#82 1959 Portuguese Grand Prix

2021-04-16 01:00

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#1959, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Rosita Raso, Luca Saitta,

#82 1959 Portuguese Grand Prix

Si disputa domenica 23 Agosto 1959, a Lisbona, il Gran Premio del Portogallo, sesta prova di Campionato del Mondo conduttori. È una corsa di sicuro in

On Sunday, 23 August 1959, the Portuguese Grand Prix, the sixth round of the World Drivers' Championship, was held in Lisbon. It is a race of certain interest, in view of the fight between Cooper and Ferrari, with their respective drivers Brabham and Brooks, for the World Championship title. Yet there does not seem to be among fans the anticipation that would have been normal in other times. The crisis in motor sport - understood in its most difficult and important manifestation, namely Formula 1 racing - is largely a consequence of the crisis of great drivers. The phenomenon is not new, just as the chain of fatal accidents that has thinned the small ranks of champions to a frightening extent is not a painful characteristic of recent years. The difference is that, whereas in other eras these champions were far more numerous and quite easily replaced, today there are few and far between, with the exception of England, where an inverse process is taking place. The number of recently deceased racing drivers is unfortunately very high. In the last two years alone, and limiting the count to grand prix riders such as Luigi Musso, Peter Collins, Stuart Lewis-Evans, Archie Scott-Brown, Peter Whitehead, Mike Hawthorn (victim of an accident after giving up racing), Ivor Bueb, Jean Behra. Particularly harsh was the tribute paid by the Italians who had previously lost Alberto Ascari and Eugenio Castelletti.


Yet - not to sound cynical - the percentage of racers who die in racing or from racing accidents is no higher today than it was in the past. At one time, i.e. up to the Second World War, far fewer races were held during the season, and yet in the period 1933-1938 no less than a dozen famous racers lost their lives, including Campati, Borzacchini, Rosemeyer, Seaman, Emilio Villoresi, Birkin, Marazza and Ciaikowsky. Today's races - it is good to dispel this cliché once again - are no more dangerous than those of the past. On the contrary, the technical format that regulates the construction characteristics of mechanical means, in certain periods, made possible significantly higher engine power and top speeds than the Formula 1 of these years allows. And in any case, the dynamic qualities of racing cars have improved infinitely, not to mention brakes, tyres and tracks. You can argue all you want or disapprove of this sport in which man and machine are equal participants, but the assertion that the means are inadequate for the purpose is out of touch with reality. The fact remains that while the ranks of drivers are thinning, replacements are becoming sparser and more difficult, despite the growing number of young people taking up motor racing. It is a problem that seems insoluble, and in some respects incomprehensible. Nor would we say that the albeit praiseworthy attempts to train new drivers through theoretical-practical courses attempted by some bodies can make a concrete contribution to a different approach to the matter.


But meanwhile, public interest, especially in Italy, is waning. Crowds want big names, in any form of entertainment, sporting or otherwise. In Argentina, motor racing was virtually unknown, until ten years ago: Fangio was enough to make it the second national sport. In contrast, an astonishing situation is developing in England, which until a few years ago had always been stingy with great drivers and famous racing cars. Suddenly one and the other have blossomed - and one would say that the phenomenon is far from over: new initiatives by small and medium-sized constructors continue to spring up, and each season brings top-class racers to the fore. With the great Hawthorn and Collins gone, Moss is considered the best driver in the world in activity, and this year Brabham (Australian by birth, but, motoristically speaking, of English school) has come out, and McLaren (New Zealander), Graham Hill, Allison, Flockhart seem very promising. In Great Britain - these are the reasons for such a flourishing situation - there are hundreds of clubs that organise race after race. There are manufacturers, such as John Cooper or Colin Chapman's Lotus, who can provide excellent racing cars at affordable prices: above all, there is a sporting and competitive spirit perhaps unknown elsewhere, where motor racing is approached with strict commitment. And the manufacturers, in such fertile ground, can develop their programmes with absolute serenity. The slogan is circulating in England today: towards a World Championship with an English driver and engine.


The Portuguese Grand Prix, the sixth round of the Formula 1 Drivers' World Championship, will be held at the Monsanto circuit, near Lisbon. No races for Formula 1 cars have been held on this road course so far; sports cars have competed here on occasion. The length of the circuit is 5425 metres, with only one kilometre of complete straight. It is therefore a relatively slow circuit, allowing average speeds of no more than, we suspect, 150 km/h. This characteristic, according to the results obtained in the tests that have taken place so far, would seem to be favourable to the handling and agility of the British Cooper cars, at the wheel of one of which is Australian Jack Brabham, currently leading the World Championship standings with 27 points, against the 23 of Tony Brooks, the Ferrari's first driver. On the basis of these tenuous elements it should be concluded that on Sunday Brabham will have a serious chance to see its position strengthened, while the driver of the Maranello team would only have to postpone the decisive attack in the last two titled races: either the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and the US Grand Prix at Sebring. But this is a rather simplistic prediction. First of all because there is no doubt that Ferrari's engineers have significantly improved not only the engine (as the massive performances of the Italian single-seaters at Reims and on the Avus circuit have shown), but also the car as a whole. Not to mention that for the moment Brooks' class surpasses that of Brabham. Secondly, in Lisbon there are other cars and other drivers not at all resigned to the role of outsiders, even if the world title can no longer concern them. Stirling Moss, for example. The English ace races in a Cooper, the same car as Brabham. Between Moss and the Australian there is still a very noticeable difference in stature: only if the mechanical means holds up for him (and this is not always the case, because the eternal world vice-champion is not too considerate, and this is indeed the only criticism that can be made of his great class), the rangy Stirling Moss becomes irresistible.


Nor can one believe in teamwork within the Cooper line-up, while among the Ferrari drivers all bow before the superiority of Tony Brooks. Moreover, apart from the Lotus - from which no surprises are to be expected - the B.R.M.'s and the new Aston Martins will be competing. Apart from the value of the drivers, the B.R.M.'s go up and down, and boast only one great success (in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, by Bonnier), but they are still respectable cars. As for the Aston Martins, if they have managed to overcome the delicate period of fine tuning, they could well be in the thick of the fight. But whichever way things turn out, the Grand Prix of Portugal - on the understanding that apart from Brooks and Brabham, practically no other driver can aspire to the title of World Champion - will not be decisive, at least not from the mathematical point of view of scoring. Of course, if the Australian managed to get ahead of the Ferrari driver, the situation would become rather heavy for the Maranello team, which this year had to forfeit the British Grand Prix, in which Brabham won 8 points. It is a factor that will have to be taken into account when it comes to completing the balance of the World Championship. Of the sixteen entries for the Portuguese Grand Prix, the sixth round of the World Championship, scheduled for Sunday 23 August 1959 at the Monsanto circuit near Lisbon, six are British, five Americans, one Australian, one New Zealander, one Frenchman, one Swede and one Portuguese. So, as mentioned, Anglo-Saxon drivers clearly prevail, while the decline of those from continental Europe, and particularly the Latins, who until not so many years ago seemed the absolute masters of the art of sports driving, seems clear. In the cars, we find thirteen English against only three Italians (the Ferraris). But it should be pointed out that these are largely sufficient to keep the balance of values in equilibrium. However, this small statistical survey demonstrates the continued rise of British-school motorsport, a fact that characterises the current moment in this competitive field.

So far, however, only one racer from across the Channel - the late Mike Hawthorn - has succeeded Farina, Ascari and Fangio as World Champion. This year we will have on the other English-speaking winner, either Brabham or Brooks. If the former London dentist succeeds, it means that you Italians will have the satisfaction of having contributed by providing him with the mechanical means; if not, the event for which the many Commonwealth fans are agitating will also occur: for the first time an English-speaking car and driver will be World Champions. It is on this piquant question that interest is focused for the last tests of the season, and in particular for the Portuguese Grand Prix, the result of which could either launch Brabham towards a goal probably not even hoped for, three months ago, by the same interested party, or seriously propose the candidature of Tony Brooks, Ferrari's number one and without doubt - apart from Stirling Moss - the driver with the highest class on the value scale. Brabham or Brooks for the World Champion title. Practice is on the Friday August 21 and Saturday August 22, 1959, preceding race day and takes place at 6:15 p.m., leaving all day for preparation. On the first evening the only absentees are the two works Lotus cars, their transporter having broken down while crossing Spain, and while most of the entry are feeling their way round Moss goes out and sets a cracking pace. Not having Grand Prix cars at Lisbon before there is no lap time set as a target, for the existing record is held by a sports car and that quickly goes by the board. Moss soon makes it evident that his lap times are going to represent the target for the others, and he is lapping in under 2'10"0 even while he is playing around altering tyre pressures and fore and aft braking ratios; meanwhile nobody else is approaching this figure, most of them being around 2'15"0.


After a few adjustments the Cooper-Walker is proving admirably suited to the circuit and Moss goes faster and faster, sliding the corners with a wonderful precision that looks to be care-free abandon. Trintignant in the second Cooper-Walker is thoroughly enjoying himself, the exacting road circuit suiting his immaculate and precise driving, while Gregory is at home, having won a race on this circuit in 1955, and he is faster than Brabham, who is adapting himself and his car to the conditions. The third works Cooper, driven by McLaren, is going pretty slowly, having been fitted with an axle ratio that is hopelessly low and he is also delayed by an air-lock in the water system that takes some time to disperse. The Ferrari team of Brooks, Phil Hill and Dan Gurney are far from happy for they think before practice starts that their cars would be ideal for the circuit, especially on the long climb up the dual-carriageway, but in practice they are disappointed and they find they can not approach the times set up by Moss, none of them getting near to 2'10"0. Whereas the Coopers can be flicked from lock-to-lock, provoking over or understeer at will, the Ferraris seem rather jumpy and do not encourage the driver to let them get out of line. The two works Aston Martins, driven by Salvadori and Shelby, are making only their second appearance outside of England and while being delightfully easy and steady to drive they do not have the power to challenge the others. B.R.M. are running three cars, driven by Schell, Bonnier and Flockhart, and of the three Bonnier is on great form and gets down to 2'10"8. To complete the field the Scuderia Centro-Stud enter one of their Cooper-Maseratis, which is driven by a local boy named Araujo Cabral who is feeling his way along gently, never having been in a single-seater before.

By the time practice has finished Moss has got the Cooper adjusted to his liking and has lapped in 2'05"69, which is way ahead of anyone else; the timing is highly organised and is being done to a hundredth of a second. Only two other drivers get below the bogey time of 2'10"0, these being Gregory with 2'08"61 and Brabham with 2'09"21, the rest being two or three seconds slower. On Saturday evening practice recommences and straightaway Moss is going as fast as ever and soon improves on his times of the day before, but now Brabham is in his stride and is well below 2'10"0, as is Gregory, and McLaren get down to 2min 08.17sec, having had the right gear ratios fitted. Everyone is going faster now that they have got their cars adjusted to the circuit and have learnt the way round, all that is except Graham Hill and Ireland in the works Lotus cars for they are out doing their 12 qualifying laps. Hill is in trouble with a brake master cylinder which loses him a lot of valuable practice time, and Ireland is bothered by a faulty gear-selector mechanism, so that all he can do is to tour round and qualify. The Ferrari team are still not content, their cars giving them a bumpy ride, and though they have a spare car with them it is worse than the three team cars and Brooks is right off form and can not even break 2'10"0. The new-boy Gurney is just pressing on with what he’s got and is the fastest of the team, with a time of 2'07"99, which is almost as quick as Bonnier in the very steady-looking B.R.M. and Trintignant in Walker’s second Cooper, who is in splendid form. Schell is obviously trying as hard as he can, but only just gets below 2'10"0, and Flockhart is driving well and almost keeping up with his team-mate. Towards the end of practice Brabham is going very fast and working hard, getting down to 2'04"95, but Moss has already set FTD at 2'02"89, the circuit allowing drivers to really shine.


Both Moss and Brabham are using Climax engines with new cylinder heads, as at AVUS, the redesigning of the ports and combustion chamber giving some 12-15 bhp more over the normal 2½-litre Climax. As Moss also has a five-speed gearbox against Brabham’s four-speed, which must have helped considerably on this fast winding circuit, much of the credit for these two being well out in front should be accredited to cars; even so they still have to be driven and Moss and Brabham are really driving them. Ferraris are quite delighted with Gurney’s times, Phil Hill has reconciled himself to second place and Brooks is thoroughly discontented both with his own car and the spare one, nothing seeming to be quite right for his tastes. Just as practice is over Shelby hits some straw bales in his Aston Martin, folding up the nose cowling, and Bonnier goes off the road in the B.R.M. but there are no serious consequences. Sunday August 23, 1959, is another glorious sunny day with a gentle cooling breeze, and in view of the anticipated heat the race is arranged to start at 5:00 p.m. over 62 laps of the 5.44-kilometre circuit. The cars are lined up in rows of three, two, three, with Moss in No. 1 position with his time of 2'02"89, a speed of 159.362kph (approximately 99mph), the rest of the sixteen starters being in order of practice times. With the start being on a slight uphill slope, Brabham’s mechanic put a small stone behind the back wheel to check the car, and as the flag is raised McLaren begins to creep forward from the third row. Down goes the flag and it is Brabham away first, his rear wheel shooting the small stone like a bullet into the cars behind. Gregory is up with him but Moss is lagging a little, and as they all roar off over the brow of the hill, Bonnier’s B.R.M. cuts-out and he is passed on all sides, and Brooks has to brake heavily to avoid ramming the tail of the B.R.M.
Before they are half-way round the first lap Moss has taken the lead from Brabham and McLaren has passed Gregory. Moss appears round the double curve preceding the pits with his tyres whistling and already has a substantial lead over Brabham, McLaren and Gregory, while Gurney, Phil Hill and Trintignant are nose to tail, followed at a distance by Schell and then Shelby, Graham Hill, Salvadori and Flockhart close together, with Brooks behind them having made up no ground after being baulked at the start, and he is only just leading Ireland and Cabral. Right at the back comes Bonnier, his engine having picked up but not running correctly. On the next lap Phil Hill goes wide at the foot of the descent and then takes to an escape road, and as a result drops right back, leaving Gurney and Trintignant to close up on Gregory. With Coopers in the first four places and drawing away all the time the race result is almost foregone for Cooper reliability is of a pretty high standard. By lap four Moss has an 8sec lead over Brabham and already Ireland has been into the pits to cure a misfiring plug and has then retired with gear-selector trouble. Moss is pulling out a lead of a steady 2 to 2½ seconds a lap, and Gregory is closing on McLaren and getting away from Gurney and Trintignant, who are still nose to tail. Behind them Schell is a lonely seventh and Graham Hill has shaken off the two Aston Martins and Flockhart, while Phil Hill and Brooks are beginning to move up. On lap six Hill G is going up the dual-carriageway followed by Hill P and as the Lotus goes into the cutting it spins, mounts the bank, comes back in the road and is broadside on as the Ferrari arrives braking hard. Being unable to stop in time Phil Hill hits Graham Hill, and as the cars bounce apart Flockhart goes through the gap. The Lotus comes to rest somewhat bends and the Ferrari is smashed in at the front and has its wheels splayed out. 
Conscious of being in a dangerous position Hill drives the bent Ferrari up the road and parks it in a side turning. Bonnier is still bringing up the rear, not yet having caught Cabral, and is still troubled by misfiring, coming into the pits on lap nine to have the Weber carburetters looked at although nothing can be found wrong he only does one more lap, still misfiring badly, and then the engine dies altogether with fuel-feed trouble. Meanwhile, Moss has increased his lead to 17sec and is now touring round in 2'10"0, having plenty in hand, while the works Coopers are following, now in team order, Brabham, Gregory, McLaren. Behind the four Coopers Gurney is the only Ferrari hope and he is having a wonderful scrap with Trintignant, but after that there is a long pause before the also-rans arrives, Brooks still among them, while with Bonnier retired Cabral is now bringing up the rear and not going too badly in his first Grand Prix. Apart from the Gurney/Trintignant battle the race now develops into a bit of a procession, with Moss literally out-driving everyone. He laps Cabral, then Shelby and then Brooks, who comes by the pits looking unhappily at his back wheels, then Brabham still in second place, laps Shelby, and the Aston Martin driver looks over his shoulder expecting to see a horde of Coopers on his tail. Schell is finding his brakes pulling up inconsistently and Flockhart is pressing him hard, to take seventh place from him on lap 16 and driving well in spite of a gear-change that is not functioning properly, and Brooks is making no headway at all at the back of the field. The Ferrari pit signals him a lap time of 2'18"0 and he looks back as if to say: So what. Not far in front of him is Shelby taking things easy in the Aston Martin, realising there is no point in dicing for he has no hope of catching anyone and Brooks shows no inclination to press him. On lap 22 the Ferrari pit signals to Brooks to say:


"Well, if you can’t win, for goodness’ sake try and catch Shelby".
To which Brooks replies by coming into the pits on the next lap to complain that the thing just wouldn’t get maximum revs, and after looking vaguely at the engine the mechanics send him off again, now in last place. Up front Moss is steadily lapping everyone without even trying to go fast and has now lapped the two B.R.M.s and only the first six cars are on the same lap. The hard work of the circuit, together with the heat, is beginning to tell and Trintignant slows a little, which gives Gurney his chance to get away. On lap 24 Moss is on the return run down the winding leg of the course while Brabham is leaving the dual-carriageway, followed by Gregory and McLaren. As the Australian goes into the long curving right-hand bend towards the sharp right-hander at the far end of the circuit he is about to lap Cabral in the Cooper-Maserati but times things just wrong so that he gets too far out on the left, deep into the braking point, and hits the straw bales, sending the Cooper over into a telegraph pole, wrecking the car badly and flinging himself out into the road, to be narrowly missed by Gregory who is following. Brabham is very lucky to get away unhurt, and next time round Moss practically stops at the Cooper pit to say Brabham is all right. Moss is so far in front of everyone now, lapping at 2min 12sec, that he is hardly bothering to change gear for some of the corners, pulling leisurely away from 4.000rpm. Gregory is showing signs of thirst and Trintignant is looking very hot and tired, while Gurney is now well away, in fourth place and gaining on McLaren, lapping most consistently just under 2'08"0, and Phil Hill signals him this information from the pits and encourages him to keep up the good work. At half-distance, or 31 laps, Moss has just on 60sec lead over Gregory and the race has become a Moss demonstration run. Trintignant goes past the pits on lap 33 indicating he wants water poured on him, and the next lap slows right down to make sure his mechanics understand his signal.


On the next lap he stops and has a can of water poured down his back and then goes on, still holding fifth place but now having been lapped by Moss. On lap 36 Flockhart comes in for fuel as a precaution, having done a lot of motoring in third gear due to his gear-change being at fault, and also to have a slight breather, but this stop allows Schell to go by him back into sixth place. On lap 39 McLaren stops at his pit with a grinding noise coming from the transfer gears between the clutch and gearbox, and that is that, so the order is now Moss, Gregory, Gurney, on the same lap, followed by Trintignant, Schell, Salvadori, Flockhart, Shelby, and a long, long way behind comes Brooks, who has at last managed to catch Cabral; after his pit stop Flockhart has lost another place by indulging in a spin. At 40 laps there is no sign of any motor racing going on for everyone has acknowledged the mastery of Moss and settles down to touring in to finish. As the leader goes by on lap 45 he leands out of the cockpit and holds his nose, looking to the rear, and though it is not obvious what is smelling he does not seem perturbed; in actual fact he can smell petrol from a slight leak in one of the tanks. Salvadori has been driving a regular and steady race and is now sucking a damp towel to try and combat the heat, and on lap 47 Moss laps the third man, Gurney. Without trying, he is closing on Gregory to lap him, and he ticks the laps off with complete regularity and looking so much at his ease. Trintignant is now two laps behind Moss and nearly one behind Gurney, so he is taking things very easily and as he comes down the hill towards the pits bend Gurney comes up to lap him. Seeing this in his mirror the Frenchman lifts right off but this catches Gurney by surprise, not being used to such gentlemanly behaviour, and having aimed his Ferrari to pass the Cooper going into the bend he suddenly finds himself running up its rear and the nose of the Ferrari rides up a rear wheel on the Cooper.


The radiator cowling is completely squashed in, but with only six laps to go Gurney eases off and drives gently, keeping an eye on the water temperature, which is rising rapidly. On lap 58 Moss laps the second man, Gregory, and that is that, he has dominated the entire field without straining himself or the car. To a terrific ovation from the crowds Moss finishes his 62nd lap, to win his first Grande Epreuve of this season, but to win it so thoroughly that it makes up for all his past failures. The rest of the runners are flagged off and some very tired and hot drivers get out of their cars, for it has been a hard and long drive. British driver Stirling Moss won the eighth Portuguese Grand Prix, fully confirming the predictions of the eve of the race and his high class. Moss finished the race, led from first to last lap, at an average speed of 153.397 km/h. The race, penultimate for the purposes of the World Championship, took place on the Monsanto circuit. The circuit, quite varied in terms of curves and elevation, runs along the peripheral road network of Lisbon and includes a straight of over 1000 metres. The start took place at 5:00 p.m.; the sun at that time was already too low and hit the drivers in the eyes, especially at some dangerous corners. A strong wind was blowing along the straight from the Lisbon-Estoril motorway. Even though he knew he was now cut out of the fight to become World Champion, Moss spared neither effort nor skill and the American Masten Gregory, his team-mate who followed on his heels for almost the entire race, never managed to seriously embarrass him. The only incident of note happened to Australian Jack Brabham, who saw the opportunity to definitively consolidate his position in the drivers' classification slip away. Gregory explains:


"Brabham attempted to overtake McLaren, but in order to avoid contact with the New Zealand driver's Cooper he moved a little too far to the left, hitting the straw bales and skidding. He was unable to regain the carriageway and ended up off the track, flipping after knocking over a lamppost".


Immediately taken to hospital, the Australian came out an hour later, just in time to see the victorious arrival of Stirling Moss, blindfolded and bandaged, but happy to have got off so lightly. Another dangerous spin, but one that ended happily, fell to the B.R.M. of the Englishman Flockhart, who, after some scary zig-zags and a final spin, restarted in the right direction and finished the race in seventh position. Five of the fifteen cars from seven countries that started had already retired in the first thirty laps, namely Brabham's Cooper, the B.R.M. of Swede Bonnier, Graham Hill's Lotus, Englishman Ireland's Lotus and Phil Hill's Ferrari. The retirements, with the exception of Brabham's, all had mechanical origins and the Cooper-Climax cars proved to be decidedly superior to any other car on this particular circuit, characterised by numerous bends, counter-bends, climbs and descents. The Ferrari of the American Dan Gurney drove a very good race, marked by maximum caution and regularity, but without any ambition. The other Ferrari remaining in the race, that of Tony Brooks, did not shine with excessive combativeness. On the eve of the race it was hoped that the moody Englishman would have a good day, but it seems that this was not the case. Moss led from the first to the last lap. After starting on the front row together with Brabham and Gregory, the British driver led his Cooper-Climax teammates to the finish line. On Saturday, Moss had set the fastest lap at an average speed of 150.600 km/h.


Halfway through the race the British driver leads over Gregory by 50 seconds. On lap 38 McLaren retired. Nothing else changed until the finish line with the victory of the British driver over his teammate, Masten Gregory. At the same time, the first Grand Prix of Messina was held on the Lake Ganzirri course, reserved for the junior and sports categories from 1500 to 2000 cc. In the course of the two races, a few accidents occurred, fortunately not serious ones. The American Peter Carpenter, in the junior category, driving a Stanguellini 1100, crashes into a wall and suffers injuries that can be healed in seven days. Italians Aquilino Branca on a Moretti speciale 1100 and Musso Luciano on a Tarasela UDO end up in the lake, uninjured. The two drivers skid on a stretch of road that runs close to the lake: the two attempt to control their respective cars, which, however, once they have passed the protective verge and a short escarpment, slip into the water at reduced speed. Italians Scarfiotti and Munaron both put in excellent performances, but the winner was Brazilian driver Fritz D'Orey on Stanguellini. Twenty drivers from seven different nations start in the sports category. This race saw an exciting duel between the Italian Cabianca, in a Ferrari-Dino, and the Englishman Colin Davies, in a Cooper-Maserati, which ended with the victory of the British driver.


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