- 1957 British Grand Prix
Why can't we be friends?Laurence Edmondson July 7, 2010
Four days before the first practice session of the 2010 British Grand Prix and the sponsors of the event are holding a press conference with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at the Great Ormond Street Hospital. About 15 journalists are in the room, me included, and every one of them wants a quote to lead their newspaper or website; if it's good enough maybe it could even vie for column inches with the World Cup.
A question flies in from the left of the room, probing the relationship between the two: Is the harmony at McLaren about to boil over into a fierce competition? No luck. Hamilton plays his favourite line about the pair being good actors and actually hating each other - his expression is riddled with schoolboy sarcasm as they snigger to each other. That won't even do as a stand-alone quote for the press, we've already heard it before.
Another question is put forward, this time from the other side of the lecture theatre: Did you hear that Damon Hill recently compared you to the tortoise (Button) and the hare (Hamilton) from Aesop's fable? Again, no luck. The sniggering continues and the question is brushed aside.
Eventually, everybody leaves the auditorium frustrated. No World Cup-challenging headline for the F1 journalists and a tedious session of repeating the party line for the drivers. But is it so difficult to believe that two men of the same age, in the same profession and with very similar experiences could actually be good friends?
Rewind a week or so and I'm in an altogether different and more relaxing interview with Sir Stirling Moss. We've just finished discussing his column over a cup of tea and the conversation turns to the 1957 British Grand Prix at Aintree - his favourite race on home soil. It's an unusual choice as the victory was shared with his Vanwall team-mate Tony Brooks, but in those days things were different, and for Moss a joint-win was all the more satisfying.
"It was not a great circuit or anything else, but it was the first time a British car won a world championship race. And sharing it with Tony Brooks, who was such a fantastic driver anyway, certainly didn't take anything away from it."
Moss had qualified on pole but was beaten away from the line by Jean Behra in the Lancia-Ferrari. The pair were two of the most formidable driving talents of the era and fought intensely for a couple of laps before Moss crossed the line in the lead at the start of the third lap. Brooks was third in another of the Vanwalls and Britons Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins were fourth and fifth in Ferraris. But Moss was by far the most impressive and soon built up a sizable lead by pushing the knife-edge handling of the Vanwall to the limit.
"Cooper would just weld a couple of FIATs together and there it is - and that was always a nice car to drive, you really could do whatever you wanted with it. The Chapman cars never were never like that but in the right hands they were faster. If you had the ability, say like Jim Clark, then it was very quick, but you never said, 'Oh God that really feels good in the corners'. I mean I won in Monaco with a Lotus but it was never as nice as the Maserati around there."
Another problem with the Vanwall, although more in 1958 than 1957, was its reliability and on lap 51 at Aintree Moss's car came into the pits with a sick sounding engine. Behra quickly resumed the lead and an inspection under the Vanwall's sculpted bonnet confirmed the British fans' worst fears: Moss was out of the race.
"My fuel injection pipe was broken or something," says Moss searching for the exact reason. "We decided to pull in poor Tony because he was still suffering from a shunt at Le Mans and was not in good shape at all. He was out on track and he saw that I had retired and was really relieved to give his car to me, because of course it was a three hour minimum [race length] in those days."
With Behra looking comfortable in the lead Lancia-Ferrari ahead of Hawthorn, Moss returned to the track in ninth place and immediately started coming back through the field.
"I came out quite a long way down but that suited me fine. You see the trouble is that when you are leading and the car fails, you get labelled as a car breaker. But when you're at the back coming through the field they don't care if you break it. So at least I could have a go."
"Aintree was really tough on the brakes so you had to drive the three hours with consideration for the discs. At the time that was fairly unusual because the disc brakes were so good and so reliable, but at that race I remember being very careful, pushing hard mind you, but keeping brake preservation at the back of my mind."
It was a wise strategy, as with 21 laps remaining the race swung back in Moss's favour when Behra's clutch and flywheel assembly exploded. The remnants of the Lancia-Ferrari's drivetrain were scattered across the circuit and moments later second-place Hawthorn ran over some of the debris, puncturing his tyre and dropping him down the order. Moss read the situation immediately and passed Lewis-Evans cleanly for the lead.
It looked as though it might be a magnificent 1-2 home victory for Vanwall, but the throttle linkage on Lewis-Evans's car snapped and he dropped down the order while repairing it himself on the trackside. Moss went on to win the race comfortably ahead of Luigi Musso's Lancia-Ferrari and the recovering Hawthorn. The podium scenes are now legendary, with Moss and Brooks both holding the trophy, their faces covered in dirt.
"Tony is such a nice bloke and it was fantastic to have done it with two British chaps and a British car at the British Grand Prix," says Moss as his wife Lady Susie enters the room and listens in on the interview. She immediately cottons on to the story and aptly sums up the scene.
"And none of that frosty podium stuff, just respect," she says. "They were so happy for each other and they'd won it together, won it as a team."
Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1