TeamsPeter Whitehead: 1954 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
By the start of the 1954 season, Peter Whitehead had already been grand prix racing for nineteen years. However, after his near miss at victory in the World Championship at the French Grand Prix in 1950, Whitehead would recognize the days of the privateer in grand prix racing were numbered and would begin to shift his focus over to sports car racing. This move would be cemented with his scoring an overall victory in the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans along with Peter Walker. But the transition would be slow. And in 1954, Whitehead would still be a fixture around the paddock of grand prix races.
Funding his racing habit from the family wool business, Whitehead would be taken around the world on business and would be one of the few to compete on an international level. Often times he would schedule business meetings around motor races.
In 1938, Whitehead would be halfway around the world in Australia and would take part in the Australian Grand Prix with an ERA. Though it was really only his third full year of racing, he would go on to take the victory in that race and the Australian Hillclimb Championship.
During the Second World War, Whitehead would serve the Royal Air Force as a pilot. At war's end, he would be one of the first British drivers to take part in a motor race. Though a privateer, his talent behind the wheel was certainly anything but amateur. He would win a number of grand prix races before the formation of the World Championship and would come close to taking victory in the French Grand Prix in 1950 before gearbox problems forced him to relinquish his chance at victory.
Over the next few years, Whitehead's results in grand prix racing would be indicative of the times. He would still do well but that would be because of his ability to purchase a Ferrari chassis. It was obvious grand prix racing was becoming specialized and for large factory efforts, or privateers will large amounts of capital to invest. All Whitehead wanted to do was race. And if grand prix racing couldn't provide him the best opportunity, then he would look elsewhere. And this is where sportscar racing came into play.
Whitehead would remain on the grand prix scene, especially during the Formula 2 days of the World Championship. In 1953, the final year of the Formula 2 era in the World Championship, Whitehead would earn his best result in a World Championship race since 1951. But with the coming of the new Formula One regulations for 1954, it was obvious Whitehead's time competing in the single-seater grand prix cars was drawing to a close. Nonetheless, Whitehead would be at it during the early part of the grand prix season.
Actually, the season would begin for Whitehead 'down under'. In January of 1954, Whitehead would be in Auckland, New Zealand preparing to take part in the 1st New Zealand International Grand Prix. Ever since 1938, Whitehead had become something of a fixture in Australia and New Zealand because of the family wool business. Therefore, it would not at all be surprising to see Whitehead's name listed in the entry list.
The New Zealand International Grand Prix was a rather different race in that it would be a Formula Libre race instead of a straight-up Formula One event. What this meant was that cars of all types would be able to take part in the 100 lap, 210 mile race.
Ken Wharton would be present at the wheel of the troublesome BRM P15. Ron Roycroft would take part in the race in an old Alfa Romeo Tipo B. Then there would be the newer Formula 2 cars like those of Horace Gould, Tony Gaze and a certain Jack Brabham. Gould and Brabham would be at the wheel of a Cooper-Bristol T23s while Gaze would be driving an HWM-Alta. Peter Whitehead would have the opportunity to pull out his Ferrari 125 he had purchased from Enzo himself.
In practice, Wharton would be quickest in the BRM. This wouldn't be all that surprising given the 16-cylinder monster engine under the car's engine cowling powering the car. Whitehead would end up starting the race from the 2nd position after putting together an impressive performance in practice himself. Horace Gould and Stan Jones would complete the front row.
An estimated 70,000 spectators crowded the 2.09 mile circuit to see some of the best cars and drivers in the world. Five of the estimated twenty-nine starters would not make it to the grid. As the field roared away to start the 100 lap odyssey, the varying classes and formulas making up the field would be more than apparent.
Everyone would make it through the first few laps of the race. However, when the race reached the 10 lap mark, trouble would already be coming the way of many of the competitors. Allan Freeman would be the first one out of the race with his 2-cylinder JAP-powered Cooper. Two more would fall out over the next couple of laps. Then, while on the 16th lap of the race, it was Whitehead's turn to be visited by attrition. The clutch would give out in his 2.0-liter supercharged Ferrari thereby ending his day quite early.
The day would end early for a number of the starters. In all, ten would drop out of the running before the end of the race.
Although Wharton was driving a 16-cylinder BRM he would have a 3.8-liter Maybach special driven by Stan Jones all over him. And given the concerns with the reliability of the P15, Wharton would have to keep within himself in order to make it to the finish of the race. This meant Jones would take over the lead of the race.
Once in the lead, Wharton could do very little to chase Jones down in order to take the victory. In two hours, forty-five minutes and twenty seconds, Jones would come across the line to take the victory over Wharton. Tony Gaze would make it an Australian 1st and 3rd when he came through in his HWM-Alta.
Whitehead's rather unofficial start to the season had not started out on the best foot. As he headed all the way back to England for the start of the European grand prix season, he would have little idea just how prophetic the events in New Zealand would actually be.
Whitehead's European grand prix season would begin in his native England. Originally born in Menston, the West Yorkshire native would head south almost all the way to the coast of the English Channel. Being a pilot for the RAF during World War II, Whitehead may have been familiar with RAF Westhampnett. But on the 19th of April, Whitehead would be visiting the former RAF airfield to take part in the Easter races. In particular , Whitehead would be on his way to the Goodwood circuit to take part in the 6th Lavant Cup race.
Nestled on the grounds of the Goodwood Estate, the Goodwood racing circuit would begin its life as an auxiliary airfield for the fighter squadrons based at RAF Tangmere. However, during the dark days of the Battle of Britain and the first year or two of the war, the airfield would come to host a couple of squadrons of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters. At the time, the Hurricane and especially the Spitfire were the fastest and best fighters England had. After the war's end, the airfield would come to host the fastest and best sportscars and grand prix cars the world had at the time.
The Duke of Richmond, the title holder to the Goodwood Estate would give the airbase over to also become a site for motor racing. Its 2.39 mile perimeter road would serve as the perfect circuit. Featuring virtually no sharp corners or tight bends, the Goodwood circuit would be a favorite for its average speeds. And with the new Formula One regulations coming into effect at the start of the 1954 season, the spectators could rightly expect the lap times drop significantly.
Peter Whitehead would come to the race with the Cooper-Alta T24 that he had purchased and used the season before. While the car would certainly fall within the limits of the new Formula One regulations, it would certainly not have the power of the 2.5-liter Formula One cars the new regulations allowed. Nonetheless, Whitehead would enter his 2.0-liter Formula 2 car in the short 7 lap Lavant Cup race along with a number of Formula One cars.
The performance advantage of the Formula One cars, and therefore, the performance deficiencies of the Formula 2 cars, like that of Whitehead's Cooper-Alta would not be exactly evident in practice. Though Roy Salvadori would take the pole in the Gilby Engineering Ltd. Maserati 250F, Kenneth McAlpine would start alongside in the 2nd place starting position driving an aged Connaught A-Type Formula 2 car. Reg Parnell would start the race from the 3rd spot in a Formula One Ferrari 625 while Tony Rolt would start in 4th place in yet another Formula 2 Connaught.
A couple of favored entries would not make it to the race. One of those would be Vanwall with its new chassis. It was also widely held that it would have been Alberto Ascari driving the Vanwall in the race had it been ready. Another that would not arrive to take part in the race would be the Maserati A6SSG of Emmanuel de Graffenried.
These 'no-shows' would be good news for Whitehead. And he would certainly take advantage of the situation. In practice he would put together an impressive lap time that would earn him the 8th place starting spot on the grid.
The field was set. Thirteen cars prepared to roar away on one of the first grand prix races of the season. At the start, Parnell would make a great jump and would be challenging Salvadori for the lead of the race. This start would shove McAlpine backward but he would do his best to hang onto the Formula One cars. McAlpine and Rolt would then run close together picking up their own battle.
Parnell and Salvadori would continue to challenge each other for the lead after the first lap of the race. This first lap would end up being the one and only time the British spectators would happen to see Whitehead come around to complete a lap.
The grand prix season would start out on shaky ground as Whitehead's race would come undone, just like his throttle linkage, after just one lap. He would join John Webb as the first couple of retirees, not an honor Whitehead was looking for in his first grand prix race of the season.
Parnell and Salvadori would each claim the fastest lap time as they would fight it out tooth and nail trying to better each other. This battle of Formula One cars would break away from the rest of the field of Formula 2 machines. The battle for the lead and the win would certainly come down to these two men.
Averaging nearly as fast as their fastest lap speed, the battle for the lead would go right down to the exit out of Woodcote and the drag race through the quick left hand flick to the start/finish line. Coming out of Woodcote, Parnell would hold the slightest of advantages, but Salvadori would be hard on the gas trying to use the power of his Maserati to out-drag Parnell to the line. It had been an epic battle between the two men. Unfortunately for Salvadori, it would be Parnell that would hold on to take the victory. The margin would be an incredibly slim six-tenths of a second! Thirty seconds would be the margin between Parnell and McAlpine in 3rd.
While it had been an epic battle for Salvadori and Parnell, it had been an epic failure for Whitehead. He would leave Goodwood having not even garnered any kind of momentum at all given the fact the race was just 7 laps. The only saving grace would be the very nature of the failure. An oversight perhaps, or a simple failure, but a throttle linkage failure certainly was not a very common experience, and therefore, would have offered at least some consolation even if it did cost Whitehead a good deal of money.
One of Peter Whitehead's few ventures outside of England to take part in a grand prix in 1953 would come at Bordeaux in France. In that race, he would end up the first out of the event having suffered from clutch failure. Up until that race, Whitehead would not suffer from a failure and would earn a 5th and a 3rd place finish. In fact, it would be really the only truly bad race Peter would have all season long.
One year removed, Whitehead would return to Bordeaux. He would arrive in France in early May and would prepare his Cooper-Alta to take part in the 123 lap, 188 mile, race set to take place on the 9th of May.
Bordeaux was already world famous for its wine and would be a popular destination for the glitz and glamour of grand prix racing. And nothing would be better for the fan of grand prix racing, and of Bordeaux, than its downtown circuit layout.
Straddling the Garonne River, Bordeaux's history would be extensive and turbulent. After being a Celtic settlement in its early years, the region would come under the rule of the Roman Empire. During this time the city would become the capital of Roman Aquitaine. Then would come another turbulent period highlighted by the sacking by the Vandals and Visigoths in the early 5th century, and then, the Battle of Tours a few hundred years later. The turbulence would continue with the French Revolution and other battles, and then, would come rushing back in the 20th century with World War II. For a period in time, Bordeaux would become France's political capital, not just wine capital, after the French government fled from Paris. Throughout World War II, the city would be a U-boat base for both the German and Italian navies.
When motor racing came to Bordeaux in the early 1950s, it would be fitting that the street circuit used for the racing events would surround the Place des Quinconces, a large city square where a number of beautifully crafted monuments, sculptures and columns would be arranged symbolizing and calling to memory those darks days of France's past. The circuit would wrap back along itself along the river and then pass around the square. In total, the circuit measured 1.53 miles.
While Whitehead had faced a couple of Formula One cars in the Lavant Cup race at Goodwood, the field at Bordeaux would be littered with them. Scuderia Ferrari would be at the race with a couple of cars. Also present for the race would be the Equipe Gordini team and the smaller privateer Equipe Rosier. If that wasn't enough, Stirling Moss would bring his own Maserati 250F and the rest of the field would be made up of potent Formula 2 cars from the last couple of years.
In practice, Maurice Trintignant, driving for Ferrari, would set the fastest lap with a time of one minute, twenty-one and eight-tenths seconds. Trintignant's Ferrari teammate, Jose Froilan Gonzalez, would be just three-tenths of a second slower and would start on the front row in 2nd place. The 3rd, and final, position on the front row would go to the first of the Equipe Gordini team cars driven by Jean Behra. One year ago, Behra and Trintignant had been teammates for the French squad. One year later, however, the two would be rivals and Behra's time would be eight-tenths of a second slower.
Against the might of the Formula One cars, Whitehead stood little chance of earning a top starting spot. And in practice, the performance gap would be even more noticeable than what it had been at Goodwood a couple of weeks earlier. Peter's best lap in the Cooper-Alta would end up being one minute and forty-five seconds. This time would be twenty-four seconds slower than Trintignant's pole time. Therefore, when the cars headed out to line up on the grid, Whitehead would line up in 12th position, dead-last.
Going into the race, Whitehead had one thing going for him. He would at least make it to the start of the race, which would be more than could be said for Roberto Mieres who would crash his Maserati A6GCM during practice.
The day of the race would be met with wet weather. This would throw a lot of expectations right out the window. Sure enough, when the flag dropped to start the long arduous race, Stirling Moss would make his way up to the front of the field along with Gonzalez, Behra and Bayol, who had made a spectacular start of his own. Trintignant would lose out at the start and would have to fight, from then on, to make his way back to the head of the line.
Whitehead had started the race from the tail of the line. And that would be where he would finish when after just 4 laps the Alta engine would let go bringing about an end to his search for retribution. In fact, the 1954 bid would last shorter than the previous year's run.
Although the race would be 123 laps, a majority of the attrition would take place in the first 30, or so, laps. Louis Rosier, one of the favorite privateers in the race, would last just 9 laps before his engine would also let go. Harry Schell would burn out a clutch after just 16 laps. Perhaps the most intriguing early retirement would be Jean Behra.
Throughout the early going of the race, Moss, Gonzalez, Bayol and Behra would be seen powering their way, side-by-side, often fighting for the lead. In the wet conditions, the spray would be flying up creating long streaks of spray. The battle would remain tight. However, in Behra's case, the numerous shifts that occurred over the course of a single lap would take its toll on the car's gearbox and would bring the battle, at least for him, to an end.
Despite losing out at the beginning of the race, Gonzalez would remain right up there with the leaders and would finally pull out the overall lead aided by setting the fastest lap of the race with a time of one minute, twenty-two and seven-tenths seconds. When Stirling Moss faded, along with Bayol, Gonzalez would be free to take over the lead and pull away. His Ferrari teammate, Trintignant, would not be able to keep pace, and instead, looked to be focused on merely making it through the wet conditions.
In the wet conditions the circuit's average speed would be even lower than normal. Averaging just a little more than 60 mph, it would take Gonzalez three hours, five minutes and fifty-five seconds to come across the line and take the victory. Robert Manzon had started the race from the 5th position on the grid and would bring the French crowd to its feet as he held firmly onto 2nd place over the last-third of the race. Though nearly forty-five seconds down, Manzon would carry on to finish in 2nd in yet another Ferrari 625 chassis. Gonzalez would have more than a minute in hand over his Ferrari teammate Trintignant. However, Trintignant would have nearly two laps in hand over the 4th place car of Stirling Moss. Therefore, Maurice would take it easy throughout the remaining third of the race and would finish the race in that position.
While Gonzalez and Ferrari were busy celebrating the victory, Whitehead would be busy packing everything up to head back across the English Channel and on to England. The trip had been a waste of resources. As a result of the embarrassment, Whitehead would not take part in another grand prix race outside of the English coastline for the remainder of the season and for the rest of his remaining grand prix career.
The first couple of grand prix had certainly been rough for Whitehead. The car had proven unreliable and this was about the only hope Whitehead would have against the more powerful Formula One cars. Everything part of a race, from the start to the finish, was in doubt. This would not be the way anyone would like to face a racing season that had well and truly just begun.
The failure in the Grand Prix de Bordeaux would happen on the 9th of May. Just one week later, on the 15th of May, across the English Channel, the 6th BRDC International Trophy race was set to take place at Silverstone. Whitehead had an entry for the race. However, after the way the first couple of races had gone he would stop and ponder whether or not it would be worth the trouble. After thinking about it, and looking at the costs associated with fixing the car and taking part in the race, Peter would make the decision to abandon his entry and would not show up for the grand prix. He would, however, still show up at Silverstone, but with a Cooper T33 sportscar.
Though Whitehead would not take part in the BRDC International Trophy race he would still take part in the Silverstone International sportscar race. In that race, Peter would have providence on his side and would finish a respectable 9th. Finally Peter had some positive momentum rolling.
Taking part in one of his first sportscar races of the season would turn into a top ten finish whereas in grand prix racing he was struggling just to make it to the end of an event, even short races like those held at Goodwood. As a consequence, Peter would forgo grand prix racing for a while and would instead focus on sportscar racing. This would prove to be rather disappointing as well, initially. But it would certainly turn a corner in the later-part of June.
Peter and Duncan Hamilton would not start the 12 Hours of Hyeres due to a broken crankshaft. He would then suffer a retirement in the biggest sportscar race of them all, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, on the 27th of June, he would score a 3rd place result at the Circuito do Porto in Portugal. This would turn his sportscar season around and would lead to victory in the Reims 12 Hours in early July, the same weekend as the Formula One French Grand Prix. This victory, as providence would have it, would take place just about two weeks before the Formula One British Grand Prix, and therefore, would provide Whitehead with about the best positive momentum he was going to get before the race arrived.
After having skipped out on the BRDC International Trophy race back in the middle of May, the British Grand Prix, the fifth round of the World Championship, would be the first time of the season in which Peter would be at Silverstone with his single-seater grand prix car.
It was the 9th RAC British Grand Prix and the race that was scheduled to take place on the 17th of July would be abuzz with excitement. However, it would be fair to say that it was not because of Whitehead's presence that the British crowd would be filled with excitement.
After two-straight victories early on in the season with Maserati, Juan Manuel Fangio had switched to drive for the Mercedes-Benz team. The team would appear at a grand prix for the first time since before World War II at the French Grand Prix in Reims. In that race, the Mercedes-Benz machines had dominated. Juan Manuel Fangio would end up winning the race by a tenth of a second over his teammate Karl Kling. But in reality, the finish was more akin to the finish of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with all of a single team's cars lining up abreast and coming across the line together. Having a lap in hand over 3rd place and on down through the field enabled the team to cross the line in the fashion that it did. It certainly was a vastly different French Grand Prix than that had taken place the year before. Nonetheless, this was the buzz surrounding the British Grand Prix.
The victory by Fangio truly put the World Drivers Championship well within his grasp, but the British Grand Prix, and particular Silverstone, had routinely been a place where Fangio had struggled.
And Fangio would struggle in practice, but not perhaps in ways most people would expect. Over and over Fangio would complain about losing sight of the apex of corners due to the beautiful, but obscuring, bodywork covering the wheels.
Silverstone was similar, and yet, vastly different from Reims. First and foremost, Silverstone was a closed-off motor racing circuit whereas Reims would take place on public roads just to the east of Gueux. Of course, Silverstone's first career would be as a bomber training base during the Second World War. Operating a fleet of Vickers Wellington bombers, RAF Silverstone would be built and would open in 1943. Soon after the war's end, Silverstone would be abandoned, the perfect site for an impromptu motor race, which would happen in 1947. Just one year later, the Royal Automobile Club would purchase the airbase and would use it to host the first British Grand Prix since before the war. From almost that moment onward Silverstone would become the home of British motor racing.
While the first British Grand Prix to be held at the circuit would utilize portions of the former base's many runways, it would change the following year (1949) with the BRDC International Trophy race. From that time on, the 2.88 mile perimeter road would become the path of the circuit. Featuring some rather fast sweeping right hand bends, average speeds around the circuit in the early 1950s were easily exceeding 90 mph. And with the presence of the sleek Mercedes-Benz W196, it was believed average speeds could even exceed 95 mph if the conditions were right.
The right conditions at Silverstone, in the Midlands of England, were about as elusive as reliability for Whitehead. However, in practice, leading up to the race, the conditions were decent to show the speeds of the new 2.5-liter Formula One cars. And in practice, Fangio would set the fastest lap ever at Silverstone with a time of one minute and forty-five seconds flat at an average speed greater than 100 mph. This would earn the pole for Fangio by about a second over Jose Froilan Gonzalez in his Ferrari 625. Mike Hawthorn would also delight the British faithful by starting in 3rd position, also on the front row. Stirling Moss would really bring the British crowd to their feet by claiming the final spot on the four-wide front row.
At the wheel of the Cooper-Alta, Whitehead knew he would not have the pace to fight for the first few rows of the grid. But he would still push the car during practice. Peter's best lap around the 2.88 mile circuit would be two minutes flat. Being fifteen seconds slower than Fangio, Whitehead would certainly find himself toward the back of the grid. As it was, Peter would find himself on the seventh row of the grid in the 24th starting position.
The day of the race would find the usual English weather visiting Silverstone. The day would be cold and wet. And in such conditions, Fangio's complaint about visibility would only be magnified.
The problems for Fangio would be apparent right from the start as Jose Froilan Gonzalez would catapult into the lead of the race. Even Hawthorn would get by Fangio after a poor start off the line. Behind Fangio, Moss and Jean Behra would be busy jockeying for position.
All thirty cars would make it through the first lap without incident. However, one of those thirty cars would put together one of the most impressive performances ever to be seen. Onofre Marimon had started the race from the second-to-last row of the grid in 27th place. However, after just one lap, Marimon would power his way on up through the grid and would find himself in 6th position!
Whitehead could only wish for such a performance out of himself and his Cooper-Alta. But he had more important things to think about, like, just finishing the race. Even this would prove to be too tough for the struggling Cooper-Alta chassis.
While he would not be the first retirement of the race (that honor would go to Eric Brandon and Louis Rosier), he would be one of the first to find his way to the exit. An oil pipe problem would lead to Whitehead making another early exit after just 4 laps. This meant yet another grand prix in which Whitehead would not play a part.
Throughout the first couple of laps Fangio would also not play his usual role of El Maestro. Gonzalez continued in the lead of the race and he would be chased by Hawthorn running in 2nd place. Fangio would be busy gathering himself to make his bid to get back to the head of the field.
Finally, Fangio would gather up the car and would be back on the charge. Soon, he would take away 2nd place from Hawthorn and would do his best to reel in an escaping Gonzalez. However, in the wet conditions Fangio would continue to struggle. Compromised visibility would hinder Fangio's pace and bid to overtake Gonzalez.
Behind the front-runners there would be a number of competitors that would take issue with Fangio's complaints about having a bad day. Robert Manzon and Peter Collins would both be out of the race with engine-related problems. Even the two-time defending race winner would have troubles of his own.
Alberto Ascari had left Ferrari after a falling-out with Enzo. Ascari would then go to Lancia to be part of their new and burgeoning Formula One program. However, their car would continue to face delay after delay and was still to be seen by the British Grand Prix in mid-July. Therefore, Lancia would allow Ascari to go and race for the very team Fangio had left to go to Mercedes-Benz, Maserati.
Even with the same 250F that Fangio had used to earn his first couple of victories on the season, Ascari would find his bid for a third-straight British Grand Prix victory come up short after just 21 laps due to a valve issue. However, Ascari wouldn't be out of the race just yet. His friend and Maserati teammate, Luigi Villoresi, would give Ascari his car in an effort to provide Ascari with at least an opportunity at continuing his streak. Unfortunately, the gesture would prove to be futile as Ascari would end up retiring once again after 40 laps with oil pressure problems.
In Fangio's terms, he was having one of the worst races in his life while still in the running. Losing sight of the corners, and the wet conditions, would lead to him striking a number of barrels placed to the inside of the corners to mark out where the corners actually were. Constantly hitting the barrels would cause a good deal of damage to his W196, but the final straw to his chances at victory would come by way of gearbox problems.
The problems Fangio was dealing with would cause him to relinquish 2nd place back to Hawthorn. It would further cause Fangio to slip down the running order out of the top three. This would allow Onofre Marimon to come forward looking in great shape to score his first podium finish.
It was almost assured that Marimon would hang on to finish in the 3rd position after Moss retired from the race with reduction gear problems just ten laps away from the end. Fangio's troubles would also allow Gonzalez to pull away and run the final laps without much fear of being overtaken.
Of course, Gonzalez would do his part to provide himself with the best chances at victory. The Argentinean would go on to set the fastest lap of the race with an average speed in excess of 95 mph. However, six other drivers would end up matching his fastest lap time, and therefore, would keep Gonzalez in check to some degree.
The wet conditions would certainly slow the average pace of the race but Gonzalez's consistent pace would enable him to dominate to take the victory for himself and victory. After two hours, fifty-six minutes and fourteen seconds, Gonzalez would come across the line completing the 90 lap race the victor. This was a special victory for the portly Argentinean as it would not only be his first Formula One World Championship victory since his first one back in 1951, but it would be special since his first and only one had also happened at Silverstone in the British Grand Prix, and, while driving for Scuderia Ferrari.
In spite of six other drivers matching Gonzalez's fastest lap pace, the race would be no contest. Mike Hawthorn would put together an impressive drive to finish in 2nd place but would do so a minute and ten seconds behind. Onofre Marimon would end up holding on to finish the race in 3rd place. Although he would be a lap down at the end of the race he would still be a happy man knowing he had earned his first podium finish.
One of those that would not be happy still at the end of the race would be Whitehead. His poor reliability in the Cooper-Alta had taken its toll. The time to switch over to sportscar racing was rapidly coming and he knew it. Therefore, Whitehead would leave Silverstone perhaps having already made up his mind that he was done in grand prix racing.
But Whitehead would not be done in grand prix, at least not yet. While Whitehead would take part in a sportscar race at Monsato toward the end of July, he would be seen preparing his Cooper-Alta for a race just one more time in the middle of August.
Toward the middle of August, about a month after the failed attempt at the British Grand Prix, Whitehead would pack up both his grand prix car and his Cooper T33 sportscar and would head to the east of England. He was on his way to yet another former World War II bomber base. He would be on his way to Snetterton to take part in the Snetterton International sportscar race, as well as, the 2nd RedeX Trophy event. These races would take place on the 14th of August and would be just a couple of a number of races to take place over the course of the weekend.
Situated a few miles southwest of Attleborough in Norfolk, the Snetterton-Heath airfield would be built in 1942. RAF Snetterton-Heath, as it would become known, would initially be allocated for British use. However, it would become the home of the 386th Medium and 96th Heavy Bombardment Groups of the United States Army Air Force in 1943 and would remain in operation until June of 1945.
While the 386th would be transferred to another base for its operations, the 96th would be in the thick of bomber operations all over Europe, and even North Africa. Given its location, the Group would often lead major operations. One of those perilous missions in which the 96th would be at the head of the column would be the famous Schweinfurt mission on the 14th of October. Flying Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, the Group would attack targets in eight different nations including Germany, Belgium, Norway, Poland and even Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
After the war, the airfield would lie dormant like so many other airbases. But like Silverstone, Snetterton-Heath would provide the perfect venue for motor racing. Utilizing the perimeter road, the Snetterton circuit would open in 1952 and would use a 2.70 mile circuit.
The RedeX Trophy race was to be a 40 lap race covering a total of 108 miles. As with the majority of the races throughout England with the new Formula One regulations, the race would be a Formula One event. While obviously meant to cater to the new Formula One regulations, Formula 2 cars would not be prohibited from entering the event.
The race would provide Whitehead perhaps one of the best opportunities all season long. A quick rundown of the entry list would see that only one Formula One car had made the trip to take part in the race. That one car would be the Ferrari 625 of Reg Parnell. Roy Salvadori and Peter Collins had been on the list with their own Formula One cars but neither of them would bring their cars. This meant Whitehead had a good opportunity at a good result without the field being dominated by more powerful cars.
As the field roared away on the first lap of the race, Parnell would be at the head of the field and obviously strong against the competition. Knowing that this would be one of the best opportunities for a Formula 2 car, the pressure and the nerves would be great. This would come to bear itself on the first lap of the race as Leslie Marr and Anthony Brooke would run into each other on the first lap of the race and would crash out of the race. The rest of the field would make it through the first lap without much incident.
Parnell would be in the lead of the race but Bob Gerard would hold on to him for dear life in his Cooper-Bristol T23. While Parnell would continue to add to his advantage, Gerard would do his best to limit just how fast Parnell escaped.
Whitehead would be there amongst the other Formula 2 cars looking to settle into a rhythm and doing whatever he could to ensure that he would finish the race, and, move up the running order as much as possible. This was a fine line. It required him to push hard, and yet, not too hard. Otherwise, damage could bring about the end of yet another race. This would be exactly the problem he would run into.
Parnell remained out front turning the fastest lap of the race with an average speed of nearly 90 mph. However, after 19 laps the suspension would fail on Whitehead's Cooper bringing about the end of yet another grand prix.
Whitehead would be out of yet another grand prix. He would have to watch from the sidelines the remaining half of the 40 lap race.
Parnell would be truly formidable. He would put all but Gerard a lap down before the end. Gerard would act like an annoying little Terrier and would not let go no matter how hard Parnell tried to shake him.
Averaging 88 mph, Parnell would cruise to victory. Completing the 108 miles in one hour, thirteen minutes and seventeen seconds, Parnell would enjoy a margin of victory of more than forty-seven seconds over Gerard in 2nd place. Don Beauman would be the first of those that would be a lap down. He and Horace Gould would end up the only ones to be on the same lap amongst those running behind the top two. Yet, even though Beauman and Gould were on the same lap, Beauman would easily make his way to a 3rd place finish.
The early retirement for Whitehead would keep the unfortunate retirement streak going at five straight. This reality had take its toll on Whitehead and would make him question the remaining races on the calendar, and his career in grand prix racing on a whole.
It had been a truly frustrating grand prix season for the once formidable Whitehead. After earning some really good results the year before, he would suffer the disappointment of not having completed a single grand prix race distance yet in 1954. However, the bleakness of the circumstances would make matters quite clear. The result in the Snetterton International Sportscar race would make the decision clear and incontrovertible.
In the Snetterton International Sportscar race, Whitehead had started the event from the pole with his Cooper T33. In spite of a strong field of drivers, Whitehead would then take that pole and turn it into yet another victory. The victory in the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans with Peter Walker would also make the decision that much easier to recognize.
Therefore, after the RedeX Trophy race on the 14th of August, Peter Whitehead would be forever done with single-seater grand prix racing. Instead, Whitehead would place all of his focus into sportscar racing, and would be rather successful as a result.
Well into his forties when he switched full-time to sportscar racing, the top results would be harder to come by then what they had once been. Nevertheless, Peter would cap off his career with a 2nd place result at the 1958 24 Hours of Le Mans driving with his half-brother Graham Whitehead. Sadly, this would be about the last time Peter would be seen behind the wheel of a race car before dying in a Jaguar after Graham crashed off of a bridge about 30 feet above a ravine in the Tour de France. The crash would severely injure Graham but it would kill Peter instantly.
The unfortunate circumstances of the 1954 season would bring about the end of a grand prix career certainly more deserving than with retirement after retirement. The struggles in Europe, and the presence of such mighty teams and talent, would force Whitehead to look elsewhere to take part in single-seater grand prix races. Therefore, with the exception of some grand prix races in Australia, Whitehead would not take part in another single-seater grand prix race. Nevertheless, Peter Whitehead had had many highlights throughout his racing career, a career that had started all the way back in the days of Auto Union and the Silver Arrows and would come finally come to an end the year Mercedes-Benz returned to grand prix racing.
Accented with the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans triumph, Whitehead's career certainly suggested here was a man with more than gentleman-racing talent. His talent and tenacity would certainly help Peter Whitehead to be remembered as one of the strongest privateer competitors in early World Championship history.