TeamsVandervell Products: 1959 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Tony Vandervell's team had come away from the 1958 season the inaugural constructors' World Champions. They had barely missed out on the drivers' title as well. It had been a good season, but it had come at a great cost, a cost Vandervell could no longer bear.
The new regulations seemed squarely aimed at them. The move to avgas greatly concerned Vandervell and his team about the reliability of the Vanwall's engine. Initial fears would be confirmed when Moss struggled throughout the first part of the season, relying upon his point scored with other cars in other teams. And yet, there was Tony Brooks. When Moss failed he seemed more than capable of picking up the pieces and keeping Vandervell in the championship picture.
Then came the late runs at Portugal, Italy and Morocco. Though the drivers' title had slipped through Stirling's fingers, the Vanwalls would prove the best over the course of the season and the team would come away the champions. But the terrible loss of Stuart Lewis-Evans in Morocco, and Vandervell's own health problems were cause enough for the whole thing to come to an end at the end of the year.
But it wasn't to be the final chapter.
All of the drivers would move on. Stirling would bounce around between Rob Walker's team and British Racing Partnership. Tony Brooks, on the other hand, would leave British racing green behind for the red of Scuderia Ferrari. The two teammates were now rivals pitted squarely against each other.
The first half of the season would see contrasting results. While Moss would struggle and fail mightily to even finish a race, Brooks would score a 2nd place at Monaco and then would survive the terrible heat and drama in Reims to score victory in the French Grand Prix. Brooks was in the championship hunt; Moss was not. But then there was the British Grand Prix.
Scuderia Ferrari and Tony Brooks had come away with a thrilling victory in Reims. It was a cold and calculated drive on a blistering day when everyone else seemed to be succumbing to the terrible heat. Mike Hawthorn had scored a dominant win the year before and Brooks only followed that performance with a dominant one of his own. There were just a couple of weeks in between the French and British rounds of the World Championship but Scuderia Ferrari would return home to prepare their cars for the coming event. This would prove to be a mistake.
Strikes all over Italy would prove to be the most effective way to prohibit Ferrari's success. The team could do nothing and could go nowhere. There was a race rapidly approaching, and yet, no sense of national pride in motorsport could break the strike. Ferrari was not leaving its native land and Brooks would find himself right in the middle of a championship fight without a ride.
In spite of the tragic and horrifying happenings in Morocco nearly a year earlier, Tony Vandervell would come to Brooks' rescue. Though he had left Formula One, Vandervell would not leave Brooks without a ride, and a chance at helping out his championship chances. Therefore, a Vanwall would be pulled out of mothballs and would be updated for the race.
Not only did Brooks need to be at the British Grand Prix, but it just wouldn't be the same not to have a Vanwall back at the site of its amazing triumph in 1957. The British Grand Prix would be held at Aintree in '57 and it would end with Tony Brooks and Stirling Moss combining their efforts to bring home the first British car to win its home grand prix. It would be a momentous occasion that wouldn't repeat itself at Silverstone the following year. Perhaps, just perhaps, with Brooks at the wheel, the hands of time could be reversed and the Vanwall have one more moment in the sun at the circuit that helped establish its legend.
Practice would get underway and it would quickly become apparent that even a year's worth of development had gone a long way. Jack Brabham would finish on pole with a lap time of 1:58.0. Roy Salvadori and Harry Schell would complete the front row having just a little more than a second being the difference. Brooks, on the other hand, would be more than five seconds off the pace despite the fact he was driving a lightweight version of their famous Vanwall. That quickly the Vanwall had become obsolete. Starting from the seventh row of the grid in the 17th position, thoughts would turn from victory to at least coming away with some points.
Rain had made an appearance at different times throughout the practice sessions. However, the conditions would be beautiful as everyone prepared for the start of the race on the 18th of July. The race would be 75 laps around the 3.0 mile Aintree circuit. The grid was covered with British racing green and other British makes. The absence of Ferrari only made things clearer as the center of the Formula One world would be surely shifting to British shores.
The drop of the flag would see the Cooper driven by Brabham sprint into the lead. Behind the Australian there would be an enthralling fight for 2nd place that would see drivers change positions almost each and every lap. Brooks would get away from the grid well and would actually be a few places up at the conclusion of the first lap. Though the Vanwall was simply too slow in practice, Brooks had proven himself that last couple of years and if there was anyone that could make a car last, and be fast, it was he.
Brabham would continue to lead the way, pulling out an advantage over the 2nd place person that would be Schell for a short period of time before Moss would assume the position. Brooks would hold station just outside the top ten, waiting for attrition to help his cause. However, attrition would prove to help the cause of his competitors only as his Vanwall would give up the fight after just 12 laps. Pulling his beaten car into the infield section of the track, the Vanwall had suffered brake and ignition troubles. The car had been retired from racing at the end of the '58 season and it certainly seemed clear it wasn't willing to come out of retirement.
Vandervell had brought one of his cars to Aintree to write one more glorious chapter in its short, but wildly successful existence. Instead, it would be a conclusion filled with disappointment and memories most would want to forget.
Brabham would be in the lead and would continue to pull out an advantage over Moss. At one point the advantage would be around 15 seconds. This gap would stabilize for a good portion of the race until Moss determined to track down the Cooper. By this point in time attrition had taken a toll on the field. Brooks would be out along with Hans Herrmann, Ian Burgess and Jo Bonnier. The once enthralling battle for 2nd place had truly come to nothing as the cars became spread out looking to survive instead of being caught up in battling tooth and nail.
Moss was up for a fight. He had been suffering from unreliability all season long but it seemed this day his BRM was up for the challenge. He would begin to hunt down Brabham for the lead. He would pick up the pace and would drop the gap down to around 10 seconds. But then, just when everyone expected a late battle for the lead, Moss would pull into the pits having need of a new tire. The fight for the lead was no longer joined and Moss would find himself, instead, facing a battle from Bruce McLaren for 2nd place.
Moss and McLaren would have nary enough room for another car between them heading into the final few laps of the race. Moss would set the fastest lap of the race and would be later matched by McLaren on the last lap as he tried desperately to get by Moss and make his own mark within Formula One.
Brabham had made his mark right at the start of the race. By jumping to the lead, the Australian could control the pace and would have an advantage with the rear-engined Cooper around the corners of Aintree. Though he would not set the fastest lap of the race, Brabham would be consistently fast enough over the course of the 75 lap race to never be under any serious threat. The Cooper driver would flash across the line to take the victory. All eyes would be straining back toward the last corner as Moss and McLaren carried their fight into the last lap.
McLaren's fastest lap time on the last lap would pull him right up behind Moss heading into the final corner, but Moss had been in this position so many times in the last few years. He knew exactly what to do in that last corner. He was not the hunted. Putting the power down and walking the BRM out of the corner, Moss would end up beating McLaren to the line by just two-tenths of a second.
Brooks would already be cleaned up and the Vandervell team finishing packing by the time the race reached its climax. Brooks had been able to take part in the race, but it was little more than a consolation given the brevity. While Moss would finally get his season started, it was clear it was time to say goodbye to the Vanwall. Brooks would be in a Ferrari in the next race of the season. The Vanwall in Formula One, a car which had become a truly dominant car in 1957, had reached the end of its useful life.
It would be a rather sad last chapter to the Vanwall story. It was understandable the desire for a better ending. Certainly there had been the championship and Moss' incredible performance at the Ain-Diab circuit, but it would be muted a good deal by Vandervell's declining health and Lewis-Evans' tragic and fatal accident. But, to watch the once mighty Vanwall rummaging into the grass out of the race and well off the pace…it would be a comeback that was forgettable and certainly not befitting a champion, friend or no friend. Thankfully, it would be all over and the memories that would remain would be filled with success and of turning the tide within Formula One.