The 1958 British GP: A Personal Account.

Peter Collins: The Refresher Course.

In a prior post, I noted:

In 1956, Peter Collins was a handsome 24 year old British bachelor and semi-experienced racing driver.  He cut his teeth in the Formula 500 series, for three seasons, around 1949 to 1951.  For 1952, he bumped up to the F2 series, just one notch below Formula 1.  Then, he lays low until 1955, racing for British Racing Motors (BRM).  In 1955, he catches the eye of a man you may know of – Enzo Ferrari.  Ferrari not only embraces Collins, but Enzo treats him like a surrogate son.  Some say, Collins reminded Enzo of his own recently passed Dino Ferrari.  Anyway, he got a shot with Scuderia Ferrari in fifty-six.

Peter Collins Lifting Trophy1956 had been a big season.  He scored points at Monaco, but only after splitting them with Fangio (he was called in to hand over his car to the Maestro).  He would have a successful season, but ultimately handed over his car in the last race, voluntarily, to Fangio.  He did this so that he would have a shot at winning the Formula 1 Championship – in spite of the fact that Collins, himself, was still in the running to win it.

Peter Collins was treated like a son by Enzo Ferrari.  That is, until he married, an ultimate sin in Ferrari’s eyes.  His reasoning was relatively transparent.  If you were married, had a family, then you had something to lose.  If you had something to lose, well, then you would not be ultimately quick.  Consequently, he was the verge of being relegated to racing in the lower Formula.  Just like in 1956, as soon as he was doubted, he came on stronger that he ever had before.  And so, the day of the 1958 British Grand Prix arrived.

A First-Hand Account of the ’58 British GP.

This is the story of Keith Crossley, a GP evolved reader, who was in attendance at the 1958 British Grand Prix.  His words bring a unique perspective to the experience of attending a Grand Prix in the first decade of the F1 Championship.  He was eleven years old at the time of 1958 British Grand Prix.  He was vaguely familiar with motor racing, through Le Mans; he had heard hourly reports of the races progress.  He recalls the duals between Mike Hawthorn (Jaguar) and Moss, in the Aston Martin.  For years, he had heard his dad travel to a mystical place, known only as “Silverstone.”  In 1957, he saw the non-points (but common at the time) race, named the “Empire Trophy.”

Vintage Silverstone Map

His interest had grown steadily since that time.  He remarks, “The 1958 British cars were ascendant.  Each weekend, I would anticipate the news on the radio, or I would have to wait for Monday’s paper.  I also read the weekly news magazines.  There was no television in our house and the internet is still 40 years away.”

“We were Moss and Vanwall fans at the time.  By the time Silverstone came around, I was really excited for the home team.”

What would take two hours today, took three to four hours in those days.  The trip would have started at the crack of dawn.  “My dad, his friend Kevin – the one with the car, and another friend, headed into dark, winding two-lane roads.  We went through towns, villages, and lots of countryside – with very little in the way of signage.”  It was a pilgrimage they seemed to know  by heart.

They parked near Club Corner, where admission was for a carful.  Inventively, “we took a couple step-ladders and used planks between them for seats.  There were very few stands and Club was standing only.  We were much closer to the track than you are now.  There were no guard rails; next to the track was grass, then a shallow ditch, and then a modest wall of dirt.  Then us.

Sportscar at the 1958 British GP“The anticipation grew as the supports events ran – sports cars saloons and Formula 500.  Many Grand Prix drivers raced in the saloon and sports cars.  The saloons were always fun.  The big jag’s were amazing: the cornering technique was to ignore the brakes and turn the car sideways, letting the speed scream off the tires as they went around the corner, side by side.”  He goes on to note, “In later years, you would see the Mini as the Jaguars stormed by get passed, only to retake the position in the corners.”

“Finally, the big moment.”  He was excited, “I was going to get to see a Vanwall with Stirling Moss driving.”  Vanwall did not attend the race he saw in 1957.  “They did not do a formation lap in those days – the first time you saw them was racing.  Now, I should tell you, for an eleven year-old, it was ‘us’ against the ‘enemy’ – those Italian red cars (even though some had British drivers).”  It is interesting to see some slight animosity towards countrymen racing for the Italian squads.  He goes on to note, “I’m still the same, except for Massa; sometimes.”

Here is what he would have seen that day:

Collins drinking a pint with Hawthorn 58 British GP“It was a huge letdown to have a red car come by, on the last lap, in first.  ‘Ah, but they will get back in front,’ we had prayed.  You know the sad results.  By the end it was a procession.

“My Dad and I took a walk to back to Hanger straight almost to chapel.  After Coolins victory, we all waved to the victors, (who are British afterall, even though they drove red cars).  Collins passed us and then Hawthorn was a bit further behind than the last lap.  You could see him clearly in his car and he was waving a pint of beer!

“So, though the results were not at all what we wanted, it was a great day; we would have the rest of the season to watch for Moss and Vanwall to take the championship, wouldn’t we?”

Thank you to Mr. Crossley for his memories of attending the 1958 British GP at Silverstone.

Driver’s Championship:

  • Mike Hawthorn – 30
  • Stirling Moss – 23
  • Peter Collins – 14

Constructor’s Championship:

  • Scuderia Ferrari – 36
  • Vanwall – 25
  • Cooper-Climax – 23