Luigi Musso

Born:
28th July 1924
Rome, Lazio
Died:
6th July 1958 (Aged 33)
Reims, Champagne-Ardenne (F), French GP
Nationality:
Italian
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Italy’s leading Grand Prix driver at the time of his death in 1958, Luigi Musso was a deeply religious man who threw caution to the wind on one occasion too many. The son of a diplomat, he followed two older brothers into racing.

Early racing career

That debut on the 1950 Targa Florio was an inauspicious affair with Musso crashing into a statue of national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi. His promise was soon recognised by Maserati who signed him for 1953 and the 29 year old dominated that year’s national 2000cc sports car title.

Grand Prix career with Maserati

He won sports car races in Umbria and Avellino with a Maserati A6GCS and was rewarded with his world championship debut in that year’s Italian GP. Listed as Maserati’s reserve driver, Musso took over from Sergio Mantovani at half distance to finish in seventh position.

The dual programme of sports cars and Formula 1 in 1954 proved to be Musso’s breakthrough. Third in the Mille Miglia and second on the Targa Florio, he won national sports car races at Naples, Caserta and Senigallia. He was a reserve driver for the F1 team and was promoted when Onofre Marimón was killed at the Nürburgring.

He inherited victory in Pescara’s non-championship race after team-mate Stirling Moss’s Maserati 250F and others retired from the lead. That may have been a fortunate success but his promise was confirmed when Musso finished second in the final GP of the year in Spain.

He shared the winning Maserati 300S with Jean Behra in the 1955 Supercortemaggione at Monza and also finished the Dutch GP in third position. Second in the minor races at Bordeaux, Naples and Syracuse, he was named as that year’s Italian Champion.

The Ferrari years

Musso moved to Ferrari in 1956 and opened the year in fine form. He qualified on the front row (third) for the first time in Argentina and his Lancia-Ferrari D50 shot into the lead at the start. Passed by José Froilán González on the opening lap, he was running fourth when ordered to swap cars with team leader Juan Manuel Fangio. The Argentinian champion worked his way to the front and eventually won comfortably – giving Musso his only GP victory in the process.

Second in the Sebring 12 Hours and third in the Mille Miglia with a Ferrari 860 Monza, Musso broke his arm in a major accident during the Nürburgring 1000Kms. He returned by the end of the season but refused when ordered to hand his car to Fangio during the Italian GP. He took the lead with four laps to go but was denied victory when his steering failed after Musso punctured a tyre. He was classified ninth equal in the world championship.

The Italian press had been happy to hype the rivalry with team-mate Eugenio Castellotti – the wealthy Musso contrasting to his compatriot’s humble upbringing. They won the 1957 Buenos Aires 1000Kms together but Castellotti was killed while testing and Musso was left as his country’s leading star. Second in the French and British GPs, he won the non-championship Marne GP at Reims. He ended the year with another second place finish in the final sports car race of the year in Venezuela.

Perhaps the pressure of a nation had its toll in 1958 as he often pushed his car over the limit. Second place finishes in the Argentine GP, Buenos Aires 1000Kms and Sebring 12 Hours were followed by victories at Syracuse and in the Targa Florio when sharing a Ferrari 250TR with Olivier Gendebien in that latter race.

Second again in Monaco, Musso was in determined mood for the French GP at Reims. He qualified a career-best second (as he had in the previous Belgian GP) behind team-mate Mike Hawthorn and was running second to the Englishman in the race when he crashed at 150mph after trying to take the first corner flat out. His car somersaulted into a wheat field with Musso thrown clear. Transported by helicopter to the nearby hospital, Musso died that evening from the severe head injuries he had suffered.