While the first official championship for drivers was held in 1950, it took the sport’s federation eight more years before they started awarding constructors for manufacturing cars. Vanwall, an F1 team started by business magnate Tony Vandervell became the first team to lift the constructors trophy in 1958. Poor health of its owner affected its future campaigns and the Vanwall name was gone from Formula 1 after the 1960 season. We look back at this forgotten team with prime focus on its 1958 campaign.
After a brief stint as a financial backer of British Racing Motors(BRM), Tony Vandervell decided to go his own way, disenchanted with the way Raymond May’s team functioned. His target was to get a Formula 1 car ready for the 1954 season when a new engine formula was to be introduced. On the chassis front, he commissioned Owen Maddock from Cooper Cars while the 2-litre, four-cylinder engine was essentially taken from Norton Motorbikes - a company then chaired by his father Charles.
Vanwall Special, as it was called, completed in three championship races in 1954 with a seventh place result at Monza being team’s best result of the season. The team was more successful in the non-championship races, scoring two podium finishes at Aintree and Goodwood.
For the 1955 season, team hired the services of Mike Hawthorn and Ken Wharton and later brought in Harry Schell as a replacement to Hawthorn who had returned to Ferrari. However, lack of results continued to be a problem for the British team and Vanderwall realized that team was being held back because of a poor chassis.
Consequently, the Brit signed Colin Chapman who would go on to win multiple champions with Team Lotus and arguably become Formula 1’s greatest designer of all time. Chapman made major changes to the design of the chassis and also brought with him aerodynamicist Frank Costin who worked on the bodywork. And the results were evident on track with Stirling Moss(still contracted with Maserati) winning the non-championship International Trophy race at Silverstone in a one-off race for Vanwall. However, reliability problems prevented them from scoring similar results in the races which contributed towards the points tally.
However, all was set to change in 1957 with Chapman designing a multiple race winning car. Stirling Moss did a comparison test between Vanwall, Connaught and BRM and consequently moved to Vanwall for his seventh season at the pinnacle of motorsport. He was joined by ‘racing dentist’ Tony Brooks and former Connaught driver Stuart Lewis-Evans. The team also made major strides on the reliability side with the result that team won three Grands Prix - with the first one coming fittingly at team’s home ground.
For the 1958 season, the Acton based team retained their line up of Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans with the first two of the trio serving as principal drivers. The team had to redesign their engine, gearbox and brakes after FIA banned the use of alcohol based fuel. The design team led by Colin Chapman were successful in this mission and the season turned out to be a two way fight between the Vanwall of Stirling Moss and the Ferrari driver by Mark Hawthorn.
Hawthorn eventually took the title by just a single point, despite only winning a single race as opposed to Moss’ three trips to the top step of the podium. In the constructors, however, three victories with Tony Brooks behind the wheels and two further podiums by Lewis-Evans helped the outfit to become F1’s first ever constructors world champion.
The season unfortunately ended on a sad note when Lewis-Evans succumbed to death in hospital after a major accident at the Moroccan Grand Prix. He was the fourth casualty in what was one of the most tragic seasons in Formula 1 history.
Amid failing health of team boss, Vanwall competed in just two Grands Prix in as many years succeeding their championship winning season, failing to reach the chequered flag at both the occasions. The curtain was closed and the team was soon to be forgotten despite achieving a historic landmark - the first team to win the constructors title. F1 soon entered a new era where mid-engined cars - first ran by Cooper - dominated the proceedings on Grand Prix weekends.