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Thomas Mallett0000-00-00 00:00:00

Formula 1’s biggest failures

Aston Martin

It would be fantastic wouldn’t it? Aston MartinAston MartinAston MartinUnited Kingdom, 1914 > present62 models
1955 photos
24 videos
lining up against FerrariFerrariFerrariItaly, 1947 > present233 models
5154 photos
37 videos
on the Formula 1 grid.

The British Racing Green of the Astons would offset perfectly the fiery red of the prancing horse, and you’d have to imagine that the British entry would be an attractive design too. We’ve seen what the DB9DB9Aston Martin DB9United Kingdom, 2003 > present25 versions
74 photos
looks like and we all remember Sean Connery hooning around in his DB5DB5Aston Martin DB5United Kingdom, 1963 > 19658 versions
68 photos
1 video
as James Bond. In other words: How could it be a bad idea? It would be brilliant…surely!

Well, it wasn’t. It was the opposite in fact.

David Brown had bought Aston Martin in 1947 and with his investment the company had success at Le Mans from 1952 onwards using cars like the DB3SAston Martin DB3S Fixed H...United Kingdom, 1957 > present. Eventually, in 1959, the company took a famous 1-2 with the beautiful DBR1DBR1Aston Martin DBR1United Kingdom, 1959 > 195915 photos
. However, a Formula 1 attempt would take an altogether different concept.

The Grand Prix car was commissioned in 1956 and it carried the DBR4DBR4Aston Martin DBR4United Kingdom, 1959 > 19602 photos
designation. It was a half hearted attempt from the outset, sharing its proportions with the DB3S but receiving far less development than its successful cousin.

By the end of 1957 the DBR4 was ready at least to test, and by the start of 1959 the go-ahead was given to enter the car into races. The only problem was that, as attractive as the car’s design was, it was massively out-dated when it was launched. Mid-engined cars were taking over and even the might of Ferrari could not hope to keep front-engined cars at the front of the grid – the DBR4 was scuppered from the outset and unreliable to boot.

The engine was quoted as producing 280bhp, but as we know with JaguarJaguarJaguarUnited Kingdom, 1922 > present53 models
2188 photos
16 videos
’s E-TypeE-TypeJaguar E-TypeUnited Kingdom, 1961 > 19753 series
21 versions
114 photos
1 video
top speed car manufacturers were given to exaggeration. So, 250bhp seems more plausible and then when we start to include the excessive drag that the body produced it is easy to see why the DBR4 was, simply, not very fast at all.

It gets worse too, not only was the car unreliable and underpowered but it was also chronically overweight. Jack Brabham won the 1959 world title in the Cooper T51T51 ClimaxCooper T51 ClimaxUnited Kingdom, 1959 > present3 photos
– a car weighing only 475kg; meanwhile Aston’s effort weighed in at 625kg. Imagine that! 33% more weight! Turning up was probably a mistake.

Despite the obvious failings of its new car Aston launched the car at Aintree for the Tourist Trophy in 1959 and, miracle of all miracles, the car qualified on the front row with Roy Salvadori and sports car ace Carol Shelby was only three places further back in sixth. Both cars even made it to the end, and due to attrition Salvadori took second place on the car’s debut. However, Shelby finished two laps down with an oil pump failure and Salvadori’s car barely made it to the end. The only solution would be to turn the RPM down, and therefore the bhp too.

So, after sitting out Monaco, it would be at Zandvoort where Aston would have its rude awakening. This time Shelby out-paced Salvadori, but he was still 2.5s off the pace and stuck down in tenth place. Meanwhile Salvadori qualified an abject 13th.

Any hopes that the race would yield a more satisfying result were dashed as race day proved to be even more of a rude awakening. Both cars retired with engine problems, Shelby’s lasting longer this time – but even so he was two seconds off the pace for the 25 laps that he completed.

With the French Grand Prix following Le Mans the squad chose to skip it and head straight to Aitree again for the British Grand Prix. The field was weakened by the absence of the Ferrari squad and it was Aston’s chance to capitalize. Salvadori once again qualified on the front row and Shelby was sixth. However, in the race Shelby retired again and Salvadori was left behind not even to score a point – and that with only nine cars finishing!

By the Portuguese Grand Prix, and with the cars trailing home in lowly positions, it was obvious that a redesign was needed. A 1954 Maserati 250F gearbox was slotted in (necessitating numerous changes internally), saving 25kg alone, but it was clear that the team was flogging a dead horse and it was a complete redesign that was needed – even though that was never the Aston Martin way.

Aston didn’t even bother to fly to America for the last Grand Prix of the season, it wasn’t that there was a logistical issue, it was just that there was simply no point in trudging round at the back. So, the DBR5’s were built in time for 1960, well, one was and the other constituted a modified DBR4 chassis with DBR5 mechanicals. Two cars were fielded, one driven by Salvadori and the other by Maurice Trintignant.

However, the new car was little better than the old one and when Stirling Moss barged Salvadori into the barriers at Monaco the team was forced to transplant the mechanicals from his DBR5 into a DBR4…he failed to finish and was miserably slow even before he retired.

The DBR5’s final race was at Silverstone where there was no shock result. Salvadori was 4.4s off the pace in qualifying and eventually retired with dangerous handling issues, meanwhile Trintignant was classified 11th, 5 laps down.

The Aston Martin Formula 1 project is easily forgotton, and with good reason – it was pathetic. The cars were sold off and Aston washed its hands of the project. Better to stick with GT racing in the future…


Aston MartinAston Martin
Straight 6
152 cu in
Top Speed
Maximum power
280 hp @ 7800 rpm
Single Seater
Fuel consumption (combined)
annual ownership cost




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