The second Briton to win the British Grand Prix (aside from Tony Brooks who shared the 1957 win with Stirling Moss) was Peter Collins. Starting his Formula One career in 1952, it wasn’t until 1956 that Collins found himself in a competitive car and the Worcestershire-born driver made the most of it. The team was Ferrari and they were proving very competitive, having entered the sport just after its inception in 1950.
Collins almost took the ’56 title, but after the final race of the season he was third in the standings, two points behind Stirling Moss and five behind Juan Manuel Fangio. The Ferrari pilot took two wins that year and three second-places, but it was the events in Italy that earned him admiration not only from the tifosi, but also the team boss and founder, Enzo Ferrari.
During the Italian Grand Prix, Fangio’s car had suffered a steering-arm failure and Collins handed his Lancia-Ferrari D50 over to the Argentine team leader. They effectively became shared drivers of the car and finished second in the race behind Moss. The six points earned from the second place were shared equally between Collins and Fangio, and this gave the advantage to the race winner, Moss, who collected eight for the victory. So while Fangio managed to win the title thanks to his margin of points, Collins was demoted to third thanks to Moss’s final haul.
Collins would see out his career with Ferrari, perhaps because of the respect he had earned from those in the team. Alas, no wins came in 1957 and the season was pretty much a disaster for the British driver; the aging car was quickly becoming obsolete. However, in 1958 the Scuderia introduced a new motor for their drivers – the Dino 246 – and Collins started to reel in the results once again. In Monaco Peter finished in third, in France he finished in fifth place. The following race, the 1958 British Grand Prix, would become perhaps Collins’s finest achievement in his short career.
The race was very much a British affair, with Stirling Moss taking the pole position and Mike Hawthorn the fastest lap. But it was the winner who took the adulation from Silverstone – it was to be Peter’s final grand prix victory. Although Collins had qualified in sixth, and it was also said his position in the team was not entirely safe, the gritty driver blasted away from the start and was leading by the time the pack were on the Hangar Straight. Collins edged out a decent lead with Moss in second and team mate Hawthorn in third. On lap 26, Moss’s engine blew and Collins’s lead was relatively safe with his team mate and friend now in second and someway behind. On the 75th and final lap, Collins was 24 seconds clear of Hawthorn and took the victory.
As a way of celebrating his win at Silverstone, Collins put a deposit down on a house with his American wife Louise straight after the race. Unfortunately, Peter wouldn’t get to realise his dream. At the following race in Germany, he lost control of his Ferrari and flew over a bank on the notorious Nurburgring circuit. Collins was thrown clear of the car and into a tree. Peter suffered massive head injuries and despite being airlifted to hospital, Collins died later that day.
It is often said that if you asked Enzo Ferrari which of his drivers he admired the most, the instantaneous answer would be Tazio Nuvolari. If if allowed Enzo a few seconds to gather his thoughts though, Ferrari would add Peter Collins, citing his impeccable gentlemanly attitude and true fighting spirit.
To read more in this series of articles, click the tag ‘British Winners’.