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Obituary

Tony Brooks obituary: 1950s F1 race-winner dies aged 90

Tony Brooks, who has died at the age of 90, was one of the greatest racing drivers of the 1950s.

Tony Brooks, Vanwall

Tony Brooks, Vanwall

Motorsport Images

Having started in club events in 1952, Brooks joined the Aston Martin sportscar team after impressing in tests just two years later. He then shot to prominence by winning the non-championship 1955 Syracuse Grand Prix for Connaught, while still studying to become a dentist.

It was his first drive in a contemporary Formula 1 car and was the first GP win for a British driver in a British car for 31 years.

After a brief spell with the still troubled BRM team – which included a fiery crash at Silverstone when the throttle stuck open – Brooks joined Vanwall, creating a British F1 superteam alongside Stirling Moss and Stuart Lewis-Evans.

A fighting second to Juan Manuel Fangio’s Maserati at the 1957 Monaco GP, finishing with a raw hand thanks to clutchless gear changes on the punishing course, was followed by a crash at Le Mans while driving for Aston Martin.

Brooks was lucky to survive and was still suffering when he started his Vanwall in the 1957 British GP at Aintree. He was running sixth when Moss’s car hit trouble. Brooks was called in and Moss took over, charging on to one of his most famous victories as a British car won a world championship race for the first time.

Moss was the Vanwall (and Aston) number one and had first pick of the best machinery, meaning Brooks could rarely hone his own car across a race weekend. But he played the team game brilliantly and often shone when Moss hit trouble.

That was no more true than in 1958. Brooks won three GPs, the Belgian at the super-fast Spa, the German at the fearsome Nurburgring and the Italian on Ferrari’s home ground at Monza. Brooks regarded his German GP win, charging past the Ferraris of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins, who sadly then crashed fatally while chasing, as his greatest.

Race of My Life: Tony Brooks on the 1958 German Grand Prix

Moss won four times and Vanwall took the inaugural constructors’ title, but Hawthorn beat Moss to the 1958 drivers’ crown by a point. It might have been different had Brooks, third in the table himself, not suffered engine failure while in a position to perhaps prevent Hawthorn from getting the second place he needed.

Tony Brooks, Vanwall, 1st position, drinks from a flask with team mate Stirling Moss, Vanwall

Tony Brooks, Vanwall, 1st position, drinks from a flask with team mate Stirling Moss, Vanwall

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Brooks joined Ferrari for 1959 and was the undisputed team leader in a squad that also included Phil Hill and Dan Gurney. Two wins put him in title contention with Jack Brabham (works Cooper) and Moss (Rob Walker Cooper).

The cancellation of the Belgian GP and clutch failure at the start robbed him of a chance to win the Italian GP, both races the powerful front-engined Ferraris were well-fancied, so he went into the Sebring decider with an outside chance of the crown. A hit from team-mate Wolfgang von Trips and subsequent pitstop – Brooks wasn’t one to take unnecessary risk ­– meant the best he could do was third. He thus finished second to Brabham in the final standings.

Thereafter, success was hard to come by and Brooks was not a fan of the move to rear-engined machines. He scored points with the Yeoman Credit Cooper team in 1960 and finished on the podium in his final world championship start, driving a BRM in the following year’s US GP, before retiring from the sport.

Outside of F1, Brooks was also one of the world’s leading endurance drivers. He won both the Spa GP for sportscars and the Nurburgring 1000Km in 1957 with Aston Martin DBR1s, in the latter event with Noel Cunningham-Reid. He also won the 1958 Tourist Trophy at Goodwood alongside Moss before joining Ferrari, though sportscar success with the Italian team proved elusive.

Brooks’s sublime touch and judgement made him particularly impressive on the really demanding circuits – hence those wins at Spa and the Nurburgring – and he was arguably a finer racing driver than Britain’s first world champion Hawthorn. His six world championship wins and 10 podiums came from just 38 starts.

Picked by Moss – alongside Jim Clark – as the driver he would put in a two-car team, the quiet and unassuming Brooks was one of the finest drivers never to be world champion. The passing of the last GP winner of the 1950s marks the end of an era.

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