Peter Collins (racing driver)

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Peter Collins
Peter Collins car racer.jpg
Born (1931-11-06)6 November 1931
Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England
Died 3 August 1958(1958-08-03) (aged 26)
Bonn, Germany
Formula One World Championship career
Nationality United Kingdom British
Active years 19521958
Teams HWM,
Vanwall,
Maserati,
Ferrari
Entries 35 (32 starts)
Championships 0
Wins 3
Podiums 9
Career points 47
Pole positions 0
Fastest laps 0
First entry 1952 Swiss Grand Prix
First win 1956 Belgian Grand Prix
Last win 1958 British Grand Prix
Last entry 1958 German Grand Prix
24 Hours of Le Mans career
Participating years 19521958
Teams Aston Martin
David Brown
Scuderia Ferrari
Best finish 2nd (1955 & 1956)
Class wins 2 (1955 & 1956)

Peter John Collins (6 November 1931 – 3 August 1958) was a British racing driver from Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England. Son of a transporter scion, he was a fast, varied and extremely honourable driver, who in all likelihood, would’ve ended as a World Champion, had he not been killed in the 1958 German Grand Prix, just weeks after winning the RAC British Grand Prix. He started his career as a 17-year-old in 1949, impressing in Formula 3 races, finishing third in the 1951 Autosport National Formula 3 Championship.

Early life and racing career[edit]

Collins was born on 6 November 1931. He grew up in Mustow Green, Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England. The son of a motor garage owner and haulage merchant, Collins became interested in motor vehicles at a young age. He was expelled from school at 16 due to spending time at a local fairground during school hours. He became an apprentice in his father's garage and began competing in local trials races.

In common with many British drivers of the time, Collins began racing in the 500 cc category (adopted as Formula 3 at the end of 1950), when his parents bought him a Cooper 500 from the fledgling Cooper Car Company.[1] Success for Collins started once he switched to the JBS-Norton in 1951. Those small vehicles, powered by Norton motorcycle engines, were also the proving ground of many of Collins' F1 contemporaries including Stirling Moss.

His breakthrough came, away from the track, when at a party hosted the great pre-war lady racer, Kay Petre, Collins managed to inveigle himself with John Wyer, the team principal at Aston Martin, earning his test drive at Silverstone. During that test, Aston were joined by the Formula 2 team, HWM – and by the time the teams were preparing to leave, Collins had a contract with both.[2]

At HWM, he was part of a three-car team with Lance Macklin and Moss, and they took in most of the F2 races in Britain and in Europe. Collins showed in speed but the underfinanced HWM-Alta rarely finished a race. His best result was second place in the Grand Prix des Sables d’Olonne.[3] Collins got his Formula One break in 1952, with HWM when he replaced Moss.[1] His best result in a World Champion event was sixth in the Grand Prix de l’ACF at Rouen-Les-Essarts.[4]

Results did not come the team's way, and Collins left after the 1953 season. He wasn’t known for his technical knowledge, Collins was happy to have his mechanics set up his car, and he simply drove it, with his consummate natural skill. This was seen in 1954, when Tony Vandervell signed Collins to drive the fearsome "Thinwall Special". The potent machine was a crowd pleaser at Formula Libre events. He was also amongst the first to handle the "Vanwall Special" on the world stage, where he only finishing seventh, in the Grand Premio d’Italia [5]

After being a constant thorn in BRM’s side, he joins the team for 1955. While the prepare the BRM P25, he races a Maserati 250F belonging to team owner, Alfred Owen, winning the BRDC International Trophy and the London Trophy. These results lead to a drive with the works Maserati, in the Gran Permio d’Italia.[1][6]

Meanwhile, he had better luck in sportscars. Throughout the first half of the 1950s, Collins was a stalwart performer for the Aston Martin team, scored a sensational victory at the 1952 Goodwood Nine Hours race.[1] The following year, he took the Aston Martin DB3S he shared with Pat Griffith to victory in the RAC Tourist Trophy at Dundrod.[7] Further successes include second places in an Aston Martin DB3S at Le Mans in 1955 and 1956 with Paul Frère and Moss respectively.

Later career[edit]

For the 1956 season, he signed by Ferrari on the strength of a superb drive in the previous year’s Targa Florio, in which he partnered Moss to victory in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.[1] This proved to be a turning point, with a solid second-place finish behind Moss at the Grand Prix Automobile de Monaco,[8] and wins at the Grote Prijs van Belgie [9] and Grand Prix de l’ACF.[10] In those early days at Ferrari, Collins earnt the unstinting admiration of Enzo Ferrari, devastated by the untimely death of his son, Dino, and who turned to Collins for solace, treating his as a member of the family.[11]

Indeed, Collins was on the verge of becoming Britain's first F1 World Champion when he handed his Lancia-Ferrari D50 over to team leader Juan Manuel Fangio after the latter suffered a steering-arm failure toward the end of the Gran Premio d’Italia at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza. Collins eventually finished second, but the advantage handed to Moss, and the extra points gained by Fangio's finish, demoted Collins to third place in the championship.[12] Collins' selfless act gained him respect from Enzo Ferrari and high praise from Fangio: "I was moved almost to tears by the gesture... Peter was one of the finest and greatest gentlemen I ever met in my racing career." [13]

Meanwhile, in sports cars, he finished second in a Ferrari 860 Monza in the Mille Miglia [14] and at the Swedish Sports Car GP in a Ferrari 290MM with Wolfgang von Trips in 1956;[15] and then in 1957 finished 2nd in the Internationales ADAC 1000 Kilometer Rennen auf dem Nürburgring with Olivier Gendebien [16] and won the Gran Premio de Venezuela with Phil Hill, all in a Ferrari 335 S.[17] Finally, in 1958 he won the 1000 km Buenos Aires [18] and 12 hours of Sebring in a Ferrari 250 TR with Phil Hill. These three were back-to-back. His last World Sports Car Championship podium was another second place at the ‘Ring with Mike Hawthorn.

Also in 1956, Collins moved to Monaco to avoid compulsory military service in the British Army and thus continue his racing career.[19]

Collins, in a Ferrari 801, is chased by Juan Manuel Fangio's Maserati 250F, during the 1957 German Grand Prix

In January 1957, Collins married American actress Louise King, daughter of the executive assistant to UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold,[20] and the couple took up residence on a yacht in Monaco harbour. In the same year, Collins was joined at Ferrari by Hawthorn.[1] The two became very close friends, even arranging to split their winnings between each other, and together engaged in a fierce rivalry with fellow Ferrari driver Luigi Musso.[21] However, despite a third-place finish at the Groβer Preis von Deutschland,[22] Ferrari were disadvantaged for much of the season as the 801 model (an evolution of the 1954 Lancia D50) was overweight and underpowered. Collins did score some wins that season, taking victory in the non-championship Gran Premio di Siracusa [23] and Gran Premio di Napoli.[24]

Collins (left) and team mate Mike Hawthorn celebrate with race winner Juan Manuel Fangio, after the 1957 Groβer Preis von Deutschland

1958 saw the introduction of the new, improved Ferrari Dino 246 and results started to improve for Scuderia Ferrari. Although achieving few results in the first half of the season, Collins improved and won the non-championship BRDC International Trophy, at Silverstone.[25] However, Enzo Ferrari felt Collins was distracted by his supposed playboy lifestyle. The Monaco yacht where he lived was considered a perpetual party by Ferrari who thought Collins was distracted and no longer focused on driving and developing sports cars.

Collins was sacked by Ferrari after deliberately damaging the clutch in his car, which he shared with Mike Hawthorn during the 24 heures du Mans rather than race in a rainstorm, and was found drinking in a pub in England before the end of the race.

Ferrari relented and allowed Collins to drive an F2 car until the end of the season. At Reims, Hawthorn refused to start unless Collins was allowed to start in a F1 car. He did, and finished fifth. Ferrari immediately sacked Collins again. Hawthorn responded by flying to Italy and storming the Ferrari headquarters in Modena. Having smashed down locked doors, Mike Hawthorn told Enzo Ferrari he would not drive for him again unless Collins was given his Formula One seat again. Ferrari relented.

Following Musso death at Reims, Enzo was left without one of his top drivers, and so Collins' position was for now safe. At Silverstone during the RAC British Grand Prix, Collins achieved perhaps his greatest drive. Under team orders and desiring to help his friend Hawthorn win the Championship, Collins led from the start, running flat out in an effort to beat the Vanwall of Moss. Although in an inferior car to the main contenders, by driving on the limit for 45 laps Collins gradually pulled away from Moss until his Vanwall expired and Collins won.[1][26] The Ferrari team management decided not to slow Collins down and flag Hawthorn through to the win after Collins' great drive. Moss' future patron, Rob Walker, told Collins after the race, that he found Collins' drive frightening and he should never drive like that again. It was his third and final career victory. That season he also took a third place in Grand Prix Automobile de Monaco.[27]

Death[edit]

During the 1958 Groβer Preis von Deutschland at the Nürburgring, whilst chasing Tony Brooks' Vanwall, Collins had a fatal crash. After pushing hard to keep pace, Collins went into the Pflanzgarten section of the circuit too quickly causing his Ferrari to run wide, encountering a ditch. Collins lost control, flipped into the air and landed upside down. In Tony Brooks' autobiography he recalled that he drove harder in that race, in the duel with Collins and Hawthorn, than ever in his life, but similar to previously when duelling with Fangio, the Ferrari pair were passing and repassing only on the safer North and South curves.[28]

When the car somersaulted, Collins was thrown and he struck a tree, sustaining critical head injuries.[1] Despite hospital treatment Collins died later in the afternoon.[2] His death was almost identical to the fate which his Ferrari team mate Luigi Musso suffered. Team mate Mike Hawthorn was so disturbed by Collins' death that he retired from racing immediately after winning the 1958 Driver's Championship. Hawthorn himself died during the following year after an automobile accident on the A3 bypass near Guildford, Surrey, England.

Rivalry with Luigi Musso[edit]

Many years after the death of Peter Collins, Fiamma Breschi, Luigi Musso's girlfriend at the time of his death, revealed in a television documentary entitled The Secret Life of Enzo Ferrari the rivalry between team-mates Collins, Hawthorn and Musso. Breschi recalled that the antagonism between Musso and the two English drivers encouraged all three to take risks:

"The Englishmen (Hawthorn and Collins) had an agreement," she says. "Whichever of them won, they would share the winnings equally. It was the two of them against Luigi, who was not part of the agreement. Strength comes in numbers, and they were united against him. This antagonism was actually favourable rather than damaging to Ferrari. The faster the drivers went, the more likely it was that a Ferrari would win."[21]

Racing record[edit]

Career highlights[edit]

Season Series Position Team Car
1949 Silverstone 100 Mile Race [29] 1st Cooper-Norton Mk III
1950 Goodwood International Trophy [500cc] [29] 2nd Cooper-Norton Mk III
"Royal" Meeting Grand Prix d’ Europe [500cc] [29] 3rd Cooper-Norton Mk III
Brighton Speed Trials [29] 3rd Cooper-Norton Mk III
1951 Autosport National Formula 3 Championship [30] 3rd JBS-Norton
1952 9 Hours of Goodwood [31] 1st David Brown Aston Martin DB3
Grand Prix des Sables d’Olonne [3] 2nd HW Motors Ltd. HWM-Alta 52
Grands Prix de France [32] 7th HW Motors Ltd. HWM-Alta 52
1953 RAC Tourist Trophy [33] 1st Aston Martin Aston Martin DB3S
9 Hours of Goodwood [34] 2nd David Brown Aston Martin DB3S
Internationales ADAC-Eifelrennen [35] 3rd HW Motors Ltd. HWM-Alta 52
1954 Whitsuntide Race [36] 1st Vandervell Products Ltd. Ferrari Thinwall
WECC Trophy [36] 1st Vandervell Products Ltd. Ferrari Thinwall
Woodcote Trophy [37] 1st Vandervell Products Ltd. Ferrari Thinwall
Crystal Palace Trophy [38] 2nd R.R.C. Walker Racing Team Connaught-Lea Francis A
Goodwood Trophy [37] 2nd Vandervell Products Ltd. Vanwall
Aintree International [39] 2nd Aston Martin Aston Martin DB3S
1000 km Buenos Aires [40] 3rd David Brown Aston Martin DB3S
1955 Chichester Cup [41] 1st Owen Racing Organisation BRM P30 MkII
BRDC International Trophy [42] 1st Owen Racing Organisation Maserati 250F
London Trophy [41] 1st Owen Racing Organisation Maserati 250F
BARC Trophy [41] 1st Owen Racing Organisation BRM P30 MkII
Targa Florio [43] 1st Daimler Benz AG Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR
Les 24 Heures du Mans [44] 2nd Aston Martin Aston Martin DB3S
9 Hours of Goodwood [45] 3rd Aston Martin Aston Martin DB3S
Oulton Park International [46] 3rd Peter Collins Aston Martin DB3S
1956 Giro di Sicilla 1st Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 857 S
Grote Prijs van Belgie [47] 1st Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 555
Gran Premio Supercortemaggiore [48] 1st Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 500 TR Touring
Grand Prix de l’ACF [49] 1st Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 555
Mile Miglia [14] 2nd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 860 Monza Scaglietti
Grand Prix Automobile de Monaoc [50] 2nd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 555
RAC British Grand Prix [51] 2nd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 555
24 Heures du Mans [52] 2nd David Brown Aston Martin DB3S
Sveriges Grand Prix [53] 2nd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 290 MM
Gran Premio d’Italia [54] 2nd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 555
FIA Formula One World Championship [55] 3rd Scuderia Ferrari Lancia-Ferrari D50
Ferrari 555
Gran Premio di Siracusa [56] 3rd Scuderia Ferrari Lancia-Ferrari D50A
1957 Gran Premio di Siracusa [23] 1st Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 801
Gran Premio di Napoli [24] 1st Scuderia Ferrari Lancia-Ferrari D50
Gran Premio de Venezuela [57] 1st Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 335 S
Internationales ADAC 1000 Kilometer Rennen auf dem Nürburgring [16] 2nd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 335 S
Sveriges Grand Prix [58] 2nd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 335 S
1000 km Buenos Aires [59] 3rd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 290 MM
Gran Premio Ciudad de Buenos Aires [24] 3rd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 801
Groβ Preis von Deutschland [60] 3rd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 801
FIA Formula One World Championship [61] 9th Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 801
1958 1000 km Buenos Aires [62] 1st Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 250 TR 58
12-Hour International Grand Prix of Endurance [63] 1st Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 250 TR 58
BRDC International Trophy [64] 1st Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari Dino 246
RAC British Grand Prix [65] 1st Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari Dino 246
Sussex Trophy [66] 2nd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari Dino 206 S
Internationales ADAC 1000 Kilometer Rennen Nürburgring [67] 2nd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 205 TR 58
Coupe International de Vitesse [68] 2nd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari Dino 516
Grand Prix Automobile de Monaco [69] 3rd Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari Dino 246
FIA Formula One World Championship [70] 5th Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari Dino 246

Complete World Drivers Championship results[edit]

(key; * shared drive)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 WDC Points
1952 HW Motors HWM 52 Alta SUI
Ret
500 BEL
Ret
FRA
6
GBR
Ret
GER
DNS
NED ITA
DNQ
NC 0
1953 HW Motors HWM 53 Alta ARG 500 NED
8
BEL
Ret
FRA
13
GBR
Ret
GER SUI ITA NC 0
1954 G A Vandervell Vanwall Special Vanwall ARG 500 BEL FRA GBR
Ret
GER SUI ITA
7
ESP
DNS
NC 0
1955 Owen Racing Organisation Maserati 250F Maserati ARG MON 500 BEL NED GBR
Ret
NC 0
Officine Alfieri Maserati Maserati 250F Maserati ITA
Ret
1956 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 555 Ferrari ARG
Ret
3rd 25
Lancia-Ferrari D50 Ferrari MON
2*
500 BEL
1
FRA
1
GBR
2 *
GER
Ret *
ITA
2 *
1957 Scuderia Ferrari Lancia-Ferrari D50 Ferrari ARG
6 *
9th 8
Ferrari 801 Ferrari MON
Ret
500 FRA
3
GBR
4 *
GER
3
PES ITA
Ret
1958 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari Dino 246 Ferrari ARG
Ret
MON
3
NED
Ret
500 BEL
Ret
FRA
5
GBR
1
GER
Ret
POR ITA MOR 5th 14

Non-Championship results[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
1952 HW Motors HWM 52 Alta RIO SYR VAL RIC LAV PAU
Ret
IBS MAR
Ret
AST INT
9
ELÄ NAP EIF PAR
Ret
ALB FRO ULS MNZ LAC ESS MAR
Ret
SAB
2
CAE DAI COM
Ret
NAT BAU
4
MOD CAD
Ret
SKA MAD AVU JOE NEW RIO
1953 HW Motors HWM 52 Alta SYR PAU LAV AST BOR INT
11
ELÄ NAP ULS
Ret
WIN FRO COR
7
EIF
3
ALB PRI GRE ESS MID ROU STR CRY AVU USF LAC
Ret
DRE BRI CHE SAB
NC
NEW CAD SAC RED SKA LON MOD MAD BER JOE CUR
1954 R.R.C.Walker Racing Team Connaught Type A Lea-Francis Straight-4 SYR PAU LAV BOR INT BAR CUR ROM FRO COR BRC CRY
2
ROU CAE AUG COR OUL
Vandervell Products Ltd. Vanwall Vanwall I4 RED
DNA
PES SAC JOE CAD BER GOO
2
DAI
1955 Owen Racing Organisation Maserati 250F Maserati Straight-6 NZL BUE VAL PAU GLO BOR INT
1
NAP ALB CUR COR
DNA
LON DAR RED
DNA
AVO
Ret
SYR
BRM P25 BRM I4 DAT
DNS
OUT
Ret
1956 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 555 Ferrari BUE
5
GLV
Lancia D50 Lancia V8 SYR
3
AIN INT
Ret
NAP 100 VNW CAE SUS BRH
1957 Scuderia Ferrari Lancia D50 Lancia V8 BUE
3
SYR
1
PAU GLV NAP
1
RMS
Ret
CAE INT
Ferrari Dino 246 Ferrari V6 MOD
4
MOR
Ret
1958 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari Dino 246 Ferrari V6 BUE GLV SYR AIN INT
1
CAE

Complete 24 Hours of Le Mans results[edit]

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Laps Pos. Class
Pos.
1952 United Kingdom Aston Martin Ltd. United Kingdom Lance Macklin Aston Martin DB3 S3.0 DNF
Accident
1953 United Kingdom Aston Martin Ltd. United Kingdom Reg Parnell Aston Martin DB3S S3.0 16 DNF
Accident
1954 United Kingdom David Brown Thailand ”Bira” Aston Martin DB3S S3.0 137 DNF
Accident
1955 United Kingdom Aston Martin Ltd. Belgium Paul Frère Aston Martin DB3S S3.0 302 2nd 1st
1956 United Kingdom David Brown United Kingdom Stirling Moss Aston Martin DB3S S3.0 299 2nd 1st
1957 Italy Scuderia Ferrari United States Phil Hill Ferrari 335 S S3.0 2 DNF
Engine
1958 Italy Scuderia Ferrari United Kingdom Mike Hawthorn Ferrari 250 TR 58 S3.0 112 DNF
Clutch

Complete 12 Hours of Sebring results[edit]

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Laps Pos. Class
Pos.
1953 United Kingdom Aston Martin, Ltd. United Kingdom Geoff Duke Aston Martin DB3 S3.0 52 DNF
Accident damage
1954 United Kingdom Aston Martin, Ltd. United Kingdom Pat Griffith Aston Martin DB3S S3.0 26 DNF
Brakes
1956 United Kingdom David Brown & Sons, Ltd. United Kingdom Stirling Moss Aston Martin DB3S S3.0 51 DNF
Gearbox
1956 Italy Ferrari Factory France Maurice Trintignant Ferrari 315 S S5.0 198 6th 5th
1958 Italy Scuderia Ferrari United States Phil Hill Ferrari 250 TR 58 S3.0 200 1st 1st

Complete Mille Miglia results[edit]

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Pos. Class
Pos.
1953 United Kingdom Aston Martin Lagonda United Kingdom Mike Keen Aston Martin DB3 S+2.0 16th 10th
1954 United Kingdom David Brown United Kingdom Pat Griffith Aston Martin DB3S S+2.0 DNF
Accident
1955 United Kingdom Aston Martin Ltd. Aston Martin DB3S S+2.0 DNF
Con rod
1956 Italy Scuderia Ferrari United Kingdom Louis Klementaski Ferrari 860 Monza S+2.0 2nd 2nd
1957 Italy Scuderia Ferrari United Kingdom Louis Klementaski Ferrari 335 S S+2.0 DNF
Drive shaft

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Luigi Musso
Formula One fatal accidents
3 August 1958
Succeeded by
Stuart Lewis-Evans
Sporting positions
Preceded by
José Froilán González
BRDC International Trophy winner
1955
Succeeded by
Stirling Moss
Preceded by
Jean Behra
BRDC International Trophy winner
1958
Succeeded by
Jack Brabham