• United States Grand Prix 1959

Brabham pushes his way to the title

Martin Williamson December 12, 1959
An exhausted Jack Brabham after pushing his car over the line © Getty Images
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Jack Brabham won his first world title in a dramatic finale, pushing his Cooper the final few hundred yards of the race after it had run out of fuel to take fourth place. He had been neck-and-neck with Bruce McLaren but his car spluttered to a halt as the pair came round the last bend; McLaren went on to his first grand prix victory, and at 22 was the youngest man to do so.

There was a three-month gap between the penultimate race of the season and the inaugural US Grand Prix, staged at a bumpy former bomber base right among the orange groves of central Florida. Brabham arrived with a 5.5-point lead over Stirling Moss with Tony Brooks a further 2.5 points behind.

Brooks arrived in the USA feeling unwell, while Brabham crashed in practice and spent the first night working on his gearbox and suspension. He had also stoked controversy when he told the Daily Express he did not feel the race would have been held at all "had Moss not still been in the running" for the title.

Moss, four-time runner-up in the championship, made a flying start and led for six laps until yet again he was undone by mechanical failure, the Cooper's temperamental gearbox ending his hopes. That meant only Brooks could overhaul Brabham, but he was way back after colliding with Ferrari team-mate Wolfgang von Trips on the first lap, stalling, and then having to pit for his wheels to be checked. He was never back in contention.

Brabham and McLaren engaged in a ding-dong battle for the lead as behind them the field thinned out with a series of retirements, although as team-mates the pair never got too feisty with each other.

On the final lap Brabham was leading when the engine on his dark green Cooper stopped; the car coasted several hundred yards before coming to a halt. As McLaren and then Maurice Trintignant and Brooks swept past, Brabham climbed out and pushed his car 300-400 yards over the line. The title would have been his anyway but as he said: "I just wanted to finish … but there was the matter of the lolly as well. It was all uphill, so I pushed it but I thought it was going to beat me."

He collapsed as he completed the race and was mobbed by well-wishers and photographers. In the throng was Moss to congratulate him.

McLaren said Brabham had gifted him the win. "When he no longer had to fight off Stirling and found himself well ahead he waited back for me. Every time I made a mistake he held back. That's how I got round at such speed. When Jack broke down I could have cried … if we did that kind of thing in New Zealand."

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo