TeamsPeter Whitehead: 1952 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
There is the euphemism 'living in high cotton'. This literally means to live prosperously, or, to feel happy. In the case of the British racing driver Peter Whitehead, not much cotton grows in England. Therefore, the following phrase would be much more fitting: 'living in high wool'.
The uses of wool are almost endless. It provides great warmth, it was used as a sign for Gideon to go to battle and it helped to fund Peter Whitehead's addiction to motor racing. It would even allow the Menston-born driver the opportunity to take part in the Formula One World Championship each year since its inaugural season in 1950.
Coming into the 1952 season, Peter had proven to be one of the more blessed privateers in the championship's short history. Back in 1950, in spite of the presence of Alfa Romeo, Whitehead would end up surprising most everyone with a 3rd place finish at the French Grand Prix. Then, in 1951, Peter would partner with Peter Walker and would end up winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. By 1952, Peter was only 37, but his grand prix career was quickly drawing to a close. He, instead, was beginning to focus more on sports car racing. This was especially the case since it allowed him to race with his half-brother Graham Whitehead.
Though every bit a privateer, he had earned great respect from the larger, better-funded teams and drivers. He had the distinction of being the first person to which Enzo Ferrari had ever sold one of his grand prix cars. Throughout 1950 and 1951, Whitehead raced Ferraris in the World Championship, but with the rule changes for the 1952 and 1953 seasons, he would look a little closer to home for his ride for the season.
Alta had been producing cars for Formula 2 for the last couple of years. When it was decided the 1952 and 1953 season would be run according to Formula 2 regulations, Whitehead went ahead and purchased an Alta F2 chassis with its straight four-cylinder engine. In spite of its reputation, Alta had been rather successful in Formula 2 over the course of the years. This would encourage the Brit to go with the car.
The other good news for Peter was the fact that with some changes, even the Ferrari 125 he had purchased from Ferrari could be eligible for racing in the World Championship for 1952 and the following year; if it was needed.
Even though he would make his living in his family's wool business, Peter loved to go racing. He looked for every opportunity to take part in competitive races. Because of this desire, when the grand prix season came around he would be right there for one of the first races of the season.
Sure enough, in 1952, Whitehead's first race would come very early on in the season. On the 16th of March, Whitehead was preparing to start the 2nd Gran Premio di Siracusa. The race was to be 60 laps of the 3.35 mile street course
The Syracuse circuit was located just a couple of miles to the west of the city's center amidst some of the ruins of ancient Sicily. Believed to have surrounded, or at least been near an old World War II U.S. Army Air Force base, a portion of the circuit actually passed by a beautiful cemetery created to honor those who had fallen during World War II in Sicily.
Due to its location, the circuit's layout was rather flat and open. A modern circuit is now located on the spot of the original circuit's location. In fact, the start/finish line for the modern circuit is the same that was used in the original street venue.
In spite of being a road course utilizing the public roads outside Syracuse, the average speeds around the circuit were not as fast as places like Reims or Chimay.
The race was to be run according to Formula 2 specifications. Because the World Championship that year would also be run according to Formula 2 guidelines, Scuderia Ferrari was present in force with its Ferrari 500 chassis. At least this occupation force was a little more welcome than that which had come en masse just a decade earlier.
Peter would end up taking the Ferrari 125 to the event. He would end up making up a starting grid where only three cars were something other than a Ferrari chassis.
Ferrari was incredibly mighty to face. Not only were Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi present at the race, but also Piero Taruffi and the inaugural World Champion Giuseppe Farina. Farina had come over to Ferrari after Alfa Romeo withdrew from grand prix competition.
In practice, Ferrari showed their dominance. Ascari would turn the fastest lap during practice with a lap time of two minutes and sixteen seconds. He would; therefore, start the race from the pole. Starting beside him on the three-wide front row was his good friend Villoresi. Luigi's best time was eight-tenths slower than Ascari's. Farina would round-out the front row with a lap one second slower than Ascari.
Peter would end up being sandwiched on the starting grid. His best lap during practice would be two minutes and twenty-four seconds. This was good enough for 8th on the grid, which was the middle of the third row.
Although the Ferrari 500 was taken from previous designs, it would end up showing just how 'new' it truly was during the race.
Right from the start, the 500s of Scuderia Ferrari began to pull away from the rest of the field. Ascari and Villoresi were tearing it up at the front of the field. Meanwhile, Whitehead was patiently trying to move up the running order. He and Franco Comotti would become locked in a battle. They would be helped by the failure of Sergio Sighinolfi in his Ferrari 166F2.
Villoresi turned in the fastest lap of the race with a time almost three seconds faster than Ascari's pole-winning time from practice! Attempting to stay with his friend's pace, Ascari would push as well. This only served to help distance the pairing from the rest of the field.
Almost as soon as he had turned the fastest lap of the race, Villoresi began to slow. His 500 had troubles. This allowed Ascari to disappear into the distance. And it allowed Whitehead to move further up the order. The pace of the Ferrari drivers was incredible. Before the end of the race, Whitehead would see Ascari go by him twice.
At the end of the 60 laps, Ascari had managed 88 mph and would take the victory by a minute over Taruffi. Farina would finish 3rd, a minute and a half behind Ascari. Whitehead's battle with Comotti raged throughout the final stages of the race. Whitehead had managed to get by Comotti and would finish the race in 5th four seconds in front of Comotti. No doubt helped by the struggles of Villoresi and the failure of Sighinolfi, Whitehead still put together an impressive performance to earn a well-deserved 5th place finish in his first race of the season.
Sicily had been good to Peter. He thought he would stay around Italy and try his hand at another race. The next offering would be in Torino, Italy on the 6th of April. It was the 6th Gran Premio del Valentino. Peter would stick with his Ferrari 125 for this 60 lap race.
The Valentino Park circuit, as its name would suggest, took place along the city streets and around the Valentino Park in Torino, Italy. The circuit was one of the more beautiful street courses in all the world as it wound around the park and the Valentino Castle and with the Italian Alps serving as a backdrop. At 2.60 miles in length, the circuit utilized the picturesque Corso Massimo d'Azeglio with its beautiful boulevard. The route through the park wound around the massive Valentino Castle, which was the former residence of Victor Amadeus I and Christine Marie of France, and skirts along the river Po.
There was one important thing that was different about the Gran Premio del Valentino. The decision to switch to Formula 2 regulations came rather late. As a result, there would be a number of races on the calendar that would allow the previous year's Formula One chassis to come out and play yet again. This meant Ferrari would have the opportunity to pull out its dominant 375 chassis. During practice, it would show just how dominant it still really was.
In spite of running an older chassis, Whitehead proved to be a tough competitor. During practice, Scuderia Ferrari's pilots would prove to be fastest of the entire grid, but Peter would be rather close in his Ferrari 125.
Giuseppe Farina would end up beating out Ascari for the fastest lap during practice, and therefore, the pole for the race. Villoresi would also start on the front row in 3rd. Piero Taruffi would complete a Ferrari front row when he would turn in the fourth-fastest lap during practice driving the Formula 2-spec Ferrari 500. Whitehead's best would not be enough. But it would be enough for him to start in the middle of the second row in 6th. In all, only thirteen would qualify for the race. It was to be a race in which the mighty roar of the BRM P15 would have been heard yet again, but as usual, the cars were not ready in time.
At the start of the race, the field was reduced almost by a third. Three entries would be out of the race before one lap had been completed either due to mechanical troubles of because of crashes. Meanwhile, the three 375s looked strong at the front of the field. Whitehead was pushing hard, but, remaining steady behind the wheel.
Things were looking good for Ferrari until just passed the halfway mark. Farina would push a little too hard, having set the fastest lap of the race, and would end up crashing out of the running altogether. This left Ascari and Villoresi in the remaining 375s, but they were both looking good.
Only 4 laps remained when Ascari was forced out of the running for the win due to a fuel tank issue. This opened the door for Whitehead in the remaining laps of the race. Whitehead was running all-alone. All he would need to do was hold on for a couple more laps and he would make it two quality results in two races.
Villoresi, in the remaining 375, would prove the 375 still had the pace to compete as he would cross the line with more than a minute advantage over Taruffi in the Formula 2 500. Rudolf Fischer, just as he had at Syracuse, would end up two laps down, but in 3rd position. In almost a carbon-copy of his result at Syracuse, Peter would follow Fischer by about a minute, and also two laps down. Like Fischer, Whitehead would also improve his finishing position. Because of Ascari's last-minute troubles, Whitehead would finish the race 4th.
This made it two strong results in a row, and with an older car! Although the races failed to have a good number of competitive teams and drivers, it seemed Peter was in a good position for a positive year in the World Championship, and, non-championship races.
Peter had entered his car in the 4th Richmond Trophy race at Goodwood just one week after Valentino Park. However, with all of the travelling and work necessary, he would end up not appearing for the race. Graham would end up taking part in the race and would score a 4th place result in his own ERA B-Type. Peter Whitehead's next race would not be until the 27th of April.
The 10th Grand Prix of Marseille was the second round of the French F2 Championship and it would be Whitehead's next race. The French F2 Championship ran in conjunction with the World Championship in 1952. In fact, the two championships would share the same event—the French Grand Prix at the beginning of July.
The French F2 Championship ran slightly different than most of the grand prix races. Similar to endurance races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans and others, each round of the championship would be a timed event. It was a difference of focus. The French F2 Championship focused on who could travel the farthest in three hours, instead of, the race being about travelling a certain distance to reach an end.
Because it was another championship, and the prize money pretty good, many more competitive teams and drivers would take part in the French F2 Championship than some of the other non-championship grands prix events.
The race in 1952 took place on the 1.65 mile Parc Borely circuit. The main straight ran along portion of the hippodrome. Another portion of the circuit then skirted around the pools and the central fountain that extends; beautifully, in front of the Chateau Borelly.
The pace around the short circuit was rather slow, even for the likes of the Ferrari pilots. Still, Ascari would turn the fastest lap during practice and would start the race from the pole. Robert Manzon, of Equipe Gordini, would start 2nd in his T16 after he recorded a time a little over a second slower than Alberto's best. Villoresi would sandwich the Frenchman on the front row with his 3rd place starting position.
In contrast to the first-two races of his season, Whitehead would struggle during practice. He had decided to switch to his new Alta F2 and found it truly difficult to turn a really good lap. The best Whitehead he could do would be a lap almost fifteen seconds slower. This put Whitehead dead-last on the grid; in the seventh row all by himself.
Though he would still be last on the grid, Peter would move forward a position when Eugene Martin couldn't get his car ready in time to take the green flag to start the race. At the waving of the green flag, Ascari took off. Villoresi was right there with him. Manzon was pushing hard to keep up. Giuseppe Farina was in hot pursuit of his teammate.
Things began to look up for the rest of the field when Villoresi dropped out of the race on the 9th lap due to an engine failure. This provided hope Ascari's engine would do the same. It would definitely take a failure to slow Ascari, for there was nobody able to stay with him.
Manzon pushed a little too hard. As a result of the hard-charging, his T16 would develop gearbox problems and would force him to retire from the race.
Whitehead was still trying to get used to his new car. He continued to complete lap-after-lap. Even though he was getting more comfortable in the car, he wasn't able to really move forward. It wouldn't matter very much longer. Peter had completed 30 laps when, all-of-a-sudden, his Alta suffered problems with an oil pipe. This dropped the Brit out of contention and out of the race. He would end up not even making it a quarter of the way through the race.
It didn't really matter if he had or not. Nobody could come close to touching Ascari, except as he would go by putting them another lap down. At the end of the three hour race, Ascari had completed 134 laps. He would hold a five lap margin of victory over Robert Manzon, who had taken over Prince Bira's Gordini T15 after his gearbox failure. Johnny Claes, another driver for Equipe Gordini, would finish the race 3rd, seven laps down.
Unlike his first-two races in the older Ferrari chassis, Whitehead's first race in his new Alta F2 did not go anywhere near what he had hoped and believed it would go like. This was a source of concern. If the new chassis couldn't perform better than the evolved old chassis, then Peter was in for a difficult and bitter season.
In an attempt to turn things around, Peter would head back across the English Channel and arrive in his native England for the 4th BRDC International Trophy race held at Silverstone. This was an important race for Whitehead as he looked to get back to more successful running.
For the race on the 10th of May, Peter would revert back to his Ferrari 125 chassis. He was familiar with the car and what it could do. He also knew that it was better suited to the 2.88 mile Silverstone road circuit. Besides, the Alta F2 had proven it wasn't ready for much of anything after the troubles at Marseille. In fact, Graham had entered the new Alta F2 for the race, but he would not arrive.
The International Trophy race followed a rather different format than some of the non-championship and championship races. The entire event consisted of two 15 lap heat races and a 35 lap final. The field would be split up amongst the heats. After the heat races, the final would take place.
Silverstone had become the official home of Britain's racing scene. It had taken over from Brooklands after the end of the war. The first grand prix race held at the site took place while it was still considered an active airbase. A permit was given to hold the race on the perimeter roads and taxiways that surrounded the triple cruciform runways. Being an airbase, the grounds remain remained relatively flat. But there were definitely some elevation changes around the track.
Peter was placed in the first heat with the likes of Jean Behra, Peter Collins, Lance Macklin and a young Mike Hawthorn. As with a normal race, starting position on the grid was determined by the best times from practice.
During practice for the first heat, nobody turned out to be faster than the young Mike Hawthorn. Driving a Cooper-Bristol in a team his father had put together for the purpose of advancing Mike's career, Hawthorn would turn a lap of two minutes even around the 2.88 mile road course. Peter Collins, a future friend of Hawthorn, would end up being the next-fastest qualifier. However, his best lap was two seconds slower. The rest of the four-wide front row consisted of Jean Behra, for Equipe Gordini, and Lance Macklin driving for HWM.
Peter Whitehead seemed back at home behind the wheel of the 125. His time around the circuit was quite competitive, but still five seconds slower than Hawthorn's time. This placed Peter on the third row in 7th overall.
Seventeen cars would head off at the start of the 15 lap heat race. Since it was only a heat race, the racing wasn't as furious as what could be expected in the final. The main competition in the heat race was time and the wear-and-tear on the car.
Finishing time in the heat race was very important as the final grid would be arranged according to how fast each competitor completed the 15 laps in their heat race. This meant the competitors weren't racing each other as much as the clock. Passing really only took place if another car was holding another up from turning in a faster finishing time. As a result, the field ran almost as it started. There were a couple of exceptions.
Mike Hawthorn would hold station throughout the 15 laps and would take the heat win by two seconds over Jean Behra, who just wasn't happy with the pace behind Peter Collins. This would be understandable when Collins finished a further thirty seconds behind Behra in 3rd. Peter held station also in his 7th place position throughout the heat race and would finish in that spot. He would end up completing the heat race distance over one minute slower than Hawthorn.
The second heat consisted of such talented drivers as Robert Manzon, Rudolf Fischer, Reg Parnell and Tony Rolt. Manzon had the pole and was joined on the front row by Kenneth McAlpine, Rudolf Fischer and Duncan Hamilton.
The attrition in the second heat was much worse than in the first. Seven drivers, including Hamilton and Parnell, would end up retiring from the second heat race. The attrition likely could have been worse because the pace in the second heat was slightly faster. The second heat racers had the advantage of knowing what kind of times was needed to have a better starting position for the final race.
Robert Manzon was pushed by Rudolf Fischer in his Ferrari 500 throughout the 15 lap heat. The troubles suffered by some allowed others, like Rolt, to come up from not to terribly good starting positions.
Manzon would end up holding on to take the win in the second heat. His margin of victory was only two seconds over Fischer. However, each had completed the 15 laps at least ten seconds faster than Hawthorn in the first heat race. Tony Rolt would end up finishing 3rd. But even his time was only a little over ten seconds slower than Manzon and Fischer.
Manzon's and Fischer's pace during the second heat race ensured they would start one-two for the 35 lap final. They were joined on the front row by Hawthorn and Jean Behra. In spite of finishing his heat race 7th, Whitehead's time was only good enough to start the final race from the fourth row in 13th. Twenty-six drivers, in all, would prepare for the start of the final race.
If Peter held anything back during the heat race, the final would be the time to let it loose. He certainly would not hold back. The only question that remained was what the rest of the competition could do.
All twenty-six cars rolled away at the start of the race. But, there would be a few that wouldn't make it much farther. Robert Manzon, the pole-sitter, would end up out of the race after only one lap due to transmission failure. Two laps later, he would be joined by his Equipe Gordini teammate Jean Behra. Behra would also suffer from transmission failure. This helped to open the race up.
Though mired down in 13th at the start of the race, Whitehead would not stay there for very long. He would make a good start, but, would also have the pace to build upon it. In fact, Peter, along with Hawthorn, would end up turning the fastest lap of the race. Whitehead's lap time was one minute and fifty-nine seconds. This would be six seconds faster than his best time from practice prior to his heat race!
The field was quite evenly matched. Any number of drivers could run in the top-three. Lance Macklin would make an incredible start from 10th and would soon be battling for the lead after the early failures of Manzon and Behra. Whitehead would follow Macklin and would continue to move forward as well. Mike Hawthorn had been running up at the front since the start of the race. However, he would begin to fade. Amongst those who started on the front row, only Rudolf Fischer remained in the hunt during the last-half of the race.
Despite not turning the fastest lap of the race, Macklin could not be denied in the final. Averaging a little over 85 mph, Lance would go on to take the victory by ten seconds over Tony Rolt, his HWM teammate. Between the two, Rolt had started the final from the best position on the grid. He started the race 5th. Macklin had started 10th. The race was so wide open that even Emanuel de Graffenried, in an old Maserati 4CLT/48, would be able to come from 7th to finish 3rd.
Peter had managed to move up from 13th on the starting grid. He would be chased by Prince Bira, who had started 11th. However, Whitehead's pace was such that Bira could not keep up. Having a comfortable gap between himself and Bira, Peter would focus on trying to get Fischer before the end of the race. Fischer had started the race from the front row in 2nd. By the end of the race, Fischer would only beat Whitehead for 4th by twelve seconds. Fischer was even driving the new Ferrari 500.
Although he would have loved to stand on the podium, Whitehead's result was still quite good for a gentleman-racer and for a car the age of Whitehead's Ferrari 125. This was a great boost to the confidence after the bitter race at Marseille. It was an especially good result one week before the first round of the World Championship.
One week after the BRDC International Trophy race at Silverstone, the World Championship season kicked-off at the Bremgarten circuit near Bern, Switzerland. It was the Swiss Grand Prix. Whitehead had competed at the race the year before in his 125 and would end up finishing a rather quiet 13th. It was one of only two races in which he finished in 1951. It was; therefore, not a place Peter disliked totally. But in 1952, for whatever reason, Whitehead would not travel to Bern for the race. Instead of taking part in the first round of the World Championship, the next race in which Whitehead would take part would be the third round of the French F2 Championship on the 25th of May.
Five days before the start of the second round of the World Championship at the Indianapolis 500, Peter, and his Alta F2, would be at Montlhery for what was the 6th Grand Prix de Paris.
Located only about thirty minutes outside of downtown Paris, Montlhery had been hosting races since 1925. In 1952, it served as host of the second round of the French F2 Championship and utilized only a portion of 7.76 mile road course.
When it was designed in the early 1920s, the track consisted mostly of a banked oval. Eventually, the circuit grew to offer a number of different arrangements. It had truly become a motorsports complex. It still offered the banked oval, but it also featured an incredible assortment of circuit layouts that incorporated portions of the oval and road course running to the west of the track.
In 1952, the French F2 Championship would use the 3.90 mile Troisieme Circuit. This circuit arrangement utilized about two-thirds of the banked oval and about half of the parell-running track. The speeds were reduced around the track through the use of chicanes entering the banked oval and about two-thirds of the way down the front stretch.
Whitehead had purchased the Alta F2 specifically for the purpose of taking part in the large number of Formula 2 non-championship and World Championship races. However, to this point of the season, he had earned much better results driving the older Ferrari 125 that had been updated for Formula 2 specifications. The specifically-built Alta had not performed well at all. Whitehead would bring the Alta to Montlhery in hopes the car would perform much better than its only other race, which was the first round of the French F2 Championship.
Notably absent from the event was Ferrari's Alberto Ascari. He was in the United States preparing for the Indianapolis 500. This provided other teams an opportunity. However, Scuderia Ferrari was still at the race and had more than enough star-power in its driver lineup to make up the difference. During practice though, it would seem Ferrari was going to have a rough go of things.
Robert Manzon would turn in the fastest lap with a time of two minutes and twenty-one seconds. Piero Taruffi would be the fastest of the Ferrari drivers. The Swiss Grand Prix winner would start 2nd, in the middle of the front row. Luigi Villoresi would complete the front row having recorded a time a little less than a second and a half slower.
Peter's first practice with the Alta was absolutely terrible. He would start from dead-last in a row all by himself. At Montlhery, things would be rather different. Peter seemed to find a handle to hold onto the car with. His best lap in practice would be twelve seconds slower than Manzon's best, but it would be good enough that he would start 9th overall and on the fourth row.
The three hour race would get underway with a mad fight between Equipe Gordini and Ferrari at the front of the field. The entire front row was locked in a fight. The tremendous fight at the front would turn into a confusing mess before the end.
Except Peter Collins dropping out on the 2nd lap due to magneto troubles, the race would be rather quiet, attrition-wise, throughout the first forty-five minutes. But then, a wave of attrition would strike the field. Three drivers would end up out of the race within the space of two laps. Unfortunately, Whitehead would be amongst the three. Peter had been patiently trying to make his way up the order, while also remaining trouble-free. But, about forty-eight minutes into the race, the gear lever failed. Yet again, the Alta F2 failed, and at a French F2 round.
In an attempt to keep a Ferrari one-two-three, Farina would take over Villoresi's 500. Villoresi had been off the pace somewhat. It was believed Farina could turn in some better lap times. Unfortunately, the car would end up being disqualified as Farina would receive outside assistance. Farina had turned over his perfectly-good Ferrari to Andre Simon to drive for the remainder of the race. This would end up being a beautiful gift for Andre.
Piero Taruffi, after Manzon's differential problems ended his race, was free to run out front all by himself. He would end up winning the race, doing so with a three lap margin of victory. He would end up beating Andre Simon, who had taken over Farina's car. While Farina would be disqualified from the race, Simon would take Farina's car and finish on the second step of the podium. Louis Rosier, driving his own blue-colored Ferrari 500 would finish 3rd, down four laps to Taruffi.
The Alta chassis had come to be considered by many difficult to drive. In Whitehead's case, the car's handling wasn't so much the trouble as its unreliability. This was disconcerting. If Peter was to take part in any World Championship events during the season he would either need to have the reliability of the Alta vastly improve, or, he would need to think about competing with his old 125. At least in the immediate future, Whitehead would make a clear choice.
Just a week after the second failure of the Alta F2 on the season, Peter had travelled to Albi, France to take part in the 14th Grand Prix de l'Albigeois.
The race would be another race in which cars conforming to Formula One regulations would be allowed to compete. Whitehead's Alta F2 chassis was having enough trouble just finishing races, let alone to try and compete against cars like the Ferrari 375 at the same time. What was sad for Whitehead was that the only failures he had faced in the 1952 season, to that point, had come while behind the wheel of the Alta F2. Competing against Ferrari 375s and Talbot-Lago T26Cs, Whitehead would turn; therefore, to his Ferrari 125 to do battle.
The Grand Prix de l'Albigeois took place on the 1st of June on the 5.53 mile Les Planques Circuit. The location of the circuit was just to the east of the small city center and was about the same area, size-wise, as Albi was itself. Comprised of public roads, the circuit ran amongst residential streets and some country roads. Laid out in the familiar French style, the circuit was basically a triangle in shape. It featured long straights and sharp hairpin turns. Average speeds were normally rather high.
The grand prix had another treat for the racing fans and the competitors. BRM, and their troublesome, P15s would also be present at the race. BRM would bring two. They would be driven by the Argentineans Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Juan Manuel Fangio.
In the hands of Fangio, the P15 would prove fastest in practice. Fangio would lap the 5.53 mile circuit in two minutes and fifty-five seconds. Over the course of the lap, Fangio would average close to 100 mph! Gonzalez would prove to be second-fastest in the second P15. The sixteen-cylinder engine would power Jose to a lap time of three minutes and two seconds. Louis Rosier, driving a Ferrari 375, would join the Argentineans on the front row in the 3rd position. Suffering for performance compared to the big-engine BRM chassis, Whitehead's best lap during practice would some twenty-one seconds slower than Fangio's best time. This put Peter on the 5th row in 11th.
Thankfully for the rest of the competitors, the P15 was known to make a lot of noise…and that was about it. Like clock-work, Gonzalez would have a problem with the P15's engine only 5 laps into the race. Two others would also drop out on the 5th lap. In total, five entries would be out of the race before the 6th lap.
The race, being 34 laps, would be a severe test on engines and gearboxes. It would end up being too much for both of the BRMs as Fangio would also retire from the race on the 15th lap of the race due to cylinders problems as well. This opened the race to a number of other competitors, at least those driving Ferrari 375s.
The Formula One cars would pull away into the distance, except for when they came back around to lap the other runners. Virtually handed the lead of the race with the failures of the BRMs, all that Rosier would have to do to take the victory would be just to hang onto the car over the course of the remaining laps. He wouldn't be without his own pressure, however. Besides the pressure of possibly taking the win, Chico Landi was on an absolute tear coming from dead-last on the grid. Whitehead was leading the way amongst the Formula 2 cars. He was even holding off the Ferrari 500 of Ecurie Espadon's driver Rudolf Fischer.
Rosier would hold on, but the margin wasn't as large as it could have been. Landi came all the way from the back of the grid to finish 2nd. He was only seventeen seconds behind Rosier. Yves Giraud-Cabantous, driving a Talbot-Lago T26C, would end up finishing 3rd. The slower pace of the T26C would cause Yves to finish almost a minute and a half behind. Whitehead would end up finishing the race 5th. He would also end up being the best finisher amongst the Formula 2 cars.
Throughout the season, the Ferrari 125 had not let Peter down. The old chassis could be counted on to erase any bad result earned in the new Alta F2. But, the Alta was what Peter had bought to take part in the Formula 2 races. He needed to get the car to work for him.
The next opportunity Whitehead would take to put the Alta to the test would be the following week after Albi. On the 8th of June, Peter was at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza preparing for the 5th Gran Premio dell'Autodromo di Monza.
If the speeds at Albi were rather fast, then Monza would seem ultra-fast. Located a few miles to the north of Monza, the 3.91 mile circuit was one of the first purpose-built circuits in the world. The complex consists of an extremely banked oval and a road course that drives like an oval. Basically flat in its layout, the circuit was built in the Royal Villa of Monza park and is; thus, surrounded by heavily wooded forests. With the exception of four corners, the two at Lesmo and the two at Vedano, the circuit was taken pretty much flat-out.
The Grand Prix of Monza was another of the races that followed a rather different format. The race consisted of two heat races of 35 laps each. However, the entire field took part in the two heats. The final results were determined by the aggregate time earned by each individual competitor.
Alberto Ascari was back from the United States and headed up a Scuderia Ferrari effort that consisted of four entries. In addition to Ferrari, Maserati was back in grand prix racing with its new A6GCM chassis. Peter Whitehead, would take part in the race with his Alta F2. It was repaired and back to full-strength.
In practice, with a large and strong field, Whitehead would do everything he could just to keep toward the front of the starting grid. Ascari proved to be right back on the pace when he would turn the fastest lap in practice and would take the pole for the race. Each row of the starting grid was four-wide. Therefore, Ascari would be joined by Farina, Gonzalez and Villoresi. It would be four Ferrari 500s in the top-five when Simon would start the race 5th. Whitehead managed to put together a rather impressive performance in the troublesome Alta. His best lap would be good enough the start the race from the fourth in 14th.
It was only worth taking part in the second heat race if the competitor managed to finish the first race. Ten competitors would end up making the trip to Monza to take part in only 10, or less, laps. Among them that would be out early was Fangio. He suffered a severe accident that wouldn't just knock him out of the rest of the race, but out of racing for the rest of the year. In all, thirteen would end up merely watching the second heat race because of failures suffered in the first heat. Thankfully for Whitehead, he wasn't to be one of them.
Ascari would absolutely dominate the field. He would beat Farina by over a minute. Andre Simon would finish a lap down in 3rd. Peter would impress in the much maligned Alta F2. He would end up three laps down by the end of the heat race, but he would finish 7th; one lap behind Peter Walker, whom he had partnered with to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans the season before.
The starting grid for the second heat race was determined by finishing order from the the first heat race. This provided Whitehead a huge boost. He would move up seven positions and would start the race 7th. This put him on the second row behind Andre Simon. Ascari was again on the pole with Farina, Simon and Bonetto alongside at front.
At 70 laps in entirety, nothing was certain until the end. One of the safest bets would be that Whitehead's Alta would have trouble of some kind. While he would start the race, he would be the first one out. But he wouldn't be alone. Ascari's dominant pace would come apart 14 laps into the race when he would suffer a camshaft failure. This handed the lead to a very grateful Giuseppe Farina.
Farina would go on to take the victory in the second heat race. His margin of victory was a minute and a half over Simon. Rudolf Fischer would finish two laps down in 3rd.
In the final results, Giuseppe Farina would end up taking the overall victory having an aggregate finishing time that was a full lap in front of Andre Simon. Rudolf Fischer would finish 3rd, down four laps. Peter would not be listed in the final results as a result of failing to finish the second race.
Once again, the Alta failed. Peter hadn't even taken part in a World Championship race, and it was a good thing, as he needed to figure out how to get the Alta to finish a race first. Peter would not take part in another race before the third round of the World Championship came up on the calendar. However, most likely due to the troubles faced, Peter would not enter the Belgian Grand Prix.
It would be almost a month before Whitehead would take part in another race. In an attempt to wrestle some reliability out of his Alta F2, Peter would enter himself and the car in the fourth round of the French F2 Championship. He had taken part in each of the first three rounds and hadn't even managed to finish a race, let alone score a point. He was hopeful; praying even, that things would be different at Reims. Sometimes an answered prayer is not what one prays for.
The fourth round of the French F2 Championship was the 20th Grand Prix de la Marne and it took place on the 4.46 mile public road course that made up the Reims circuit. The 4.46 mile road course utilized mostly public country roads that ran between Reims and Gueux. In 1952, the course was shorted as it abandoned the Virage de Gueux hairpin at the end of the long, ever so slightly twisty front stretch. Instead, the circuit turned right at the Courbe de Gueux and ran down through the Bretelle Sud.
The circuit itself uses public roads that run through the slightly rolling countryside just a couple of miles west of Reims. The undulations in the terrain are immediately clear when looking down the incredibly long front straight. Upon making the turn out of Thillois, the road dips slightly and then gently climbs the horizon up past the large grandstands and pit complex.
In practice for the three hour race, Ascari again proved to be the fastest driver. He would turn in a lap time of two minutes and twenty-six seconds around the 4.46 mile road course. This would be two second faster than Farina's best time. Manzon would end up starting on the front row in third after setting a time three-tenths slower than Farina's time. The Alta engine struggled out on the course for Whitehead. His best lap time was some sixteen seconds slower than the pole time. This put Peter down in the field on the sixth row and 15th overall.
Starting position, for Peter, wasn't anywhere near as important as earning a finish in the Alta by this point. Every lap was cause for Peter to hold his breath. At three hours in length, Peter ran the risk of passing out and dying without the confidence to take a breath. His chassis, concerned for his owner's health and well-being, would provide relief.
The race got underway with Ascari out in the lead and quickly beginning to pull away. He was chased by a number of Ferrari and Equipe Gordini drivers. One lap would go by without any problems in the field. Maurice Trintignant would end up dropping out on the 2nd lap of the race due to engine failure. One lap later, Peter could breathe again. The gearbox in his Alta would suffer a failure. He was out of the race after only seven and a half minutes. The rest of the field still had two hours and fifty-two minutes of running to go.
One lap after Whitehead's retirement, Villoresi's engine would expire. In a wonderful gesture to a friend, Ascari would pull out of the lead of the race and would give his car to Villoresi for the rest of the race.
Equipe Gordini had an opportunity with Villoresi out and Ascari pulling over to give Villoresi his ride. Manzon would push hard; perhaps too hard. On the 49th lap, Manzon would end up retiring from the race due to an injury he suffered out on the circuit. Jean Behra, who started the race 4th, was on a charge. He would end up taking the lead of the race and would actually begin to draw away from Farina.
At the end of the three hours, Behra would end up going on to take the victory. Farina would end up 2nd, down a lap. Luigi Villoresi would take Ascari's car and would finish the race, also a lap down, in 3rd.
Peter had taken part in all four rounds of the French F2 Championship, and all four rounds with the Alta. And in every single round, the Alta had failed to make it to the end. In fact, the car hadn't even made it halfway in any one of the races. This was not promising given the fact the next round of the French F2 Championship also counted toward the World Championship and it was only a week away.
After nothing but trouble with his Alta F2 chassis, it was time for Whitehead to take a big step of faith and enter the fourth round of the World Championship, his first on the season. The fourth round was the 39th Grand Prix de l'A.C.F. The French Grand Prix also counted as the fifth round of the French F2 Championship. Since it was part of the French F2 Championship, the race would be run according to its rules. Therefore, the competitors would have to face a three hour timed race.
Throughout the short history of the World Championship, Reims had been the site of the French Grand Prix. However, for 1952, the site of the French edition would be moved from Reims to Rouen-Les-Essarts.
The Rouen-Les-Essarts circuit was comprised of public roads deep in the Foret de Rouvay. The circuit was located in a small valley in the woodlands of Normandy. The circuit would be most famous for its Nouveau Monde hairpin. The portion between the two roads was paved with cobblestones. The hill positioned to the outside of the hairpin served as a natural grandstand for the spectators. Rouen-Les-Essarts was a favorite of the teams as it featured modern pits and a wide course. It was widely regarded as one of Europe's finest circuits. In 1952, the circuit measured 3.16 miles in length and used a straight portion of road that connected L'Etoile and Paradis.
As with just about every other practice session for any other race, Alberto Ascari would turn the fastest lap of the entire field. He would sit on the pole having lapped the circuit in two minutes and fourteen seconds. Once again, he would beat out Farina. Farina's best time was a second and a half slower. Piero Taruffi would also make it onto the front row making it a clean sweep for Ferrari. Peter was not so concerned with the front of the grid. He just wanted to make it into the race and make it to the end. His time in practice would end up being fifteen seconds slower and would put him on the fifth row in 13th. As an indication of how the season had been going in the Alta to that point, even the two ancient Maserati 4CLT/48s of Enrico Plate would start in front of Whitehead.
In every prior round of the French F2 Championship the races ended in failure for Peter. Perhaps the World Championship round would see providence shine down upon him. The race began with Ascari taking the lead. Farina was hanging onto Ascari, but only just. Taruffi slotted into 3rd.
All of the action was happening behind the threesome at the front. Peter would be part of the action, but unfortunately, not in a good way. Rouen wasn't an easy track on the cars. Each lap consists of a number of gearshifts. This puts great stress on the clutch and the gearbox. On what was his 26th lap, the race; once again, came to an end for Whitehead in the Alta chassis. The clutch had burnt out in his car. His race was over. And; once again, it was over before the race even reached halfway.
Peter didn't miss much. The race ran like a parade for the entire time. The only change near the front was Behra's loss of pace, and resulting descent in the running order. Otherwise, it was a rather boring affair. Ascari would win the race by a lap over Farina. Taruffi would finish two laps down, but would complete Ferrari's sweep of the podium. Unchallenged throughout, Ascari's fastest lap of the race was over two seconds slower than his pole time.
Whitehead's first taste of the World Championship had gone just as his other championship attempts for 1952 had—failure. By this point in time, Peter had lost a large amount of money racing the Alta chassis. Besides the cost of the chassis purchase, the cost of competition was also growing. The little prize money, earned by the 125 chassis, incidentally, was not enough to cover the losses incurred by the Alta. This would come to bear in Whitehead's decisions before the next World Championship round. There was only two weeks before the fifth round of the World Championship, which was the British Grand Prix.
Because of the problems suffered at Rouen, Peter's Alta would not be ready in time for the sixth round of the French F2 Championship, which was the next week after Rouen. Therefore, Peter would pass up the race and would; instead, concentrate on getting ready for his home grand prix the week after.
The last time Peter had been at Silverstone was back in May at the BRDC International Trophy Racing. In that race, he would finish 5th in the standings. In that race, Peter had raced in his old Ferrari 125. Throughout the remainder of the season, he hadn't finished a race in his Alta F2 chassis. Coming home to race in front of the home fans for a World Championship race, Peter would have a decision to make, but it wouldn't be all that tough.
Whitehead would prepare both of his cars for the British Grand Prix. However, he would enter the 125 with his name as its driver. Peter's half-brother was given the opportunity to take part in a World Championship race but would be saddled with the Alta F2.
In a switch, Farina would end up on the pole for the 85 lap race after the end of the practice. But it wasn't like Farina was faster than Ascari. The two set the exact same time. The pole was just awarded to Farina. Equipe Gordini would get on the front row through Manzon in the T16.
Like salt in a wound, Graham would be able to take the Alta and turn a lap in practice faster than Peter in his 125. Of course this wasn't all that surprising given the 125 chassis was over a couple of years old. But it still stung after all of the troubles the car had given Peter. Graham's best time was only eight seconds behind Farina. This time put Graham on the 4th row in 12th. Peter's time was two seconds slower and relegated him to the sixth row and 20th.
The race would begin to the sound of squealing tires and tire smoke from Farina. Ascari's car would immediately grab at the start and would catapult him into the lead. Mike Hawthorn would also start well and would be inside the top-five before the first turn. Full of confidence behind the wheel of the 125, Peter would also make a good start and began moving forward.
While Ascari was in the lead, and pulling away from the rest of the field, Peter would end up getting by his half-brother in the Alta. Peter continued to move forward, helped by the retirements of the some of the better competition in the field. Robert Manzon, Maurice Trintignant and Duncan Hamilton would all be out of the race by the halfway mark. One notable absence in the list was Graham with the Alta F2.
Ascari was absolutely untouchable. He would end up lapping the field before the end of the race. He would put Taruffi a lap down just a couple of laps before the end of the race. Taruffi would hold off hometown hero Mike Hawthorn for 2nd. In spite of having 2nd in his sights, Hawthorn would bring the British crowd to their feet with his 3rd place finish.
The 125 remained unbroken on the season. It had finished every race in which it had taken part, and, it would keep the streak going. Though four laps down, Peter would finish the race 10th. After the season he had been having this was like a small victory. The bigger victory finished two places behind Peter. Graham was able to talk the Alta into making it the entire race distance. Graham would finish 12th. This would offer confidence to Peter that; perhaps, the troubles were over.
After two World Championship races, the best result Peter had was his 10th at Silverstone. He had earned absolutely no points on the season, but would leave Silverstone with a little more confidence.
Racing on the European continent had proven to be costly and not rather successful. Peter would; therefore, stick around his English homeland and take part in another race before venturing back across the Channel. His next race would be the day before the German Grand Prix, which was the sixth round of the World Championship. The race was the 2nd Daily Mail Trophy race held at the Boreham airfield circuit on the 2nd of August.
Boreham was a former World War II airfield. Located in Essex, England, the airfield once was used by the U.S. Army Air Force where its primary role was that of a bomber and troop transport airfield. B-26 Marauder bombers, of the 394th Bomb Group called Boreham home.
Similar to Silverstone, the layout of the perimeter road and taxiways, which were used to make up the 2.99 mile road course, were wide and flat. Boreham had a couple of notable straights which made the circuit a medium to high-speed circuit. It was totally possible for laps in excess of 90 mph average to be turned, even in 1952.
The spectators that assembled at the old airfield would experience a truly incredible race. Part of the excitement had to do with the fact the Formula One cars were able to compete in the race. The other surprises would come during the race.
Scuderia Ferrari had dispatched two Ferrari 375s to the race. Luigi Villoresi would pilot one. Brazilian Chico Landi would drive the other. The British fans cheered more loudly for its home-grown BRM P15s driven by Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Ken Wharton. The British fans would also find they had more to get excited about then they perhaps knew at the time.
Villoresi reigned supreme in practice and would start the 375 on the pole. It would end up alternating Ferrari-BRM-Ferrari throughout the whole of the front row. Gonzalez would start 2nd. Landi, Wharton and Rosier would also start on the front row in 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively. Against the big engines, Peter would struggle to turn in a lap fast enough to start anywhere near the front of the grid. He would; therefore, have to make his way from the back of the grid.
The Formula 2 cars in the race, like Whitehead's 125, would receive a little help before the start of the race. Rain had been falling on the track. This would help to nullify the big horsepower advantage of the Formula One cars. The smaller, lighter and more-nimble Formula 2 cars would actually have the advantage. This would become quite obvious within just a couple of laps.
Looking absolutely masterful in the wet conditions, Mike Hawthorn would come up and take over the lead of the race in his Cooper-Bristol. He would be helped when Gonzalez would spin and crash in the wet conditions in the P15.
Hawthorn would continue to lead throughout the majority of the race. Peter was able to make his way up the order in the wet conditions as well. Villoresi, Landi and Wharton were beginning to stalk Hawthorn when the rain stopped.
Only laps from the finish, the track had dried out to the point that Villoresi would turn the fastest lap of the race with an average speed of 99 mph. This was too much for Hawthorn to hold back. Wharton was coming on too but his race would die with his gearbox. Unlike Hawthorn, Peter could not come up with the same kind of pace in his 125.
Villoresi and Landi would take over at the front. Luigi would win by ten seconds over Landi. Hawthorn, much to the delight of the British fans, would finish a surprising 3rd, albeit over a minute behind Villoresi.
The pace amidst the middle of the pack was rather equal. The rain had fragmented the rest of the mid-pack runners. It was hard, because of the large gaps, for any single driver to move forward. Peter would make it as far as 11th and would get stuck there for the remainder of the race. He would finish four laps down. Though not a great result, the fact was the 125 finished yet another race.
Skipping the German Grand Prix, the sixth round of the World Championship, Peter would wait until the following week to race again. He would travel back across the Channel to the European continent to St. Gaudens for the 16th Grand Prix de Comminges on the 10th of August.
Offered confidence after Graham's finish at the British Grand Prix, Peter would use the Alta yet again. He was running out of opportunities to make the chassis work for himself. The Grand Prix de Comminges was the seventh, and next-to-last, round of the French F2 Championship.
The first Grand Prix de Comminges happened back in 1925 and took place over a monstrous 17 mile circuit that ran through St. Gaudens, around Huos, Montrejeau and by Villeneuve-de-Riviere. The public roads used for the original 17 mile course ran over a flat valley, but was surrounded by some very beautiful rolling countryside and boasts of the Pyrenees Mountains as a backdrop. Parted by the Neste River, the area around St. Gaudens boasts of some rich history, including some ancient Roman ruins.
In the case of the 16th running of the grand prix, a scant 2.73 miles of the public roads would be used for the circuit. As far as Whitehead would be concerned, that would be more than enough. The longer the circuit, the greater the chance he would be left stranded out along the course.
In practice, Equipe Gordini's pilots looked really fast. Manzon and Trintignant would each start on the front row. But, it would be Ascari that would start on the pole. His lap time around the 2.73 miles was one minute and fifty-one seconds. Throughout the previous races with the Alta, Whitehead had been close to fifteen seconds behind Ascari. This time, he would be closer. He would only be eleven seconds slower and would start on the fifth row in 11th.
The race would offer-up trouble right from the very start, but not for Peter. Ascari would end up retiring from the race on the 2nd lap due to broken steering. Quickly, Andre Simon was brought in. His car would be taken and given to Ascari. From that moment on, Ascari would go on to show what he could do in the Ferrari.
Simon had struggled in practice and started the race 10th, in the row right in front of Whitehead. By the time he came in to hand his car over to Ascari, Alberto was well back of the front-runners. At least that's what they thought. Ascari began his quest to catch up.
Ascari would have help. Eleven starters would end up dropping out of the race before the end. The three new Maserati chassis would end up dropping out of the race all within four laps of each other. Peter continued to circulate in the Alta, subconsciously thinking with every bump and shift of the gears 'would that be the last?'
Ascari would put together one of the most impressive performances of the season. He wouldn't just get back into contention, he would demolish the competition. At the end of the three hours, Alberto had managed to claw his way back to the front and leave everybody behind. At the end, he would complete 95 laps. This was one more than Farina in 2nd and six more than Jean Behra in 3rd.
The amazing result of the race; however, would be the 4th place finisher. The Alta didn't just hang on; it thrived. Peter would guide the car all the way to a 4th place finish. Finally, the Alta didn't break, and Peter was able to show what he could do with a working car! After all of the French F2 Championship races the Brit finally earned 3 points! Whitehead's faith and perseverance had been rewarded, but hopefully, there was more to come.
Surprisingly, after the great result at St. Gaudens, Peter would not head to Zandvoort and the Netherlands for the seventh round of the World Championship. Instead, he would take a break and carefully prepare the Alta for the final round of the French F2 Championship on the 24th of August.
After enjoying some extra time around St. Gaudens, Whitehead would leave for the western French coast and La Baule for the eighth, and final, round of the French F2 Championship.
Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, La Baule was the scene for the 11th Grand Prix de la Baule. One final round remained. It had been an incredibly long season for Peter, but the Alta had performed incredibly well in the last round of the championship. He was hopeful the championship would end on a high note.
The La Baule circuit consisted of a 2.64 mile course surrounding the Montoir aerodrome. This T-shaped circuit featured very little in the way of straight-line running. It did have one long straight that was used for the start/finish straight. The rest of the course consisted of short runs for sudden bursts of acceleration before braking before the next corner.
In practice before the race, Ascari was going to do what he could to make sure the season ended on a good note for himself as well. He would end up beating out Robert Manzon by one second for the fastest lap time. Giuseppe Farina would be the third-fastest qualifier. His time was one and a half seconds slower. Whitehead managed to keep the gap less than fifteen seconds once again. He would end up being twelve seconds slower and would start the race 16th, on the eighth row.
During the previous round of the French F2 Championship Peter's Alta had managed to complete 89 laps. At the three hour Grand Prix de la Baule, Peter's Alta managed to last only one lap, or, a little over two minutes. This was not the end to the French F2 Championship he was looking and hoping for. Once again, mechanical problems would spell disaster for Peter's race.
Peter wasn't to remain all-alone out of the race. On the same lap that mechanical troubles ended Peter's race, Farina and Manzon would come together in a crash ending their races. Before the end of the race, all of the Equipe Gordini cars would be out of the race. This left Ascari, and Ferrari all by themselves out front of the field.
Ascari would go on to win the race by a lap over his friend Villoresi. Louis Rosier would finish the race 3rd, down over four laps to Ascari.
Compiling the points at the end of the season was a rather easy affair. Ascari controlled the standings having earned 43 points. Giuseppe Farina would end up 2nd in the standings having earned 22 points; 21 less than Ascari. Villoresi would help Ferrari to take the top-three earning 17 points over the course of the eight rounds. The 3 points Peter earned at Comminges ended up coming up big. He would end up 15th in the championship standings.
While Whitehead would take part in all but one of the French F2 Championship rounds, he had only taken part in two of the World Championship rounds. However, in a couple of weeks, he would attempt to take part in the last round, the Italian Grand Prix. He would attempt…to take part.
On the 7th of September, an overwhelming field prepared to take part in the 80 lap Italian Grand Prix. Absent among the starters was Peter Whitehead. Thirty-five entries would battle it out for only twenty-four starting positions. Gino Bianco would be the slowest of the qualifiers during practice. His time over the 3.91 mile circuit was two minutes and seventeen seconds. Trusting in his venerable 125, Peter would push hard. But it would not be enough. His best time would be a little over a second and a half slower than Bianco's time. Peter would not qualify for the race. This was the first time the 125 had let Whitehead down during the season.
Whitehead's World Championship ended with only two races having been contested by the Brit. His French Grand Prix had ended in a retirement. His British Grand Prix ended with Peter coming in 10th. He would not lead a lap, nor would he score any points. Although this was the end of the World Championship season for Peter, he still had a few non-championship races in which he would take part before the end of 1952.
The first of those remain non-championship races in which Peter would take part was the 5th Madgwick Cup on the 27th of September at the 2.39 mile Goodwood circuit.
Westhampnett Royal Air Force station was built on the Goodwood Estate is West Sussex and served as an emergency airfield for fighter aircraft during World War II. The estate was owned by the Duke of Richmond. He would give permission for the station's perimeter road to be used to host races. Very soon, the circuit would become a very busy center for racing in England.
The Madgwick Cup, like a number of other races held at Goodwood, was quite short. It would be only 7 laps, but it would attract a number of drivers from all over the British Empire. The competition would not be lacking. Stirling Moss, Ken Wharton and Duncan Hamilton would be among those present to take part in the race.
In practice, the competition was evident. Driving his maligned Alta, the best lap Whitehead could come up with would only be good enough to start the race from the third row in 11th place. Eric Thompson, driving a Connaught A-Type, would end up earning the pole for the race. Ken Downing would start 2nd in his Connaught A-Type. Duncan Hamilton, driving a Cooper-Bristol T20, would start 3rd. And, Alan Brown, also in a T20, would start 4th on the front row.
The problem with being such a short race, a poor starting position could really hurt. This was the reality Peter had to face going into the race. Of course, there was one thing that could really help—attrition.
Hamilton would not start the race due to engine problems. This already reduced the number of competitors Whitehead would have to battle. Then, at the start, the field was bunched tightly going into the right-hand first turn. Andre Loens and Stirling Moss would collide and knock each other out of the race. Thompson would also suffer from some damage during the 1st lap of the race. He would carry on, but only to the next lap. He would then retire from the race. Eric Brandon, who started 9th, would be out of the race after only 2 laps. All of this chaos would help Peter.
Those who would survive the first couple of laps Peter would take care of himself. By the white flag lap, Whitehead was inside the top-five an pushing for more.
Ken Downing would emerge from the wreckage around him and would go on to take the win by thirteen seconds over Dennis Poore, who had started 5th. Alan Brown would be the only other front-row starter that would make it to the end of the race. He would finish 3rd. He was being hard-pressed by Peter coming to the line. Peter would finish 4th, just four seconds behind Brown.
This was an impressive race by Whitehead as he would survive the carnage and would display a good deal of his driving talent as he would get around a number of other drivers who had started in front of him.
On the 4th of October, Whitehead was at Castle Combe Circuit preparing for the 1st Joe Fry Memorial Trophy race. This race was 20 laps of the 1.83 mile circuit located in Chippenham, Wiltshire over on toward the western coast near Wales.
Castle Combe followed a similar path as Silverstone and Goodwood. It too had been an airbase during World War II. It was built on the Castle Combe Estate and functioned as an airfield until decommissioned in 1948. Plans for using the site as a motor racing venue pushed forward. Its circuit design was comprised of the perimeter roads around the base. It was opened in 1950 and hosted a number of races through the course of each season.
Peter would again bring his Alta to the race. In practice, he would put together his most impressive performance to date. Throughout the season, Peter had been mired down in the middle, or, the back of the field. He would have a different view for the start of the Joe Fry Memorial.
Stirling Moss, driving another troubled car; the ERA G-Type, would turn in the fastest lap during practice. His time was one minute and eighteen seconds. Peter Whitehead would turn in an identical lap time. The race stewards would determine that Stirling would earn the pole for the race and Peter would start 2nd. It was a frustrating decision, but still welcomed after all of the other races. Roy Salvadori and Alan Brown would also start from the front row.
Starting 2nd was exciting, perhaps a little too exciting. At the drop of the green flag, Peter was pushing hard for the lead. He would push too hard and would suffer an accident which ended his race before the first lap had been completed. Such promise had been thrown away, and it wasn't really the car's fault this time.
Moss' day would only last 6 laps. From the time Stirling departed the race, Roy Salvadori took over the lead and gapped the rest of the field. Ken Wharton; however, was on a charge trying to chase Salvadori down before the end.
Salvadori would go on to win the race by eleven seconds over Wharton. Wharton was coming under pressure by Ninian Sanderson, the Ecurie Ecosse driver, in the later stages of the race. Wharton would hold on by four seconds over Sanderson.
The final race of 1952 for Peter Whitehead would be one week after the race at Castle Combe. The race was the 1st Newcastle Journal Trophy race held at Charterhall circuit near Duns in the Scottish Borders.
Charterhall was another of a number of airbases that became used for motor races after World War II. The circuit design only used about half of the airbase and measured 1.99 miles in length. Being an airbase, the layout of the circuit was mostly flat and wide-open. The longest runway would be used as the start/finish straight.
Whitehead would face off against a number of Connaught A-Type chassis. The Connaughts would be out-gunned by a large gaggle of Frazer-Nash and Cooper chassis. In total, twenty-nine cars would qualify to start the race.
Were he to make it the entire distance, Peter had 40 laps, or 80 miles, left to go in 1952. Mike Hawthorn's final race was over before it started. He would end up not being able to start the race.
A season full of racing would end up taking its toll, and over the course of the 40 laps of racing, only seven cars would end up finishing the race. Dennis Poore would end up winning the race by thirty-five seconds over Kenneth McAlpine. Mike Oliver would end up 3rd, forty-one seconds down.
Peter would end the season on somewhat of a bright spot. Peter's Alta would hold together over the course of the race and would emerge from the battle. In the end, Peter's season would come to a 7th place end.
After all of the troubles the Alta had given Peter throughout the course of the season it would be the Alta that would provide him with one last good result on which to end the season.