Peter Collins: The very definition of Sportsmanship

25 Jun

Today marks the start of the Formula 1 Formula week of legends (25th June – 1st July). These legends are drivers who have been unsung but have completed achievements that deserve merit. Today’s driver is Peter Collins, a man who few have heard of but was far and away one of the best ever British F1 drivers, here’s his story:

Collins first became an F1 driver in 1952 driving with HW Motors. He drove for the team until the 1954 season, he only started 8 eight races and finished 3 of them picking up 0 points, but he managed to impress during the short spell to drive for G A Vandervell in 1954. It was a disappointing year, he was only entered for three races and only finished one of them. In 1955 he changed team twice, first joining Owen Racing Organisation for one race (where he was a retirement) and then for Officine Alfieri Maserati (he also only started one race from which he retired).

So far in the story Peter hasn’t been impressive, he’s been with 4 teams entered for 15 races, started 12 of them finished 4 and picked up 0 points. But miraculously some how he’d impressed enough to be signed for Ferrari in 1956 driving alongside Juan Manuel Fangio already a triple world champion.

Many would have been intimidated by Fangio’s supreme record but Peter was made of sterner stuff and he took the fight to him. The season started in Fangio’s home country Argentina but it wasn’t the start Collins would have hoped for as he retired on lap 58/98 crashing out. Monaco was a massive improvement for Peter, and picked up a shared second place with Fangio to pick up 3 championship points. The next race in the championship was the Indianapolis 500 which Peter didn’t participate in. The fourth race of the season was the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps and was the race where Peter picked up his first ever race win to capitalise on retirements from Fangio and Moss. He copied this achievement at the next race, yet again winning this time at Reims for the French GP, but only by a few inches. This meant that Collins was leading the championship. At Great Britain Collins picked up his fourth podium of the year finishing second in the car he took over from Alfonso de Portago. In Germany Peter yet again took over the car of a team-mate, but this time he crashed the car to leave him 8 points behind Fangio in the championship with only one race left t go.

Going into the last race Collins needed to not only win the race but to also set the fastest lap if he wanted to win the championship and become the first British driver to be world champion, whilst Fangio had to pick up points to pick up his 4th title. Lady luck appeared to be smiling on Collins’ when Fangio retired from the race with steering trouble. But in a selfless and generous gesture Peter pulled into the pits and let Fangio drive the car and stop Maserati driver Jean Behra from winning the title. Fangio went on to win his fourth championship whilst Collins not only lost his chance of a championship but also second place leaving Peter to finish third in the championship behind Fangio and Stirling Moss. This gesture is the reason why Collins is an unsung hero and deserves much more recognition than he gets. Here is a video of the 1956 Italian GP:

Collins picked up 22 more points before his death at the Nurburgring in the 1958 German Grand Prix. He drove for Ferrari for both the 1957 and the 1958 season.

In 1958 Peter’s good friend Mike Hawthorn won the championship and the accolade of being the first British championship winner. Hawthorn retired after that season due to the death of Collins.


One Response to “Peter Collins: The very definition of Sportsmanship”

  1. Janella June 26, 2012 at 05:38 #

    There is a good biography of Collins and Hawthorn called ‘Mon Ami, mate’ which explains why drivers shared cars in those days- can’t see Massa being called in for Alonso to take over!

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