Tony Brooks: Formula 1 legend who just missed out on the grand prize

The quiet and reserved hero of British motorsport at one of its most dangerous and deadly eras, Tony Brooks, who died at the age of 90, was the first British racing driver to win a Grand Prix in a British car in 32 years, the last of that Formula One -Winners who competed in the 1950s.

Fascinated by speed and fueled by an underlying and fiercely competitive nature, Brooks not only helped break the Italian dominance of the sport but, along with fellow driver Stirling Moss, helped herald a domestic revival of Formula One racing. Had the clutch on his Ferrari not failed on the grid prior to the start of the 1959 Italian Grand Prix, many believe he would have been world champion.

Charles Anthony Standish Brooks, commonly known as Tony, hails from Dukinfield, six miles east of Manchester, where his father was a dentist, and was educated at nearby Jesuit boarding school, Mount St Mary’s College. He excelled academically and also found sporting success in rugby, cricket, athletics, boxing and fencing.

Following in his father’s footsteps, he studied dentistry at the University of Manchester. He learned the road trade at the age of 16 while exploring the winding roads of the Peak District on his 350cc BSA motorbike. This was soon followed by a far more powerful 650cc Triumph Thunderbird. After purchasing a used Healey sports car with parental support, he made his racing debut in March 1952, finishing sixth at a Goodwood Club meeting.

Unlike many of his fellow drivers like Moss or Mike Hawthorn, Brookes avoided extravagance behind the wheel, he always hated pushing his car to the extreme.

He was never a man to be looked for among the first leaders of a race, he was always a few seconds behind and constantly analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of his competitors before deciding when to make his move.

An approach that brought him increasing success. After driving the Healey a dozen times, he was loaned a far faster Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica which gave him victory at the Silverstone meeting in May 1954. He made his singles debut later that season at Crystal Palace. He found himself on the front row alongside Hawthorn and finished fourth.

Driving in the Monaco Grand Prix, May 10, 1959


Greater fame beckoned in 1955 when, in the middle of his dental studies, he received an entirely unexpected call offering him a ride in a Connaught car at the forthcoming non-championship Gran Premio di Siracusa in Sicily.

He revised for his exams during an eight-hour trip involving three aircraft. The car’s late arrival meant Brooks had to study the three-mile circuit on a rented Vespa scooter. With just under 24 hours to go, he sat in a Formula 1 car for the first time at just 23 and drove brilliantly to claim a famous win.

Averaging 99mph over the 240 mile course and setting a new lap record of 102.34mph, it was the first Grand Prix won by a British car since Sir Henry Segrave was victorious at San Sebastian some 30 years ago .

A year later, Brooks drove his first World Championship Grand Prix for BRM at Silverstone, his dental career now being pushed into the background. He spent five years at Vanwall, Ferrari and Cooper, as well as other positions at Vanwall and BRM.

At the 1958 Italian Grand Prix


Competing alongside Moss for vanwall team Brooks and struggling with serious leg and hip problems after a recent crash, he was not expected to play a significant role in the race at the 1957 European Grand Prix at Aintree.

Moss was well in the lead and was rolling when his ignition suddenly failed. As was permitted at the time, team principal Tony Vandervell decided to hand Brooks’ car over to Moss, who went on to claim a historic victory. With three wins for Brooks and three for Moss, Vanwall beat Ferrari to win the first constructors’ title.

However, racing was not without its risks. He had previously survived two serious accidents in which one car rolled over and the other landed on him at Le Mans in 1957. That day his Aston Martin got stuck in fourth gear. In an attempt to solve the problem, Brooks missed his braking point, hit the bank and rolled over.

Happy escape: Brooks’ car after a crash at Le Mans in France


Stuck under it, his car stopped halfway down the embankment and halfway onto the road. When he heard the sound of Umberto Maglioli’s approaching Porsche, he couldn’t react. When he hit the rear of his Aston Martin, the force of the impact helped push the car away from the helpless Brooks, who was then able to quickly scoot to safety.

Two years later, Brooks, who now drives for Ferrari, found himself in a tense three-way battle for the championship crown with Moss and Australian ace Jack Brabham. Everything depended on the final race of the season, the US Grand Prix at Sebring.

Shortly after the start, Brooks was clipped from behind by teammate Wolfgang von Trips, potentially damaging his right rear wheel and suspension. He faced a tricky dilemma and only had a few seconds to decide whether to stop and have the car checked or continue anyway.

When he pitted, he knew his chances of winning the title would be in decline. In case the mechanics didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Moss eventually had to retire while Brabham finished fourth. A respectable third place despite losing time at that fateful pit stop wasn’t quite enough to keep Jack Brabham from winning the Drivers’ Championship.

Two years later he retired from the world of motorsport after finishing third at the 1961 US Grand Prix at just 29 years old. From 38 starts he had 10 podiums and collected 75 career points. Twice runner-up at Monaco, he had six Grand Prix victories and a second place at that 1959 World Championship.

After buying a gas station near the old Brooklands race track, he grew the business over the years into a highly successful dealership. For 10 years he remained a keen observer of the British racing scene and wrote a weekly column for The Observer. In 2012 he was finally persuaded to record his unique career in an autobiography, poetry in motion.

He is survived by his wife Pina Resegotti, whom he married in 1958, and their five children.

Tony Brooks, racing driver and businessman, born February 25, 1932, died May 3, 2022 Tony Brooks: Formula 1 legend who just missed out on the grand prize

Bobby Allyn

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