The VII Grote Prijs van Nederland was the third race in the 1959 Formula One World Championship of Drivers. The race would prove to be hugely significant for BRM, at a time when Alfred Owen was losing faith in the team, but we'll get to that later.
The second race of the 1959 season was the Indianapolis 500. This might sound odd, especially since none of the F1 teams attended, but in fact the Indy 500 was part of every Formula One season right up to and including 1960. In 1959 however, the Indianapolis race was scheduled the day before the Dutch GP, meaning that the established European teams were not just unlikely to take part, but that it would be impossible for them to do so.
Consequently there were three weeks between Monaco and Zandvoort, which the teams used for testing and development. BRM arrived at Zandvoort a week before the race, and loaning Stirling Moss as the test driver completed over a hundred laps in testing the P25. Rob Walker's team turned up later in the week with their Cooper Climaxes, and of course Moss was their contracted driver, so Stirling must have become quite familiar with the circuit. Lotus arrived the day before the official start of the race weekend with Graham Hill at the wheel for testing.
BRM were limited to two entries, Jo Bonnier and Harry Schell. In spite of the Vanwall team's retirement from Formula One, the Dutch organisers felt there were enough cars sporting British Racing Green in the field. So they gave the 14th and final entry to Dutch nobleman Carol de Beaufort driving a wholly unsuitable, and uncompetitive Porsche RSK sports car, much to the consternation of many in the pit lane. There were four Coopers entered, and with two Lotuses, that meant six Climax engined cars. Along with two BRMs and two Aston Martins, ten of the fourteen entries were British.
...about an hour before the start was due the Ferrari team manager was collecting signatures from the other team managers and owners to plead for Allison to be allowed to start on the fourth Ferrari, to try and help combat the horde of green cars. This was finally agreed to and Allison was presented with the spare F1 car... ...and was told to go quietly round and aim to finish.
Stirling Moss led the way at the start of qualifying, perhaps unsurprisingly after the number of testing laps he'd done. He was of course driving a Cooper Climax, but the other car he'd tested, the BRM P25 was also quick in the hands of Jo Bonnier. Lotus were quick with Graham Hill, and debutant Innes Ireland. Ferrari were unhappy, apart from Behra. The Aston Martins were outdated and heavy, and the Porsche was nearly five seconds a lap slower than the slowest of a field which was otherwise separated by less than four seconds.
Jo Bonnier ended practise fastest, followed by Brabham, Moss and Behra.
Circuit Park Zandvoort
Circuit Park Zandvoort is a Dutch circuit based just a few hundred metres from the North Sea, located amongst the sand dunes close to the town of Zandvoort from which the track takes its name.
The original 2.6 mile, 4.2km long layout was completed in 1948, using communications roads constructed by the occupying German Army during World War II. 1927 Le Mans winner, S. C. H. Davis was brought in as a track design advisor although the layout was partly dictated by the existing roads. John Hugenholtz became the first track director in 1949, and the circuit went on to host its first Formula One championship race in 1955, and became a mainstay of the F1 calendar from 1958 to 1985.
But with debts mounting, and safety requirements increasing the 1985 Grand Prix would prove to be the circuit's last F1 event for 35 years, Niki Lauda taking what was also to be his swansong victory. The circuit was re-opened with a revised layout in 2020.
Zandvoort Carrera Track Plan
Footprint :- 6.45 x 4.77m
Lanes :- 2
Lane Length :- 22.07m
Track :- Carrera Evolution
7th Grote Prijs van Nederland
1959 Dutch Grand Prix
As the flag dropped at the start of the race, Masten Gregory in a Cooper was fastest away, jumping up from seventh on the grid to second, slotting in behind Jo Bonnier in the BRM. Moss on the other hand hesitated and was hemmed in on all sides.
Gregory took full advantage of his brilliant start by overtaking Bonnier after the two hairpins, and as the following pack fought amongst themselves the two leaders quickly established a clear gap. By lap four Gregory and Bonnier led by the full length of the straight from Brabham, Brooks, Behra, Graham Hill, Moss, Phil Hill, Ireland and Trintignant.
Brabham managed to break free of the pack and set about chasing down the two leaders who were inseperable at that point. Bonnier overtook Gregory on lap 12, and as Gregory fell back it was clear that the gear problem he'd had in practise had resurfaced. Brabham took second place a few laps later, whilst Graham Hill and Moss were stuck behind Behra some way back.
It wasn't until lap 24 that first Moss then Hill finally passed Behra's Ferrari. Moss now set about the daunting task of making up more than a third of a lap on the leader.
Moss closed in on the leaders relentlessly and passed Gregory with ease. Meanwhile Bonnier and Brabham exchanged places twice to leave the status quo intact.
On lap 49 Moss overtook Brabham after a spirited tussle. On lap 60 he overtook Bonnier for the lead, as both came up to lap Behra.
Less than four laps later Moss was out of the race with a gearbox problem. Bonnier was back in the lead, with Brabham's second placed Cooper some way back with an unhealthy gear box.
The whole of the BRM team must have looked on nervously and held their breaths. Harry Schell's sister car had already failed with a siezed gearbox. Could Bonnier nurse the car around the last twelve laps?
After so many years of trying, and failing to win a Formula One championship Grand Prix, could this finally be the day that BRM took the top step of the podium?
The answer was yes. In an age where cars routinely failed, and drivers often faced disappointment, the BRM P25 was faultless and Jo Bonnier performed beautifully.
This was the day that BRM and Joakim Bonnier both won their first Grand Prix, and what a day it must have been for both the team and the driver.
We mentioned earlier that Alfred Owen was losing faith and patience with the BRM team. In fact he'd handed over two cars to another team, the British Racing Partnership, having been convinced that they would do better.
You can't help feeling that as the team returned from the Dutch GP to their base at Bourne, and sat down with a well earned pint at the Six Bells Inn, there may have been a few two fingered salutes aimed at Mr Owen.