Tony Brooks, winner of 6 Grands Prix and runner-up in the 1959 world championship, has passed away.
At a time, courtesy of the sterling work done by the FIA, teams and race organisers, F1 drivers are able to enjoy careers comprising over 200 races, spanning two decades, Brooks raced in that era when such things were unimaginable.
Like his father, Brooks was a dentist by trade, and his initial foray into racing, in 1955, was at club level and strictly for fun.
However, that same year he tried an F2 car, driving a Connaught at Crystal Palace where he finished fourth, and, unbelievably, went on to drive a Connaught F1 car just weeks later.
Winning on his fourth F1 outing, albeit in a non-championship race, the Syracuse Grand Prix in Sicily, Brooks became the first British driver to win a Grand Prix in a British car since 1923.
Though a non-championship event, Brooks, who was still studying for his dental finals, had beaten five works Maseratis, the Italian team having taken over the top spot following Mercedes withdrawal from racing.
Two years later, at the British Grand Prix at Aintree, Brooks was the first British driver to win a world championship Grand Prix in a British car when he shared driving duties with Stirling Moss.
His world championship debut had come a year earlier, in Monaco with BRM, but this was when teams and drivers would only participate in certain events and the world championship consisted of just 8 events, including the Indy 500.
In 1957 he had joined Vanwall contesting 5 world championship events in the first season and a further nine in 1958.
His second season with Vanwall saw him score three victories, at Spa, the Nurburgring and Monza, arguably the most challenging circuits on the schedule at that time.
In a year dominated by British drivers, Brooks finished third overall, losing out to Stirling Moss, who like Brooks is regarded as one of the greatest drivers never to win the title, and Mike Hawthorn.
For 1959, Brooks was recruited by Ferrari to effectively 'replace' Hawthorn and despite 'only' claiming two wins, at the equally challenging Rheims and AVUS tracks, was involved in a three-way title battle with Jack Brabham and Moss right up to the final race at Sebring.
"Brooks could have been World Champion for Ferrari in 1959," wrote the late Mike Lawrence in 2005. "He went to the American GP with a chance, but was nudged at the start by a team mate (Wolfgang von Trips). Rather than take unnecessary chances, Tony went into the pits to have his car checked. He was an amateur at heart, a pro would have carried on and hoped everything would turn out right."
Despite the needless pit stop, Brooks went on to finish third at Sebring, thereby claiming second in the world championship, however, as Mike Lawrence writes: "Brooks was runner up to Jack Brabham in the 1959 World Championship, but nobody remembers who came second."
Brooks enjoyed two more seasons in F1, and while there were no more wins, he signed off with a third at Watkins Glen in the 1961 United States Grand Prix.
Other than F1, Brooks enjoyed success in Sports Cars, winning the 1957 Nurburgring 1000 kms and the 1958 RAC Tourist Trophy, both victories coming at the wheel of an Aston Martin DBR1 in which he shared driving duties with his friend Moss.
Crashes due to technical failures at Silverstone during the 1956 British Grand Prix and another during the 1957 Le Mans 24-Hours had taken their toll on Brooks, who, being a devout Catholic, and despite his profession as a racing driver, vowed never to risk his life again in a car that he viewed as sub-standard.
"I do not believe there has ever been a better racing driver than Tony Brooks, when you could arouse his interest," wrote Mike Lawrence. "Tony was always an amateur at heart, but on 23rd October, 1955, he did something spectacular, he showed we Brits we could win.
"Winning is something you have to learn. There was a time when climbing Mount Everest seemed impossible, now you book your trip to the top through a travel agent."
Shortly after penning the piece on Brooks, Mike began working with him on what would be his official biography. Unfortunately, it was to prove an almost impossible task.
While Brooks kept meticulous records of every car he had driven in every event, recording set-up changes, tyre pressures absolutely everything... Mike was unable to learn anything about 'the man' himself.
"Tony was always an amateur at heart," wrote Mike. "He was number two to Moss at Vanwall and that is the role he played. In 1958 when Moss retired at Spa, the Nurburgring and Monza, Tony simply moved up to take responsibility for the team and he won. Moss was meant to win, but when he retired it became Tony's responsibility to win, and he did, it was as simple as that.
"Tony was without equal at Spa and the 'Ring. I don't think circuits like Silverstone meant much to him because he never regarded them as a challenge."
An enigma, yet also regarded as one of the finest drivers never to win the title. Also, according to Mike, the last graduate to win a world championship Grand Prix and the last remaining F1 Grand Prix winner from the 1950s.
Tony Brooks (1932 - 2022)