TeamsBob Gerard: 1957 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
It had become increasingly clear over the course of the previous couple of seasons that the day of the privateer entry in a Formula One World Championship race were numbered. Without factory support there was very little opportunity and chance for a single entry to break through and earn a points-paying result, even on the worst of days for the mighty factory efforts. Therefore, after having made a reputation for himself in the lower formulas of racing, Bob Gerard would focus his attentions entirely on Formula 2, well almost entirely.
All throughout those couple of years when the new Formula One regulations returned after the Formula 2 era in the World Championship, Bob Gerard would take his lesser-powered Formula 2 chassis and would manage to come away with strong results in the face of new Formula One competition.
The field wasn't entirely stacked against Gerard. Though he would still make use of a car that had been used throughout the Formula 2 era, he would take and increase the size of the engine he used. While he wouldn't go up to the 2.5-liter limit he would still use an engine slightly larger than 2.0-liters. This, and his smooth and methodical driving style, would combine to give Gerard results that didn't seem entirely possible given the competition.
Gerard had taken part in his first World Championship race in over a year when he took part in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1956. Finishing the race in 12th place more than 13 laps behind the eventual winner Juan Manuel Fangio made it all the more clear the days of the privateer were virtually over and that his own Cooper-Bristol was now too old to really compete.
In fact, the best result Gerard would come away with over the course of the 1956 season would be a 2nd place in the 1st Aintree ‘100' held in the middle of June. This race would be void of many of the top international drivers but would still be a good result. Other than that, there would be a 4th place finish behind the wheel of a B-Type Connaught in the non-championship Glover Trophy race as part of the Easter Monday Races held at Goodwood very early on in the season. There would also be another 4th place in the International Trophy race, but that would come in a race that would see attrition take away nearly all of the major competitors.
It was obvious Gerard had the talent to take a good car and make it do great things, but within the Formula One ranks this was becoming harder and harder to do against newer and newer machinery.
In the off-season, Gerard would look to upgrade his equipment. Purchasing a Cooper-Bristol Formula 2 car, Gerard would set about making it his own. Making adjustments here and refining the car there, the BGT43, as it would become known, would be ready for the start of the season. Perhaps recognizing the future of Formula One, Gerard would take the Formula 2 Cooper-Bristol and would revise and evolve it into a Formula One version of the Formula 2 car. He had done this before and it had worked rather well. He would attempt to repeat history.
Gerard would take delivery of his Cooper-Bristol rather late and would take even more time making his changes and revisions to the car. Therefore, Gerard wouldn't even take part in his first race of the season until about the middle of the season. He could not have picked a bigger race in which to kick off the year, and it would be proof that competing in Formula One was still on the forefront of his mind.
Gerard had been one of the first to take part in motor races on the purpose-built Aintree Circuit just to the west of Liverpool. Driving in Formula 3 races in 1954, Aintree was by no means a new circuit for Gerard. But, when it came to Aintree as host for the British Grand Prix, Gerard had missed the only other time in which the circuit had played host for the British round of the World Championship. That would change on the 20th of July.
Gerard had taken and made the changes he wanted to the Cooper T43. He would hope these changes would earn him a better chance against the Formula One competition. Thankfully, he would complete the changes and revisions in enough time to make it possible to travel to Aintree and take part in the 5th round of the 1957 Formula One World Championship.
Aintree had formerly only been the home of the famed Grand National before it began hosting motor races around a 3.0 mile purpose-built circuit in 1954. Gerard had been one of the first to take part in races at the circuit. In 1957, he would find himself arriving at the circuit amidst a sea of the best factory teams in all the world. Officine Alfieri Maserati would bring four of their 250Fs. Scuderia Ferrari would also have four of their 801 chassis. Then there would be the Vandervell Products and Owen Racing teams. These represented the best British factory teams and were certainly ones Gerard would have to watch out for during the weekend.
Although he had made some changes to the T43 to make it his own, Gerard's Cooper still could not compete with the speed of the Vanwalls piloted by Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks. The last time Aintree had hosted the British Grand Prix Moss had sat on pole in his Mercedes. Two year later, Moss would again be on pole, but with a British marque. Moss' lap of 2:00.2 would end up two-tenths of a second faster than Jean Behra who would start in 2nd place. Tony Brooks would complete the front row in a second Vanwall being mere hundredths of a second slower than Behra.
The fastest of the Formula 2 cars would be Jack Brabham in one of the Cooper-Climax T43s. His time of 2:07.0 would lead him to start the race from the 5th row of the grid. Gerard's best time, even with his revised chassis, would be 2:12.6. This would lead to Gerard starting from the 7th row of the grid in the 18th position.
The previous edition of the British Grand Prix at Aintree had been a beautifully sunny day but it would be very hot. The 1957 edition would see the skies overcast but the track completely dry. The temperatures would also be a bit more bearable than before.
Lining the cars up on the grid amongst an incredible crowd of enthusiastic British racing fans, all seemed to be well until the drivers took their places behind the wheel and the engines were started. All of the other cars would start up fine and would be pushed into their final grid positions. Gerard's Cooper, however, would not fire. His crew would resort to pushing the car and trying to get it to start that way. Finally, just before the flag would drop to start the race the car would fire and Gerard would be ready to take part in his first British Grand Prix at Aintree.
Some 90 laps lay ahead of Gerard as he peeled away from the grid. Smoke would be pouring from the exhaust and it seemed to signal that his race would come to an end before Waterway Corner. This was not to be as he would make it through the corner and carry on. First through the corner would be Behra followed by Moss and Hawthorn. It wouldn't take too long however before Moss would make his way by Behra into the lead.
At the end of the first lap it would be Moss in the lead with Behra following along in 2nd place. Brooks and Hawthorn would be embroiled in a fight and Brooks would end up getting the better of Hawthorn at the end of the first lap. Gerard would manage to make it through the first lap and would actually cross the line in 16th position ahead of Jo Bonnier and Ivor Bueb.
Moss would look incredibly strong leading the way. Behra would look his usual steady self as he would begin to lose touch with Moss but would still be far enough ahead to hold onto 2nd place. Brooks would be suffering from injuries sustained in a race a couple of weeks earlier and would end up losing out to Hawthorn for 3rd place on the 2nd lap. Gerard would hold his position further back in the field. It was clear Gerard was going to use his smooth driving style to his advantage, hoping and praying that attrition would help him move forward in the order.
Throughout the first 20 laps of the race not much would change except Brooks' struggles as he would slip from 3rd down to 6th in the running order. Gerard, however, would find himself jump up to 14th by the 25th lap of the race.
At the same time that Gerard was moving up the order, Moss was quickly slipping down the order as a result of a stop to address a rough-running engine. Behra would take the lead and would take control of the event for more than 40 laps. Hawthorn ran in 2nd and Stuart Lewis-Evans ran in 3rd.
By the midway point of the race the running order would change quite a bit as a result of retirements. Behra would still be leading over Hawthorn and Lewis-Evans. However, Harry Schell, Fangio, Moss and Peter Collins would be all out of the race. Gerard, however, was not out of the running and he would use the attrition to his advantage to climb up to 9th place by the 55th lap of the race.
Moss would not be out of the race. Brooks and he had had an agreement before the race that if Moss had dropped out he would be able to take over Brooks' car. Brooks would come into the pits and Moss would take over. Unfortunately, Moss would return to the race down in 7th place with just half a race left to go.
Moss would be on a charge. Lapping faster and faster, Moss would soon find himself up to 4th place. However, he would be stuck right there for Hawthorn and Lewis-Evans would be quite a long way ahead up the road. But Moss was chasing them down. Soon, Moss would be behind these two but unable to get by. It seemed as though Moss would be relegated to finishing the race 4th.
Shifts and twists in a plot can happen in a moment and that would happen in just one lap. Behra's clutch would absolutely come apart while he was in the lead of the race. This would drop Behra out of the running immediately. However, there would be further trouble. The pieces from Behra's clutch would litter the track and would cause a puncture in Hawthorn's tire thereby dropping him out of the race as well. In all of the chaos, Moss would get by Lewis-Evans and would end up coming around and across the line in the lead of the race with just 20 laps remaining in the race.
Moss would be in the lead. Lewis-Evans would end up running into trouble and would drop down the order. Brabham would also retire from the race. Therefore, with just 15 laps remaining in the race Moss would be in the lead with Luigi Musso following along in a distant 2nd. Gerard, by this time, would use the troubles of others to ascend to 6th place in the running order.
It would be a remarkable day. Moss would stream across the line to take the victory; the first victory by a British marque in the British Grand Prix. Moss would repeat as champion of the British Grand Prix at Aintree. Musso would finish in 2nd place while Hawthorn would recover to finish in 3rd. But there, finishing in 6th place some 8 laps behind, would be Gerard. He had driven just as he usually had, as he was known by many racing enthusiasts. The result was a near points-paying result.
It would be a remarkable moment. Not only had Brooks and Moss combined to win the British Grand Prix but there would be no less than seven Brits in the top seven positions in the running order. One of them was reliable Gerard.
Gerard's start to the season could not have been much more positive given his 6th place result in the British Grand Prix at Aintree. However, it was more than obvious, even despite the changes to the Cooper T43 chassis, Gerard's car just could not compete with the mighty Formula One machines. One of the most unfortunate things would be the fact that Gerard would not be able to take part in any Formula 2 races either. To have a chance at a top result with his pseudo-Formula One car Gerard would have to pick the right race. There would really only be one race left on the calendar that seemed to fit the bill. On the 14th of September, Silverstone would play host to the 9th BRDC International Trophy race. This seemed to be the right choice.
The International Trophy race had certainly been affected by international events in 1957. The Suez Crisis was still a hot topic by early spring. The result of the actions varied but one of the most noticeable impacts would be seen in gas volume and price. This would force the BRDC, who would normally hold the International Trophy race at Silverstone in May, to decide and postpone the race until later in the year. The World Championship would come to an end in early September so it made sense to hold the non-championship race the week after the Italian Grand Prix.
The field for the race would be void of the major factory efforts but at least Owen Racing would come to the race with three of their BRM 25s. This provided the most serious Formula One threat out of a field two-thirds Formula 2 entries.
Not since 1954 had the International Trophy race been conducted in a heat race and final format, but it would be back in 1957. Two, 15 lap heat races would then lead to a 35 lap final. Gerard would find himself listed in the first heat race along with Jean Behra, Masten Gregory, Innes Ireland and others.
The starting grid for the first heat race would see Tony Brooks starting on pole in a Cooper-Climax T43. Behra, Ron Flockhart and Masten Gregory would round-out the front row in 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively. Gerard would use his vast experience around Silverstone to start the heat race from the third row of the grid in the 10th starting spot. Unfortunately, there would be nearly 9 seconds between himself and Brooks when it came to fastest lap times around the 2.9 mile circuit.
Although Brooks would start from the pole his race wouldn't even make it one lap as wheel problems would drop him out of the race right from the very beginning. This gave Behra clean sailing and he would absolutely destroy the field en route to a heat victory.
Cliff Allison and Tony Brooks would retire from the race but Gerard would be unable to move up the running order as a result of allowing Noel Cunningham-Reid, Les Leston and others through for position. Still, up against the stronger Formula One cars, Gerard would have to rely upon them making mistakes over the whole of the event in order to help move him up the order.
Behra would make no such mistake over the course of the first heat race. Posting a fastest lap time more than two and a half seconds faster than his own qualifying effort, Behra would cruise to an easy victory defeating Ron Flockhart in a second BRM by a margin of 44 seconds. Masten Gregory would complete the top three finishing 8 seconds behind Flockhart. Gerard would be steady throughout the first heat. He would make no mistakes and would make it to the finish without any problems, other than he wasn't as fast as Behra. Gerard would finish the first heat in 10th place more than a lap behind.
The second heat race would see Harry Schell on pole with Keith Hall, Ivor Bueb and Fred Wicken completing the front row. Despite some early pressure from Jack Brabham that would eventually fade, Schell would run a controlled race at the head of the field. Just needing to make it into the final, Schell would not hurry his pace much more than what he had to. The real fight would be behind him as just a couple of seconds would separate Brabham and Jo Bonnier heading into the final couple of laps.
Never under any real threat, Schell took an easy victory crossing the line in 26 minutes and 58 seconds. Brabham would manage to hold off Bonnier for 2nd by just 3 seconds in the end.
Both heat races completed it was time to set the stage for the 35 lap final. Finishing times by each competitor in their respective heat race would determine the starting order. And so, on pole would be Behra having completed the first heat race a full minute ahead of Schell's finishing time in the 2nd heat race. Flockhart would start in 2nd place. Gregory would be 3rd. Schell would complete the front row in the 4th position. Gerard's finishing time would result in him starting the final from the 5th row in the 16th position. Practically in the middle of the field, Gerard would need a lot of help to earn a top ten or top five result.
As the flag dropped to start the final, it would soon become apparent Gerard would need all kind of help just to crack the top 15. Behra would be leading the way with Schell and Flockhart running in 2nd and 3rd not that far behind. It was a BRM one-two-three, but could they stay that way? Could Gerard move up?
Yes, and, no. Except for Flockhart, who would come under pressure from Bonnier over the course of the race, the three BRMs would be the class of the field leading the way each and every time around. Further back, Gerard would have trouble staying in the top 15. Even despite Brooks, Ireland, Brabham and others retiring from the race Gerard would be hanging right around the top 15 unable to move forward any more than what he already had. Still, Gerard would stay smooth and steady and would not give in to the temptation of driving wildly. He would let the race come to him.
Up at the front, Behra would be leaving the race behind him. Posting the fastest lap of the race with a time just a second off of his fastest in the heat race, Behra would begin to draw away from Schell and Flockhart. Bonnier would continue to press Flockhart but the BRM driver would still be able to hold onto the position.
Gerard had gotten by Les Leston for 14th place and was trailing behind one Graham Hill too far to make any more headway. He would have to take the 14th place and be happy unless something would happen late in the race.
Behra would cruise to the victory. Completing the race distance in one hour, one minute and 30 seconds, Behra would take the victory by a minute and a half over Schell in another BRM. Flockhart would keep Owen Racing's dreams alive as he would come across the line in 3rd place to secure a BRM sweep of the podium.
It would be a frustrating race for Gerard. Despite being listed as a Formula One entry, Gerard would struggle with the Formula 2 cars and would be unable to really move forward. In the end, Gerard's season would come to an end with him finishing the race 3 laps behind in 14th position behind Hill.
The struggle to compete in the two races in which he contested would be disappointing for Gerard. The British factory teams were really beginning to come online and this seemed to reduce the days of the privateer, especially the British privateer, all the more. And so, after having contested a total of eight World Championship races going all the way back to the inaugural season in 1950, Gerard would retire from the Formula One World Championship never to race in it again.
In spite of being a small privateer, Bob's talents as a racing driver had done him well in the World Championship. Scoring back-to-back 6th place finishes in the 1950 British and Monaco Grand Prix, Gerard would add one last highlight to his Formula One racing career when he finished 6th again in the British Grand Prix at Aintree. In spite of the climate within Formula One, to have come away with a 6th place result in the British Grand Prix seemed to be the right time to walk away.
Although he would leave Formula One, Gerard would not leave the racing scene. He would continue to race in sportscars well into the 1960s. His wife, Joan, would also be an accomplished racer.
Even after he fully retired from racing in the 1960s, Gerard would continue to enter cars under his name all the way through the 1980s. In 1990, just one week after his 76th birthday, Gerard would die. Mallory Park, in his native Lecestershire, would honor Gerard and his on-track achievements by naming its most prominent bend Gerard's. It would be a fitting tribute that one of the circuit's most challenging and prominent bends would be named after the man who, by himself, would take on the most prominent of racing teams and would prove a challenging competitor.