Luigi Musso: Talented, Tempting and Troubled

October 13, 2014 by Jeremy McMullen

Following Alberto Ascari's back-to-back titles in 1952 and 1953 there have been no Italian Formula One World Champions. While there has been a great amount of hope throughout the years, Italians have been left without a World Champion. Perhaps, it could be argued, all such hopes died with Luigi Musso on the 6th of July in 1958.

Since Ascari there have certainly been some notable Italian drivers within Formula One history books. Such names as Michele Alboreto, Elio de Angelis, Alex Zanardi, Riccardo Patrese, Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella have all carried the hopes of Italians everywhere. But, the sad reality is that the closest Italians have come to a World Championship winning driver is Mario Andretti during the 1970s. Andretti had been born in Italy, but by the time of his World Championship was driving under the flag of the United States.

This would be in such sharp contrast to the beginning of Formula One when Giuseppe Farina will always be remembered as Formula One's first World Champion. This would soon be followed by Ascari's back-to-back run. But, after 1953, the unquenchable thirst for motorsport seemingly all Italians have has had to go unfulfilled. Whole generations have come and gone without an Italian champion. This certainly wasn't to be and it seemed to all end with a dashing young man from Rome.

Luigi Musso would be born on the 28th of July in 1924 in Italy's capital city of Rome. To say that motor racing was a way of life within the Musso household would be something of an understatement. Though his father was a diplomat, Luigi's two brothers would all become involved in motor racing and would, therefore, give Luigi the bug from a very young age.

It wouldn't take long before Luigi would try his hand at motor racing. However, he would not gain much support from his brothers and would be forced to get his own car. Buying a 750cc Giannini, Luigi would take part in the 1950 Tour of Italy. It would be a rather ironic start to his racing career suffering a crash into a monument that would take him out of the race. He would then follow this accident with another in the Targa Florio and a failure to finish in the Mille Miglia. It would seem as though Musso's racing career was destined to come to an end before it even had a chance to get started.

Luigi would soon turn things around. Finishing 1st in class in the Giro delle Calabria and then 7th overall in the Circuito di Senigallia, Musso soon became a driver to watch within the sportscar ranks. His talents continued to grow and a 2nd place in the 1951 Coppa Ascoli suggested here was another generation of Italian racing driver fully capable of carrying the mantle of Italian glory forward.

Luigi continued to race sportscars and was gradually making a name for himself. His handsome and dashing Latin looks would help to make a name for himself amongst the ladies. He would soon be married and would end up having two children while he was still climbing up through the motor racing ranks.

Throughout the early 1950s, Musso's experience in sportscars would continue to grow. Success came in the form of top five finishes and the occasional finish on the podium. However, in 1953, he would come through to victory. Driving a Maserati A6GCS, he would come through to win the Giro dell'Umbria. By this point in time, his results in sportscars had earned him the attention of some of the top factory efforts and one of those would be Maserati.

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Maserati had noticed the talents of the young Musso and offered him a chance to prove himself. His name would be among two others that would battle it out for a spot within the factory effort.

Musso would prove that, in the right car, he could win. He would prove that he was the right man for Maserati's final spot on the team. Before his victory he had finished 2nd in the Circuito de Caserta and would follow the win up with another at Avellino and then in the Giro delle Calabria. He was a star on the rise and potentially the next great Italian racing driver.

The success in sportscars would lead to Musso's opportunity to prove himself within the factory's Formula One effort. His first World Championship race would come in a World Championship race, the biggest stage for any Italian driver—the Italian Grand Prix.

In a shared drive with Sergio Mantovani, who was another that Maserati was giving an opportunity to prove himself, Musso would come through to finish his first Formula One World Championship race just outside the points in 7th place. He would leave his first World Championship race on home soil without any points but the Italian crowd would be keenly aware of the fact there was a dashing new Italian ready to make his mark in Formula One.

The success in sportscars had given the Roman a great leg-up in the race for the final spot within the team. Though those within the factory saw the opportunity as a mere proving ground, Musso would see the situation from an entirely different perspective and would demonstrate that fact by earning the Italian two-liter sportscar championship. The performance in the Italian Grand Prix would only cement that place and he would take full advantage of the situation presented him, which would only give air to the perception that he was another of Italy's next great racing drivers.

The 1954 season would be a bright moment for Musso that would certainly project his career into the future. It would start with a 4th place overall, and a class victory, in the Giro di Sicilia. Then would come a 3rd in the Mille Miglia followed by victory in the Naples Grand Prix. A 2nd place overall, and 1st in class victory at the Targa Florio was emphasizing that Musso was a driver of the future.

Luigi would then go on to prove that he was as good behind the wheel of a single-seater as he was a sportscar. At the Pescara Grand Prix he would come through to take his first grand prix win and this would lead up to the final two rounds of the season within the Formula One World Championship.

By this time, Maserati had introduced its new and elegant 250F. Suddenly, Musso was behind the wheel of one of the most competitive cars within Formula One and he would fully take advantage of the situation.

Though the Italian Grand Prix would be a disappointment as it would end in an early retirement, the Spanish Grand Prix that would end the year would be fantastic. Starting from the second row of the grid, Musso would make use of steady progress to follow Mike Hawthorn home to a splendid 2nd place result. It was just his third Formula One World Championship race and he was already within reach of victory.

Over the next couple of seasons, Musso would become the hope all Italians would have to look to and this was not something to be taken lightly.

The 1954 season would be something of a dream for Musso. Victories in Caserta, the Giro delle Calabria, Circuito di Senigallia and Tourist Trophy highlighted a second half of a sportscar season as successful as the first half. Then, with the 2nd place in the Spanish Grand Prix in Formula One, Musso was quickly becoming a new Italian racer everyone had to watch out for. But, he was one of a number of quick Italians during the mid-1950s. The pressure was not squarely on him because it was shared between Alberto Ascari, Eugenio Castellotti, Umberto Maglioli and Musso. But this situation would quickly change and Musso would soon find himself under a great deal of pressure, a burden that would be too weighty for even the greatest of champions.

Musso would pick up right where he had left off the previous year. A class victory in the Dakar Grand Prix and a 3rd overall in the Giro di Sicilia would be some early highlights. Pole and then victory in the Supercortemaggiore suggested it was going to be another runaway success for the man from Rome, but it wouldn't turn out that way in all respects.

Luigi would find the first half of his 1955 Formula One season to be a rather difficult time. A shared drive to 7th place in the Argentine Grand Prix would be followed by a retirement in Monaco and then another 7th in the Belgian round of the World Championship. This would be disappointing, but, against the presence of the mighty Mercedes-Benz team it was not to be a surprise. What was to be a surprise was just how quickly the situation within Italian motorsports was going to change.

Heading into the 1955 season there were nearly a half a dozen potential champions, and, in the person of Alberto Ascari, there was already one. So the pressure was great, but not all the hope of a single nation rested on any one man's shoulders. However, Ascari's death at Monza while testing would kick-off a period where it would be a terrible thing to be an Italian racing driver, especially behind the wheel of a Ferrari.

It was an especially dark time in motorsports. Besides Ascari's death in testing at Monza there would be the terrible accident at Le Mans that would result in more than 80 spectators losing their lives. Routinely three or four drivers would lose their lives each year. Moving to Scuderia Ferrari for 1956, Luigi Musso would not only find himself in the strongest position for victory he had ever experienced before; he would find himself right in the middle of death and carnage, and ultimately, a place of overwhelming pressure.

The move to Scuderia Ferrari would prove immediately successful. Though he would have to share his Lancia D50 with Juan Manuel Fangio in the Argentine Grand Prix, the result would be that young and dashing Musso would enjoy his first-ever Formula One World Championship victory. Then, at the Sebring 12 Hours, he and American Harry Schell would combine to finish 2nd. A lone drive to 3rd place in the Mille Miglia underlined the great opportunity Musso had at Ferrari.

But in spite of the great opportunity, Musso would still find himself up against the extreme expectations of Enzo and the fear of going well beyond the limits. This, in and of itself, would not be easy to deal with, but an accident at the Nurburgring in a sportscar race would now bring to the fore injury and weakness. There may not have been any weakness or a lack of drive within Musso's heart, but his body was not so immune.

It would take time for Musso to recover. When back to full strength he would find himself within a Ferrari team immersed in a fight for the championship. Juan Manuel Fangio was looking for his fourth title. Peter Collins was within reach of his first. And then there was young Musso, suffering from the pressure and still very much trying to prove himself. Things would come to a head in none other than the Italian Grand Prix.

Musso had been suffering weakness in his body from his accident and he still had to face the reality of competing within a team that included Fangio and Castellotti. Luigi had a spot within the team, but, given the nature and the way in which Enzo operated, it seemed terribly precarious.

It was still a period in Formula One history in which drivers could share cars and earn points. Fangio's championship aspirations would be in trouble early as his steering arm would be damaged on his Lancia-Ferrari. The Argentinean would be left sitting on the pitwall looking and negotiating for a drive that would keep his championship aspirations afloat. It was the Italian Grand Prix and Luigi was certainly under fire within a team in which his duties seemed redundant with Fangio, Castellotti and Collins in the picture. He would be signaled to pit to give his car over to Fangio. Not surprisingly, he would refuse. It was his moment to cement his place within the team. He would be on course to do more than that. Just three laps from the finish, and with the victory well within his grasp, his tires would suffer a puncture and would hand the victory to Stirling Moss. Musso needed to take a risk turning down the great champion Fangio. He had held the Italian crowd breathless, but he determined it to be his last breath. In his finite thinking he would not realize just how much he would be needed within the team within the next 12 months.

Though he could not see it, especially in 1956, Musso would find himself amidst an unraveling team, including one soon-to-be dead man. It would begin in '57 with the departure of Fangio for Maserati. Then there would be the death of Eugenio Castellotti. Considered the greatest Italian driver since Ascari, Castellotti's death would cause a great deal of problems for Musso.

Luigi was now driving for the famed Scuderia Ferrari. An Italian in an Italian car was a truly memorable and praiseworthy thought. The loss of Ascari and Castellotti meant nearly every Italian eye now turned to Musso to carry the pride of the Italian nation. This was an extreme amount of pressure, especially for someone already dealing with personal financial debts, and therefore, the need to make every start and finish count.

Musso was a great desired man. The handsome Roman would attract the attention of women at nearly every turn. Besides being married and having two children, Musso was rumored to be involved in a number of other relationships. He and Maria-Teresa de Fillipis had a relationship until he married, but still they continued to be close. The popular Italian would, in fact, continue the hard balancing act of keeping his personal affairs separate from his performances on the track. This would all come to a head in 1958.

The 1958 season would prove to be both a blessing and, ultimately, a curse for Musso. Despite the dashing and handsome exterior, inside the Roman was a great turmoil. Though he enjoyed a great love affair with Fiamma Breschi, Musso had the pressure of his personal financial debts and the fact he had a wife and two children he had left for Breschi in which he had to deal. Though talented on a race track, he was rumored to be a terribly inept gambler and it would be the debts from his exploits that would lead to another dark moment in what would be a truly appalling moment in motor racing history. His personal problems alone would be more than enough for just about anyone to deal with but Musso would have to deal with more than that.

On top of his personal problems, Musso would have to deal with the pressure of being the face of Italian motor racing. Popular everywhere he went, even to the point that other wives of team owners wanted pictures or autographs from the Roman, this popularity and expectation only added to the overwhelming pressure he was already facing. This combination was certainly terrible and, in 1958, it would all prove too much.

In 1958, Musso would find himself a teammate to two very good friends that just happened to be British. Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins were very close friends and extremely talented in their own right. Being both British and good friends made the two more like co-drivers in separate cars that competing teammates. Luigi, on the other hand, had the pressure of all of Italy on his shoulders and the great personal debt to boot. When he really could have used a 'bon ami mate' he didn't have one. It was worse than just this.

Hawthorn and Collins had an agreement. They would share prize money equally between them. For the young Musso who badly needed every possible Lira, this was even more pressure. He knew the two of them would leave nearly every single grand prix with more money than he, even if he took victory. Now the pressure to succeed was almost unbearable.

The start of the Formula One season would not help matters either. In the Argentine Grand Prix he would be duped into thinking Stirling Moss would need to pit his Cooper for new tires before the end of the race and that he would be gifted victory. This would not happen and Musso would realize the point too late to beat Moss in a Cooper that he surely could have dispatched before the end.

Then there would be the Monaco Grand Prix. After a difficult beginning to the weekend, the Italian would find himself one of just two with any kind of chance at victory heading into the final moments of the race. Yet, again, a tiny Cooper would prove incapable of being caught and Musso would have to settle for two-straight 2nd place finishes. This was good for the World Championship but that meant little compared to the great debt he was facing personally. He needed victories.

Even within sportscars, Musso just could not break through to victory. A 2nd place in the Buenos Aires 1000 Kilometers would be followed by another 2nd place in the Sebring 12 Hours.

But not all was lost. He would secure another 2nd place in the non-championship Buenos Aires Grand Prix and then would utterly dominate the Gran Premio di Siracusa a short time later. So it was clear he could do it. Even within sportscars he would find the groove. Partnering with Olivier Gendebien in the Targa Florio it seemed Musso's fortunes had changed. The Italian and Belgian would combine beautifully to come away with a commanding victory over the sister Ferrari 250TRs that held Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins behind their wheels. It seemed, perhaps, the young Italian was finally able to overcome the partnership of the two Brits.

But, things started to turn bad for Musso. In the case of Hawthorn and Collins, things couldn't have looked better. It would start with a 7th place result in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort and would then be followed be a retirement in the Belgian Grand Prix. Musso had been ahead of his Ferrari teammate in the championship battle coming into the Belgian Grand Prix. However, following Hawthorn's 2nd place effort in the race, Musso would find himself down in 3rd place. No victories and slipping down in the championship order, this was not a good time for the Italian who badly was in need. He was still firmly within the picture, but his perspective was obviously clouded. The dark clouds would assemble all the more quickly heading into the next round of the championship until all that would be left would be eternal darkness.

Musso's perspective heading into the French Grand Prix was one of win or die trying. There was literally no room for 2nd place, not within Hawthorn and Collins sharing prize money and Luigi having the weight of his personal situation and all of Italy's hopes bearing down upon him.

The weight would be terrible after practice Musso would lose out on the pole to Hawthorn by a little more than half a second. Then, during the race, Hawthorn would pull out in front of the entire field and would begin to draw away. Hawthorn appeared to be the only one capable of pulling away from the field. Once again, Musso would be left with the thought of coming in 2nd. This wouldn't do for the hope of Italy.

So Musso began to push, and push. Enzo Ferrari routinely expected his drivers not just to give 100 percent, not even 110 percent, but even more. And now, with the weight of personal debt and the burden of Italians and Enzo Ferrari bearing down upon him, Luigi would begin to drive like a man possessed.

Musso would begin to try and hunt down his teammate. Driving on the ragged-edge, one little mistake, especially around Reims, would have terrible consequences. Sure enough, on the 10th lap of the race, Musso would attempt to give all that Enzo would demand. Heading toward the Muizon hairpin, Luigi would try and take a corner flat-out. Heading into the corner faster than ever, the car, which was not the best handling machine, would begin to drift wider and wider on the exit of the corner. Musso's wheel would leave the circuit and would clip a ditch causing the Ferrari to be tossed into the air. With the Ferrari flipping through the air, Luigi would be thrown out. But while being thrown clear was the usual preferred method of dealing with such a crash, he would be flying through the air having left a car that had been traveling around 150mph. He would come down hard and would fracture his skull from the impact.

Suddenly, Breschi and the rest of the team would notice that Luigi had not appeared. There was no signal, and that was bad. Rushed to the hospital in Reims, Musso would soon be joined by Breschi. There appeared to be hope as he would respond to Breschi's presence. She would soon leave his hospital bed and would return to the hotel where she would later be informed that Musso had died.

Following Musso's death, Hawthorn would go on to win the World Championship in 1958 and would begin a period that still exists to this very day where every Ferrari to win a World Championship title would do so with a foreign driver. It seemed clear all of the weight had crushed the talented Musso, but all of the weight would crush even more than Musso's life. Italy's hopes and dreams of another World Champion would seemingly die with him.

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