It is with great sadness that the last of the 1950’s generation of Formula 1 drivers has died today. Tony Brooks, known as the ‘Flying Dentist’ was considered one of those drivers famous for having never won the F1 drivers championship, despite clearly having the talent to do so, in much the same manner as Sir Stirling Moss.
Tony Brooks’ death was announced by his daughter Giulia on Tuesday. Fangio, Ascari, Moss, and Brooks were the most successful drivers of the era.
. . . was born in 1932, in Cheshire, England, and studied to follow his father into dentistry until, at the age of 20, he took up racing a Healy sports car for fun until, in 1955, he drove a F2 Connaught at the Crystal Palace circuit in South London, and finished fourth – behind three F1 cars.
Today the almost unknown Brooks has six claims to fame: he scored a win in his first GP (albeit a non- Championship event), the 1955 Syracuse GP; which was the first GP win for a British driver in a British car since Henry Seagrave won the 1923 French GP in a Sunbeam; sharing his Vanwall with Moss he won the first World Championship race in a British car, the 1957 British GP; he won more GP in the 50’s other than Ascari, Fangio and Moss; and was placed second in the World Championship in 1959.
Stirling Moss and Jack Brabham, considered Brooks to be one of their most feared competitors from 1957-59, when he won six of the twenty-one GP races he started, had seven further podium finishes, three pole positions and three fastest laps.
Brooks made his F1 GP appearance in a one-off BRM drive in the 1956 British GP (when BRM was embarrassingly having to enter a Maserati 250F while they awaited their own car), where he crashed, being thrown from the car and suffering a broken jaw – but his drive impressed Tony Vandervell and Brooks joined Moss at Vanwall the following year.
There were far fewer GP races in the 50’s but a large number of drivers, most of them privateers. There was a distinction back then, not heard today, of a private drive versus a ‘works’ drive. a normal part of GP racing until the FIA decided to outlaw it, although the subject is now starting to be re-voiced, under the title, ‘customer car’.
In 1957 there were just seven races, of which Vanwall entered six, not being ready for the long haul to Argentina for the opening race, and Brooks and Moss didn’t appear in France – thus having just a five-race season… Thirty- six drivers entered at least one GP… but… only two of them started in all seven races – Fangio, and American, Harry Schell.
In only his second GP (after the ersatz BRM drive the previous year) Brooks finished second to Fangio at Monaco (which would have been like Bottas finishing behind Vettel, at Melbourne this year) and he shared the winning car with Moss (who had started from pole, and posted fastest lap) in Britain (the first ever victory of a British car in a F1 World Championship event), to finish fifth in the Championship, behind Fangio, Moss, Musso, and Hawthorn.
At the end of 1957 the FIA interfered, possibly unhappy that the new British teams were getting too big for their boots… (Know what I mean… Cor blimey… Do what…? Knock it on the ‘ead… As it ’appens… Do leave orf…) and banned methanol/alcohol based fuel… which caused Vanwall and BRM, whose wide-bore engines were dependent upon the methanol to aid cooling, to miss the first race of 1958. Oddly Ferrari were not affected by this change… 😉
This was the year newcomer, Bernard C. Ecclestone, entered a team of ageing Connaughts in just two races, Monaco and Britain… and Ferrari were now the only non-British works team in F1 alongside BRM, Cooper, Vanwall, and Lotus – just two or three years since any British entry was laughed at by fans – even in Britain. Brooks stayed with Vanwall and won arguably the three most arduous GP of any season, at Spa, Nurburgring and Monza, and Vanwall won the first ever Constructors Championship – and remains the only front-engined car to do so.
Moss had earlier won in Buenos Aires in a private Cooper, and Maurice Trintignant had used the same car, to win in Monaco – with a 2.0 litre engine alongside the 2.5 litres of the main contenders – it was the end for front engines.
Brooks qualified on Pole for Monaco but all three Vanwalls retired with overheating/engine problems. Graham Hill also retired his Lotus, having briefly led his first GP…
At Spa, after starting from fifth, Brooks beat Hawthorn by twenty seconds. This race recorded the first F1 race start, and finish, for a woman: Maria Teresa de Filippis, who only started two other races, and retired from both, at the age of 31.
After two bad races for Brooks fickle Lady Luck de-camped in Germany from Ferrari to Vanwall – and Brooks won, ahead of two Coopers, moving him up to third in the Championship standings behind Hawthorn and Moss. In Portugal Brooks spun into retirement but at Monza, while both his teammates had mechanical problems, Brooks took his third victory, twenty-four seconds ahead of Hawthorn… in just his 14th GP.
Finally the circus arrived in Morocco, with Moss and Hawthorn vying for the Championship – Brooks had a mathematical chance of second but retired at half distance and accepted third place in the Championship. Moss took his fourth win but Hawthorn came home second – his fifth of the year which, with his single win, made him Britain’s first Champion. Incidentally, Jack Brabham, who would win the very next race, and the Champion’s crown, the following year, gave not even a hint of this possibility by finishing down in eighteenth place.
Like most seasons back then 1958 had its share of tragedies, especially for Ferrari and for 1959, they signed the suddenly available Brooks. In Morocco Vanwall’s very talented newcomer, Stuart Lewis-Evans, had been killed in
a horrifying crash, caused by a car failure. Tony Vandervell apparently never fully recovered from this tragedy and withdrew his team at the end of the year. For Ferrari it was a ‘no-brainer’ – in three months, they had lost Musso and Collins, Hawthorn and Fangio had retired, Moss preferred to Drive British, Roy Salvadori perhaps sounded too Italian(?), Schell seemed happy with BRM, Behra was fast but inconsistent, and their existing drivers, von Trips and newcomer Phil Hill, were not proven winners.
1959 had just eight GP races. The four main constructors were joined by the late arrival of Aston Martin, with their already out-dated front-engined design. A total of fifty-five drivers entered, during the year, but only four drivers competed in every GP…
As with many of the drivers in this list Brooks seemed to have only one real chance at the World Championship. In 1958 he had been up against the speed of Moss and the reliability of Ferrari – in 1959 he had to deal with the speed and reliability of Cooper-Climax, and Jack Brabham… and nobody had quite been expecting that – even Colin Chapman had yet to embrace the rear-engine concept. By the last race of 1958 Brooks had confirmed third place in the Championship, but in 1959 he went into the last race, at Sebring, as a contender with Moss and Brabham.
In Monaco Brooks qualified fourth, behind Brabham, and that’s how they finished, twenty seconds apart, though in first and second places. Holland saw another unexpected result as Jo Bonnier won his only GP, the first win for a Swedish driver – and the first for BRM, after a decade of alternate promise and failure – while Brooks retired.
At ultra-fast Rheims, one of the most exciting road/street circuits ever, Ferrari power was supreme. Brooks qualified on pole and led the fifty laps to victory, putting himself back into second in the Championship – the heat was breaking up the tarmac and several drivers had holed radiators, and shards of goggles-glass in their face.
The fiery Behra retired from third place with a blown engine, and had a heated exchange with team-manager, Tavoni, which ended in a knockout punch, and resulted in Behra’s dismissal. Behra also threatened a journalist with a black-eye if he wrote anything bad again… but then petulantly added: “It’s not worth waiting for the next time,” and the writer also hit the deck. Three weeks later Behra would die in a support race at the German GP.
In Britain, Moss drove a private BRM (later to become the first team to sell out to a sponsor, becoming Yeoman Credit Racing – the finance house paid £40,000 Sterling for the team, and provided £20,000/year to run it… Red Bull eat your heart out…) finishing second to Brabham who was on pole, and led from flag to flag. Brabham’s young teammate, Bruce McLaren, had started from eighth, and had run in second before being pipped by 0.2 secs. by Moss. These two also shared the fastest lap, making McLaren the youngest driver at 21 to take fastest lap – it would be 44 years before his record was broken, by Fernando Alonso, who was just one day younger… Not many people know that…
Ferrari had been sidelined by a strike in Italy but Brooks was able to get his old Vanwall out of mothballs, retiring after thirteen laps. As a complete aside, this race saw the first appearance of the totally private, one-off, JBW car, from Stockport, England, which, in three seasons, entered just six events, finishing in one, and whose best performance was an amazing seventh place on the Monza grid in 1960… JBW was the first team to follow the Cooper lead, and put their Maserati engine in the rear… and I doubt anybody knew that…!
The German GP was held at the notorious AVUS circuit in West Berlin, consisting of a nearly 4km. straight of autobahn – a mad dash down one side, a wide-radius u-turn to the opposite carriageway, a mad dash back again, and a very steep, and lethal, banked curve at the other end – pure power, top speed, and sheer nerve gave Ferrari a clean sweep. Brooks took pole, fastest lap and first place.
Brooks failed to score in Portugal and Italy… and he, Moss and Brabham all went Stateside with hopes of the Championship – Brabham had 31pts.; Moss: 25.5; Brooks: 23… Brooks needed to win, without Brabham scoring, and Moss third or lower; Moss needed second, if Brabham didn’t score. Brabham wasn’t complacent.
Although the Americans had apparently wanted this race to take place (it wasn’t sold to them by Ecclestone…) they had a strangely corrupt way of running it. Despite Phil Hill being a potential winner for Ferrari Alec Ulman bizarrely (and illegally, it seems) invited Indy-500 winner, Roger Ward, to enter his ‘dirt-track midget’, who arrogantly asserted he would, “blow them all off the road on the corners,” even though, “those sports cars you have in Europe might be faster on the straights.” On the first practice lap the two Coopers swept past at the first corner. Ward qualified nineteenth, and last, to eat humble pie, and his hat… “Those European buggies sure take corners fast.”
Then Harry Schell, who had qualified eleventh was, overnight, mysteriously ‘given’ third, allegedly by dint of a fast lap right at the end of qualifying… which nobody had noticed… Ferrari led protests from most of the other teams, because Brooks had been demoted to fourth, and pushed back to the second row. Apparently the shouting continued even through The Star-Spangled Banner… after which Schell started from third. It was later alleged that Schell, unseen, had taken a short-cut and recorded a time six seconds faster. Even so, a brief check of the Sebring map shows that the claimed short-cut could have taken almost a minute off the time… suggesting that Schell’s ‘deception’ was a scape-goat for the officials. ‘You might think that. I couldn’t possibly comment.’
Moss led away from Pole but after five laps (just after Schell’s clutch packed up…) his season-long Collotti gearbox-bug struck again, and Brabham took over. Poor Brooks, in the wrong place on the grid, was hit from behind by his own teammate, von Trips, in the first turn (This practice is not just a contemporary phenomenon…), stopped to check for damage, and worked his way back to fourth, but behind the three Coopers of Brabham, McLaren and Trintignant.
But Lady Luck was as fickle as ever and now took pity on Brooks… As Brabham came to within 400 yards of the finish, having dominated the race for all but the first five laps, he ran out of fuel. As McLaren slowed, perhaps thinking of exchanging cars, Brabham frantically waved him on and he became the youngest GP winner, at 22 – it would be forty years before that record was broken. Brooks took third, behind Trintignant, but it was never going to be enough – although he lost two minutes in the pits he was three minutes behind at the end. Brabham, unable to give up, and not knowing the result, pushed his Cooper up the slope to the finish, and collapsed…
It had been a season of ifs, buts, and maybes… and Brooks, through no fault of his own, failed… as did Moss. All three drivers won two races each. Moss started on pole four times, and Brooks twice. Moss had four fastest laps; Brooks had one. Brabham had one of each. But… Moss had one additional podium; Brooks had two; Brabham had three… and that ultimately gave him the crown.
. . . saw a number of changes: BRM and Lotus had rear-engined cars, Aston Martin only entered two events before deciding their best interests lay elsewhere, and the Scarab team arrived from California… but only achieved one start/finish from nine entries. The car was svelte and rather beautiful – but front-engined…! In Brooks’ opinion 1960 was a bigger turning point than 1959, when Cooper had won races almost to their own surprise. Now that everybody was thinking ‘rear-engine’ a new generation of engineers came to prominence and Cooper also produced a brand new car that made the 1959 T51 almost obsolete – something that wasn’t normal in F1.
Brooks had started a business in England, and (allegedly) wanted to stay close so, after just one season, he and Ferrari parted company – perhaps his first mistake… Brooks had also been in talks with Tony Vandervell to ‘resurrect’ the Vanwall team but, during the winter, Vandervell fell ill, and also lost enthusiasm, and Brooks was effectively left out in the cold. After missing the opening round in Argentina, Brooks joined the poorly organised Yeoman Credit team, running 1959 Coopers… and was only able to score one fourth and two fifth places – Brooks had had his chance at the Championship and been unable to capitalise on it. In France he even tried his 1958 Vanwall again, without success, and he finished the season in eleventh place.
Ferrari meanwhile had tried out six drivers during the year, only two of whom did a full season, with Phil Hill the best of them. He also went on to take the 1961 Championship title… If only Tony had waited… he might not have appeared on this list…
. . . saw the introduction of the tiny 1-5 litre formula and Brooks joined Graham Hill at BRM… although their only success during the year was Brooks’ third place in the final round… After finishing in the points only twice, one of them on the podium, Brooks made a quiet exit from F1… typical of a man who arrived quietly, maintained a low profile while twice coming close to being crowned Champion, who seemed never to seek publicity, nor received it. This retirement was perhaps his second mistake… as his teammate, Graham Hill, went on the take the 1962 Championship title.
Tony Brooks was ever aware of the inherent dangers of motor-racing (during the main years of his career, 1956-60, twenty F1 drivers died from track accidents) and perhaps felt there was little point in taking the risks for occasional finishes in the points. Instead he developed his garages/ showrooms in the Surrey area, but never returned to dentistry – the ‘Flying Dentist’ hung up both his hats. Stirling Moss later asserted that if he were running a Grand Prix team, and could have any two drivers from history in his cars, they would be Jim Clark and Tony Brooks. “I suppose that my choice of Tony would be a surprise to some people, but to my mind he is the greatest ‘unknown’ racing driver there has ever been – I say ‘unknown’, because he’s such a modest man that he never became a celebrity, as such. But as a driver, boy, he was top drawer..”
When Fangio was planning his retirement, at the end of 1957, he was asked who would succeed him as World Champion. He instantly named Tony Brooks…
THE ABOVE HISTORY OF TONY BROOKS WAS TAKEN FROM A SERIES OF ARTICLES ENTITLED “The Top-20 F1 GP Drivers who did NOT win a championship” – click the links below for other drivers histories in this series.
2nd – José Froilán González
3rd – Jacky Ickx
4th – Carlos Reutemann
5th – Ronnie Peterson
6th – Gerhard Berger
7th – Juan Pablo Montoya
8th – Giles Villeneuve
9th – David Coulthard
10th – Felipe Massa
11th – Mark Webber
12th – Tony Brooks
13th – Rene Arnoux
14th – Rubens Barrichello
15th – Dan Gurney
16th – Clay Regazzoni
17th – Didier Pironi
18th – Richie Ginther
19th – Francois Cevert
20th – Peter Collins