For a driver who won his first Grand Prix and came close to clinching the 1959 drivers’ championship, not an awful lot gets written about Tony Brooks.
Stirling Moss – whom Brooks gave a run for his money when they were team mates at Vanwall in 1958 – is the subject of a string of titles including Robert Edwards’ excellent biography, a recent title All My Races the earlier My Cars, My Career.
Moss’s credentials can hardly be overstated but Brooks admits his own reticence has much to do with why his name isn’t as well-remembered.
It took 15 years to persuade Brooks, who turned 80 in February, to put pen to paper. The result has certainly been worth the wait. Poetry in Motion, the new hardback from Motor Racing Publications, does superb justice to his racing career.
Aided by his own racing journals and articles, and fact-checked against contemporary sources, Brooks has produced an account of his time in motorsport that professional writers would be proud of.
He recalls his races in fine detail, without lapsing into the dull recitation of grid positions and classifications which some F1 driver biographies suffer from. He has a wry sense of humour, particularly when it come to relating some of the more alarming crashes he was involved in.
Brooks has a realistic view of the dangers of racing in the time which comes from seeing its perils at close quarters. His first race as a factory driver for Aston Martin came at Le Mans in 1955, when Mercedes driver Pierre Levegh crashed and was killed along with more than 80 spectators.
During his time in F1 Peter Collins, Stuart Lewis-Evans, Luigi Musso and Jean Behra were among those who lost their lives. Brooks explains how his early brushes with disaster resolved him to adopt a more cautious approach.
He takes the opportunity to set the record straight on some matters, such as his decision to hand his car over to Moss during the 1957 British Grand Prix, which Moss went on to win. Brooks had been injured in a crash at Le Mans a month earlier and was still suffering the effects.
He offers some informed and considered views on this period’s talking points, notably Moss’s lack of championship success. Brooks attributes this partly to Moss’s fondness for cobbling together ‘specials’ in an attempt to combine the best elements of different cars, which often ended up letting him down – sometimes to Brooks’ advantage.
His recollections also shine a light on the differing attitudes to sportsmanship at the time. He praises Moss for going out of his way to help Mike Hawthorn keep his second place in Portugal in 1958 – actions which ultimately cost Moss the championship.
But 12 months later Brooks was relegated from the front row of the grid for the title-decider due to a piece of chicanery by Harry Schell. While he doesn’t so far as to say it cost him the championship, it’s not hard to see how it could have given he was hit by another driver on the first lap.
Brooks recounts his joy of racing at the grand old circuits of Spa-Francorchamps and the Nurburgring Nordschleife, his pride in scoring his first win in the non-championship race at Syracuse in 1955, and his careful diplomacy while partnering Behra at Ferrari.
It is a rare treat to find such an absorbingly detailed account of racing in the early years of the world championship. Given how few of the drivers from that era have survived, it may be a while before another one appears.
The only criticisms I can offer are minor: the “in the wider world” interjections are unnecessary and the picture captions draw too heavily from the body text at times.
Then there is the small matter of the price. At £50 it’s rather steep – the lowest online prices are over £30 and there isn’t an eBook version available.
But books like this don’t come along that often, and this superb title is worth every penny.
Poetry in Motion: Autobiography of a supreme Grand Prix driver
Author: Tony Brooks
Publisher: Motor Racing Publications
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