’59 United States GP: End of a Decade.

A Retrospective Personal Note.

GP evolved, survived the first decade of the Formula 1 championship.  At times, the task that I have given myself – to study the entirety of the Formula 1 Championship – has proved daunting.  However, it has not been monotonous.  Each race posed its own unique challenge as I endeavored to bring alive some of the most remote races in Formula 1 history.  Some were so epic that I struggled to find the words to capture the excitement of the races.  Others were so boring that I had difficulty finding a story, where none were apparent.

Through these challenges, I have found a true love for writing.  But, I have also found much more than that.  I discovered a willingness to rise to the challenge even when it wasn’t easy.  And now, as I look back at my simple posts, I am satisfied.  In my opinion, happiness is not given to us; instead, it is achieved through the satisfaction of hard work.

Most of all, I want to thank you for stopping by and reading what I have to say.  It is your page views, likes, comments, emails, and discussions that convinced me that GP evolved really was worth it.

The 1959 United States GP

1959-United-States-GP

Bringing the Decade to a Close on Home Soil.

Sebring was a former airfield.  The track was more than bumpy; it was a punishing test for the cars.[1]  Bruce McLaren was not even slated to race at the United States Grand Prix; however, teammate Masten Gregory had previously been injured in a sports car race.  McLaren was sent in case Gregory could not race.  In fact, Masten Gregory failed the medical examination allowing Bruce McLaren to enter the race.[2]

One of the entrants was American Rodger Ward, a former Indianapolis 500 winner.  With a uniquely American brand of hubris, Ward arrived at the race confident his 1.75-liter speedway midget car would carry him to victory.  His car was not exactly cutting edge.  For some reason, the disc breaks were lever operated.  To further keep his hands off the wheel, he had a two-speed gearbox mated to a twin-speed rear axle, both individually operated by hand levers.[3]  By the end of practice, Ward’s confidence would have been absolutely and utterly destroyed.  Stirling Moss’ best qualifying lap was 3:00.00.[4]  Rodger Ward best lap was a whopping 43 seconds off Moss’ pace.[5]

1959-US-GP-Rodger-Ward-Fail

Somehow, Harry Schell managed to qualify in third place.[6]  This was shockingly quick for Schell.  However, there was been some suggestion that, in a moment of desperation, he used a service corner to cut the lap short at the end of the session.  A protest was lodged against his time.  However, nobody could prove that he cut the corner.

Moreover, there was pressure from the promoter to have an American featured prominently in the race. American Phil Hill floundered in an early, lesser-developed Ferrari Dino 246s.  Masten Gregory, the next best American was injured and not racing.  This left only Harry Schell who had been born to American parents in France.  The lack of proof combined with the promoter’s interests caused the protests against Schell’s time to fall upon deaf ears.[7]  And so, Cooper-Climax’s swept the first three positions on the grid.

Heading into the race, Jack Brabham had 31 championship points, Moss had 25.5, and Tony Brooks had 23.  Each were variously alive for the championship.  The flagged dropped.  Bruce McLaren took off.  He later considered this to be one of the best starts of his career.[8]  Stirling Moss, however, maintained the lead.

Stirling Moss goggles no backgroundBy the fifth lap, Moss was pulling away from the field when his gearbox failed.  If you recall, Moss was not driving for the works Cooper team.  Rather, he was driving a Rob Walker Racing Team owned Cooper-Climax.  At the beginning of the season, he had chosen a different gearbox.  Moss gearbox failed several times this season.  In fact, he can almost surely blame not winning the championship on his gearbox alone.  This season, for Moss, stands as a stark reminder that to succeed in Formula 1, you need more than speed.  You must also have a reliable car.  In any event, by the sixth lap, Stirling Moss was out of the race.

This led the way for Jack Brabham to win the championship.  Maurice Trigtignant made a late challenge, but he was unable to catch Bruce McLaren who was trailing his teammate Brabham at the end of the race.  As they approached the finish line, Brabham ran out of fuel.  As such, Bruce McLaren went passed to win the race.

Brabham, pushed himself to exhaustion as he single-handedly pushed his car across the finish line.  Although he did not win the race, he did win the championship.  Bruce McLaren won the race and became the youngest ever grand prix winner.  The record would not be broken until Fernando Alonso won his first grand prix.

…And with the 1959 United States GP, the first decade of Formula 1 racing comes to a close.


[1] Highlights of American grands prix through history, The Guardian (Nov. 10, 2012).

[2]  Eoin Young, McLaren Memories: A Biography of Bruce McLaren, 71-72 (Haynes 2005).

[3] Id. at 72-73.

[4] David Hayhoe and David Holland, Grand Prix Data Book: 1997: A Complete Record of the Formula 1 World Championship from 1950, 97 (3rd Ed., Duke 1996).

[5] Young at 73 (see also, Hayhoe and Holland at 97).

[6] Hayhoe and Holland at 97.

[7] Young at 73-74.

[8] Id. at 75