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#84 1959 United States Grand Prix

2021-04-14 00:00

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#1959,

#84 1959 United States Grand Prix

The Formula 1 World Championship ends in the United States, with the first edition of the United States Grand Prix, on the Sebring circuit. The conclu

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The Formula 1 World Championship ends in the United States, with the first edition of the United States Grand Prix, on the Sebring circuit. The conclusion of the seasonal events that crown every year the best (or the most consistent) racecar driver is certainly not a rational solution. It was accepted somewhat, anyway, as a homage to the United States, who organize for the first time a world championship stage according to the formula of the European races (Indianapolis is valid for the title as well, but it has special technical regulations, which exclude the Formula 1 cars). This Grand Prix had difficult preparations: according to the international calendar, the race should have taken place on 22nd March, 1959, the day after the Sebring 12 Hours, a stage of the sportscar championship, but it didn’t. The reason for this was that the new Scarab. The first American Formula 1 car, built by the billionaire Lance Rewenthow, was not ready, and the organizer asked for a postponement until the end of the season. Then, it seemed like it was no longer the case to talk about it, because of financial issues. Then September came, in the event of the Italian Grand Prix, without knowing if the Monza race would have decided the World Championship or not. At the Autodromo, anyway, on that day, two American plenipotentiaries, who guaranteed that the Sebring will take place on 12th December, 1959, were present. So, after a season-long autumn pause, this is the final act, with the usual plot that characterized the entire 1959 season: the Ferrari vs Cooper duel and the fight between Brabham, Moss and Brooks for the world champion’s title. It may be appropriate to report the standings of the world championship after the Monza race, almost three months ago. Jack Brabham is ahead with 31 points, second is Stirling Moss (Cooper) with 25.5; Tony Brooks (Ferrari) is third with 23. The others follow: Hill (Ferrari) with 20, Gurney (Ferrari) with 13, Trintignant (Cooper) with 12, Bonnier (B.R.M.) and Gregory (Cooper) with 10.

 

It is therefore clear that Brabham is the most likely to reach the unexpected world championship title. Anyway, since the rules of the drivers’ championships provides standings based on the five best results out of nine races held (there will be nine of it with the US Grand Prix), Moss and Brooks, based on an articulate probability calculation, have the chance of overtaking the Australian driver and win the title. In other words, based on the regulations, which considers the five best placements out of the eight races organized this year, Brabham would obtain the arithmetic certainty of winning the championship only by winning at Sebring and everything, or at least most, will be finally decided by his mechanical equipment. The constructors’ title has already been won by Cooper-Climax, deserving it, contrasted only by Ferrari, while BRM and Lotus got some points for the glory, a thing that is not happened to Aston Martin. With these premises, the world of Formula 1 comes back to the USA for the second time in the season, to Sebring. It is the first actual Formula 1 race that takes place in the States, the stakes are high so it is not surprising to see the participation of European teams, contrary to what usually happens at the Indy 500. In any case, given the travel expenses, Aston Martin and BRM decide not to cross the ocean. The Sebring International Raceway is the circuit chosen by Alec Ulmann of the Florida Automobile Racing Club, and it is a semi-permanent circuit obtained by the inside of the Hendricks Field airport, already used in the endurance races. Its particular configuration determines the first technical feature of the circuit, that is the dual road surface made of a part of asphalt and a part of concrete, which makes the cars more slippery while driving, especially in the rain. The 8.368-meter-long circuit includes nine right turns and six left turns.

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It is a not very complicated but twisty circuit, especially in the first sectors, which challenges brakes and tires. The chicane in the first part of the circuit, right after the change of surface, is the most technical turn that the drivers will face. Another tricky spot are the turns signaled by cones, as a consequence, it will be more complicated for the drivers, at least in the first laps, to find the exact braking point without an actual reference. The average speed on track is about 160 km/h, so a high stability and an elastic engine at low and mid regimes make the race more advantageous for the British cars than for Ferrari, in this continuous challenge between past and future, tradition and innovation. Four Ferrari will participate, assigned to Brooks, Allison, Trips and Phil Hill, challenged by the two official Cooper-Climax driven by Brabham and McLaren and by the Walker Racing Team’s Cooper handed to Moss and Trintignant. There will be two Lotus but, not as usual, the drivers will be Ireland and Stacey. The organization decides to extend the participation also to Formula 2 so there is a higher presence of minor teams and privateers, with some drivers to watch for, among which Roger Ward, 1959 Indianapolis winner, on a Kurtis Kraft Midget Offenhauser, Roy Salvadori, who opts for a Cooper-Maserati by HEM, and Harry Schell on a Cooper-Climax by Ecurie Bleue. After six years of absence, the Italian team OSCA comes back with De Tomaso, as well as Connaught Alta, driven by Bob Said. Porsche also returns, driven by Blanchard, owner of the team with the same name. Finally, the Italian Tec Mec (Tecnica Meccanica) by Colotti joins the challenge, who pairs a homemade chassis with a six-cylinder Maserati engine. The single-seater will be brought to the track by D’Orey. As of the Tridente house, two privateers, Cade and Chimeri, entrust their hopes to the Maserati 250F, despite this type of car has been largely surpassed by the competitors, as proved in the Monza stage where, theoretically, it should have advantaged the Maranello single-seater.

 

On Thursday, 10th December, the first day of practice unfolds and, obviously, all eyes are on the three title contenders. The Cooper Car Company prefers to keep Gregory, injured, at rest, so they bring only two cars to Sebring for Brabham and McLaren, without updates from Monza. Same goes for Moss and Trintignant, even if the Walker Racing Team brings a new type of rear suspensions on the British’s car, while the work in Ferrari is more intense. Maranello’s team bring four single-seaters to Sebring, two normal Formula 1, one long-tail and one Formula 2. The driver who has the right to choose, since he can test all of them before his teammates, is of course Tony Brooks. The British flagman chooses a normal D246 like Trips, while Allison gets the long-tail and Hill the white and blue Formula 2, the color of the American cars. With the start of the action on track, the most competitive driver seems to be Stirling Moss, who set the time of exactly 3 minutes, with three seconds of advantage on the rest of the group. Another show of strength of the British ace, who does not want to end the season in second place for the fifth consecutive season. In the following minutes, a predictable scenario can be seen, that is a kind of two-level race between Formula 1 and the rest of the group, with Said’s Connaught Alta, first of the others, distanced from Moss by 27.3 seconds. Tec Mec’s debut is much trickier, due to the failed compression of the cylinder 1 and 2 of the engine. Phil Cade too is very unlucky, since he sets a valid time for the qualifying but is forced to hear the sound of his engine become mute and does no longer manage to turn it on for the rest of the weekend. Blanchard’s Porsche RSK does not deliver the best performance but manages to stay on track consistently and without issues. Ward’s drive is heroic: the Indy 500 winner, despite having a much weaker car compared to the competitors, is able to grab one of the last available places thanks to his courage and to his driving technique. It must be said that his car has a 1.75L engine, a transmission with only two gears and is the only car with Firestone tires.

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A true Midget single-seater, that is a propaedeutic formula, much slower than the other cars on track, even less performing than Tec Mec, despite the big obstacles faced by the Italian team. At the end of the first day, the time set by Moss, 3 minutes, is enough for the provisional pole position but it catches the attention of the local fans since the British driver destroyed the previous record, improving the time set by Moss on Aston Martin. Brooks follows, five seconds behind, on the car initially assigned to Trips, and puts himself in front of Brabham for 0.2 seconds. The three contenders for the world championship title are in the first three places. On Friday, 11th December, 1959, during the second practice session, Lotus, Cooper and Ferrari’s teams work hard for making small changes: the single-seaters of all their teams do not look perfect, especially Ferrari show many problems compared to the others, due to the poor handling caused by understeer. It is a hot day and many drivers prefer to rest during the warmest hours, even Porsche neglects the session, as his team is already happy with the work done until now. The Ferrari drivers, despite multiple attempts, hardly improve their times. Brooks, for example, passes from 3’08”9 to 3’05”9 with his car but is still one second behind the time set yesterday with Trips’s single-seater. The changes applied by Lotus’s mechanics make the British team happy, as his two drivers improve their time of five seconds compared to Thursday, same goes for Cooper, with Brabham gaining second place improving of 2.2 seconds, while McLaren manages to go one second faster than Thursday. The weak point, once again, is represented by the reliability, since the gearbox betrays the New Zealander, while some water comes into Brabham’s car. Anyway, the mechanics solve these small issues and Cooper, in his garage, thinks about the race and the title to win. On Saturday, 11th December, 1959, it is race day.

 

The weather is fine, sunny by the wind causes some trouble to the drivers and to the crowd in the grandstands. The circuit will be lapped 42 times, covering a total of 351.481 km, which will determine the new World Champion. 1951 was the last time when three drivers fight for the championship title until the final Grand Prix. Maybe it is not by chance, since this has been the first season, excluding the first one of 1950, without world champions taking part in the championship. Jack Brabham becomes champion if he wins, or if Brooks is second with Moss third; Stirling Moss, in order to win the much-desired title, must win or may come second with Brabham third and Brooks first but only if the latter does not mark the fastest lap, or second with fastest lap if Brabham comes behind him; for Tony Brooks, the challenge is harder. The British Ferrari driver must absolutely win. If he does while getting the fastest lap, Brabham should not come better than third; if he does not get the fastest lap, this should not be obtained by Moss if he comes second, with Brabham who can come not higher than third. The starting grid provides that the first three drivers all next to the other, but a complain insistingly made by Schell makes some chaos right before the start. The driver, who today drives a Cooper-Climax, claims that there has been a mistake in the recording of times and asks to climb up from fourth to third in the grid. With the cars lined up, the general chaos is powerful and visible, but the request is accepted. Tavoni, Ferrari’s sports director, attempts an appeal without winning, so the first row is composed of three Coopers, with Moss, Brabham and Schell, who start in front of Brooks (Ferrari) and Trintignant (Cooper). The third row sees all the other Ferrari who joined, with Trips, Allison and Hill who will start in front of the rest of the group.

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At the start, given by the starter at 1:30 p.m., Brabham overtakes Moss but the British driver manages to take the lead of the race right since the first turn. McLaren, instead, jumps from tenth to third place, ready to defend is captain in case of necessity. The opposite situation goes for Ferrari, with Trips who touches Brooks, forcing him to a pit stop in order to acknowledge the entity of the damages. Tony Brooks, then, falls down from fourth to fifteenth place. In the back of the race, Cade is unable to start with his Maserati 250F as a privateer, while Said, a good driver of sports cars but not of single-seaters, tries the starting procedure again and again. His Grand Prix will last few kilometers, as he will go outside the track alone and will no longer manage to start the engine of his Connaught. At the end of the first lap, Moss is in front of Brabham, McLaren, Hill, Ireland, Trintignant, Allison, Salvadori, Schell and Trips; during lap 2, Alan Stacey on Lotus has a clutch issue and retires. On lap 5, Brooks easily overtakes minor opponents such as Ward, De Tomaso and D’Orey and takes back tenth place. Even in this circumstance, the Cooper-Climax show their technical limits as for the mechanic reliability: during lap 5 there are as many as three retirements; Constantine breaks the head gasket of the engine, Schell damages his clutch, but most of all, Stirling Moss abandons the race due to a gearbox failure. The British driver was leading the race with ten seconds of advantage on the rest of the group: a decisive episode for the world title race, with Moss forced to miss the final victory once again. With Brooks behind and Moss retired, Brabham just needs to manage the advantage and not to force too much his very fast but fragile Cooper-Climax T51. Not randomly, the Aussie is joined by his teammate McLaren, in order to go on a two-man race where the New Zealander has to protect the team leader and hand him the title. During lap 6, even the adventure of D’Orey’s Tec Mec ends; it has been a hard weekend for the Italian team, who abandons the race due to an oil leak. Shortly after, Phil Hill’s Ferrari encounters an issue to the clutch and is forced to retire on lap 8. Anyway, he is not the only one: even Ireland’s Lotus suffers a major performance drop and is overtaken multiple times, forcing Ireland to drop down to eighth place.

 

After ten laps, Brabham and McLaren lead the race, followed by Allison, Trips, Trintignant, Brooks, who is on a huge comeback, Salvadori and Ireland. As of the minor formula cars present on the track, Ward’s performance is surprising, as he is the first chaser, who is in front of Blanchard on Porsche and De Tomaso. After one third of the race, there are only ten single-seaters on track, separated from each other by wide gaps. This is too much for the American crowd, accustomed to way fiercer battles: thus, the spectators, who are not that many, starts to leave the grandstands and return home. The race becomes more interesting again during lap 20, as Trintignant, supported by his teammate Moss, who in the meantime came back to the box, overtakes Allison and is fourth. The British driver incites his teammate, hoping that the French can obtain the fastest lap, which means one extra point. Unfortunately, for the local fans, the race of the American driver Ward is over, due to mechanical issues: once again, a clutch failure. This is a real pity because Ward, with a car that is much weaker than the others, managed anyway to prove his worth, being the first one of the second-tier drivers. The elimination race does not end here: on lap 23, two excellent retirements join the list of those who were forced to abandon the race. Allison goes back to the pit due to another clutch failure, while a transmission issue forces Salvadori to park his Cooper-Maserati on the grass. Halfway, only seven drivers are still fighting for the win: Brabham, McLaren, Trintignant, Trips, Brooks, Ireland and Blanchard. But, above all, at the moment, the title is safely in the hands of Jack Black. For the next fourteen laps, nothing relevant happens: once again, when there are only four laps left, another retirement occurs. This time, it is Trips who stops at the finish line, since he ran out of fuel in the tank. When only few laps are left before the end of the race, only four drivers are not lapped. In this last phase, Brabham and McLaren must pay attention to Trintignant’s comeback, who is one second faster and is five seconds behind the two Cooper drivers. The Frenchman sets the fastest lap, who grant him the extra point. Brooks, fourth, not lapped, can only hope in a final plot twist.

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On the last lap, when the positions seem already decided, 400 meters away from the finish, Brabham stops the car, without fuel because of a mix that was too rich. Meanwhile, McLaren takes the lead and win with an advantage of only 0.6 seconds from Trintignant, while Jack Brabham does not give up and pushes his car to the finish line. Brooks overtakes him and is third. Even Trips pushes his car, parked on the side of the track in the area and comes sixth, behind Ireland, fifth, to whom an extra lap is counted compared to the Ferrari driver. Brabham continues his tenacious feat, pushing his Cooper-Climax T51 with his hands despite a slight way uphill to climb and despite the classification that cannot change anymore. A plot twist that gives a heroic gesture to the crowd: not by chance, the crowd, the organizers and the insiders follow with anxiety and vibrant murmur the action of the Aussie. Meanwhile, Blanchard ends in seventh place, but this is not interesting for the spectators because four minutes, fifty-seven seconds and three tenths later, Jack Brabham cuts the finish line pushing his car and is officially World Champion. The crowd’s support is all on the Australian driver, who managed to hype up the spectators in the last moments of the race with an act that describes very well his personality: raised in the workshops of Sydney’s suburbs and now arrived to the pinnacle of motorsports. A hard worker, a great test driver, tenacious, who never gives up for a moment, never let down by pressure, winning a championship and deserving it, which he was able to manage right since the beginning, alternating pure performance races to other which were more rational, gaining precious points, which were fundamental in a season where the opponents were slowed down by mechanical failures and incidents. While Cooper finally showed the world all the worth of the revolutionary mid-engine, started few years before and now decisive for the final victory.

 

The only weak point is the reliability, which has never been the best. Anyway, the bet has been won, the revolution has started. Coming back from the USA, on Tuesday, 29th December, 1959, the traditional meeting of the Scuderia Ferrari is held in Modena, which Enzo Ferrari promotes at the end of every year in order to inform the motorsports fan on Ferrari’s sporting and production schedules. The statements of the Modena-based constructor do not have the polemical, and sometimes even explosive taste, of the previous occasions. Despite this, the topics of interest are not lacking in what is more like a dialogue between Ferrari and the many speakers, in which the essential points can be summarized as follows: an official team composed of only three drivers, that is the confirmed Phil Hill, Allison and Trips. It is likely that the American driver will be the first drive of the team. Therefore, not Tony Brooks, who stated that he would retire from motorsports in order to devote himself to his family and to his job as dentist (someone, anyway, raises doubts about his real intentions). Neither Gendebien, who it is likely to sign up with Aston Martin. The 1960 Ferrari team does not look irresistible, but all in all a very close-knit team, without an outstanding star. Those who hoped for an inclusion of at least an Italian driver are disappointed, since Ferrari believes that none of them could make the big step. However, the Scuderia will support the Lodi-based Castellotti team, whose aim is to enhance the young local talents; secondly, Ferrari’s sporting activity for the next seasons includes the participation to Sportscar and Formula 1 World Championship races, but maybe not all of them. It will depend from the situation and from the circumstances; finally, the production schedules. The affirmed 12-cylinder 250 GT, in the different editions, and the new 4L 400HP Pininfarina convertible. In addition, a brand new 854-cc car is being tested, whose engine has already been made public, but whose series production is not planned yet, at least on behalf of Ferrari itself. Meanwhile, the new Formula 1 single-seater is being prepared, examined before the press conference in Maranello’s workshop, which will race in the 1960 Grand Prix races. It is a substantially modified car compared to the Tipo 59.

 

In particular, the adoption of side tanks (instead of rear tanks), the engine being displaced few centimeters behind, the overhang position in the gearbox-differential assembly and the independent suspension even on the rear wheels should guarantee a better grip of the driving wheels and a more complete use of the very high power of the engine. This is the famous 2417-cc 6-cylinder, with 300 HP. Two or maybe three of these cars will race in the Argentinian Grand Prix on 7th February, 1960. Enzo Ferrari confirms, in the end, the relocation of the commercial and administrative activity of the company to Bologna in the next few months, as well as the customer care department, and announces the possibility that the company will transition from an individual society to a società per azioni. A first update about this has been published on 2nd November, 1959 but without finding a confirmation. Ferrari, in fact, acquired a large building in via Emilia, Bologna, previously owned by Ford. The news will stop every rumor about the retirement from sporting activity of the Modena-based factory, which won world titles both in Formula 1 and in Sportscar. Enzo Ferrari, during the meeting with the journalists, hints at the customer service that will be supplied to Lodi’s Eugenio Castellotti team, which only includes Italian drivers. Later, it will be known that the drivers of the team from Lombardia will be four, two of which, in particular, with international experience, Gino Munaron and Giorgio Scarlatti, and two young drivers emerged from the sport and gran turismo races from the past seasons: Lodovico Scarfiotti and Adolfo Tedeschi. The race material, at the moment, is composed of two 2L Ferrari sportscars type Dino 196, currently built in the Maranello workshops, to which two other Formula 1 single-seaters will be added, created by the union of British chassis (probably Cooper) and Italian engines. The official racing debut of the Scuderia Castellotti of 1960 season will occur at the Sebring 12 Hours.

 

Luca Saitta

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