Doug Nye: The importance of style and sportsmanship in motor racing

08th August 2018
new-mustang-tease.jpg Doug Nye

Forgive me for repeatedly waffling on about motor racing events that took place 50 or 60 years ago, doubtless before most of our readers were even born.  The point for me is that our Goodwood Motor Circuit operated as a frontline international venue for 18 years, from 1948 to 1966, and so 1958 – the season which, in part, I am about to revisit – falls slap-bang into the middle of that period.


Now just try to visualize the scene – and I warn you, you may find it a struggle… Lewis Hamilton goes barmy on track, transgresses assorted rules and regulations, and is hauled up in front of the stewards for a wigging.  He’s closeted in there with the blazerati (as was the case with most motor racing stewards of old) when in walks Sebastian Vettel.  The German sits himself down and explains eloquently that in fact he saw the entire thing, and he can swear that Lewis is a misunderstood soul, he did not in fact transgress any rule or regulation, and he should therefore be confirmed in the results in the position in which he finished, accruing all the attached World Championship points, regardless of any personal interest or ambition…

A likely scenario?

Hmmm – I really wonder, given the overwhelming importance attached today to winning at all costs, largely irrespective of the manner in which one wins.  The old word for this would be ‘style’, and 60 years ago, in August 1958, contenders for the contemporary Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship title displayed Style with a capital ‘S’. That same initial also standing, of course, for a contemporary and now outmoded competitive habit which the world’s finest often demonstrated back then – Sportsmanship…

The race in question was the Portuguese Grand Prix, run at Oporto on August 24, 1958.  One of the race’s prime protagonists was Stirling Moss – then driving for the British Vanwall team – and his main rival, Englishman Mike Hawthorn – No 1 driver for the depleted Ferrari factory team, from Italy.

Stirling arrived for this Portuguese race with two season wins to his name.  He had won the season-opening Argentine Grand Prix driving his friend Rob Walker’s tiny 1.9-litre Cooper-Climax in Buenos Aires – a car that we shall see demonstrated again at the forthcoming Goodwood Revival Meeting, next month.  He had followed up by winning for Vanwall in the Dutch GP at Zandvoort – but had suffered disappointing Vanwall reliability problems since then.

Mike Hawthorn had followed up his early-season non-Championship win for Ferrari in the Goodwood Easter Monday Glover Trophy race, by building a string of consistent points finishes – second at Spa and Silverstone, third at Buenos Aires and fifth at Zandvoort – plus a commanding victory in the French GP at Reims-Gueux.  But there his Italian team-mate Luigi Musso had crashed fatally in his sister Ferrari. In the German GP even worse followed, as Mike’s great friend and fellow British star Peter Collins had also lost his life by crashing his Formula 1 Ferrari.  Mike arrived in Portugal not just shocked, but also embittered by what had befallen his team-mates and friends. He was already convinced he should retire from racing at the end of that season, but his competitive nature made him continue flat-strap to dispute the Drivers’ Championship until the bitter end.

1 - Mike Hawthorn poised in his works Ferrari Dino 246 on the Oporto starting grid - 1958 Portuguese Grand Prix.  The Italian car’s heavily finned drum brakes were its Achilles heel...

1 - Mike Hawthorn poised in his works Ferrari Dino 246 on the Oporto starting grid - 1958 Portuguese Grand Prix. The Italian car’s heavily finned drum brakes were its Achilles heel...

In fact in his very fine posthumously-published book ‘Champion Year’ (Kimber, London, 1959) Mike recalled the Portuguese race like this: “Peter’s death had affected all the drivers and none of us had much heart for the job ahead. I know that I drove with much more restraint than usual, and so did Stirling. I was upset also to find that my race number was 22.  Both Pete and Luigi had been killed on cars with 2 as their number, and the sight of 22 on mine really put the wind up me.  I rushed off to Tavoni” – the Ferrari team manager – “and asked if I might have 24, which was (team-mate) Taffy von Trips’s number, and he and Taffy both agreed; only the numbers were changed, not the actual cars.

“There was a lot of activity on the circuit as it was new to most of the drivers. The general gloom was not helped when Cliff Allison hit a straw bale and spun off the course in his Lotus 16. Fortunately he was unhurt and so was the Italian girl, Maria Teresa de Filippis, who spun her Maserati and hit a concrete lamp standard.  Both incidents did nothing to ease the nervous tension…”

Moss qualified on pole, his Vanwall 0.05sec faster than Hawthorn’s Ferrari on the centre of the three-strong front row of the grid, with Stuart Lewis-Evans on the outside of the rank in his Vanwall. Mike Hawthorn continued: “By race morning it was pelting with rain.  Fortunately as the time drew near there was only a slight drizzle, but of course the circuit was still wet.

“I was not at all sure whether I wanted it to be wet or dry. The only time I had driven the Ferrari in the wet had been in the Argentine, where it had handled very well, but I wasn’t sure how the Vanwall would go in the wet. The outlook was improving…. Stirling had said to me that he was going to take the first lap nice and easy just to check on what the course was like in the wet.

“I said ‘Well, if I’m behind you I won’t push you – I think it would be a very good thing for us all to find out how the cars behave on this surface’.

“Stirling went away in the lead as the flag fell, and I tucked in behind him with Taffy lying third, Schell (BRM) was fourth and Lewis-Evans fifth; this was still the order after our first ‘gentle’ lap.

“On the second lap I nipped past Moss on the straight. I found that I could brake with him easily enough in the wet and the acceleration was all right, so we ran for the next five laps with Stirling and me making the running. The road was drying fast and Stirling was closing up on me; I noticed that on the straight after the pits, whereas the Ferrari had the edge on the Vanwall on acceleration in the wet, in the dry the Vanwall had it over the Ferrari. It was only when we got right to our peak revs that the Ferrari was any quicker.

“Even then I could only gain a length or maybe a length and a half by the time it came to braking, and although I could hold Stirling on the braking it was putting far too great a strain on my drum brakes as opposed to his discs.  Almost every lap I could feel the pedal movement getting longer and longer. It was very worrying because I realised they would not last at this rate.

2 - ‘The Farnham Flyer’ carefully adjusting his Ferrari’s rearview mirrors as the clock ticks down to the damp start of the 1958 Portuguese GP

2 - ‘The Farnham Flyer’ carefully adjusting his Ferrari’s rearview mirrors as the clock ticks down to the damp start of the 1958 Portuguese GP

“Stirling passed me on the seventh lap and then drew away from me.  I dared not make any effort to keep up with him. I could only wait and see what happened.

“With 15 laps gone the order remained the same, but Stirling was pulling away from me at the rate of three or four seconds per lap, and had built up a very useful 40 seconds on me. He was setting new lap records and by half distance, 25 laps, he had 55 seconds in hand.  Then it started to rain again, but too late to help me, as my brakes were getting worse and worse. The crowd was obviously enjoying the Moss-Hawthorn duel, but I cannot say that I was myself.

“On lap 33 I gave my usual signal that I was coming in (for a pit stop), putting my hand on my helmet as I passed the pits.  They were ready for me and they jacked up the wheels and adjusted the brakes, but not before Jean Behra had taken the BRM into second place.  He led me by 18 seconds before I got back into the race.

“I saw that I was going to lose some valuable, maybe vital, points if I couldn’t get back into second place, which was all I could hope for – there was no sign of the Vanwall packing up.

“I pressed on after Behra and just hoped that the brakes would last.  During this chase I set the lap record and I caught him on the 42nd lap.  I am not sure I would have done so had he not lost a spark plug.

“When I took the lap record” [for which in those days there was an additional World Championship point at stake] “the Vanwall pit hung out a sign for Stirling.  They put out their board with ‘HAW’ for Hawthorn and then ‘REC’ for record: ‘HAW – REC’.

“Apparently Stirling did not take too much notice of it and so they hung it out again, and still he did nothing about it. His pit were mystified, but thought that he must have some good reason for not doing anything about it.  Stirling told me afterwards that he thought it was ‘HAW – REG’ – or ‘Hawthorn regular’ – and that the signal was just to tell him there was nothing to worry about.  He was furious with himself afterwards, but it is one of those things which can so easily happen…

“Anyway, I was back in second place which meant six points instead of four. Then, on the 48th lap, with only two to go, I saw in my mirror a Vanwall coming up. ‘It’s Lewis-Evans,’ I thought, ‘and I must hold him off’.  My brakes were almost non-existent by this time.  If I pumped like made and pressed them hard they would slow the car slightly, but I was having to be very vicious with the gearbox and I was overloading the car very much on the over-run.

“Just before the downhill section begins there is a left-hander; as I went round I hit the straw bales with the tail but it bounced off again quite safely and as I drew away the Vanwall came up alongside me.  I turned my head round, and to my astonishment it was not Stuart, but Stirling.  I pulled a face at him as though to say ‘Oh no, not this, the final indignity!’.

“Stirling saw my expression of surprise and woe, and obviously thought: ‘Well I mustn’t rub it in’ – and very sportingly dropped back behind me.


“On I went, with Stirling behind me and Lewis-Evans behind him. At this point Moss had half a lap to go whereas I had a lap and a half.  As I flashed past the finishing line to set off on my final, 50th lap, I caught a glimpse of Stirling getting the flag, and Lewis-Evans too…

“Geographically, I was the rearmost car in the field, but if I finished my 50th lap I would be second because I would have done 50 laps to Lewis-Evans’s 49.  In the stress of the moment I forgot this and thought that at all costs I must keep ahead.  Then my brakes just packed up on me altogether. Somehow I got round the first left-hander after the straight, but then on the next one I stepped on the brakes and there weren’t any. I had no brakes at all. I wound it down through the gears but I obviously hadn’t a hope of getting round so I took the escape road.  In turning round I stalled the engine. I leapt out to push-start it and I had got it on to the pavement prior to pushing it off into the road when a spectator rushed up to give me a hand.  I lashed out at him furiously, because if he had touched the car I would have been disqualified… I am told that I hit this poor chap quite hard; if he should happen to read this, in the rare event of it being translated into Portuguese, I hope he will accept my apologies…

“Stirling had stopped on his lap of honour and he could see me pushing the car on the pavement and then off to get some way on it. Then I got it going in reverse, but again it stalled. I pushed it round again, ran it about a yard down the hill and then it started. I got it round and went slowly and utterly miserably back to the pits, trying to work out whether I would be last or one but last!  I reached the pits and Tavoni said: ‘You’re second and you’ve made fastest lap!’ It shook me rigid.

“Anyway, the officials came up with a large American tourer, stuck Stirling in the middle with Stuart and I on either side, all of us wreathed with flowers as well as smiles, and drove us round on the lap of honour.  We received a tremendous ovation all round the course.  Then we went up to receive our awards at the grandstand and one of the officials came up to me and said would I please report to the Automobile Club later that evening as one of the marshals had put in a report that I had pushed the car in the opposite way to the direction of the circuit and that I was, therefore, liable to be disqualified.

“After a bath and a change and dinner I set off (to the meeting).  Tavoni was already there, and all the press boys too, because this would be quite a story in view of the Championship points which hung on the decision of the Stewards as to whether I was second or disqualified.

4 - Front row of the starting grid at Oporto - Hawthorn in his Ferrari on the middle slot, Stuart Lewis-Evans of Vanwall on the far side.

4 - Front row of the starting grid at Oporto - Hawthorn in his Ferrari on the middle slot, Stuart Lewis-Evans of Vanwall on the far side.

“I was ushered into a room in which the officials were seated round a large table.  I felt just like a schoolboy up before the headmaster… I was asked to sit down and give my own account of the incident and then Tavoni made an impassioned appeal on my behalf.

“‘Thank you,’ they said, ‘and would you be good enough to wait outside for half an hour?’

“So out I went, feeling even more of a schoolboy than before and very depressed, for I didn’t go much on my chances of keeping second place.  It was a very long half an hour, but at last the door opened and one of the officials came to the door and asked me to come in.  He looked very severe and unsmiling.

“‘Oh well, you’ve had it Hawthorn,’ I thought, but as I squeezed past him at the door he whispered in my ear ‘Congratulations’.  I thought it was a nice gesture, and I sat down.

“They said they had listened to Stirling’s evidence and he had stated that I had pushed the car on the pavement, and not on the track, and that I had done everything to make sure that I was acting safely and in accordance with the regulation.  ‘So,’ they said, ‘you keep your second place. You are not disqualified’.

“Then we shook hands all round, Tavoni gave me an enormous hug when we got outside, and off I rushed to catch my train (to Lisbon, to catch a flight for London), a much relieved man.  I was very grateful, as well, to Stirling, who had done his best to help me, and it was a most sporting gesture on his part…

“Thanks to Stirling’s sporting gesture, I still held my Championship lead; my six points for second place and one for fastest lap were only one short of Stirling’s eight points for a win. Now only the Italian and the Moroccan Grands Prix remained, and the issue was still wide open; despite my five-point lead I was feeling none too optimistic with the Ferrari drum brakes against the discs of the Vanwall…”

And in fact, for the next race at Monza, Mike Hawthorn’s Ferrari was fitted with experimental disc brakes (borrowed, remarkably, from his late friend Peter Collins’ road-going Ferrari), and in Morocco although Stirling won outright and set fastest lap, Mike secured the Drivers’ World Championship title by one remaining solitary point. In essence, that point for fastest lap – ‘HAW REC’ – at Oporto in the Portuguese Grand Prix…

5 - Glorious British Racing Green projectile - Stuart Lewis-Evans in his works Vanwall featured strongly in the 1958 Portuguese Grand Prix - and finished third…but crucially behind Hawthorn’s works Ferrari.

5 - Glorious British Racing Green projectile - Stuart Lewis-Evans in his works Vanwall featured strongly in the 1958 Portuguese Grand Prix - and finished third…but crucially behind Hawthorn’s works Ferrari.

Stirling himself would later recall in his own book – which I wrote with him – ‘My Cars, My Career’ (PSL, 1987): “I came upon Mike’s stalled car on my slowing-down lap and saw him struggling to push-start it in the direction of the race. I slowed beside him and bawled ‘Push it downhill, you’ll never start the bloody thing that way!’  Which he did… Mike was hauled before the stewards for having done just that to restart downhill. But I appeared on his behalf. I testified that he had not proceeded against the race direction because he was on the pavement at the time, not on the race circuit.  Consequently his second place was confirmed, along with his extra point for fastest lap.  Having misread that pit signal really irritated me! I am sure I could have taken that record back if only I had realised…”

But that is how sporting history was written back then – 60 long years ago, in mid-August, 1958 – by two very sporting, and absolutely world-class, English gentlemen.

Photography courtesy of  The Grand Prix Library.


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