Peter Collins

Full Name:
Peter John Collins
Born:
6th November 1931
Kidderminster, Worcestershire
Died:
3rd August 1958 (Aged 26)
Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia (D), following an accident during the German GP at the Nurburgring
Nationality:
British
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Britain was blessed with an abundance of Formula 1 talent during the mid 1950s – Stirling Moss was the established star and Mike Hawthorn would be crowned as the country’s first world champion. In addition, both Tony Brooks and Peter Collins were race winners and the stars of the field on their day.

It was some turnaround for a nation that had thus far produced only a handful of drivers who could compete with Europe’s elite during the sport’s first 50 years. Collins and Hawthorn were firm friends and immortalised in Chris Nixon’s book Mon Ami Mate.

Early racing career

The son of a Kidderminster motor trader, Peter Collins started racing in 500cc Formula 3 when just 17 years old and he was soon making headlines with a Cooper-Norton.

That led to an invitation from HWM to race in Formula 2 during 1952 and with it came his Grand Prix debut. That season was as team-mate to Moss and Lance Macklin. It included a sixth place finish in the French GP but the small Surrey outfit was no match for its heavyweight continental rivals. Despite that, Collins’ reputation had been enhanced and he joined Aston Martin’s sports car team by the end of the year.

Success in sports cars

It was a move that led to his first major successes as he, Pat Griffith and an Aston Martin DB3 won both the 1952 Goodwood Nine Hours and 1953 Tourist Trophy at Dundrod – the latter a round of the new World Sportscar Championship.

Second in the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours, he was a late replacement for the injured Hans Herrmann in the Mercedes-Benz line-up for that year’s Targa Florio. Collins starred once more as Moss’s co-driver and their Mercedes 300SLR won to clinch the World Sportscar Championship for the team. He again combined with Moss to finish second at Le Mans in 1956 for Aston Martin.

Formula 1 – a winner for Ferrari

Those sports car successes were particularly welcome as F1 opportunities had been limited to developing the new Vanwall during 1954 and a couple of outings with the Owen Racing Organisation’s Maserati 250F a year later. That was while he waited for the new but delayed BRM P25 to be readied and he did lead the 1955 Oulton Park Gold Cup when the car was finally available.

However, it was his move to Ferrari in 1956 that finally realised his potential in F1. Under the considerable influence of team-mate Juan Manuel Fangio, this happy-go-lucky playboy was suddenly a top GP driver. There were still the practical jokes with Hawthorn, but a new serious edge was also evident.

"Embarrassingly near to being world champion"

Collins was second at Monaco after handing his car to Fangio and then won the next two GPs in Belgium and France to lead the world championship. But he sacrificed his own lingering title ambitions during the Monza finale when he handed his second placed car to Fangio during a pitstop.

It was a selfless gesture that confirmed another title for the acknowledged master and ensured Collins’ place in Enzo Ferrari’s affection. The modest Collins later said that he was "embarrassingly near to being world champion" in 1956.

His 1957 campaign was a frustrating one, although he did win a couple of non-championship races and finish third in France and Germany. But the introduction of the Ferrari Dino 246 restored both team and driver to the ranks of title challengers for 1958.

His year began with sports car victories at Buenos Aires and Sebring. Third at Monaco, he won the International Trophy at Silverstone and repeated that success in the British GP a couple of months later. Leading from start-to-finish, it was perhaps his most impressive F1 performance and it placed Collins third in the points.

But he crashed two weeks later at the Nürburgring’s Pflanzgarten while chasing Brooks’ Vanwall for the lead of the German GP. His car somersaulted over a hedge at approximately 100mph and Collins was thrown clear and into a tree. With severe head injuries, he was airlifted to hospital in Bonn but died without regaining consciousness. Renowned as one of the safest drivers around, it was his first crash since F3.