The 1958 Belgian Grand might be said to have been something of a comedy of errors in some ways.
Of course, a race as fast and as challenging as the old Spa circuit allowed, could never be truly comedic for the drivers. But a combination of organisational and mechanical problems certainly threw some spanners into the works.
The circuit at Spa had extensive work done after the 1956 Grand Prix. The pits and paddock were rebuilt, corners were eased, bumps were removed and the track was resurfaced. Of course this shouldn't have been a problem, but all the work was to no avail as financial wrangles prevented the Belgian GP being held in 1957.
When Formula One returned to Spa in 1958, it wasn't to hold the Belgian Grand Prix. Oh, it may well be widely known as the Belgian Grand Prix, and named as such in almost every source available. But technically it was the Grand Prix of Europe, as you'll see from the official programme.
The race itself had been slashed in length from 36 laps to 24, and many considered this to be more of a sprint race than a true Grand Prix.
Worse still though, was that all of the race progammes had been printed with a stated race length of 30 laps, leaving many spectators with the impression that the race had inexplicably been ended six laps early.
Nonetheless, practise and qualifying at the fearsome old Spa was always exciting, and with alterations to the circuit and new cars to contend with, it took a little while for everyone to get used to the changes. But soon lap times started to tumble, with first Hawthorn, then Moss leading the way.
So confident were the Vanwall team that Moss's lap time would not be beaten, that his car was not even taken to the final practise session. The team spent the time simply preparing his car for the race. The only car Moss drove in the final session was a new Maserati sports car which was loaned to him. Times were different back then
Anyway, you can probaly guess what happened next. As Moss's Vanwall sat in pieces in the garage, both Hawthorn and Lusso posted faster times, in their Ferraris.
As for the BRM drivers, Harry Schell qualified seventh, and Jean Behra tenth.
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, or more simply Spa is located in the Belgian Ardennes, and in 1958 the circuit was used as everyday public roads. There were no safety modifications of any kind around the track and the conditions of the circuit were, aside from a few straw bales, virtually identical to everyday civilian use. There were houses, trees, electric poles, fences and other obstacles located right next to the track.
From 1939 to 1978 the circuit was a daunting, high speed track which travelled for 8.8 miles or 14.1 km out into the hills and forests of the Ardennes. Since its inception, the circuit was famous for its unpredictable and localised weather, where drivers were confronted with different atmospheric and track conditions around the circuit.
Spa is still famous today for the awesome Eau Rouge and Radillon complex, but before it was shortened in 1979, the circuit had an even more fearsome section, the Masta Kink. Once described by Jackie Stewart as "by far the most difficult corner in the world", the high speed, left-right chicane was approached at full speed, after the 1.5 mile straight from Malmedy, and maintaining speed through Masta was vital for the following long straight run to Stavelot. It was infamous and treacherous.
Spa Francorchamps Scalextric Track Plan
Footprint :- 6.51 x 5.93m
Lanes :- 2
Lane Length :- 20.98m
Track :- Scalextric Sport
XIX Grote Prijs Van Belgie
1958 European Grand Prix
BRM drivers Jean Behra and Harry Schell are paraded before the race
Before the start of the race, the drivers were paraded around the track in open topped sports cars. This might not sound noteworthy nowadays, but we include a quote from Denis Jenkinson's detailed race report which might suggest that this was a relatively new innovation at the time....
...then a parade of drivers took place in real Hollywood film-star style, each driver sitting on the back of an open two-seater, such as 190SL, 300SL, Giulietta, etc, with his (or her) name on a huge placard across the front of the car, and they were driven slowly round the circuit for the crowd to applaud.
We'll come back to that quote a little later, but let's move on to the start of the race, which to be honest was a complete cock up.
When the drivers were given their grid positions, the whole grid was the wrong way round, with the fastest qualifiers in each row, lined up on the slower side of the track when entering the first corner.
Hawthorn rightly pointed out the error and the race organisers swapped the front row around. But unbelieveably the rest of the grid was not changed. So the first three qualifiers were in their rightful places, but the fifth placed driver on the grid qualified faster than the fourth, and the eigth placed on the grid qualified faster than seventh or sixth. This carried on all the way down the 3-2-3-2 rows to the back of the grid.
But things got even worse.
As the drivers waited nervously on the grid, the two minute signal was given. With a minute to go until the race start, the cars were fired up. Formula One cars have never been designed to sit still for very long, they overheat if they don't have air rushing over their radiators.
But without explanation or indication, the officials responsible for starting the race added an extra minute before the race start, and then another still.
The cars and the drivers sat on the grid overheating, and finally Peter Collins' Ferrari boiled over, with water and oil temperatures dangerously high, steam and water spewing out, paint blistering on the bonnet of his car, and every other car on the grid likely to meet the same fate in the near future.
Before the end of that second, inexplicably added minute, the pit crews and managers were shouting and waving, and the cars were starting to creep forward with the unbearably extended expectation of finally starting the race.
According to Jenkinson, the man with the start flag also lost patience, and finally the race was under way.
And they're Off
After all that drama before the race had even started, we could obviously expect an exciting race to follow.
Well, no, not really. Moss took the lead at the start, but retired half way round the first lap.
Brooks and Collins swapped places for the lead of the race several times, but Collins' Ferrari was fatally damaged at the start and retired on lap 6. Musso had a puncture, and crashed out also on lap 6.
At a quarter distance the race was more or less settled, with Brooks increasing his lead over Hawthorn, who was in turn increasing his lead over Lewis-Evans.
This was Tony Brooks first solo Grand Prix win. It sounds an odd thing to say nowadays but he shared his car, and the victory with Stirling Moss at the 1957 British Grand Prix, so this was Brooks' first 'proper' race win.
In yet another oddity, all three of the podium placed finishers had broken cars as they finished the race. Brooks' gearbox seized as he crossed the finish line, Hawthorne's engine failed as he approached the finish line, and Lewis-Evans suspension collapsed as he approached the final corner. It seems that none of the cars which took their drivers to podium finishes would have lasted another lap.
There are many things about this race that were absurd or just plain wrong, but there are a few things to celebrate.
Firstly, well it was at Spa-Francorchamps, the old track, and that's a place of wonder, and danger.
Secondly, as we've mentioned, it was Tony Brooks' first proper win, and that trainee dentist was quite a driver.
Finally, let me take you back to the quote from Denis Jenkinson where he says that each driver had "his (or her) name on a huge placard across the front of the car".
That might have been the first time that Jenks had ever needed to add "(or her)" to his race race report.
The lady in question was Maria Teresa de Filippis, the first woman to qualify for, and race in a Formula One race.