It was a perfect, sunny Florida day on December 12, 1959. The United States Grand Prix was about to be run to a smaller than expected crowd, despite the beautiful weather.
It was the last race of the 1959 World Championship of Drivers and the International Cup for Formula 1 Manufacturers, and only the second U.S. Grand Prix.
Three drivers, Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss, and Tony Brooks were in contention for the championship and it all came down to this race.
More than all that, this race was the first victory for one of the greatest legends in motorsport, Bruce McLaren.
A Legend’s First Victory in the 1959 US GP
The race was held at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida. The crowd was a little less than half the size of the crowd for the 12 Hours of Sebring but that didn’t take anything from the race.
Three contenders had an opportunity to win and a variety of circumstances, along with a little luck, would determine who the 1959 champion would be. Six Americans, including that year’s Indy 500 winner, Roger Ward, were in the field and the race promised to be an exciting one.
Qualifying for the 1959 United States Grand Prix
Qualifying held some debate as American driver Harry Schell was given third place under questionable circumstances.
Schell had been running around 11th place and all of sudden turned in a lap at the end of qualifying that put him in third.
The majority of the other teams protested loudly, yet Formula 1 insisted, and Schell would start third. It was later discovered that Schell had found a short cut that allowed him to cut almost three-second off of his time.
Despite this disturbance, qualifying proved to be an exciting event in and of itself with close times and hard-charging from all of the drivers. The front row ended up containing Moss, Brabham, and Brooks, all three top championship contenders.
Anticipation for the race was building by the moment and by the end of qualifying everyone was looking forward to what was shaping up to be a festival of speed.
Stirling Moss led the race from the moment the green flag dropped. He pulled ahead of Jack Brabham by ten seconds in the first few laps of the race.
However, on Lap 5, Moss’s gearbox was broken, and he had to drop out of the race. Brabham took the lead from Moss, with his teammate in McLaren, right behind him. For most of the race, Brabham led, and McLaren followed.
Brabham started to slow mid-race due to mechanical difficulties and McLaren was able to close the gap between them.
Brooks, who was also trying to battle for the championship was having a hard race and was not in contention. Brooks’ race had been derailed by the qualifying issue with Schell and then his teammate hit him in the rear during the race itself.
Since he was no longer in contention, and neither was Moss, it was up to Brabham. Two turns from the finish, Brabham’s car was threatening to shut down.
It sputtered and coughed and finally stopped 400 yards from the checkered flag. Brabham was out of gas. McLaren slowed as he approached his teammate, but Brabham waved him on and Bruce McLaren went on to take his first Formula 1 Victory.
Brabham went on to push his car across the finish line and take the championship.
The 1959 United States Grand Prix was a race of firsts. It was the first championship win for Brabham and the first Formula 1 win for McLaren.
A race that was hardly attended by fans ended up being one of the most important races of the season, and of the history, of Formula 1. After all, it was the first victory for one of the most legendary characters in Formula 1.
For more Racing Re-Watch articles in our series, please visit our central hub where you can read about races across different series dating back to the 1960’s.