“He was hard and tough and wiry – just the sort that won’t say die –
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.”
~Banjo Patterson – The Man from Snowy River~
It had been a long wait for the opening of the 1959 season due to the cancellation of the Argentinian Grand Prix and it wasn’t until May 10 that the teams eventually assembled to compete at the twisting and tortuous Monaco circuit. The battle that would ensue would be between the superior handling of the Coopers with their innovative rear-engine configuration against the premium power and expert engineering of the Ferraris, who were now anticipating their dominance with the demise of both the Vanwall and Maserati stables.
Jack Brabham, nicknamed “Black Jack” in his native Australia in part due to his jet black hair and pirate-like stubble as well as for his ruthless racing on the track, had arrived in the United Kingdom in 1955 and had acquired a Cooper racing car. The father and son team of Charles and John Cooper were the radical innovators of their day. They had decided to go against the long-ingrained concept of “the horse before the cart” and had placed their engine behind the driver. With increased weight over the rear wheels, the manoeuvrability of the car from side to side during cornering had been considerably improved.
Initially, the Coopers were under-powered with their 1.960 cc engine but despite this Stirling Moss had wielded it to a win at Argentina in 1958 where he had been given leave to drive the Cooper as his Vanwall was not yet race-ready. For 1959 the factory Cooper team now had a state-of-the-art 2.495 cc Coventry-Climax engine which was also being used by the Rob Walker privateer team. The two teams were using different gearboxes, both of which were having difficulties handling the increased power and torque produced by their new engine.
During qualifying, Moss placed his Rob Walker Cooper on pole position, with Jean Behra in his Ferrari only four-hundredths of a second behind. They were closely followed by Brabham in his works Cooper and Tony Brooks in the second Ferrari.
Race day dawned resplendently. The dusky shadows of the trees and buildings were overlying the track, sunlight was glinting off the water and pretty girls in their spring dresses were perched like birds on the balconies trying to get a better view of the cars (and their pilots).
Behra took the lead off the line, with Moss and Brabham hot on his heels. Their tyres squealed as they struggled to manipulate their machines around the Monaco hairpin. After a hard-fought battle, Moss eventually passed Behra on Lap 22. Brabham then got ahead of Behra for second place on lap 23 and shortly afterwards Behra’s engine failed. It was on lap 81 that Moss pitted with transmission problems. The multiple gear changes required at Monaco had caused havoc with his gearbox and he was forced to retire on the following lap. Brabham was now in the lead and he finished over twenty seconds ahead of Brooks for the first-ever World Championship race victory for an Australian.