New stars were in the ascendant in 1959. There was young Australian Jack Brabham in the Cooper-Climax, agile and compact thanks to its rear-mounted engine and Tony Brooks one of the stars of F1 over the past few year, who had taken over from Mike Hawthorn , the British ace who announced his retirement immediately after winning the 1958 world title and who was killed in a road accident on 22 January 1959. Brooks was now number one at Scuderia Ferrari.
Brabham dominated the early rounds, winning at Monaco and coming second in Holland, while the Ferrari man triumphed in France. Round five took place in Germany and in line with the wishes of German politicians, the venue switched from the labyrinthine Nurburgring to a track with the simplest design imaginable: AVUS, near Berlin was built in 1921 with a layout that looked like a walking stick.
AVUS was the acronym for Automobil-Verkehrs-und-Übungsstraße (Automobile traffic and training road). It was a toll paying motorway, the first in Europe which could be closed and turned into a race track by using a gap in the central reservation to create the south curve while the north curve was a huge concrete affair that used a motorway exit that was usually closed. Built in 1936, it featured the steepest parabolic corner ever seen at a race track at an angle of 43.6 degrees, which makes the likes of Daytona, 31 degrees and Indianapolis, 9.2 pale into insignificance.
The switch to Berlin was politically motivated at the time of the cold war in Europe and from Bonn, the new capital of West Germany, emanated the desire to make the citizens of West Berlin feel fully part of the country, even while being set in the middle of East Germany. The track characteristics hardly suited the Formula 1 cars and so, for the first and last time to date, a Grand Prix was run over two legs of 30 laps each, because of concerns over tyre life and the fact the bumps on the banking put suspension and transmission under a lot of strain.
Ferrari entered four 246s for Brooks, Americans Phil Hill and Dan Gurney and the reserve driver Cliff Allison, who actually set the quickest time of 2’05”8 over the 8.3 kilometre long track. But he did not get pole position as the rules stated that unless the reserve driver was substituting a team-mate, he had to start from the back of the grid. So Brooks started from the front with a lap in 2’05”9, in an unusual four-abreast front row with Stirling Moss in the Cooper, Gurney in a Ferrari and championship leader Brabham in another Cooper. Hill was sixth, Allison 17th.
In the first leg, Moss went out immediately with a broken transmission and Brooks soon fought off American Masten Gregory in a Cooper to take an undisputed win. Brabham stopped on lap 16 with the same problem as Moss, which meant it was an all-Ferrari podium, with Gurney and Hill behind the winner. In the fourth Ferrari Allison had to throw in the towel on lap 2 with a clutch problem.
The grid for the second race was based on the finishing order in the first and so the Ferraris were once again favourite. The 246 was solidly built and well able to deal with the rigours of the terrible north corner, while the English cars seemed to suffer a lot more on this part of the track. Before the race was over, there was a scary moment, when German expert Hans Herrmann lost control of his BRM which rolled over innumerable times. Everyone feared the worst but the driver stepped out of the car somewhat dazed but otherwise practically fine. The German media nicknamed him Hans im Glück or Lucky Hans, as per the tales of the Brothers Grimm from 1819.
The AVUS track would never again feature on the Formula 1 calendar and Scuderia Ferrari thus left it with a clean sweep of the top three places that put Brooks back in the running for the title. The Englishman was now just four points behind Brabham, with Ferrari five off Cooper in the Constructors’ classification, with three races to go. Despite Brooks’ best efforts the title went to Brabham by a margin of four points and the following year the Englishman joined the Cooper ranks.