Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: BlackJack’sBriefs
When I rashly decided to compile this list I was aware of the dangers…
My grey cells do not quite go back to 1950 so I started with the Wiki list of GP drivers and, from 830 people who have driven in GP races during the past 64 years, deleted the champions, and those who never won a single race… which only brought me down to 726 names… I ruthlessly removed drivers who had not lasted longer than three years, reducing the number to 65, and then reclaimed half a dozen whose absence in such a list might have generated criticism, and gave them a second chance.
I wanted to find twenty who were top drivers (top No.2’s and/or team leaders.) and had proved their ability to win – and not drivers who showed talent but were unable to realise their full potential, including drivers whose career was brought to an untimely end, for whatever reason.
Statistics are only as good as… er… well, as good as you like, so I made life simple and awarded my own points for wins, pole positions, fastest laps and additional podium finishes, and divided the totals by the number of race starts, to provide a preliminary list which quickly opened a gap between the ‘best’ (25) and the rest. Out of these the first 15 remained consistent, regardless of my scoring criteria… and provided a reliable basis. Reducing the other 10 to 5 gave me cause for thought, before I finalised this list.
I expect (and hope) some names in this list will be somewhat unknown to many readers as these Top-20 Drivers Who Never Won a World Championship represent every decade since the 50’s.
Starting traditionally, at the end…
. . . was born in 1931 in Worcestershire, England, and drove in F1 from 1952-1958 having started with a F3 Cooper – a sort of 40’s/50’s version of karting, though probably more exciting, and certainly more real. After successes in Aston Martin sports-cars he moved in 1952 to F1 (at the age of 21) but, driving for HWM, Collins only finished one GP, in 6th place. In 1953 he finished twice, but well out of the points. For 1954 he had two races in the unreliable Vanwall, with one finish… and 1955 was even worse, while he waited for BRM to produce a car… However, after winning the Targa Florio with Stirling Moss (which put him on a Mercedes short-list for 1956) his evident talent was enough to get a Ferrari drive, and he finished five times in seven events, with three second places and two wins, placing him third in the Championship, behind Fangio and Moss, after nearly taking the Championship himself.
In 1957 Moss (always preferring to, Drive British)
joined the improving Vanwall team, leaving a vacant seat at Maserati for Fangio, and Collins took over as Ferrari team-leader (joined by Mike Hawthorn), but had a dreadful season, with two third places, and ninth in the championship, while Fangio (4) and Moss (3) won everything between them, and again finished one-two…
1958 saw an upswing by Ferrari’s Dino 246, but it was to be Hawthorn’s year as he and Moss between them took seven of the ten pole positions, and eight of the fastest laps. Moss had four wins and a second place, while Hawthorn only won once but had five second places – and won the championship by one point. Collins won in Britain but was killed in a crash in the following race at the Nurburgring. Vanwall, who had won six races, took the first ever Constructors Championship.
In 1956 Peter Collins was on the verge of becoming Britain’s first F1 World Champion when, in the last race of the season at Monza, he handed his Lancia-Ferrari D50 to team leader Fangio after the latter suffered a steering-arm failure. Collins eventually finished second, but the advantage handed to Moss (who inherited first place), and the extra points gained by Fangio’s finish, demoted Collins to third place in the championship. Collins’ selfless act gained him respect from Enzo Ferrari and high praise from Fangio: “I was moved almost to tears by the gesture… Peter was one of the finest and greatest gentlemen I ever met in my racing career.” Collins said afterwards: “It’s too early for me to become world champion – I’m too young. I want to go on enjoying life and racing, but if I become world champion now I would have all the obligations that go with it. And Fangio deserves it anyway!”
Just weeks after meeting her, Collins married actress, Louise King, and they lived on a yacht in Monaco Harbour, where Collins had moved in order to avoid military service, and not interrupt his racing career, but his ‘playboy’ image was apparently not appreciated by Il Commendatore (who had previously regarded Collins as a ‘son’) and he was fired in the middle of 1958, although allowed back, after his friend Hawthorn expressed his displeasure… and threatened to leave Ferrari. ‘One out – All out’…
In the British GP Collins responded with perhaps his greatest drive. Under team orders, to help Hawthorn win the Championship, Collins led from the start, running flat out in an effort to break Moss’ Vanwall, at the risk of breaking his own car, and he slowly pulled away from Moss until the Vanwall expired… but Collins’ car did not, and he went on to win. The Ferrari team management decided not to slow Collins down and flag Hawthorn through after Collins’ great drive. – and in the process almost wrecked Hawthorn’s championship chances, as he only won by one point. Stirling’s future patron, Rob Walker told Collins after the race, that he found Collins’ drive frightening and he should never drive like that again. It was his third and final career victory. The Guild of Motoring Writers later declared Collins, Driver of the Year – above Champion, Hawthorn.
In the following German GP, after Hawthorn and Moss had retired, Collins was chasing Tony Brooks (another unsung hero) for the lead when his car ran wide, struck a ditch, and took off. Collins was thrown clear but hit a tree and, at 26, died that evening from head injuries. Behind Brooks came Roy Salvadori and Maurice Trintignant, in ‘novel’ rear-engined Cooper Climaxes. The writing was firmly on the wall. Vanwall was the first, and only, front- engined car to win the Constructors Championship. As Michael Caine might say: “Not many people know that…”
Hawthorn finished second in the last three races, to Vanwalls of Moss or Brooks, and became the first British Champion… and immediately announced his retirement, disheartened by his friend’s death, Sadly he was to die a couple of months later, while apparently ‘racing’ a Mercedes Benz with his Jaguar on the Guildford Bypass, in England.
to be continued, next week…