Teams Peter John Collins
47Peter Collins: The Competitive Kidder from KidderminsterBy Jeremy McMullen
While Fiamma Breschi would have a hard time remembering Peter Collins in a different light, the majority of the Formula One world would easily recall the Brit from Kidderminster as a talented racing driver with an incredible talent. Unfortunately, as of the 3rd of August in 1958, all that anyone would have left of Collins would be those too few memories and a lot more questions.
The 1958 Formula One season would be one of the darkest in the series' history and perhaps no death in a race would be as impactful, at least to that point in Formula One's history, as that which was experienced on the 3rd of August at the Nurburgring.
Luigi Musso's death following the French Grand Prix would hit Peter Collins and Mon Ami Mate, Mike Hawthorn, quite hard. However, as the number two Ferrari Dino 246 kicked up on its nose and began to violently flip into the woods, perhaps no other accident would be so arresting as that which Collins experienced. It wouldn't just mean the death of Collins. It also meant the death of an unusually close friendship; a friendship born of speed and a love of life.
Peter John Collins would be born November 6th, 1931 in the city of Kidderminster. To say that auto racing was in his blood would be to make some assumptions. However, to say that Peter would have a life in the automotive world would not. Born to Pat and Elaine Collins, some of Peter's first memories would be of his father's motor trade business.
Being a rather important figure in the motor trade world, Pat's automotive interests would rub off on Collins from a very early age and it would lead to Peter working as an apprentice for Ford in Dagenham in his mid-teens. Being a motor trader, Pat Collins would have the means to support his son and he certainly had no trouble supplying gifts of an automotive nature. In fact, it would seem apparent that Pat Collins purchased a brand new 500 cc Cooper-Norton for his son as a 17th birthday present.
Because of his father's interests in the motor world, Peter would have no trouble gaining encouragement to look into a career as a racing driver. Therefore, nearly every spare moment of Peter's life would include making trips to abandon airfields to train and hone his racing craft. The year was 1948.
Collins would continue to train and train at airfields until the 1949 racing season started. At the age of just 18, Peter would make his debut at the Goodwood Easter Meeting racing his Cooper Mk II. Being young and inexperienced in motor racing results would be mixed early on. Quickly the present from his father would be replaced with a longer Mk III chassis. But this new car would do little to improve his results. All that would change come July.
Collins was still in the middle of just his first year of motor racing when he made an appearance at Silverstone for his first 100 mile race. This dramatically-increased racing distance would bring Collins' talents to the fore as he would battle for the lead of the race throughout the first part of the race. He would then dominate over the remaining part of the race earning an important and quite revealing victory.
Good results would continue to come Collins' way, including a victory in the September Goodwood meeting. Despite being in just his first year of motor racing, Peter's natural racing talent was more than obvious.
Collins would continue to racing in the 500 series for another couple of seasons. This allowed his experience to grow, but it also allowed bigger teams to get a look at his talent. In 1951, he would win the SUNBAC race at Silverstone, and this would prove the final springboard into the higher formulas.
Also in 1951, Collins had partnered with Lance Macklin and Stirling Moss to create one of the strongest driver lineups in any series. They would all be part of George Abecassis' and John Heath's HWM team in Formula 2. Collins would continue to impress and would lead to 1952 being a big year for the young man from Kidderminster.
Toward the end of the 1951 season Collins would compete with an Allard J2 and would come away with a couple of victories. This would be enough for Reg Parnell to take it upon himself to mention to John Wyer at Aston Martin that he may just want to sign the young driver for the sports car team.
Collins' major debut would come in sports cars and at one of the toughest venues in which to make a debut. At the wheel of the number 74 Aston Martin DB3, Collins would be prepared to contest the Grand Prix de Monaco. In spite of the imposing presence of the Monte Carlo street circuit, Peter would start from 12th on the grid and would drive a consist race to finish in 7th place.
Just a month before the impressive debut with Aston Martin at Monaco, Collins would make a rather quiet Formula One debut with HWM Motors in the Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten in the middle of May.
The first race of the Formula 2 era in Formula One, Peter would be impressive in qualifying ending up 6th on the timesheets and starting from the inside of the third row of the grid. Having taken the seat left vacant by Stirling Moss, Peter would out-qualify Moss and HWM founder George Abecassis.
Unfortunately, the race would not go well. Suffering a driveshaft failure after just 12 laps, Collins would crash out of the race suffering a retirement in his first World Championship event. It would merely be a sign of things to come as he would suffer two more retirements over the course of the season and would even fail to qualify for the Italian Grand Prix at the end. The one and only highlight for Peter in his first season in the World Championship would come at the French Grand Prix where he would finish a respectable 6th, missing out on his first World Championship points by just a couple of laps.
While his first year in the World Championship was providing few, if any, highlights, his sports car talents were taking him to incredible heights right from the very beginning. In spite of failing to finish his first 24 Hours of Le Mans, Peter would go on to score victory in the Goodwood 9 Hour race in August of that year co-driving with Pat Griffith. That was it, Aston Martin and John Wyer were convinced of Collins' talents and he would remain with the team all the way up through the end of the 1955 season.
The partnership would be a rather successful one in that Collins would earn a number of victories and strong results over the course of his time with Aston Martin. Some of those highlights would include 16th place finish in the Mille Miglia in 1953 at the age of just 20. He would then back-up his victory in the 1952 Goodwood 9 Hour race with a 2nd place the following year. Then there was the Tourist Trophy race at Dundrod in early September. Co-driving with Pat Griffith again, the number 20 Aston Martin DB3S would be powered to victory giving Collins his biggest victory to date.
Collins' talents in sports car endurance racing were more than evident. Unfortunately, the poor reliability of the HWM would continue to let him down in the Formula One World Championship. Throughout 1953, the two brightest spots of Collins' season would come in the Dutch and French grand prix where he would finish 8th and a lowly 13th respectively. There served as the two highlights on the season as they would be the only two races in which he managed to finish.
Moving on to Vandervell's team and the Vanwall Special for 1954 little would improve. Taking part in just a couple of races for the team over the course of the season, he would finish just one. It would be a 7th place result at the Italian Grand Prix toward the end of the season.
The 1955 season would see more heartbreak. Taking part in the British Grand Prix with Owen Racing, Collins would find his first race of the season come to an end after 29 laps due to clutch failure. The second race would also give Peter an early exit, this time as a result of gearbox failure.
Suffering, as he would often do, behind the wheel of a grand prix car, Collins would have to find ways in which to find release and to calm himself. And, with the help of his good friend Hawthorn, who himself was still quite young and often immature in his actions away from the track, Collins would become rather infamous for his pranks and stunts. This childish behavior would calm the mood for many, but it would also have the ability to get under the skin of others that didn't appreciate the behavior, or at least didn't truly understand what these rare friends were actually thinking and doing in the moment.
Though Peter struggled behind the wheel of a Formula One car, he thrived behind the wheel of a sports car. After finishing 2nd overall at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, he would go on to earn another 2nd place at the British Grand Prix in a DB3S. He would follow this up with a 3rd place at the Goodwood 9 Hour and then another 3rd at Oulton Park. This string of results would lead to Stirling Moss enticing Collins to Mercedes-Benz to drive a 300 SLR in the Targa Florio in October of '55. It would prove an unbeatable combination as the two Brits would guide their German automobile to victory by nearly five minutes over Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling.
The victory in the Targa Florio would prove to be momentous in other ways. Not only was it another major victory for Collins, perhaps the biggest of his career to date, but it would open the door to opportunities for even greater success. As a result of the victory in the race Enzo Ferrari would offer Collins a drive with his team for 1956. And the Brit wouldn't pass up, nor would he not take advantage of the opportunity presented him. Actually, the proposal of Collins joining Ferrari would be floated to Enzo by his good friend Hawthorn. Mike's father had died in a car accident and he had grown much more despondent and felt he needed to be there for his mother more than he was able at the time. Therefore, he would suggest to Enzo that he sign Collins.
It would all start in April of 1956 when Collins and Louis Klementaski partnered to score victory in the Giro di Sicilia driving a Ferrari 857S. Then, in the Mille Miglia held at the end of the month, the two would partner to finish 2nd overall at the wheel of an 860 Monza.
At the same time he was earning great results in a sports car, Collins' Formula One career was about to take off. It would all begin with a shared 2nd place drive at the Monaco Grand Prix in May of '56. Then, at the Belgian Grand Prix in June, Peter would overcome attacks from attrition and wet conditions to take his first-ever Formula One victory. It would be a surprising victory, but certainly a dominant performance by Collins to hold sway over the competition and potential trouble to come away with that first victory.
Signed to the same team that included Eugenio Castellotti, Juan Manuel Fangio, Luigi Musso and other talented drivers, Collins' victory at Spa certainly seemed a gift. However, the ‘gifts' would keep coming as he would be handed yet another victory in the French Grand Prix just a couple of weeks later when troubles with Fangio's Lancia-Ferrari dropped the Argentinean from the lead. Following another 2nd place in the British Grand Prix a couple of weeks later, Collins was very much in the hunt for the 1956 Formula One World Championship. He was not only proving he had the talent to compete, he was thriving in the opportunity presented him.
Unfortunately for Collins, he was the new driver to the team and didn't have the impressive resume; at least not as impressive as one of his teammates, and this would come to a head at the final race of the season.
Heading into the Italian Grand Prix, Collins was within reach of the World Championship title. And, when Fangio brought his car into the pits with an ill Lancia-Ferrari it seemed as though Ferrari would unite behind the Brit to bring the championship home.
In reality, Peter would need a lot to go right to bring the championship home. And, when Stirling Moss set the fastest lap of the race, his title chances were practically wiped out. Not only did Collins need to win the race, but he also needed to set the fastest lap. Moss' pace in the Maserati was making that look more and more unlikely. Therefore, with his own title chances gone, Peter would pull into the pits and would hand his car over to Fangio for the remainder of the race.
While in hindsight not as chivalrous as the move would be made out to be, the fact of the matter is that Collins would enable Fangio to remain in the race and take the title in a much more grand style than by merely sitting in the pits. Fangio would go on to claim the title, Collins would finish 3rd. Ferrari was back on top. And, while Collins' move wasn't necessary, it went a long way with Commendatore who always put his team before a single driver. Therefore, Collins had grown on Enzo, even to the point it would be suggested the team owner saw Peter as one of his own sons.
Collins' place within Enzo's heart would only grow following the end of the season when Fangio up and left the team without even so much of a thought. The great Italian believed Fangio to have no loyalty while Collins had demonstrated all the loyalty in the world.
If the friendship of Hawthorn and Collins already had a reputation for some truly childish behavior then Ferrari had to be rather daft himself to decide to put the two on the same time. But, in 1957, that is exactly what would happen. Enzo would repay Hawthorn for his suggestion of Collins by hiring Mike back to the team. Formula One was its own traveling road show, but the combination of Hawthorn and Collins on the same team would be a show within a show. Sadly, the combination would only further heighten tensions with some.
To Collins, the 1957 held plenty of promise and the addition of Hawthorn to the team only added to the enjoyment of the situation. Having been newly married to Louise Cordier in February, it seemed Collins was settling into a long and successful career in motor racing.
Collins' talent continued its upward climb. At just 25 years of age, the man from Kidderminster was only just reaching his peak. The result of this maturing would be great results in both single-seaters and sports cars. In his one season as a teammate to Fangio, Collins would grow immeasurably in his talents behind the wheel. In 1957, it was time for the student to really step into a professorship role. In sports cars it would mean a 2nd place result in the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers and a victory in Venezuela at the end of the '57 season.
In Formula One, it would be a bit more difficult. Having earned a 3rd place in the French Grand Prix, Collins would be up front with his friend Hawthorn at the German Grand Prix. With half of the race remaining, the two Brits seemed too far ahead to be usurped. However, and as a result of perhaps the best performances of Fangio's career, both would be out of the lead with two laps remaining. Collins would be heart-broken after Fangio made his way past and would almost immediately back off the pace known the race had been lost. His best chance at victory throughout the whole of the season had been ripped from his fingers.
The 1957 Formula One season had seen yet another variation on the Lancia D50 theme. Unfortunately, the 801 would prove to be too slow to challenge the Maseratis and the Vanwalls, and in the world of Enzo Ferrari this would never do. The 1958 season, on the other hand, would be an entirely different season.
Ferrari would learn valuable lessons from the 801 and would come to produce the Dino 246. While still not the fastest, the new car had speed and handling, a very potent combination. Collins would retire in the first round of the World Championship in 1958 but the season would, nonetheless, start out strongly for the Brit as he and Phil Hill would combine to not only win the Buenos Aires 1000 Kilometers but the 12 Hours of Sebring as well. Then, following a 4th place in the Targa Florio, it seemed to suggest that this was Collins' year. However, the first two races of the Formula One season would go to mid-engined Coopers. Then, following the victory by Stirling Moss in the Dutch Grand Prix, Collins would find himself well down in the standings.
Collins' season would take a further turn for the worse following a retirement in the Belgian Grand Prix. Just when he and others believed he would be amongst the favorites to win the championship, Peter would find himself nearly out of the championship battle before the halfway point in the season. Things were different for Hawthorn as he would be tied with Moss for the championship lead following a victory in the French Grand Prix.
The French Grand Prix would be a tipping point for those in and around Scuderia Ferrari. An agreement between Hawthorn and Collins made the debt-laden Luigi Musso feel alienated and compelled to drive beyond himself. When he crashed and died during the race, both of the British drivers would be greatly effected by the sight, although Fiamma Breschi, Musso's girlfriend at the time, wouldn't see things that way.
The usually larger-than-life characters had come face-to-face with a heavy dose of reality. However, Collins would do only what he knew to do—get behind the wheel and go racing. And, in the next race of the season, the British Grand Prix, Collins would join Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks as the only British drivers to have won the home grand prix. The victory would lighten the mood, but it would very temporary as the German Grand Prix loomed just a couple of weeks into the future.
One year earlier, Collins and Hawthorn had been leading the way in one of the most epic of performances. One year later, the two men would be battling for the lead once again. The two Ferrari drivers remained at the front of the race for nearly half of the race. But then, Tony Brooks would be on the move in his Vanwall.
Brooks would get by Hawthorn and would end up passing Collins as well. Collins had been in the lead for six laps and was getting stronger as the season carried on. The pass by Brooks for the lead would upset and irritate Collins. Peter needed to step on it if he intended to keep pace with the Vanwall, let alone retake the lead. He would respond.
Collins pushed hard, but he was doing this delicate dance on the edge of the limit at the infamous Nurburgring. Then came the tricky Pflanzgarten section of the Nordschleife. Difficult without any pressure, Collins was heading into a gauntlet of rapid direction changes and blind crests. Somewhat impaired by his intent to catch Brooks, he would come over the final crest before the right-hander a little too quickly and would slid wide into the turn. The backend would give way and Collins would fight to get the car under control. He would slide off the circuit, but he appeared to be close to righting the car when his wheel caught a ditch. The car would somersault throwing Peter out. He would be thrown head first into a tree while the car would complete its violent dramatic act.
Hawthorn would see the event take place right in front of him and would be sickened by the whole thing. Deep down he knew the accident was grave in its consequences and he found it impossible to carry on. He would return to the pits and would retire though clutch failure would be given as the reason for the retirement.
Collins had suffered serious head injuries and would be carried by helicopter to a nearby hospital. Despite the best efforts of the doctors, Collins would day later that afternoon. The death would be difficult on his wife of just over a year, but it would also serve as the final straw for Hawthorn as he would scarcely take part in the final races of the season and would retire at the end of it having earned the World Championship by a single point over Moss.
Collins' accident would be nearly identical to that of Musso's in the French Grand Prix and would serve as some peace for Breschi. However, for those that enjoyed the duo of Collins and Hawthorn, the party had come to an end. The playful acts of these two competitors, and yet close friends, was no more. In many respects, Hawthorn well and truly died the same day as 'mon ami mate'.
Formula One would lose more than just the other half of the Hawthorn/Collins duo. At just 26, Peter still had many good years left in him. He was getting better with age. And when he got on a roll, there were very few that could hold him back and beat him. Therefore, the three Formula One victories do not do justice to what Collins could have really done and where he likely ranks among the Formula One fraternity. But for many, this would not matter as much as the fact that he and Hawthorn served as an anomaly in the world of Formula One and will, therefore, forever live on as the kidder from Kidderminster.Sources:
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'Complete Archive of Peter Collins', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Peter-Collins-GB.html?page=3). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Peter-Collins-GB.html?page=3. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Kidderminster', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 30 October 2013, 21:34 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Kidderminster&oldid=579528961 accessed 11 November 2013
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