Obituary of Tony Brooks Formula one

Tony Brooks has been taking a free weekend since his last year of studying dentistry in Manchester when in October 1955 he became the first British driver to win a post-war Grand Prix in a British car.

The Gran Premio di Siracusa was not a World Cup race and the pitch was not of the highest quality, but beating the Italian teams – and especially the mighty Maseratis – at home with their humble Connaught was noteworthy, especially as he never sat behind the wheel and Formula one car before training the day before.

Brooks, who passed away at the age of 90, was as surprised as anyone by the result he achieved on Sicilian roads, but this led to a distinguished career at the highest level. He won six major awards at the World Championships – and in 1959, while driving for Enzo Ferrari’s team, he was close to winning the driving championship itself.

The fact that he did not win it – and that is why he was widely criticized in Italy – came about out of caution. He traveled to the last race of the season, the US Grand Prix in Sebring, in the title fight with Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss. To accompany Brabham, Brooks needed to win and take the extra point awarded for the fastest lap, with the Australian not finishing third. To beat Moss, he needed to win with his English counterpart no more than the other and without taking an extra point.

However, in the first lap of the race, Brooks was accidentally kicked in the back by his young teammate Wolfgang von Trips, prompting a promise to himself – after two major accidents earlier in his career caused by mechanical problems – that he would never compete in a potentially dangerous machine again. Now, fearing that his rear suspension was damaged in the collision, he called to the pits and asked his mechanics to investigate. Their interrogation revealed nothing wrong and he could continue, but could only finish third, leaving Brabham to take over the title. Enzo Ferrari was not very pleased.

Tony Brooks, left, holds the Grand Prix Cup, with teammate Stirling Moss, after winning the Aintree in the summer of 1957. Photo: Keystone / Getty Images

Brooks was an extremely fast and sleek driver who may have gained prudence, but lacked nothing in courage. He particularly enjoyed the challenge of road circuits, which were still widely used at the time, with their natural hazards and almost complete lack of safety measures, but he had no problem defending his refusal to take additional risks with suspicious machinery. “I survived the dangerous 50s when too many of my race colleagues didn’t,” he pointed out, adding that all of his biggest victories came after he adopted that approach.

He was born in Dukinfield, Cheshire, as the son of dentist Charles Brooks and his wife Irene, who both loved fast cars. Educated as a boarder at Barlborough Hall College and Mount St Mary in Derbyshire led by a Jesuit, where he excelled on the rugby field, he enrolled in 1950 at the University of Manchester School of Dentistry. Two years later, just after his 20th birthday, he competed for the first time in his mother Healey Silverstone’s sports car, finishing fifth in the five-lap race at Goodwood.

For 1953 he moved to the much faster Frazer Nash owned by a family friend. Throughout that year and the following season he left a good impression, and in September 1954 he was invited to drive the factory-introduced Frazer Nash of a more modern type at the Tourist Trophy in Dundrod, Co Antrim, his first overseas event.

Tony Brooks after winning the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
Tony Brooks after winning the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. Photo: Klemantaski Collection

A few weeks later John Wyer, manager of the Aston Martin team, asked him to take part in a series of tests at Oxfordshire Airport, which led to an invitation to join them in 1955. Accepting an offer of £ 50 pledge and shares of cash prize and other bonuses , made his debut with the team at Le Mans, co-driving with John Riseley-Prichard, an insurance broker, in a 24-hour race. When Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes crashed into the crowd in front of the main grandstand, killing 81 spectators and drivers, Brooks was just seconds behind and had to brake hard before breaking through a wreck strewn across the track.

Several good placements behind the wheel of Riseley-Prichard’s Formula 2 Connaught led to an offer to enter the Syracuse Grand Prix car. The result put Brooks ’name on the headlines, though that couldn’t save the small Surrey team from eventual bankruptcy. The 1956 BRM team’s offer looked promising, but the car’s mechanical unreliability reached its lowest level when gas got stuck during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He was thrown out as the car overturned; had he been restrained by modern seat belts, he would probably have died when the gas tank exploded when the car stopped upside down.

A few days before the accident, during a meeting of sports cars in Rouen, he met Pina Resegotti, an elegant young woman from Pavia, near Milan, who was on her way to London as part of her doctoral studies in foreign languages. . Their relationship deepened as he made his way through a copy of Learn Italian to Talk to Her Family, and they were married in 1958.

Brooks continued his formal dental studies and graduated in December 1956, by which time he left BRM to join the Vanwall team, owned by millionaire thin-bearing bearing manufacturer Tony Vanderwell, and his basic retainer jumped to £ 2,000 a year. At Aintree in the summer of 1957, he and Moss made history when they shared their first victory at the British Car World Championships, a triumph that came while he was still recovering from cuts and bruises he sustained at Le Mans a month earlier when his Aston Martin gearbox got stuck and the car ended up on its back in the embankment.

Tony Brooks in BRM P48 Online in Goodwood, 1961.
Tony Brooks in BRM P48 Online in Goodwood, 1961. Photo: Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Knowing that he would not be strong enough to cover the entire distance, he agreed to keep the car as long as possible in case one of his teammates withdrew and could take over, as the rules then allowed. When Moss’s Vanwall started to break down, they swapped cars and Moss drove Brooks ’healthy machine to a glorious victory.

Moss was No. 1 on the team, with the right to choose the best equipment, and that year he won in Pescara and Monza, while Brooks had to settle for the victory of Aston Martin at the Nürburgring 1000 km, co-driving with Noel Cunningham-Reid. However, in 1958 he achieved Grand Prix victories at Spa, Nürburgring and Monza, three classic tracks that offered the driver great challenges, parrying Moss ’victories in Buenos Aires, Oporto and Casablanca. Both Vanwall drivers won to the title by their compatriot Mike Hawthornwho amassed more points despite leading his Ferrari to just one win.

The Scuderia Ferrari would be Brooks ’next stop, with mixed results, although his victories at Reims and the AVUS track in Berlin allowed him to finish the 1959 season in second place in the drivers’ standings. He was considering retirement when Pina gave birth to their first child that fall, but continued for another two years, first at Cooper-Climax where the Yeoman Credit team joined, and second at BRM. The results were almost equally disappointing, although he finished the last race of his career, the 1961 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in New York, third behind Lotus Innes Ireland and Dan Gurneyis a Porsche.

Tony Brooks 2015. At the end of his racing career he founded a car shop in Weybridge, Surrey.
Tony Brooks 2015. At the end of his racing career he founded a car shop in Weybridge, Surrey. Photo: Antonio Olmos / The Observer

In 1959, he invested part of his earnings in a gas station. Over the years, as his family grew up in St George’s Hill, Weybridge, Surrey, he expanded his business to a successful dealer, first for Austin and Rover cars, then for Lancia and Fiat, and finally for Ford, before selling the company and retired in 1993

He maintained his interest in sports, spending 10 years as a correspondent for the Motoring Observer. In 2008, he was honored with a special recognition at the Goodwood Revival meeting, where he returned to the Vanwall cockpit, wearing his famous brown Herbert Johnson helmet.

A man of quiet dignity, courtesy, and unstressed elegance, he was especially admired by those who knew how close he was to immortality and recognized the grace with which he accepted that frustration.

His great consolation was living with Pina and their children, Caroline, David, Michèle, Julia and Stephanie.

Tony Brooks (Charles Anthony Standish Brooks), race driver, born February 25, 1932; died May 3, 2022

This article was amended on May 5, 2022. Tony Vandervell produced thin-layer bearings, not ball bearings as the earlier version said.

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