WHEN JUAN MANUEL FANGIO was planning his retirement from motor racing, he was asked who would succeed him as World Champion. He instantly named Tony Brooks - a prophesy that never came true because Brooks was up against such other talented British drivers as Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn
and Australia's own Jack Brabham.
Brooks was an unlikely looking candidate for a World Champion, or even a racing driver at all for that matter, as he was slightly built, studious and self-effacing - certainly not cast in the swashbuckling, tearaway mould of some of the other hard driving, hard drinking, womanisers of the racing world of the 50s.
Born in 1932, the young Brooks was weaned on sporting cars because his parents were keen drivers, although he seemed set on a career as a dentist until a family friend offered him the loan of a Healey-Silverstone sports car for club races. He scored numerous wins with this car as well as with Frazer-Nash and DKW cars loaned by friends and admirers over the next three years.
In 1955, he was offered a drive in a single seater Formula Two Connaught. In the race, at Crystal Palace, he finished fourth behind three Formula One cars driven by Mike Hawthorn
, Harry Schell and Roy Salvadori. The young Brooks, still only 23, had arrived and he soon began to receive tempting offers which persuaded him to abandon temporarily his dental career.
His first works drive was with Aston Martin, who signed him on for their successful sports car team in 1955. He drove a DB3S to third place in the Goodwood Nine Hours and, shortly afterwards, placed a Connaught sports car, loaned by the very rapid Colin Chapman
in a Lotus.
This performance prompted the Connaught directors, Mike Oliver and Rodney Clarke, to offer him a drive in their Formula One Connaught at the Syracuse Grand Prix
in Sicily. This was asking a lot of any driver, especially as Brooks had never driven a Formula One car before, had never raced abroad and had never even met the top Continental drivers like Musso and Villoresi, who were racing the works Maseratis at Syracuse.
As it was not a World Championship event, some of the top names were missing, but Brooks made third fastest time in practice and in the race he toyed with the opposition before going away to a comfortable victory, leaving the bewildered Italian stars way behind. He also set a new fastest lap for the Syracuse circuit. His cool and unruffled driving showed that he had that indefinable talent which all top drivers seem to possess.
Brooks' victory was doubly important because not only was it his first Grand Prix
victory but it was also the first by a British driver in a British car since 1924. This was the first sign of the British domination of Grand Prix
racing which was to come in the near future. For the 1956 season, BRM
signed Brooks to partner Mike Hawthorn
, but the BRM
was a troublesome car and Brooks suffered an accident at Silverstone, when the car caught fire after overturning; Brooks was thrown out, but not seriously injured. He gained a few wins in Aston Martin and Cooper cars, but left the BRM
team for Vanwall in 1957.
Tony Brooks at speed in the Grand Prix Vanwall. During 1957
he finished British Grand Prix-winning car with Stirling Moss.
The following year, Brooks drove the Vanwall to victory in
the German, Belgian and Italian GPs.
The Vanwall team, then owned by G. A. Vandervell of Vandervell bearings, was just coming to the fore and Brooks finished second in the Monaco GP and shared the winning car at the British Grand Prix
with Stirling Moss. Brooks had overturned his Aston Martin at Le Mans prior to the British GP and was suffering from badly burned legs so, when Moss' car broke down at Aintree, Brooks handed over his car and Moss went on to victory.
Brooks later won the Nurburgring
1000- Kilometre race in an Aston Martin. He stayed with Vanwall in 1958, the year Fangio predicted he would win the World Championship, but although he won the German, Belgian and Italian GPs, he did not gain the Championship; largely because his team-mate Stirling Moss also won several races. The Championship finally went to Mike Hawthorn
For 1959, Brooks joined the Italian Ferrari team, but the big front-engined cars were now up against the little rear-engined Coopers and, although Brooks won the French and German GPs on the faster circuits, Jack Brabham's Cooper took the Championship, with Brooks in second place. 1960 saw Brooks joining the privately owned Yeoman Credit Racing Team with a Cooper, but little success came his way and, after a poor 1961 season, when he drove the new 1½
, he decided to retire from racing. After his retirement, he set up a garage business, appropriately; within sight of the famous banking at the old Brooklands track in Weybridge, Surrey, as a successful Fiat and Lancia distributor.
During his all too short career, Brooks won 6 races for Vanwall and Ferrari, secured 4 pole positions, achieved 10 podiums, and scored a total of 74 championship points.