1958 British Grand Prix
: 1958 British Grand Prix: A Brit Finally Triumphs at Silverstone By Jeremy McMullen
By the start of the 1958 Formula One season there had been two British victories at the home grand prix. However, the post-war home of the British round of the World Championship was yet to be conquered by a native driver. Only Aintree had served British euphoria. However, that would change on the 19th of July courtesy of Peter Collins.
In the minds of the British, the greatest victory to that point in Formula One history, at least in the British Grand Prix, had come in 1957 when Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks partnered to bring their British Vanwall home in 1st place. It would be made even greater having Mike Hawthorn finish in 3rd place. As far as the British faithful were considered it was the ultimate; British drivers bringing home a British car in first place. But it wasn't the first time a British driver had won the race.
It would be the second time Stirling Moss stood on the top step of the podium at Aintree in the British Grand Prix. In 1955, the Englishman would earn his first World Championship victory on home soil barely edging out Juan Manuel Fangio for the victory.
Aintree was a place that it could be said British drivers had come to dominate (thanks to Stirling Moss). Silverstone was another matter entirely. Silverstone had served as host to the British Grand Prix for the first time back in 1948 and would continue to host the race well into the mid-1950s. The circuit was a fixture in the British racing scene. However, from the moment it hosted the inaugural round of the new Formula One World Championship the circuit had come to be dominated by Italian machinery and foreign drivers.
It would all start with Alfa Romeo and Giuseppe Farina. Then would come Jose Froilan Gonzalez and that historic first win for Ferrari in 1951. Gonzalez would repeat the feat in 1954 following two years of dominance by Alberto Ascari and Ferrari. Then the grand prix would relocate to Aintree for 1955. Following Moss' victory in '55, hopes would be high that a Brit could finally break through and take victory at Silverstone in 1956. British drivers would come close, but ultimately, would come up short against Fangio and his Lancia-Ferrari. So when the British Grand Prix returned to Silverstone in 1958, British fans would be eager to see a Brit car or driver finally break through at the usual home for the grand prix. Enter Scuderia Ferrari.
It would seem strange that hopes for a British breakthrough should rest with an Italian team. However, conditions at the Maranello-based team were perfect for seeing a British entity rise to the top at Silverstone.
Mike Hawthorn would depart Ferrari following his father's death. He would suggest to Enzo that he look at hiring his friend Peter Collins. Enzo would do just that and would be rewarded with an incredible '56 season that would not only see Fangio take his fourth title, but that would also witness Collins earn his first two World Championship victories, which would come at Spa and then at Reims.
Then, following the '56 season, Enzo would determine to hire Hawthorn to start alongside his good friend. Now Ferrari had two competitive British drivers. The 1957 would be difficult as the 801 F1 would not quite have the pace of the Maserati 250F or the Vanwall. But, in 1958, Ferrari would have its new 246 F1 Dino and things would be drastically different as the car handled slightly better, but also, had the powerful V6 engine.
The season had started out with the new car close, but not quite where it needed to be. Luigi Musso and Hawthorn would finish 2nd and 3rd in the first round of the season while Musso and Collins would finish 2nd and 3rd in Monaco. But then, at the Belgian Grand Prix, things would begin to fall into place for the team and the car. It would begin with a 2nd place by Hawthorn at Spa. Then there was the victory by Hawthorn at Reims, the first victory by the team in over a year. Of course it came as a cost as Musso wrecked his car and later died as a result of the injuries sustained. Still, the car was beginning to come on strong and it was at the circuits with higher average speeds. Silverstone certainly fell into that category.
The season had been rather difficult for Collins prior to the British Grand Prix. Up to that point in the season his best result remained the 3rd place he scored at Monaco all the way back in May. Following that time he had suffered two retirements and a lowly 5th. Therefore, Peter was earnest in his desire to get his season finally going in the right direction. It had been going, but in the wrong direction.
Following Musso's death in Reims, Scuderia Ferrari would arrive at Silverstone with just three cars. One would be entered for Hawthorn, another for Collins and a third would be listed for Wolfgang von Trips.
Coming into the race it seemed a foregone conclusion a British driver at least would finally win the British Grand Prix at Silverstone as there was not only Hawthorn and Collins at Ferrari but then there were Moss and Tony Brooks at Vandervell.
In a bit of a surprise, the weather around Silverstone on that weekend would be bright and sunny as the cars took to the 2.92 mile circuit for practice. Coming into the event, Moss believed he would have the advantage with the Vanwall. However, over the course of the practice sessions he would be surprised to find the Ferrari 246 F1s to be better-suited to the circuit.
In spite of the Ferraris appearing to be better-suited to the circuit, Moss would push hard in his Vanwall and would end up posting the fastest lap time around the circuit and take pole with an average speed of nearly 106mph. In all of the excitement surrounding the Vanwalls and the Ferraris it would be easy to overlook the other British manufacturers in the race. However, by the end of practice it would be more than obvious British teams and drivers were in a strong position as Harry Schell would end up 2nd on the starting grid in the Owen Racing BRM posting a time just four-tenths of a second slower than Moss. Then there was Roy Salvadori in the Cooper starting 3rd. Finally, in the 4th, and final, spot on the grid would be the first of the Ferraris driven by Mike Hawthorn. Peter Collins' best effort in practice would be only two-tenths of a second slower than Hawthorn. However, it would only be good enough for 6th place and a spot in the middle of the second row. Looking at the front of the field, it appeared as though British cars and drivers were in a strong position. However, Collins seemed a bit of a dark horse compared to Moss, Hawthorn, the BRM and the Cooper.
Brilliant sunshine would again greet race day and the expectant crowd would arrive in the tens of thousands looking forward to what they believed would be either a Moss or Hawthorn triumph. The cars would be rolled out onto the circuit and into their grid positions. Slowly, the drivers would begin to make their appearances, readying themselves for 75 laps, or 219 miles. Heading into the race, Collins would be thinking more about mon ami mate Hawthorn and doing what he could to help him out instead of thinking about what his own chances would be. In fact, the man from Kidderminster would even be a little hesitant when considering his chances at victory.
The engines would come to life, as would the crowd. The final warnings would resound throughout the old abandoned airfield. The cars inch forward in anticipation of the flag. Then the flag dropped and the race would be underway with Salvadori actually getting away first but being quickly caught by Schell and Moss heading into Copse for the first time. Collins would also get away very quickly from the second row and would actually be side-by-side with his friend teammate Hawthorn heading toward the first turn.
Still powering their way toward Copse for the first time, Collins' start would be so tremendous that he would actually be in a fight with Moss for first through the turn. Amazingly, the British driver not many assumed would be in the fight for the lead, let alone the victory, would be in the lead. Moss would be in 2nd place followed by Schell and Hawthorn.
Collins' tremendous start would see him go from the second row of the grid to leading the first lap ahead of Moss and Hawthorn. Schell would drop back to 4th place settling in behind the wheel of the BRM.
Suddenly, it would all make sense as Collins' jump into the lead was certainly on purpose. He would push the issue forcing Moss to do his best to counter in the Vanwall. This would put tremendous pressure on the four-cylinder Vanwall and the strength of the 246 F1 at Silverstone would now become apparent to Moss as he would be forced to counter or slip further back.
There had been great concern from Vandervell heading into the season about their engine's reliability using avgas and Collins would be out to try and exploit that concern for whatever he could get, but he would be doing for his friend, not himself.
Hawthorn would run in 3rd place content with letting his friend lure Moss into a race he didn't necessarily want to run. Hawthorn had been climbing up the standings and knew Stirling needed a strong result to swing momentum back in his favor, but Collins was preventing the Vanwall driver from controlling the pace. Collins would go faster and faster until, finally, the ruse worked.
After 25 laps, Moss' engine would come up sour and would be forced to retire from the race. The new regulations prohibiting him from hopping into another Vanwall meant his race and championship hopes would take yet another hit. Hawthorn was in a good position. His closest rival had just dropped out of the race and he now ran in 2nd place to his teammate.
Throughout the battle between Collins and Moss, the leading Ferrari driver not only managed to cover every attack made by the Vanwall driver, but he was also showing himself capable of expanding his advantage. This would end up being not so good news for Hawthorn as he settled in behind the two waiting for the race to come to him. However, by the time Moss retired, the race was powering off into the distance with Collins at the helm.
Hawthorn would begin to pick up his pace in effort to catch his friend and snatch away his first-ever British Grand Prix victory. Hawthorn pushed ever faster and would seemingly have Collins in his sights. Sadly, he would no sooner get within reach of Collins that he would be forced to make a pitstop for more oil. The stop would be a quick one and Hawthorn would rejoin the race, but he would be more than a minute behind. Collins would ease off the pace slightly. Mike would not as he would pick up the pace each and every lap until, on the 50th lap of the race, he would go on to set the fastest lap of the race. This was an extra point toward the championship and pulled him within half a minute of Collins. He would recognize that it seemed to be Collins' day and the point for fastest lap would encourage him to settle in. The fight for the victory was all but lost as long as Collins managed to keep his car all in one piece.
It would be an utterly demonstrative performance by Collins in the Ferrari. Though never seemingly in the picture for the victory at the start of the race, there he would be, with only a handful of laps remaining, in the lead and with a commanding lead at that.
Over the course of the 75 lap race, Collins would never put a wheel wrong and would demonstrate his true abilities in a grand prix car. After having watched circulate around Silverstone for more than two hours, many would figure him to be a favorite for a World Championship in the near future.
Wrapped up in the present, Collins would ease his way around the Silverstone circuit one last time as he enjoyed more than 20 seconds advantage over Hawthorn in 2nd place. It had been a masterful race with tactics played out beautifully. While the late dash into the pits for oil would spoil Hawthorn's chances to extend his championship lead, neither he nor the British crowd would be entirely disappointed as, after two hours and nine minutes, Collins rounded Woodcote for the final time and crossed the line to take his first victory of the '58 season and first in two years.
Averaging a little under 102mph over the course of the 75 lap race, Collins' pace would be too much for the field, even his teammate. Heading into the race, the British fans and many other experts had conferred the victory to a Brit, but either Moss or Hawthorn. Collins, and many others, considered himself to be a dark horse, a supporting actor in this British show of force. But low and behold, it would be Collins that would take his place amongst Moss and Brooks as the only other British drivers to have won the home grand prix.
The 1958 British Grand Prix would certainly be a show of force for British drivers as English drivers occupied the top four spots in the finishing order. Nevertheless, the day would belong to Collins. Finally, after two years, he would be back on top. Though Hawthorn led the championship, Collins could not be discounted as he had gone on a roll back in 1956 winning back-to-back races and being in the hunt, at least mathematically, heading into the final race of the season.
It would be a fitting scene seeing Collins standing with the trophy held high in his hand, his friend toasting him. It would be one last beautiful memory in which to recall the talent of Peter Collins, for, at the German Grand Prix, he would lose control of his Ferrari and would end up being catapulted from the car into a tree to later die from the injuries sustained in the crash. Sure enough, he had been leading and battling for the lead at the time of the accident.