Spa at its malignant worst
- Felix Muelas, Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W October 1999 issue
- BRP - Dad, Ken Gregory and their dream team, by Felix Muelas
- Lotus - The rise of a phenomenon, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas
Chris Bristow, Bruce McLaren
Yeoman Credit Racing Team (British Racing Partnership) Cooper-Climax T51, Cooper-Climax T53
1960 Monaco GP
1960 Dutch GP
The 1960 Monaco and Dutch GPs saw two plucky drives from men taken away from us at the next event. Both would die in a traumatic race at Spa - it would last until the black Sunday at Imola in 1994 before again two drivers would get killed during one event.
Of course, when a driver dies in action he is always taken away too early, but in the case of Bristow and Stacey the word "early" received an entirely new meaning. In the end, the bare statistics remaining are a mere four (Bristow) and seven (Stacey) championship entries and no points. It's a hollow reflection of what could have been.
Particularly in the case of Chris Bristow, the record books only show the promise of his outstanding qualifying performances in a private year-old Cooper. Yet Bristow is now remembered by some who knew him as "a Michael Schumacher of his day". A meteor in the true sense, his career took off in dramatic style and came to an even more dramatic end. Nor do the books remember the overshadowed Alan Stacey, a valiant soldier with a disability that did not avoid him progressing in his chosen sport. Only the newspapers, on Monday, June 20, 1960, gave the two men praise as they related how at Spa fate had made no distinction between their respective abilities and prospects, and reached out for them both.
Chris Bristow, the son of a south London car hire operator, began racing an MG Special in 1956 but sprang to international prominence in the John Davy Trophy F2 race at Brands Hatch on the August Bank Holiday of 1959. Ken Gregory recalls the details of how he went to meet and sign young Bristow during the Crystal Palace meeting on 18th May 1959, shortly after the London Trophy race: "Ivor [Bueb, their number one driver] eventually finished second and George Wicken was fourth. Sandwiched between our pale green cars was a surprising young man, twenty-one-year-old Chris Bristow from Streatham, who drove a hybrid motor car called a Hume-Cooper [actually based on a 43, entered by T G Payne] with immense zest and commendable skill. The driving of Bristow had been brought to my attention by several people and as by then we felt that George Wicken, who was as good a fighter on his day as any other driver, was not able to give his best in the BRP Cooper, it was agreed that the best thing was to seek a younger driver to take George's place. Shortly after the Crystal Palace meeting, we gave Bristow the opportunity of trying out a Cooper-Borgward at Brands Hatch. The tests were surprising, almost alarming, so fast did young Bristow prove, yet so capable was he that we lost no time in signing him up to drive for BRP during the reminder of the 1959 season as well as holding an option on his services for 1960."
So they went to Reims, on July 5, 1959, for the III Coupe Internationale de Vitesse. Gregory continues: "Despite his retirement, young Bristow had driven splendidly in his first race for the Partnership - and, incidentally, his first race abroad, and Alfred Moss and I were well satisfied with our new recruit."
The following weekend they went to Rouen for the VII GP de Rouen-les-Essarts. "We were more than pleased at Chris Bristow's performance. Though a newcomer to the splendid circuit at Rouen, he 'mixed it' gallantly with older hands, and fought a spirited duel with Maurice Trintignant in Rob Walker's Cooper-Climax, finally beating him into fifth place by half a length."
On July 26, the team headed for Clermont Ferrand to participate in the second Trophée d'Auvergne. His team-mate Ivor Bueb was killed there whilst Chris made a fantastic start and shot into the lead for three laps but was forced into retirement when the water cap in his radiator became loose and lost all pressure on the cooling system. Gregory recalls the events with sorrow: "Ivor Bueb's crash and eventual death had a terrible effect on young Bristow, who had so far not been subjected to the tragedies of motor racing, and it very nearly put him off racing altogether. Chris was due to race at Brands Hatch on the August Bank Holiday Monday meeting, but almost decided not to appear. We had to leave him to make his own decision." Fortunately Bristow eventually decided to race, putting up such a brilliant show at Brands that he completely stole the limelight and won the main Formula 2 event against such comparative veterans as Jack Brabham and Roy Salvadori. He won from Salvadori and Brabham by four and five seconds respectively in the first heat, then settled sensibly for third, close enough behind them in the second, to take the overall win (by a total of 1.8 seconds!).
Then Ken Gregory arranged for Bristow to drive in the Porsche works team at Goodwood in the TT race early in September, co-driving with Hans Herrmann. There, before crashing after a tangle - ironically with Alan Stacey - in which he practically wrote-off the Porsche, he harried Cliff Allison in the works Ferrari Testa Rossa.
For late September, Gregory decided to make him debut in the BRP F1 car and they went to Oulton Park for the International Gold Cup. He was excellent again, finishing in third place, just behind Moss and Brabham. No more than 2 seconds away from the winner, the kid had once again shocked the establishment.
For 1960, and with veteran Harry Schell having been appointed as team leader, he started the season with another spectacular drive at Goodwood for the Glover Trophy (April 18, 1960) where he took pole and finished third, only Ireland and Moss beating him. But on May 13, while practising for the International Trophy, Schell crashed at Abbey and was killed. When Bristow finally made his World Championship GP debut in an outright F1 car at Monaco a fortnight later he was mighty, qualifying a sensational joint third fastest with Yeoman Credit team mate Tony Brooks and Jo Bonnier. Ken Gregory was worried about Bristow's inexperience and thus nominated Brooks to start on the front row alongside Moss and Brabham. "That was my judgement, and a mistake, in hindsight," he admitted many years later. Bristow's transmission failed early on (lap 17).
In Holland on the 6th of June, Chris qualified seventh and retired on lap 9 with engine trouble while running sixth. Photos reveal his character head down, bulling the car at Goodwood and Spa, two-wheeling at Monaco, tail out at Zandvoort, exuding the will to win. "He was a master of the four-wheel drift," Gregory confirms. "I wasn't his manager and didn't want to be, but I regarded him as a protegé and he knew that we were preparing him for what would have been great things."
Meanwhile, three years of club racing had taken Alan Stacey to works driver status with Team Lotus by 1958, when he made his F1 debut in the British GP. He was eighth in the same race a year later, but promotion to Innes Ireland's number two for 1960 only brought frustration, with retirements in Argentina, Monaco and Holland, where he had run third for almost the entire race before the transmission broke on lap 57.
Going to Spa he had only a fourth place in the International Trophy at Silverstone by way of consolation. Journalist Gerard (Jabby) Crombac knew Stacey well, both professionally and socially. "He had an artificial leg," Crombac writes in Colin Chapman, The man and his Cars. "His right leg was cut just under the knee, and in order to double-declutch he had a motorcycle throttle on the gearlever. His mechanic was Bill Bossom, who had a missing arm. So there was this weird combination of a guy with one leg and a mechanic with one hand!" They were tremendously popular with everyone because, despite their particular handicaps, they had each risen to the top of their branch of the sport.
Ireland, Stacey's great friend and team mate, took delight in kidding a disbelieving Jim Clark, during their early relationship as Colin Chapman's drivers, that Stacey indeed had a false limb. "At Rouen one year," Crombac recalls, "Alan had to pass a medical. Team Lotus was - like most British teams at that time - very scared of the bureaucracy of French organisers. So I was sent to go with him. Well, there is that test where the doctor touches your knee with a rubber hammer, to check the reflex. So Alan showed his proper leg for the first test, then I distracted the doctor's attention and Alan quickly made sure that he tested the same leg again!"
Friends speak of both men with great affection. Tony Tobias remembers them well: "BRP was based in Lots Road, Chelsea, near where we lived," he says, "and I remember Chris driving down the King's Road in a Jaguar K140, standing on the seat and only bending down to steer. He liked doing that! He was a cavalier person. He'd duck and dive, selling sportscars. I saw him do his party piece once at Silverstone too, driving along, standing on the seat. But he was a total racer. If you talk of him today, you'd talk of him being like Rindt." Many years after Stacey's death, writer Eoin Young was embarrassed to note that while speaking of him one day, Ireland was movingly close to tears. "Alan was a very nice bloke; cheerful, not complicated," Crombac confirms. "A lovely bloke. A really nice chap."
Bristow's and Stacey's careers seemed to offer different futures as they lined up on the 18-car grid that day at Spa: Bristow ninth, Stacey 17th.
Stacey had probably gone as far as he could. Crombac felt that his F1 career was about to stall. "In Formula Junior and the Lotus Eleven he was terrific," Crombac says. "But when it came to Formula One he didn't enjoy the proper throttle control which he needed. That was really his shortcoming. I think the cars were getting too much for him. When he wanted to put the throttle down, he had to shift his hips."
By contrast, Bristow had the potential to go all the way. "In those days you had to get the car sliding," says J Blunsden. "The sense of balance and co-ordination was typified by Stirling. In those who had it, it shone so clearly. In those who didn't, it didn't half show. Chris had it. Undoubtedly he could have been something. He was bloody quick. Another couple of years and people would have seen just how great he was. There were quite a few who didn't get over that fearlessness threshold in time, and were killed. But Chris was so quick that even in his short time his talent was all too obvious. He was incredibly quick but relatively inexperienced, and for a such driver that was the most dangerous period of all." Ken Gregory comes to a stunning conclusion: "If he had survived, almost certainly he would have been a potential world champion. He was the early Schumacher of his day."
But Gregory rejects the "fearless" tag. "I don't agree with that. I think he knew fear. With the greatest respect to those who believe Chris was fearless, if a driver is fearless he is going to find situations he doesn't expect or can't cope with. It is the capacity to get as near as possible to the line of disaster, with confidence, that enables the good drivers to go as fast as they do. If they are fearless, they would get up to that and beyond it, and wouldn't survive long. So I don't think fearless was the right word for Chris, at all."
Gregory's recollection of Bristow's off-track character also cuts across the Cockney, Jack-the-Lad image others saw. "He was a relatively quiet young man, not boisterous at all. He didn't have an outgoing personality. He kept fairly well to himself and was extremely fond of his sister, Sonia. He was always extremely neat, very punctual and utterly committed. An ideal team member."
That fated weekend Spa was at its malignant worst, for in practice Stirling Moss shunted heavily, sustaining a broken nose and legs, when his Lotus lost a wheel at Burnenville, just beyond the spot where Bristow would crash. Many drivers stopped at the scene, and it was some time before people in the pits realised that the missing Mike Taylor was not one of them and had had his own alarming accident near Stavelot. His Lotus had plunged into the trees after its steering column sheared. A dark cloud descended, but worse was yet to come. These were only the warning shots, just as Rubens Barrichello's horrific crash on Imola Friday.
On the next day, during the race, Bristow was embroiled in an aggressive dice for sixth place with the Ferraris of Wolfgang von Trips and wild Willy Mairesse when, on the 20th lap, he made what appeared to be an unforced error at Burnenville. The apple green Cooper rolled over several times, decapitating him in the process. Clark, in his first season of F1 for Lotus, nearly struck his body where it lay. This horrifying experience, coupled with the death of Archie Scott-Brown two years earlier, lay at the root of the peerless Scot's absolute detesting of Spa.
Two laps later Stacey, lying seventh, crashed at 140mph. Though his Lotus burned, there was sufficient evidence to convince his mechanics that he had been struck in the face by a bird.
It was a silent Formula One fraternity acknowledging Jack Brabham's victory that day.
Reader's Why by Michael Ferner
This is a sequence of pictures with a sombre background: We witness the third-to-last race of a young English hopeful.
Bristow seemed to be destined for the very top when, after a couple of years racing sportscars he was signed by BRP, the new team of Stirling Moss' manager Ken Gregory and father Alfred Moss. BRP had acquired the first couple of 1959 F2-Coopers, painted them in a distinctive pale-green and fitted them with the 16-valve engine from the German Borgward 1500RS sportscar as opposed to the Climax FPF of their rivals. With Moss himself driving a similar car (actually the Monaco GP winner of 1958) there was even a perfect yardstick to measure success. Sadly, their season was badly disrupted when lead driver Ivor Bueb, the 1955 LeMans winner, fatally crashed at Clermont-Ferrand, only a week after Bristow had won the prestigious F2 race at the British GP meeting.
Bristow managed to keep the team's spirits high when the following Monday (a bank holiday) he won another race at Brands Hatch, this time against a world-class field only lacking Moss, and at the end of the season was regarded as by-and-large the best F2 driver around. During the year BRP had tested the F1 water with a P25 BRM, but this had been destroyed by Hans Herrmann during a spectacular crash at the German GP at the AVUS. For the International Gold Cup at Oulton Park Bristow's Cooper was fitted with a 2.5 FPF to give young Chris his first F1 experience. Bristow did not exactly disappoint with third in qualifying and race, behind Moss and Brabham, but far ahead of Salvadori, Hill and the rest of the field.
With the support of finance company Yeoman Credit (probably the first sponsor in Grand Prix racing) the team now bought two new Coopers, hired Harry Schell and ditched the Borgward engines for a conventional F1/F2 programme with Climax FPFs. After some rather disappointing F2 results came the Easter Goodwood meeting, the first European F1 race, where Bristow recorded pole position - remember, this was his second ever F1 race! - and finished third again. The race belonged to Innes Ireland and the stunning new Lotus 18, which had already caused a stirr amongst the Cooper Car Co. The result of this was the "low-line" T53 Cooper (seen here in the background) which first appeared at the International Trophy meeting at Silverstone. There Schell perished in a practice shunt, so that once again Bristow had to restore team morale. He actually did a good job by qualifying third at the Monaco GP, his first WC race, but dropped out early, still in touch with the leaders. The race was finally won by Moss in the Walker-Lotus, the first WC win for the constructor but not yet for the team.
After a rather disappointing Dutch GP, where Bristow again retired early on, he lined up for the Belgian GP which proved to be a dark event, much like the same race 21 years later or Imola in 1994. While dicing for sixth place with local hero Willy Mairesse, Bristow's Cooper left the road at the fast Burnenville corner and the unlucky driver was decapitated by a wire fence.
At 22, he remains the youngest-ever driver to die during a WC event, a somewhat shallow statistic. He was actually almost nine years younger than Graham Hill who stayed in F1 for another 15 years, and only a couple of years older than Mario Andretti, the 1978 World Champion who retired from single-seaters just five years ago. What might have been...
Second part of the sequence: Second-to-last race of another young English hopeful.
Stacey brought himself to the attention of Team Lotus as a successful Lotus 11 privateer in 1956, earning himself a works drive for 1957. The following year he undertook some races in the unsuccessful Smith-Climax F2, but the highlight of his season was a drive in the British GP for Lotus, where he qualified last and retired early. In 1959 he was a regular Team Lotus driver with a season's best of eighth in the British GP, but more often than not he was not even entered as Graham Hill and Innes Ireland were regarded as the main drivers.
When Hill joined BRM in 1960 Stacey was promoted to number two behind Ireland and after a couple of races in the old type 16 was finally given one of the new rear-engined cars. With the 18 he actually qualified ahead of Ireland and Clark at Aintree but retired early, as ever so often with the fragile Lotus. His best result was fourth in the International Trophy, albeit almost two laps behind his teammate Ireland. Another frustrating retirement at Monaco was followed by his best ever race at Zandvoort. Here, he was dicing with Ireland for third early in the race and held that position comfortably when Moss lost close to two laps with a puncture, but seventeen laps from the flag his transmission failed. The race was highlighted by Moss' magnificent catch-up drive, Jim Clark's WC debut and, on a sadder note by an accident in which a spectator was killed.
A fortnight later, in practice for the Belgian GP both Lotus privateers, Moss and Mike Taylor suffered major accidents through component failures. The works cars were strengthened and sent into the race, where Stacey ran sixth at two-thirds only to be hit in the face by a bird and crash fatally.
It is probably fair to say that, in contrast to Bristow Stacey was a rather mediocre driver, flattered by a brilliant car, but maybe it was just his lack of single-seater experience. Still, no one can deny the impact the type 18 Lotus made. It was an exciting car, even by its sheer looks, and really marked the beginning of the sixties in autoracing. It actually appeared first at Boxing Day in 1959, in FJunior form when it was driven by Stacey at Brands Hatch, finishing tenth. An inauspicious debut, to say the least!
That race actually saw the emergence of several main players of the sixties: Peter Arundell, who won, Jim Clark (both immediately signed by Chapman) and race car constructor Lola. Only six weeks later, Innes Ireland introduced the F1 version of the 18 with a bang in the Argentine. In the words of Mike Lawrence, the Lotus appeared "a Cooper made with applied science" and that was exactly to the point. In no time at all it made all the leading constructors rethink their existing designs, beginning with Brabham/Cooper who were finally given a run for their money. Thirty-one of the big version were built, and 125 of the FJunior car, probably the first single-seater in mass production, also there were 19 type 18-derived sports car Lotus 19s. While the T53 Cooper still won the WC, the new Lotus was almost unbeatable in FJunior and became the blueprint of all "funny cars" of the sixties.