Home Cars Vanwall’s constructors’ championship in ’58 changed Grand Prix racing forever

Vanwall’s constructors’ championship in ’58 changed Grand Prix racing forever

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Casablanca, October 1958. A cool breeze off the Atlantic provides spectators at trackside some relief from the afternoon sun, but Stirling Moss hardly notices. It’s the final race of the Formula 1 season, and Moss needs everything to go his way today if he’s going to win the title he covets: a victory, fastest lap and for his rival and fellow countryman, Ferrari’s Mike Hawthorn, to finish no better than third.

Driving Vanwall serial number VW5, Moss jumps out to an early lead. When Phil Hill in another Ferrari pressures him a few laps in, Moss uses the Vanwall’s discs to outbrake Hill’s drums, sending the latter up an escape road trying to keep up with him. Moss pulls away from the pack with each lap, while his teammate Tony Brooks holds off Hawthorne and Hill claws his way back into the race. By the time Hill retakes second place, Moss has extended his lead to nine seconds, but that will grow to nearly half a minute over the next 20 laps as he sets the course record again and again.

A dominant performance, but all for naught. Locked in battle with Hawthorn for third, Brooks’ Vanwall succumbs to valve failure at full song. With no hope of catching Moss, Hill is signaled to let his teammate by for the championship-clenching second. Hill deliberately slows, but it takes Hawthorn four laps to catch up.

Making matters worse, with only 12 laps remaining, a plume of black smoke appears at the far end of the course. It’s Stuart Lewis-Evans, the promising young driver of the third Vanwall. His engine seized midcorner, sending him off the track and rupturing a gas tank. Badly burned, he dies six days later. Tony Vandervell, the gruff and imperious captain of industry who spearheaded the Vanwall effort, blames himself for Lewis-Evans’ death. Just a few months after the Moroccan Grand Prix, he announces his retirement from racing.

So that’s how it ends: a commanding victory and a constructors’ championship—the first ever awarded—for Vanwall, wrapped up in a pall of disappointment and grief. Isn’t that life, though?

Vanwall’s constructors’ championship in ’58 changed Grand Prix racing forever

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