Bonnier takes BRM by the horns
- Felix Muelas, Leif Snellman, Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W October 1999 issue
- BRM Type 15 - The BRM 'Type 15' V16, by Quintin Cloud
- Raymond Mays - ERA and BRM perfectionist, by Robert Blinkhorn
1959 Dutch GP
Well, why ever? Just because of Bonnier's only and, more significantly, BRM's first GP win! And come to that, their first pole as well.
To get here, BRM had come a long way. Before many years of stubbornly soldiering on with the troublesome P25, BRM had already cut themselves with the BRM Type 15 fiasco. Its major effect was that Sir Alfred Owen, head of the large private company Rubery Owen and long-time supporter of the BRM project, bought the company outright. For the moment, however, it remained under the direction of founders Mays and Berthon.
Of course, there had been nothing wrong with Raymond Mays' intentions and nobody can take away from him the personal effort and sacrifice he made to try and get Britain on top of Grand Prix business, but there's a big gap between wishing something and actually accomplishing it. Years after, Mays declared that one of the problems the project had to contend with was too much publicity, but the fact is that he generated most of the bad press himself. Even before the Type 15 had started racing, he published a booklet with this curious title: BRM Ambassador for Britain: The Story of Britain's Greatest Racing Car. Surely he was tempting fate there…
So then came September 3, 1955, and the Daily Telegraph Trophy at Aintree. The event was going to witness the race debut of their new car. In contrast to the T15, the P25 was a simple device. It had a 4-cylinder dohc engine of 2497cc (102.87 x 74.93mm), designed by Stuart Tresilian, which initially gave 248bhp at 9000rpm. It was installed in a space-frame with front suspension by double wishbones and oleo-pneumatic struts and a de Dion rear axle suspended by a transverse leaf spring and oleo-pneumatic struts and located by twin radius arms. Why on earth Berthon felt that an otherwise conventional design would be improved by dispensing with metal springs when his previous design had been so appalling remains a mystery. Even more of a mystery - and this one would prove to have serious effects - is why he decided to further complicate the matter by stipulating that rear braking should be by a single disc brake mounted on the back of the combined 4-speed gearbox/final drive.
Peter Collins should have made the start at Aintree, but he crashed the car in practice and so the genuine debut came three weeks later, at the Oulton Park Gold Cup. Collins was not particularly quick in practice, qualifying 14th out of the 19 starters, but he made a wonderful start and was third after only four laps, retiring soon after, on lap 9, when his oil pressure fell. BRM had at last - almost two years too late - made its debut in the 2.5-litre formula. And it had had exactly the same notice as everyone else. In the meantime, Mercedes-Benz had come in, raced a bit, and had withdrawn, having redefined the parameters of the sport.
For 1956 BRM was able to sign up Mike Hawthorn and Tony Brooks, both Grand Prix winners, who had been in their first season of club racing when the 2.5-litre formula was announced. It also replaced the original Dunlop disc brakes with Lockheed discs. Brooks and Hawthorn led races (notably the British GP) but again the peculiar brakes were giving them all sorts of trouble, pushing them to stay away from the Belgian and French GPs altogether, while it also led to an embarrassing post-qualifying withdrawal at Monaco. Everywhere else reliability was poor to say the least, as the drivers were hit by several other disturbing problems such as distorted valves and stuck throttles. After having crashed out of the British GP when his throttle stuck open Brooks refused to have anything further to do with the thing, leaving BRM to withdraw for the remainder of the season. Meanwhile, Mike Hawthorn claimed the P25 "tripled his laundry bills".
In 1957, the cars reappeared with a longer wheelbase and highly stressed sides around the cockpit. Flockhart and Salvadori were signed on and the cars made their first appearance at the Easter Goodwood Meeting. Salvadori's race lasted less than a lap, when - you guessed it - his brakes seized. Flockhart managed third place, a lap down to Lewis-Evans' Connaught, after surviving two spins caused by a partly locked rear suspension.
BRM then called in Colin Chapman to advise and, surprise, surprise, he recommended the use of coil springs all round! There was not enough time to implement the improvements for the Monaco GP, where the cars still suffered from locking brakes. Salvadori just failed to qualify and he joined the exodus from BRM. Flockhart, however, made the start and was fifth after 60 laps, and behind Brabham's 2-litre Cooper, when his engine's timing gears stripped. At Rouen the young American Herbert MacKay-Fraser was brought in and he was running seventh when the engine broke. Flockhart had gone long before when he slid on some oil and crashed heavily. Poor MacKay-Fraser was to die in the F2 race at Reims the following week.
With Flockhart injured, BRM desperately sought drivers for the British GP and suffered the humiliation of being turned down by Archie Scott-Brown, who desperately wanted a drive, but not at any price. Eventually Jack Fairman and Les Leston were employed and they were predictably slow until they retired with engine trouble. Then Jean Behra did a deal with the works to allow him a car for the Caen GP, where serious opposition was going to be absent. BRM sent two cars, and when Harry Schell's Maserati packed up he was loaned the second. Behra's experience was invaluable in fine-tuning the car and he and Schell entertained the crowd by swapping the lead. Schell eventually retired with engine trouble, but Behra went on to win by eight seconds from Salvadori's 2-litre Cooper.
Then, for the last race of the year, Flockhart and Trintignant were entered in the non-Championship Moroccan GP, which had a full World Championship-class field, and although Flockhart retired, Trintignant finished a strong third, ahead of Fangio's Maserati. At last there was a glimmer of hope, and since Maserati had withdrawn there were good drivers on the market. For 1958 BRM was able to sign Behra and Schell. Moreover, the stipulation that cars had to be run on avgas was an advantage to teams running a 4-cylinder engine. A new space-frame was designed and the front suspension changed so that it worked in better harmony with Chapman's modified rear. In addition the engine was redesigned with a five-bearing crankshaft instead of the previous three-bearing crank. The cars duly picked up speed, Behra leading several races, but he still suffered from a stupefying lack of reliability. The team's best result - Schell and Behra finishing second and third - came at the Dutch GP, a track which obviously suited the P25, as the opposition was to find out one year later. Apart from many more retirements a few points finishes here and there led to BRM finishing behind Cooper and Vanwall in the inaugural Constructors' Championship.
Behra, who had contributed a lot to improving the cars' handling, had had enough of their unreliability and joined Ferrari, and in his place came Jo Bonnier. Stirling Moss arranged to have a BRM engine in a Cooper chassis and also agreed to drive a P25 on some occasions. During 1958 the cars' engines had often suffered overheating and loss of power and these problems were tackled, but not cured, over the winter months. It was not until the end of 1959 that BRM discovered faults in the cooling system which caused this problem. It had not been apparent during the few races run in 1955-'57, because then the cars used alcohol-based fuels, which have inherent cooling properties! For 1959, Dunlop disc brakes were re-adopted and the bodywork tidied up to give reduced frontal area.
Suddenly, the P25, the acclaimed dog of a car over the past few years, became a frontrunner, although its eccentric brake solution remained the car's weak spot. Schell and Bonnier came third and fourth in the Richmond Trophy at Goodwood, retired in the Aintree 200 and missed the International Trophy at Silverstone, where Moss and Flockhart drove instead. Moss led the first three laps and then the brakes failed completely and he had to spin it to a stop. Flockhart, however, had a trouble-free race and finished a strong third, lapping Phil Hill's Ferrari. Schell, Flockhart and Bonnier all retired from the Monaco GP with brake problems, without ever threatening the leaders, but at Zandvoort Bonnier drove superbly, setting pole and never running below second, to score BRM's first major victory - in a front-engined car which by now was thoroughly outdated.
In sharp contrast, the Vanwall team had entered, won and left within the design life of the P25. The triumphant posture of Tony Vandervell gone from GP pitlanes must have secretly meant a lot to poor old Richard Mays, who for 1959 had stepped up his effort enormously. The Zandvoort euphoria was deserved, of course, and enjoyed, but it was short-lived. Flockhart came sixth in the French GP, Schell fourth in the British and Bonnier fifth in the odd German GP run in two heats at AVUS. Then Schell was fourth in Portugal and all three cars were unplaced at Monza. Bruce Halford joined Flockhart for the Silver City Trophy at Snetterton and there Flockhart won from Brabham's Cooper with Halford third. That ended the works team's year, since BRM decided not to enter the US GP. All they had was their solitary GP win, without showing similar form in any other race.
Moss, however, had been impressed by the car he had driven at Silverstone and proposed a deal whereby he had one for selected races in 1959, but entered by BRP instead. BRM accepted gladly, but the implication was clear: Moss did not trust BRM to prepare the car properly, and after his close shave in the International Trophy few blamed him. Thus a P25 in the bright near-yellow green of BRP appeared in the French GP where Moss ran as high as second, and set fastest lap, but eventually the clutch went. Then, running third and attempting to take second, he made a rare unforced error and spun and, without a clutch, could not get going again. He drove the car in the British GP at Aintree, was delayed by a slipping clutch, a long stop to change tyres and fuel feed problems, but brought it home second. Hans Herrmann had the car at AVUS and not long into the second heat the brakes failed (again), leading to a monumental crash. Herrmann was thrown out unharmed, but the car rolled and rolled and destroyed itself, thus producing the most spectacular motor sports photograph ever. It speaks for itself that the BRM-BRP marriage lasted for just three races.
Meanwhile, midway through 1959 BRM had seen the writing on the wall for the front-engined GP car and set to work on a rear-engined car. As we know now, it would finally be a successful move.
The man responsible for BRM's milestone achievement scored his own first pole and win as well but contrary to BRM's string of poles and wins to follow Bonnier's Dutch glory would remain the highlight of his F1 career. In Sweden Joakim was called Jocke, in the English speaking world he became known just as Jo but the Italians called him Barbita, the bearded one.
While his parents wanted him to become a doctor, Joakim had his own ideas on his future. Since the age of five he had wished to become a professional racing driver. Rebuilding old Harley Davidsons was of course more fun than doing your homework so his final certificate wasn't enough for a medical career. Well, if he couldn't be a doctor then he could at least be a big businessman, so the family put him to work in a bank. As lunch hour was the only interesting part of the job, the family soon sent him to Paris to study news paper distribution and journalism.
The best thing with that commission was the car, an MG, that his father bought him for the trips up and down to France. Bonnier immediately entered the car into a 12-hour race, but his racing debut was delayed as Jocke completely demolished the car on a Paris boulevard when he crashed into a jeep. Bonnier was lucky to escape with a badly cut upper lip. To conceal the injuries Bonnier let his moustache grow. The family thought he looked like "a French gangster", but when Bonnier shaved the moustache it took a whole day before anyone noticed. "Well, in that case I can just as well go all the way and grow a beard", Joakim announced.
After doing his military service 1950-'51 onboard the coastal battleship Drottning Victoria, Bonnier started a firm for selling cars. (By the way, Bonnier isn't the only Swedish F1/Navy man, Gunnar Nilsson served on a submarine!) Joakim made his race debut in 1953 in an ice race on Lake Flaten near Stockholm, entering an HRG and finishing dead last. The car business flourished and in 1954 Bonnier was head of a big company representing Alfa Romeo in Sweden.
That year Bonnier also took part in the Swedish GP, a sportscar race with a Le Mans start. Bonnier's start was spectacular if not too successful: he got into reverse gear by mistake and crashed into the pits! Bonnier continued racing in rallies and ice races. As an Alfa distributor he was able to borrow one of the few Alfa Romeo "Disco Volante" 3.5-litre sportscars in existence. While not much of a sports car the Disco Volante proved to be the ideal ice racing car and after an unsuccesful debut at the Finnish GP Bonnier went on to score several Scandinavian successes.
At the 1955 Swedish GP at Kristianstad he had his first chance to meet the "big guns": Fangio, Moss, Behra… Bonnier won the 2-litre class that day. After that Bonnier finally decided on an international career. Accompanied by American driver Herbert Mackay-Fraser Bonnier visited the European sportscars events during the 1956 season in an old black and yellow bus with the words Scuderia Bonnier painted on its sides. Bonnier called 1956 his "gypsy-life year". He was victorious at Aintree, AVUS and Castelfusano and achieved a class victory at the Nürburgring. In 1956 Bonnier also made his debut as works driver racing a Maserati at the Swedish GP together with Spanish driver Francisco Godia-Sales.
Entered for a GT race before the Italian GP Bonnier suddenly found himself to be a GP driver as Villoresi got ill one hour before the start. So "Gigi" did the start and three laps. After that Bonnier, who had never even sat in a F1 car before, was pushed into the Maserati. Most of the next four laps were spent looking in his mirrors before Bonnier retired with engine failure. During 1957 and 1958 Bonnier raced Grand Prix Maseratis for Scuderia Centro Sud and as a privateer. A sportscar victory for Porsche at Reims 1957 turned to tragedy as Bonnier's friend Mackay-Fraser had a fatal crash the same day.
A great fight in the 1957 International Trophy at Silverstone between Bonnier and the BRM drivers proved to be a turning point in Bonnier's career as Raymond Mays got interested in the Swede. Bonnier was signed on by BRM for the final races of the 1958 season and at the tragic Moroccan GP Bonnier got his and Sweden's first championship points by finishing 4th. The next year Bonnier's career culminated in the Dutch GP where his BRM worked perfectly and he took his only F1 pole and victory. The only trouble was the tyres as experts were unsure if they would hold the distance. In fact with the track slippery from oil during the race the tyres proved to be no problem.
Bonnier stayed at BRM during the 1960 season before moving on to Porsche for 1961-'62. While doing excellent in some non-championship events Porsche was denied success in the World Championship events. After Porsche withdrew from F1 Bonnier completed three seasons for Rob Walker's team, racing Coopers and Brabhams. His career path eventually was to extend well into the seventies, almost outliving BRM's, competing in 16 seasons of F1 racing - the same amount as Jack Brabham's record and only trailing Hill (18 seasons) and Patrese (17 seasons). While Hill, Brabham and Patrese remained at the front throughout, Joakim became a part-season contender in privately-run older cars.
Although having taken part in 16 Grand Prix seasons, the scion of the wealthy Bonnier publishing family (Sweden's answer to William Randolph Hearst) became much better known as a leading figure of the sportscar scene. No one can take away from him, however, that it was him who scored that deeply emotional first-ever Grand Prix victory for BRM at Zandvoort in May 1959, to round off a sorry decade of frustrating endeavour, disappointment and disillusion. Jo had to work very hard to fend off the challenge the Coopers of Masten Gregory, Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss put up before he finally delivered the goods, taking the win by 14.2 secs from Brabham.
In all it was a significant landmark in British motor racing history, to be followed by another 16 wins in the fourteen seasons to BRM's final moment of glory: Beltoise's rain-swept victory at Monaco in 1972 - or 17, if you count Jim Clark's 1966 win in the H16 BRM-powered Lotus 43.
Bonnier's final F1 mount was the McLaren-Cosworth M7C, which he raced with little success until the end of 1971 when the well-respected, good-mannered and multi-lingual Swede decided time had come to hang his 1968 McLaren-BRM M5A "Desert Island car" on the wall of his art gallery and concentrate on his work for the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, working hard to improve track safety. But Jocke was for ever infected with the racing bug and kept going on in sportscar racing.
So there he was at the age of 42 lining up for yet another Le Mans 24 Hours on June 11, 1972. At the start of the race he had enjoyed a few moments of lost glory, holding an early lead in the Lola T280 he shared with Gérard Larrousse and Gijs van Lennep. The end came around 0800hrs on Sunday morning as he went to overtake a slower Ferrari on the approach to Indianapolis corner. He mistimed his manoeuvre, touched the Ferrari and lost control of his car, which flew into the air, threw him out and exploded on impact with the ground. His pace had caught up much too quickly with the speed with which safety measures were finally implemented.
Reader's Why by Don Capps
When we left Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon they were contemplating a British Grand Prix car for the post-Second World War world. After splitting from Humphrey Cook, Mays and Berthon had established ADL or Automobile Developments Limited. This was to form the basis of the "Mays Project" which would then morph into British Racing Motors, BRM. Mays was hawking a highly advanced, resource intensive program to build a Grand Prix car at a time when rationing of most basic commodities such as food and clothing was still in effect and industry was still trying to cope with the turmoil of the post-war world, and not doing very well by most measures.
To some it was a surreal scene to listen to Mays haggling for money and materials for a Grand Prix car - and a decided complex one at that - while most were doing what they could with not much, and the needs of the military were almost identical to what Mays wanted from industry. However, simple reality never deterred Mays and he managed to convince - or connive - the resources from industry. It was understandably a slow process and one rife with frustration. Mays was hawking BRM in terms that were essentially wrapped in equal parts of patriotism and jingoism. In 1949, no less than 124 companies were subscribers to the British Motor Racing Research Trust.
In spite of it all, BRM finally produced a car, the P15, on 15 December 1949. It was completely unready for any form of competition and was unveiled more as an effort to buy time and solicit funds than as the presentation of a race-ready machine. The 135-degree V-16 was a nightmare to assemble. The engine was essentially two 750 cc V-8 engines joined together to form a V-16. The displacement was 1,487.76 cc (49.53 mm x 48.26 mm). It had a Rolls Royce centrifugal supercharger, one plug per cylinder, Vandervell ThinWall bearings, and a problem with dynamic crankshaft balance of a sort that plagued BRM right up the the P56 engine of 1962. In February 1950, the engine hit 395 bhp at 10,000 rpm with the supercharger running a 3.23:1 gear. However, that was not easily repeated despite efforts from industry representatives. Mays also focused more, it seemed on peak power output rather than developing the band of usable power needed in actual racing conditions.
Pressured to do something to show what they had been up to with all that time, money, and materials, the BRM was demonstrated to the public between the second heat and the final of the F3 race - at the R.A.C. British GP held on 13 May 1950, the very first event in the new FIA World Championship for Drivers. That it should been competing in the race and not being demonstrated was a point not lost on many observers. However, the 120,000 British fans were delighted to see Mays drive the BRM around the circuit for two laps, neither very quick, and think about the glories to come.
Finally, and another story altogether, the BRM Trust demanded that the team actually enter a race. The team entered a BRM for the International Trophy at Silverstone on 26 August 1950. The prototype chassis, 15/1, and engine, 10/1, were installed and the great French driver Raymond Sommer was retained to be the driver. The BRM was to race in the second heat. It was on the rear of the grid due to problems in practice stemming from an faulty rear hub. When the flag was dropped, 150,000 saw the green car do what most later described as a "shutter" and then sit on the grid as the field vanished.
Sommer was dumbstruck. The engine was howling, but the car was not moving.
He tried to engage first gear, second gear, jabbing the clutch and trying to get any motion out of the car. It was fruitless. Both of the final-drive output shafts sheared as Sommer engaged the clutch to put it in gear. The cheers of May were now the jeers of August. Fans booed and mocked the team and its members. Some even tossed coins in the cockpit as a nasty reminder that after spending over £150,000 and working for four years that the effort all came down to this.
As for Sommer, he was simply stunned. This was the second time that fate had dealt him such a cruel blow - he had had the same thing happen to him as the driver of the equally ill-fated CTA-Arsenal at the 1947 GP de l'A.C.F. held at Lyons that year.
Although the team eventually did enter several Grand Prix races - the Pena Rhin at the Pedralbes circuit in Barcelona during October 1950 where Peter Walker drove chassis P15/2, equipped with engine 10/2, ran as high as fourth before retiring; and, two entries for the 1951 British GP at Silverstone in July 1951 for Reg Parnell who finished fifth in chassis P15/1, engine 10/1, with Peter Walker in seventh driving P15/2, engine 10/2 - the team was a non-starter at the Italian GP at Monza in September. And then after a convoluted and complicated set of circumstances failed to find race organizers willing to gamble on BRM replacing Alfa Romeo as the opponent to Scuderia Ferrari.
Most races for 1952 were run as F2 events, following the lead of the French organizers of the Grands Prix de France series. Except for a few F1 events that year and the next, that was it for the 1,500 cc V-16. It continued to race in formula libre events in Britain for several more years, but it was increasing viewed as less than serious effort.
The BRM Trust was taken over by Alfred Owen who then formed the Owen Racing Organisation. After many disagreements with Mays and Berthon, another member of the Trust, Tony Vandervell, had quit in disgust and formed his own racing effort, which became known as Vanwall after several different models of Ferrrari were run as Thinwall Specials. Vandervell would actually accomplish what Mays dreamed about - winning Grand Prix events for Britain.
The Owen Racing Organisation built a new car for the 2,500 cc formula for Grand Prix events, the P25. It was first shown in August 1955, and ran its first event at in early September at Aintree. Unlike the complicated, difficult, and perplexing P15, the P25 was relatively simple. It had a four-cylinder engine and a lightweight chasis utilizing a tubular frame with sections of stressed panels both reinforcing the structure and saving weight.
Despite a promising start, the BRM team found itself mired in difficulties during the 1956 through 1958 seasons. It did manage to finally win an F1 event, Jean Behra taking the checkered flag first at Caen on the Le Prairie circuit in late July 1957.
Which all brings us finally to Zandvoort at the end of May, 1959. Disregarding the races in New Zealand, the Dutch race was the fifth of the season for the ORO. At Goodwood in March, Harry Schell and Joakim "Jo" Bonnier had finished third and fourth respectively with Schell on the pole. The B.A.R.C. "200" at Aintree saw both cars entered retire - Harry Schell with an engine failure, Jo Bonnier also with an engine failure, and the Rob Walker Cooper of Stirling Moss was using a BRM engine and running well until the Colatti gearbox failed. At Silverstone for the International Trophy, Ron Flockhart finished fifth and Stirling Moss retired with brake failure while leading and after sitting on the pole. At Monte Carlo, ORO entered three cars for Harry Schell, Jo Bonnier, and Ron Flockhart - all of whom retired from the race.
So, coming into the second round in the Championship, BRM was not considered much of a threat for overall honors, the attention usually being on the Ferrari and works and Rob Walker Coopers. BRM was simply a part of the scenery. ORO entered two cars for Zandvoort: Harry Schell in BRM P25, chassis 259, engine 2586; and for Jo Bonnier, BRM P25, chassis 258, engine 2594. Prior to the race, Stirling Moss conducted some pre-race testing at Zandvoort and put in about 105 laps, with times better than the existing lap record. During the early stages of practice for the race, Moss could not quite match his BRM times in the Rob Walker Cooper-Climax.
Then the Moss Cooper rally started to fly, as did the BRM of Bonnier. The team was also using 15-inch wheels in place of the usual 16-inch ones and finding the handling significantly improved. With Moss on the pole with a time of 1 min 36.2 sec, Bonnier went out and beat the Moss time with a 1 min 36.0 sec lap. Moss and Bonnier sat out the final session, but Brabham finally managed to tie the pole time of Bonnier to move Moss to the outside of the front row. Due to the abrasive surface of the track, a tyre change was a real possibility in the minds of many of the teams. That most had bolt-on wheels meant that a tyre change would be a lengthy process. BRM conducted several practice stops in the 30-second range, but figured that it could cut several seconds off that time during a real stop. Which, by the way, based on their earlier testing would probably not be necessary. However, better safe than sorry.
At the start, Bonnier led off the grid with Masten Gregory in a works Cooper on his heels. In the swerves behind the pits, Gregory grabbed the lead and held it from Bonnier. Then Gregory started to have the gearbox jump out of gear forcing him to hold it in gear. Bonnier then passed Gregory to lead, until Jack Brabham nipped by under braking into Tarzan only to have Bonnier return the favor four laps later. In the meanwhile, Moss was catching both of the leaders. He passed Brabham and took off after Bonnier. Moss caught Bonnier and finally slipped past and was drawing out a slight lead when the Colatti gearbox failed. This left Bonnier and BRM in the lead with only a handful of laps to go. Then the laps ran their appointed course and the checkered flag dropped as Bonnier crossed the finish line for the last time.
At long last, a true victory for BRM. The Bonnier car had been great all weekend and it had finally broke the duck for BRM. The team finally accomplished what it had been striving for all these many years. Given how things went, most assumed that now that BRM had figured how to win, the victories would begin to mount. As usual, that was not how it worked.
The next win for BRM was not until 1962 at the same track. Alfred Owen, in an uncanny echo of Humphey Cook, decided that he was tired of spending his money and getting precious little to show for it. It was either four victories, the World Championship, or curtains. With Graham Hill and Tony Rudd at the helm, the first two were accomplished and the latter avoided. However, in his moment of triumph, Raymond Mays was essentially little more than an on-looker, having little to say in the running of ORO for going on several years. After 1962, he was just another of the many characters that populated British motor racing. Mays died at his family home in Bourne in 1980. He outlasted BRM by three years.
Joakim Bonnier was born in Stockholm on 31 January 1930 and died at Le Mans on 11 June 1972. In between he led quite a life. Racing in national events in an Alfa Romeo Disco Volante, he parlayed that success into being the Alfa distributor for Sweden. He expanded his racing to include the Continent and was soon graduating from the Alfas in the GT classes to another Italian marque in both the sports and GP classes - Maserati. After running a number of events in various Maserati 250F's, Bonnier joined the BRM team at the end of the 1958 season, running the last several events with the team. As noted, he won the Dutch GP, but could only salvage a fifth at the German race for the remainder of the season. He continued to drive GP cars for BRM in 1960, but could only score two fifth place for the season.
In 1961, he switched to Porsche for the GP cars, having already become one of the leading exponents of the German cars in both the F2 and sports car classes in the previous years. Although not as successful as expected, he did the best he could with the equipment provided. In 1962, he once again drove for Porsche, but when it withdrew after that season, he drove for Rob Walker until the end of the 1965 season. In 1966, he bought his own Cooper-Maserati replacing it in early 1968 with the McLaren M5A-BRM - which later was "hung" in his Swiss art gallery as an exhibit. With Phil Hill, he shared the honors as Chaparral won the Nürburgring 1000 km race. In 1969 and 1970, most of his effort was devoted to his art gallery and in racing in the sports car classes, especially the 2-litre category for Lola. In 1972, he campaigned a Lola T280 fitted with a Ford DFV at Le Mans. During the night, he tangled with a privateer Ferrari and the Lola was launched into the trees, killing Bonnier.