The XXI Grosser Preis von Deutschland was the sixth round of the 1959 Formula One World Championship of Drivers, and it was unusual in many respects.
The first oddity was that the 1959 German Grand Prix had originally been scheduled to take place at it's usual venue, Nürburgring. But political decisions in Bonn, the capital of West Germany, meant that the race was transferred to Berlin. This was of course the Cold War era, when Germany was separated into East and West, divided by boundaries drawn up in 1949. Berlin was isolated over 100 miles inside East Germany, but the Western half of the city remained part of West Germany.
In spite of this, there was a political will that West Berlin should not be totally isolated, and so it was decided that the German Grand Prix should be held there, on the AVUS track.
In truth, AVUS was not ideally suited to hosting Formula One races, and its layout was a concern for the teams and the organisers alike. Speeds were expected to be faster than any other Grand Prix track, tyre wear was expected to be considerable, and suspensions would be tested to the full on the bumpy banking. Such were the concerns that for the first and last time, a Formula One Grand Prix was run over two legs of 30 laps each, the result being decided by combining the times from both heats. The break in between races was presumably intended to allow the teams to change tyres, and check suspensions.
In another unusual occurence, the fastest driver in practise started the race second from last on the grid. Cliff Allison had produced the fastest lap, a tenth faster than his Ferrari team mate Tony Brooks. But Allison was technically a reserve driver, along with Ian Burgess. They were only allowed to take part in the race because of the Porsche team's withdrawal after a fatal accident. If he had taken the place of a team mate, his practise time would have put him on pole. But because it wasn't a team mate he was replacing, his time did not count.
So Tony Brooks took pole, followed by Moss, Gurney, Brabham, Gregory and Phil Hill.
The Owen Organisation had entered two BRM cars for the German Grand Prix, with Jo Bonnier qualifying just below the drivers mentioned above in seventh, and Harry Schell just below him in eighth.
However, British Racing Partnership had also entered a BRM, driven by Hans Herrmann, who qualified in 11th place.
AVUS, or Automobil Verkehrs und Übungsstraße (Automobile traffic and training road) to give the track it's full name, was the first track to hold the German Grand Prix in 1926. Even then though the circuit was considered dangerous, so the race was transferred to Nürburgring for many years, in fact right up until 1959.
The track is sometimes described as a street circuit. But it was unlike any traditional street circuit that you might imagine. In fact it was based on a long, straight stretch of autobahn which runs through the Grunewald forest along the historic Königsweg road from Charlottenburg to Potsdam.
The circuit simply consisted of two massive straight runs down either side of the dual carriageway, with a hairpin at either end to turn the cars around and send them down the opposite side of the road. Actually, hairpin might accurately describe the Südkurve, but it doesn't even come close to encapsulating the fearsome Nordkurve.
The Nordkurve at AVUS, which had once been a flat 180° turn around, was completely rebuilt in 1936 to create an absolute monster of a corner, which helped to make AVUS the fastest circuit in Grand Prix racing for over 50 years. The corner was originally approached from a six mile long straight, and after a quick flick to the right the drivers were flung into a huge sweeping left turn, with an unmatched, brick built banking with no safety barriers whatsoever. Just for comparison, Indianapolis was banked at 11°, Brooklands had banking of 30°, and Daytona 31°. It would be fair to say then that AVUS was extreme with its 43° banking.
The 1959 German Grand Prix would hammer home the dangerous nature of the Nordkurve when Jean Behra flew off the top of the banking in a Formula 2 race the day before the main event. No amount of experience and know how can help you when you are flying through the air at high speed and Behra, sadly perished. The Porsche team withdrew from the meeting.
AVUS Carrera Track Plan
Footprint :- 9.69 x 1.75m
Lanes :- 2
Lane Length :- 20.44m
Track :- Carrera Evolution
XXI Grosser Preis von Deutschland
1959 German Grand Prix
In spite of all the dangers inherent in the Berlin track, it was regarded as being... well, without wishing to be rude, it was boring.
The circuit had been substantially shortened, but in 1959 it was still over 8km, or five miles long, and with just two corners on the whole track, the vast majority of those five miles were long straights. So, although it may take considerable bravery to drive a flimsy Formula One car at such high speeds for so long, it didn't require quite the same level of skill as taking a car around a series of constantly changing corners.
Stirling Moss was reported as being quite vocal in his criticism of the circuit, and the local Berlin press were naturally less than happy on hearing his opinions.
The nature of the track was naturally expected to favour the powerful, front engined Ferraris over the more nimble, mid engined Coopers, agility being an unnecessary commodity on this particular track. But that's not to say that the Ferraris had it all their own way.
At the start of the race, Brooks led from pole position in his Ferrari, but Masten Gregory in his Cooper Climax leapt up from fifth to second, and continued to match the Ferraris of Brooks, Gurney and Hill, along with team mate Brabham, both using slipstreams to keep up with the Maranello cars. Moss unfortunately retired on lap two with gear problems, and Brabham later began to fall behind the leaders. Phil Hill dropped back too, fooled by a faulty rev counter.
The three leaders swapped places regularly over many laps, until Gregory's Coventry Climax engine gave up completely, leaving the Ferraris to canter effortlessly home in a 1, 2, 3 formation, of Brooks, Gurney and Hill.
Only nine cars took to the grid for the second race, since only the cars that had finished the first heat were allowed to start the second.
Bruce McLaren shot off the line to take the lead, but it was short lived, as all three Ferrari drivers overtook him on the long straights, as did Jo Bonnier in the BRM P25, who had pushed his way up amongst the Ferraris.
McLaren came back, but Bonnier faded. By lap four however the three Ferraris had taken charge, and on lap seven McLaren's Cooper suffered a transfer gear failure just as Moss and Brabham had earlier.
Hans Herrmann had suffered a spectacular crash as his BRM's brakes failed, but he was thrown clear and was lucky enough to walk away without significant injuries.
The race was now no more than a Ferrari procession for the last twenty laps, and only the winner Tony Brooks, and his team mates Dan Gurney and Phil Hill completed the full race distance, with everyone else having retired or been lapped.
In what has been described as a chaotically organised race, there were many problems.
Apart from the many unusual oddities we've already mentioned there were other practical issues...
The paddock area was hidden away behind the banked turn, quite some distance from the pits which were some way down the start straight, and the time keeping building, which was at the area near the exit of the Northern hairpin. This made communication, and the smooth operation of the races almost impossible.
At the start of the second heat Cliff Allison and Graham Hill were lined up at the back of the grid, but just before the start was given the organisers changed their mind about letting them start and they were both sent back to the paddock.
According to Formula One rules of the day, drivers who retired before the end of the Grand Prix should only be classified if they pushed the car over the line after the finish. This rule was not applied to Harry Schell, who retired some 11 laps before the end. So unless he pushed his car over 50 miles he should not have been classified.
At the end of the race, the wrong Italian national anthem was played for the Scuderia Ferrari victory.
But Formula One history seems to be packed full of unfathomable occurences, and I don't think we can pretend that those have been eradicated in modern times, far from it.