Loy­alty to As­ton Martin prob­a­bly cost him a shot at the For­mula 1 ti­tle


Roy Salvadori was born in 1922 to par­ents of Ital­ian de­scent in Dover­court, Essex and be­gan his racing ca­reer at the age of 24 af­ter the Sec­ond World War was over. He proved to be highly adept – and if he had never done any­thing more than part­ner Car­roll Shelby to As­ton Martin’s his­toric win at Le Mans in 1959, then that would still have been more than enough to make him a hero to fans of the mar­que.

But there was much more than that fa­mous vic­tory that el­e­vated Salvadori to the sta­tus of an As­ton Martin le­gend – in­clud­ing the like­li­hood that his loy­alty to the mar­que cost him his only real chance to be­come For­mula 1 World Cham­pion.

Not that Roy ever se­ri­ously chased the Cham­pi­onship – he was making far too much money stay­ing in Eng­land. At a time when a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment’s salary was £1000, Roy was of­ten earn­ing more than twenty times that thanks to a £10,000 a year re­tainer from Esso and his share of the start and prize money with the var­i­ous teams for which he drove!

Through­out the 1950s, Roy was a busy man, racing most week­ends each sea­son and win­ning as of­ten as not in UK na­tional F1 and F2 events for Con­naught, Van­wall, BRM, As­ton Martin and Cooper, as well as in pri­vately en­tered Fer­raris and Maser­atis. Then there were sports car races with Frazer Nash, the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar C-types and, of course, As­ton Martin. He even found time to race sa­loon cars like the Jaguar 3.4.

It’s hardly sur­pris­ing, there­fore, that Roy was one of the best-known and most pop­u­lar of Bri­tish racing driv­ers of the pe­riod. And no sur­prise that he was one of the driv­ers that As­ton Martin team man­ager Reg Par­nell wanted for his 1959 Grand Prix team. The other was Jack Brab­ham, with whom Roy had driven an As­ton Martin DBR1 to sec­ond place in the 1958 RAC Tourist Tro­phy at Good­wood.

They had also been driv­ing as team-mates in the 1958 Cooper Grand Prix team. And that sea­son had been Roy’s best-ever in For­mula 1, when he fin­ished fourth in the World Driv­ers’ Cham­pi­onship be­hind Mike Hawthorn’s Fer­rari and the Van­wall team of Stir­ling Moss and Tony Brooks. He was the lead­ing driver of a rear-en­gined car that year, driv­ing what was re­ally a For­mula 2 car with its 1500cc Coven­try Cli­max en­gine bored-out to just un­der 2 litres to qual­ify it for the 2500cc F1.

Driv­ing the lit­tle un­der­dog, Roy twice made the podium that sea­son, with a sec­ond place be­hind the Van­wall of Tony Brooks in Ger­many and third place in the Bri­tish GP at Sil­ver­stone be­hind the Fer­raris of Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn.

With the prom­ise of a full 2.5-litre en­gine from Coven­try Cli­max for 1959, John Cooper wanted both Salvadori and Brab­ham to stay with his team and made an of­fer which, cou­pled with that from As­ton Martin, pre­sented them with a dif­fi­cult dilemma. In the end, Brab­ham took his chances with the new Cooper while Salvadori re­mained with the As­ton Martin team for which he had first driven in 1953.

When the 1959 For­mula 1 sea­son started with the Sil­ver­stone In­ter­na­tional Tro­phy race, the odds seemed pretty much even be­tween the As­ton Martin and Cooper F1 teams, though shaded some­what to­wards the lat­ter as Brab­ham won the race with Salvadori sec­ond.

Af­ter that, how­ever, Brab­ham’s sea­son got bet­ter and bet­ter as he went on to win his first World Cham­pi­onship. Salvadori’s, mean­while, got worse and worse. Sixth places in the Bri­tish and Por­tuguese Grands Prix and four re­tire­ments made his 1959 Grand Prix sea­son a truly dismal one.

Thank­fully, Roy’s sports car sea­son with the As­ton DBR1 in 1959 was more re­ward­ing. By mid-year he had scored wins in the sports car races at the Ain­tree 200 and Sil­ver­stone In­ter­na­tional Tro­phy meet­ings as well as at Crys­tal Palace.

Then came the Le Mans 24 Hours, where he drove to vic­tory with Car­roll Shelby, the colour­ful Amer­i­can with whom he had al­ready won the 1956 12 Hours of Se­bring in a DB3S. Their win at Le Mans was a suc­cess that, in the eyes of com­pany owner David Brown, more than made up for the fail­ure of the F1 ef­fort. Es­pe­cially as it was a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to­wards making As­ton Martin the 1959 World Sports Car Cham­pi­ons.

Salvadori’s fi­nal works As­ton drive came with the team’s swan­song in the 1963 Coppa In­ter-europa at Monza. This was a World GT Cham­pi­onship round and an­other of Roy’s most mem­o­rable races. Driv­ing the As­ton Martin DP214, he bat­tled wheel-to-wheel through­out the three-hour race with Mike Parkes’ works Fer­rari GTO un­til he lost him amongst the back­mark­ers while cut­ting through traf­fic in the fi­nal laps.

As­ton Martin’s leg­endary team man­ager John Wyer re­garded it as the finest vic­tory of Salvadori’s ca­reer and un­doubt­edly it was a most fit­ting way to cli­max his ten years of faith­ful ser­vice to the mar­que.

Roy re­tired from racing in 1965 but re­mained close to the sport. Very close, in fact. His motorsport ca­reer had been re­ward­ing enough for he and his wife Su­san (daugh­ter of John Hind­marsh, the 1935 Le Mans win­ner) to re­tire to an apart­ment over­look­ing the start-fin­ish straight of the Monaco Grand Prix!

Af­ter a long and happy re­tire­ment, Roy died in June 2012 at the age of 90, barely three weeks af­ter the pass­ing of his 1959 Le Mans-win­ning As­ton team-mate, Car­roll Shelby.


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