Strategy Wins the 1959 Italian GP.

A Personal Note.

juan_manuel_fangio ThugginA lot has been changing here at GP evolved.  For example, I have been wrapping my ahead around some very basic Photoshop techniques to increase the visual interest of GP evolved.  I have also introduced endnotes to document my sources.

I implemented these changes to better serve the goal of this blog: namely, to record my experience of going through the development of Formula 1 – one race at a time.  Thus, I hope to design GP evolved to be partially self-reflective.  It is important that my blog is not so much of a source of expertise – of which, I have little – but rather, a record of my passion for learning about the early years of Formula 1.  At the same time, I hope to bring the readers an interesting account of this unique sport that always fashioned itself as the pinnacle of motorsport.

1959 Monza High Speed

The rise of Cooper-Climax and British Racing Motors (BRM) was at the cost of the Italian dominance of the sport.  Scuderia Ferrari and their scarlet red cars struggled throughout the 1959 season.  They were not even on the podium at the Dutch GP, the British GP (due to an Italian workforce strike), or the Portuguese GP.  As the F1 circus rolled into Ferrari territory, Scuderia Ferrari was six points down on Cooper-Climax.[1]

Cooper Climax Diagram Color with text 1959 was the first year that a rear-engine car saw the level of success that the Cooper-Climax has enjoyed. But, another quieter revolution was also underway.  I have seen references, but nothing definitive, that the teams were experimenting with increased adjustability.  In Formula 1, ultimate quickness requires an ideal titration between car, driver, and team.  The relationship between the car and driver is tweaked by adjusting the tendencies of the car.  At present, setups are largely defined by complex mechanics, mathematics, and a lot of computer power.  Back then; it was up to the driver to communicate to the team how the suspension and other components needed to be adjusted.

The ’59 Italian GP at Monza took place on a dry and sunny September weekend.  The race was run on a chicane-less version of the modern track; the high-banked oval was not a part of the 1959 course.  It would be a battle of lightweight versus outright power.  The light mid-engine Coopers would be faster on the few corners.  But, Monza was a high-speed track.  The Ferrari’s were expected to be strong on their home turf.[2]

Stirling Moss goggles no backgroundSurprisingly, Stirling Moss set the best qualified time at 1:39.7.  This was a blindingly fast lap average of 128  miles per hour.[3]  However, there were questions as to whether the Cooper-Climax could maintain a faster pace than the Ferrari’s over the course of the race.  Strategy would be the solution.

For better or worse, the current 2013 season has consistently produced races determined by tire strategy.  In 1959, tire strategy was rarely outcome determinative.  However, Cooper-Climax made an ingenious gamble.  They bet that their lightweight Cooper Climax could make it the entire race without changing tires.  Ultimately, the strategy was successful and Cooper-Climax was successful.[4]  Moss won the race and set the record for fastest pace.  His average pace over the entire race was 124 miles per hour.[5]

Check out the footage below for a detailed account of the race:

So, um, now what?

There was an awkward wait until the final Grand Prix of the season.  The first United States Grand Prix, and conclusion to the 1959 season, was not scheduled to take place until mid-December at Sebring.   In terms of the F1 championship, the leading drivers were stuck twiddling their thumbs for the next three months.

Yet, politics, in Formula 1, are always at play.  As Michael Cannell notes in his book, The Limit, the president of racing’s governing body (the FIA) was a Frenchman named Augustin Pérouse.  A vote had been held regarding rules changes for the year after next, the 1961 season.  The Monaco, Holland, France, Germany, and Belgium delegates voted as a block to reduce engine capacity to 1.5 liters and impose a weight minimum of 450 kilograms.  Interestingly, the British and Italian delegates had voted together, in opposition.[6]

In Formula 1, whenever the governing body institutes a wholesale change to the regulations, it has the effect of wiping the slate clean for all the teams.  In just over one-year’s time, the garagistas would be starting from square one.  The British took this as affront; they felt as though they had the rug pulled out from under them in their moment of glory.[7]  The British teams, through their delegates, submitted numerous protests, but eventually 1961 would arrive without any changes to the rules laid out that late October evening in 1959.

Driver’s Championship.

  • Jack Brabham – 31
  • Stirling Moss – 25.5
  • Tony Brooks – 23

Constructor’s Championship

  • Cooper-Climax – 38 (45)
  • Scuderia Ferrari – 32 (34)
  • British Racing Motors (BRM) – 18

[Only the best 5 results counted towards each Championship. Numbers without parentheses are Championship points; numbers in parentheses are total points scored.]


[1] David Hayhoe & David Holland, Grand Prix Date Book 1997: A Complete Record of the Formula 1 World Championship from 1950, 94-98 (Duke 1996).

[2] Martin Williamson, Italian Grand Prix 1959: Moss and Cooper Outfox Ferrari, available at ESPN F1 (last accessed August 4, 2013)

[3] Hayhoe & Holland, supra n. 1, at 97.

[4] Williamson, supra n. 2.

[5] Hawhoe & Holland, supra n. 3.

[6] Michael Cannell, The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit, 212-214 (Twelve 2011).

[7] Id.