Through the 50s formula One cars were built with their engines at the front. The power output was complicated and relied on four-wheel-drive. Although the engines were powerful and spectacular, the cars were heavy and handled poorly. At the time, this was considered the only way to build a Formula One car, but a small British car company named Cooper had other ideas.
At the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix, the R.R.C. Walker Racing Team entered a rear engined Cooper car, the T43. At the wheel, Australian Jack Brabham drove to an impressive sixth placed finish which raised the eyebrows of engineers the world over.
Sticking the engine in the back enabled the use of a much lighter rear-wheel-drive system. This gave the car much better handling characteristics which helped Brabham around the infamously tight Monaco circuit. This performance advantage yielded a first victory for the T43 in 1958 with Stirling Moss.
As other teams began working furiously to catch up, Cooper easily won both the Constructors’ and Drivers’ championship with a revamped Cooper T51 in 1959 and 1960. The superiority of their car was now such that the team scored several 1-2 finishes during the season, winning six races overall.
Cooper revolutionised car design on a monumental level. It was clear from that point that there was more to going fast than just brute power. An ability to take a higher speed into corners was equally important.
Every championship winning car since then has been a rear engined machine.