5 min read

The Story of the First Constructors’ Championship.

The Story of the First Constructors’ Championship.
The two championship protagonists - Stirling Moss (left) & Mike Hawthorn (right)

Contrary to belief, F1’s constructors’ championship wasn’t until 1958, 8 seasons after F1’s Drivers Championship started in 1950. The first eight championships were won by 4 different teams (Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati & Mercedes) & in 1958, a new team won the Maiden Constructors’.

Round 1 was in Argentina & it was a catastrophe for the sport, as all the British teams weren’t prepared & as a result, only 10 cars lined up on the grid. Reigning champion & arguably greatest of his era, Juan Manuel Fangio, took pole for Maserati at his home track. Off the start, Jean Behra’s Maserati got away better & led the first lap, but was passed the next lap by Mike Hawthorn, who led until lap 9 when Fangio passed him.

After the opening pitstops, Stirling Moss led in his Cooper, loaned to him for one round as his team, Vanwall, wasn’t ready to compete. Moss led until the end, beating Luigi Musso & Hawthorn’s Ferrari cars. After round 1, Moss led the championship from Musso & Hawthorn. Cooper led the teams from Ferrari.

Round 2 came along 4 months later in Monaco & the British teams were back. On pole was Tony Brooks’ Vanwall, but he was passed at turn 1 by Behra’s fast starting BRM (He too was loaned a car for Argentina). Behra led until his brakes failed at turn 1, making Hawthorn the race leader until lap 33. Moss then took the lead until lap 38, when he retired.

Hawthorn led until he also retired on lap 47. Maurice Trintignant, who won Monaco three years earlier, then led until the end of the race, giving Cooper their second win of the season courtesy again of Rob Walker, who bought Coopers & raced them. Musso finished second ahead of teammate Collins. Now, Musso led the championship from Moss & Trintignant. Cooper led the constructors by a massive margin.

Then it was the Netherlands & on pole position was Vanwall’s Stuart Lewis-Evans. By the end of the first lap though, it was teammate Moss that was leading. Moss led the rest of the race whilst rivals Brooks & Collins retired. He won ahead of American Harry Schell & Behra. In the drivers, Moss led from Musso, & Cooper led from Vanwall in the constructors.

Belgium came next at Spa-Francorchamps & it looked as though Vanwall had the edge over Ferrari heading into the race weekend & in qualifying, this was contrasted by Ferrari taking a 1-2 in qualifying, with Hawthorn ahead of Musso. By the end of lap 1, it was Brooks, who was 5th on the grid, that was leading. He & Collins then duelled for the lead until lap 5 when Collins retired with overheating issues.

Brooks then led ahead of Mike Hawthorn & it would remain like this until the chequered flag, with Hawthorn second & Lewis-Evans, who had a suspension collapse, crawling across the line in third. Fun bit of trivia: Lotus scored their first points in this race as well! Moss led Hawthorn & Musso in the driver's championship & Ferrari led the constructors from Cooper & Vanwall.

Then came a great tragedy in France. Mike Hawthorn took an absolutely dominant victory, with a Grand Slam (Pole, Fastest Lap, Leading every lap of the race & Win) but that wasn’t the main headline. On lap 9 of the race, Musso, who was running second, crashed at turn 3, the Muizon hairpin & struck a ditch. Musso was launched out of the car & passed away in hospital later that day.

Moss was second & Ferrari rookie Wolfgang von Trips finished third. This was also Fangio’s last race in F1 & would later become Hawthorn’s last win in F1.

Ferrari didn’t replace Musso heading into the British round, in which Moss took his first pole of the season. Despite this, the leader at lap 1’s end was Peter Collins, who started all the way down in 6th. Collins led the rest of the race & took his first win of the season. Now Hawthorn & Ferrari led from Moss & Vanwall. Third in the championship was Collins in the drivers & Cooper in the constructors. This race would prove to be Collins’ last win & his last race in Germany, yet more tragedy struck.

On pole was Hawthorn but Moss made a quick start & led until lap 4, which Hawthorn led, then Collins & Brooks duelled for the lead until lap 10. Then it happened. Collins ran too wide heading into Pflanzgarten, crashed into a ditch & went flying into the air. His car then flipped & he struck a tree headfirst. Although he was given the medical treatment he passed away later that day.

Brooks said in his biography that Collins drove more aggressive than any other driver he had ever faced in his racing career. Brooks led the rest of the race & took his second win of the season, moving him & Vanwall closer to the championship lead, which was still held by Hawthorn & Ferrari.

Portugal was when the championship race opened. Moss won the race, but the main headline was Hawthorn being disqualified from the race due to him re-joining the track illegally after a spin. Moss saw the incident & had persuaded the FIA to reinstate the 7 points Hawthorn gained. Hawthorn now led the championship by 4 points with two rounds to go. Vanwall finally did the inevitable & took the championship lead from Ferrari by one measly point.

The final two rounds were in Italy & Morocco. Moss took pole but it was another Ferrari rookie, Phil Hill, who took the lead by lap 1’s end until lap 4. Hawthorn & Moss switched places for the lead until Hawthorn took the lead on lap 15. Moss retired two laps later but then Hawthorn lost out to Brooks in the pitstops, & Brooks won from Hawthorn & Hill. Now it was advantage Hawthorn heading into the final race, courtesy of Moss’ kindness to Hawthorn.

Morocco was to be an interesting race as it was Africa’s debut in F1 & along with it came the two title fights & the tricky challenge of a new circuit. On pole was Hawthorn & it looked like he had already won the title until Moss took the lead.

All Hawthorn needed to do was finish second & he would be world champion. If Vanwall remained in the lead with Moss, they would be constructors’ champions. Moss won & Hawthorn finished second, with Hawthorn winning the title by just one point! Vanwall won the constructors by 8 points however it was bittersweet.

On lap 41, Lewis Evans’ engine seized, and he crashed into the barriers & his car engulfed in flames. He suffered burns & 6 days later he passed away. Hawthorn announced his retirement from F1 straight after he won the championship, but fate would meet him too. On January 22, 1959, Hawthorn crashed on the motorway near Guildford after driving too fast past Rob Walker & crashed. He passed away later that day. Some people suspect that he had terminal cancer at the time.

1959 was going to be a weird year as no world champions were on the grid. Trintignant & Moss’s wins for Cooper proved that the rear engine cars were supreme to the front of mid-engine cars. As a result, Cooper won the championship with Aussie Jack Brabham.

But what we as racing fans will never forget is how entertaining but tragic the 1958 F1 season was. Musso, Collins, Lewis-Evans & Hawthorn will be remembered as incredibly talented drivers who put their lives on the line to win. Hawthorn was a worthy world champion but so was Moss. Both had deserved the championship but only one could win. Moss contributed massively to Vanwall’s world championship as did Brooks. The different points system meant wins were even more important.

Next week’s article will be on the 1982 season, which was even more entertaining & dramatic.

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