Obviously, the goal for the team and for Brabham was to have the car prepared in time to take part in the British Grand Prix on the 16th of July. And while Mercedes-Benz would be rolling in with four of its W196s, ready to compete, Cooper's team, and Brabham, would be scurrying around the night before practice and qualifying just to get the car all put together.
By July of 1955, the Formula One World Championship was more or less over in more ways than one. Juan Manuel Fangio continued to dominate in the W196 and was in a commanding lead in the championship battle. Secondly, the tragic events at Le Mans the previous month would send the motor racing community into a state of shock and knee-jerk reactions. The fall-out from the terrible mass of deaths at Le Mans would be tremendous. The French, German, Swiss and Spanish grand prix would all be cancelled. In the case of Switzerland, a grand prix would never be held on Swiss soil ever again. Some of those on the schedule would remain, like the Dutch Grand Prix and the British. However, what that meant by the time the teams and cars started arriving on English shores is that the championship had only two rounds remaining before it was all over, and it wasn't even August yet.
What this all meant for Brabham, Cooper Car Company and the T40 was that there was no time for the team to test its new Formula One racer. It would, in all accounts, undergo a baptism by fire.
The 1955 British Grand Prix would see a lot of changes, not only would people soon witness a revolution in the series, but, for the first time since the end of World War II, people would have to travel some place other than Silverstone to witness the British Grand Prix. Through some clever negotiating on the part of Earl Howe and Raymond Mays, Aintree would come to play host for the 6th round of the Formula One World Championship.
Aintree Grand Prix Circuit would be the first, and actually remains, the only purpose-built grand prix circuit in Britain, but it would be just for horsepower…well actually that's not true. The site of the Aintree Grand Prix Circuit would be the same as the famed Grand National. Mixing within and without the hallowed Grand National Steeplechase course, a 3-mile grand prix circuit would be made that would come complete with grandstands already erected and set to go. And, in 1955, it would present the first opportunity for Brits further north to ever see the famed Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz.
And it would be true that few would pay any heed to the tiny car being hastily assembled prior to practice. All eyes would be on Mercedes-Benz for there were the incredible Silver Arrows, but also, England's Stirling Moss. And if anyone was to put any money down on a potential winner of the British Grand Prix the odds certainly would have been overwhelming in the odds of Moss and Mercedes-Benz over the Cooper T40.
The Cooper team and Brabham would be ready, barely, for practice. Stirling Moss would further pad his odds advantage going out and posting a lap time of 2:00.4 around the 3-mile circuit. This time would prove to be two-tenths of a second faster than the remarkable Juan Manuel Fangio and would give the Brit the pole for the British Grand Prix. Jean Behra, in the factory Maserati, would keep it from being a clean Mercedes sweep of the front row by taking the 3rd starting position and posting a fastest lap time a full second slower than Moss.
While the front row would be running times nearly in the sub-two minute range, Brabham would be struggling with the 2.0-liter Cooper to keep its lap times under two minutes and thirty seconds. Moss' average speed on his pole winning lap would be nearly 90mph. Brabham, in contrast, would be averaging just above 70mph. Therefore, Brabham's best effort of 2:27.4 would leave his 27 seconds in arrears and would cause him to start the race from the tenth, and final, row of the grid. He was 25th, dead-last.
Even into the night before the race, the car still needed work to be truly finished. Then, in the morning of the race itself, the clutch would fail leaving Brabham with the task of driving the race without the aid of a clutch. What would make matters worse when the field lined up on the grid and prepared for the start of the race would be the incredibly hot temperatures in Liverpool that day. These high temperatures were bound to play a role over the course of the 90 lap race.
The engines would come up to a roar and the flag would drop to start the race. Fangio and Moss would tear away from the grid almost equal. Behra would get caught off guard and would get swallowed up by a number of other competitors. At the back of the grid, however, the clutch issues would come into play with the Cooper T40. Brabham would struggle and would be unable to pull away from the grid without the help of the Cooper team giving him a push.
Heading into the first corner, known as Waterway, Fangio would get a leg up on the British favorite. Behra's struggles off the line would enable it to be a one-two-three-four sweep for Mercedes-Benz. At the completion of the lap, however, Behra would charge his way back up through the field and would find himself in the very place he started, 3rd. Problems with Andre Simon's car would cause him to pit at the end of the first lap. Therefore, Brabham would find himself, at the end of the first lap, running in the 23rd position.
By the 3rd lap of the race it would be Moss leading the way over Fangio and the two Mercedes drivers would hook up and leave the remainder of the field behind. Behra would do his best to keep touch with the two teammates but an oil pipe problem after 9 laps would bring his race to a very early end.
While Moss and Fangio continued to pull away from the rest of the field, at the tail-end of the field, Brabham would be running a steady and controlled race considering his fight to drive lap after lap without the use of a clutch. Though he was at the tail-end of the field, attrition would help to move him up in the order.
Robert Manzon and Jean Behra would be the first two out of the race. Harry Schell, Andre Simon, Eugenio Castellotti, Leslie Marr, Tony Rolt/Peter Walker and Roy Salvadori would all fall out of the running prior to 20 laps being completed. Brabham, however, would make it through the first 20 laps of the race and just kept motoring around, seemingly without any issue whatsoever.
But as Moss began to pull out an advantage over Fangio, Brabham would have a problem with his T40. Though he had driven through the first quarter of the race without the use of a clutch, the tremendous heat was actually beginning to take a toll on the engine. The mid-engined car was proving to lack the necessary cooling to keep the smaller 2.0-liter engine cool while trying to keep pace with its larger 2.5-liter brethren. Then, finally, after 30 laps, the effects of the heat would be too much for the engine. Valve failure would lead to Brabham exiting the race and many onlookers would be none the wiser as to the revolution they had just witnessed.
The attrition continued to take a toll. With just 30 laps remaining in the race, just nine cars remained in the race and only the four Mercedes Silver Arrows remained with minutes of the leader Moss.
Heading into the final few laps of the race, Mercedes was enjoying a sweep of the top four positions in the running order. However, heading into the final couple of laps, Moss would not be as relaxed as he had been throughout the majority of the race.
Moss held onto the lead of the race throughout the majority of the race, and even pulled out a rather comfortable margin over Fangio. However, in the later stages of the race, Fangio would mount a charge that Moss' car just didn't seem capable of answering. Moss was holding on for dear life. His first Formula One World Championship victory was within sight, and it was the British Grand Prix. He could not have the win snatched away from him at the last minute. But as the two men headed into the final corner for the final time, Fangio was tucked up underneath Moss so tight that it seemed a given the Argentinean would be able to out-drag the Brit to the win.
Powering out of the corner, Moss would give his Mercedes everything it had. And as the two raced to the line, it would be Moss beating Fangio by a mere tenth of a second. The British crowd would go crazy with excitement watching their countryman taking the victory. Karl Kling would complete the sweep of the podium for Mercedes finish the race a minute and eleven seconds behind.
It would be a great day for the British, at least those celebrating the victory of Stirling Moss. For the Cooper Car Company, the team would not be nearly as excited, but they would have reason to leave with joy in their hearts for they proved the technology worked and it worked rather well considering the smaller engine size and the lateness in which they completed the T40. Obviously the team had some issues it needed to deal with, but it was certain the groundwork had been laid. And as the people filled out of Aintree that day, it is more than likely that only a few had any idea of what Cooper and Brabham had just done to the world of motorsport.
The heat at Aintree exposed some issues that would plague the T40 that needed to be dealt with if either Brabham, or the team, had any hopes of the car achieving its potential. The heat made it clear that cooling needed to be addressed along with the general reliability of the components of the car.
The team would set about rectifying the issues and preparing for the next opportunity for the T40 to show itself worthy.
The next opportunity for the T40 to prove itself would come just a matter of a couple of weeks following the British Grand Prix. On the 30th of July, just to the south of downtown London, the Cooper Car Company team, and Jack Brabham, would be busy preparing for the T40's next race, the 3rd London Trophy race held at Crystal Palace Park.
Crystal Palace Park would sit at a place in south London where four London boroughs came together: Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth and Southwark. Prior to the 18th century, the area of Crystal Palace Park had been nothing more but a heavily-wooded forest. But, in the 19th century, the park would become quite a popular spot for local Londoners. The park roads that wound around the park then would become a popular venue for motor racing.
The London Trophy race had come into being during the Formula 2 era of the World Championship. It would end up drawing top-flight talent to its short 1.35 mile circuit. In 1955, with the summer months barren of almost all of the World Championship rounds, it would again draw names like Mike Hawthorn and Harry Schell. But still, it would be mostly a race consisting of most regional British drivers.
The London Trophy race would feature a couple of heat races and then a final. The scoring would not be in aggregate, therefore, the entire entry list would be divided between the two heats. As a consequence, Brabham and the T40 would be listed in the second heat along with Harry Schell, Bob Gerard and others. They would get to watch the first heat with Mike Hawthorn, a very young Tony Brooks and Roy Salvadori.
Driving Stirling Moss' Maserati 250F, Hawthorn would be fastest in practice around the rolling Crystal Palace circuit and would take the pole ahead of Horace Gould and Tony Brooks.
In the heat race itself, Hawthorn would end up leading the way but it would be Salvadori that would mount a charge over the course of the 10 lap heat race. Though he started 4th on the grid, Salvadori would challenge Hawthorn over the course of the race while Horace Gould would do his best to solidify a 3rd place finish. Tony Brooks would end up fading over the course of the race as a result of the fact he was at the wheel of a Formula 2 Connaught A-Type.
Though Salvadori would challenge, Hawthorn would take the victory by about a second and a half. Horace Gould would hold off Jack Fairman by a little more than 3 seconds to finish in 3rd place.
The first heat over, it was time to set the stage for the second heat race. Driving the Vanwall, chassis VW2, Harry Schell would be the fastest in practice and would take the pole. Bob Gerard, driving his 2.2-liter Cooper-Bristol T23, would be some three seconds slower than Schell, but would awarded with the 2nd place position on the front row. Paul Emery would complete the front row.
Issues appearing to be sorted with the T40, Brabham would just miss out on the front row. His times in practice would certainly be impressive, no doubt helped by the nature of the Crystal Palace circuit. Therefore, Brabham would start the race from the second row in the 4th position.
Brabham's race would get a boost straight-away when Gerard's half-shaft broke right off the line bringing an end to his race before it even began. Unfortunately, going up against the quick Schell in the Vanwall was a very difficult proposition, even for Emery. Schell would get a great start and would clearly lead over the remainder of the field.
Very much a testing time for Brabham, the 10 lap heat presented an opportunity to get more time into the T40. It would perform well but would be unable to reel in the Emeryson-Alta of Paul Emery. In the end, Schell would cruise to an easy victory taking the win by a mere 35 seconds over Emery. About 19 seconds after Emery crossed the line to take the win, Brabham would come through in the T40; a solid, but sedate 3rd place performance.
Finishing times determined starting position for the final. Therefore, Hawthorn would again be on pole while Salvadori would start alongside in 2nd place. Harry Schell would complete the front row in the 3rd position while Brabham's steady pace in the second heat would leave him all the way down on the third row of the grid in 8th place for the start of the 15 lap final.
It was clear the T40 was still not quite ready, nor up to par with the likes of the Maserati 250F to be truly competitive. Therefore, heading into the final, the decision would be made to withdraw and not start the race. Instead, the team would pack everything up and would head home to try and further prepare the T40 for a truly competitive run.
So instead of taking part, the Cooper Car Company team would have the opportunity to pack and watch Mike Hawthorn hold off a charging Harry Schell for the victory in the 15 lap final. Hawthorn would take the victory by a little more than a second over Schell while Roy Salvadori would trail along about 30 seconds back in 3rd place.
The car was still off the pace. The smaller engine in the lighter, aerodynamic car was proving to be no match for the larger engines powering the front-engined grand prix cars. So the team would need some more time.
Amazingly, time would be one luxury the team would not have. After leaving Crystal Palace and heading back home for a day or two, the team would quickly pack up and head far to the north for the T40's next race. The next race would come the next week on the 6th of August. The race would be far to the north at a former Royal Air Force training base known as Charterhall. The race would be the 3rd Daily Record Trophy race.
Infamous for being the base from which Richard Hillary launched in a Blenheim night fighter and later perished in a crash at a nearby farm, Charterhall would end up earning the rather disagreeable nickname ‘Slaughter Hall' because of the number of fatalities incurred being a night-fighter training base. Following the end of the Second World War, ‘Slaughter Hall' would quickly become used for speedy pursuits based much closer to the ground. One of those events that would come to be something of a regular at Charterhall would be the Daily Record Trophy race.
The Daily Record Trophy race would follow the London Trophy race in format in that it would consist of a couple of heat races and a final. The heat races would be 15 laps around the 2.0 mile circuit while the final would be 20 laps. The format would also follow the London Trophy race in that the heats were not in aggregate, and therefore, would be split amongst the entire field of drivers.
Once again, Brabham and the T40 would be listed in the second heat race. And, as with the London Trophy race, Brabham would have Bob Gerard in his heat along with Horace Gould, Leslie Marr and even Louis Rosier.
The first heat would consist of mostly just regional British drivers driving Formula 2 machinery while the second heat would consist of Formula 2 and Formula One cars.
Seeing that the start/finish straight was along one of Charterhall's main runways, the number of cars allocated to each row would be a bit more than normal. Unfortunately, the starting grids for either of the heat races would be something of a mystery. What is known about the first heat race, however, is that Mike Anthony powered his way to the victory in a Bristol-powered Lotus 10 beating out Alex McMillan and Jimmy Somervail. Attrition, in even a short 15 lap race, would be relatively high with four cars failing to make it to the finish.
Bob Gerard was known as a feisty competitor and had a way of making an underpowered car over-achieve. Well, coming to the Daily Record Trophy race, Gerard would find himself on equal terms with any of the other Formula One cars in the field. He would be at the wheel of Stirling Moss' Maserati 250F and would use it to great effect during the second heat race as he would post the fastest lap of the heat and would take the victory by about 15 seconds over Horace Gould in another 250F. Leslie Marr, in the streamlined Connaught B-Type would have the advantage over the underpowered T40 piloted by Brabham. Marr would beat Anthony's time from the first heat but would still be some 22 seconds behind just Gould in 2nd place. Brabham would come through across the line nearly 10 seconds after that in the 4th position. Still, Brabham's finishing time, not surprisingly, was still better than Anthony's in the Formula 2 Lotus-Bristol 10. The only car not to finish from the second heat would be yet another 250F, this one driven by Louis Rosier.
The first and second heats completed, it was time to set the grid for the 20 lap final. Once again, finishing times would be used to determine starting order. As a result, Bob Gerard would start from pole. He would be joined, however, by four other competitors including Horace Gould in 2nd place, Leslie Marr in 3rd, Jack Brabham in 4th and Michael Young in 5th, the final spot on the front row.
Facing the Formula One machines, the Formula 2 cars, like Mike Anthony's Lotus-Bristol 10, would have a tall order to overcome. Not surprisingly, the disadvantage would be too great to overcome and Anthony would be out of the race after just 5 laps.
Bob Gerard would be in a strong position with Stirling Moss' Maserati. Known as a tough competitor, even in underpowered cars, he would find he had an advantage over those, like Gould, that had good cars, but were just not as talented as he.
Jack Brabham would prove he had the talent, just not the best car as he would beat Leslie Marr for the 4th place position and would continue to hold him off throughout the whole of the race.
The man Brabham could not hold back, because he had the car and the talent, was Louis Rosier. A fuel system problem in the second heat race would cause him to be the only driver to fail to finish the heat. He would get the problem rectified but would be faced with starting the final from the back of the grid. He would overcome this and would match Gerard setting the fastest lap of the race with a time of 1:23.5. This would catapult Rosier from the tail-end of the grid, past Brabham and the others, and would leave him trying to track down Horace Gould for 2nd place.
Averaging a little more than 83mph, Gerard would be far enough out front that he would not be under too much of a threat from Rosier. In Brabham's case, the T40 seemed to be really working and he continued to keep Marr behind him.
Gerard would be too strong for everyone else. He would cruise to victory, crossing the line ahead of Horace Gould, who would manage to hold off Louis Rosier for 2nd place. Jack Brabham and the T40 would look rather impressive in the final. Completing the race on the same lap as Gerard, Brabham and the T40 finally showed a bit of speed and promise. This would help Brabham finish the race in 4th place.
Although the race was not near the length of the British Grand Prix, Brabham and the T40 seemed to be well-united in its efforts in the Daily Record Trophy race. The car performed well and would be rewarded as a result. It would also go to show the prowess of both Cooper Car Company and Jack Brabham, something the Formula One world would become quite well aware of by the end of the decade.
Following the result in the Daily Record Trophy race Brabham and the T40 would return to the south of England. The next event the two would be entered in would come the very next weekend, the 13th of August. The event was the 3rd RedeX Trophy race and Brabham and the T40 would be entered in the race. However, the car would not be entered under the Cooper Car Company name. Instead, the car would be entered under Brabham's own name.
Enter the car under his own name, and the 4th place result that would come despite the presence of such talented drivers as Stirling Moss, Harry Schell, Ken Wharton and Roy Salvadori could have been one of those moments Brabham would tuck away in his memory, but that would eventually inspire him to leave Cooper to form his own team.
In the race, though he would finish more than 20 seconds behind, Brabham and the T40 would finally be seen battling it out amongst the 250Fs, Connaught B-Types and the Vanwalls it had been intended to have straight-up battles with. The car was proving the point.
The late success of the T40 would be enough to inspire Brabham to take the car from Cooper and head back to his native Australia to compete in the Australian Grand Prix. This would prove to be a success venture as he and the car would go on to take the victory. Following the success in the race and in some other events Brabham would sell the pale-green car and would return to Europe.
When he returned, he and Cooper would set out to truly revolutionize Formula One.