A Deadly Rivalry: How Hawthorn and Collins pushed Musso to his death

While the current rivalry between Vettel and Hamilton takes center stage in modern F1, we look back at one of the greatest of all time: Hawthorn V. Musso.

At every point during the midseason of Formula One, things start to heat up. The top two teams and drivers in contention for the championship emerge, and a rivalry ignites. While Formula One is no stranger to captivating rivalries, there was perhaps never one as explosive as that of Mike Hawthorn and Luigi Musso in the 1950s.

Musso and Hawthorn going head-to-head. Source : John Ross Motor racing archive.

Hawthorn and Musso were seemingly fated to be enemies, as both drivers were incredibly capable, determined, and driven – yet shared utterly opposite personalities. One would be more likely to find Musso studying lines and tweaking set-ups down the last minute, while Hawthorn could be found getting some last-minute carousing in. Hawthorn was famous for his on-and-off-the-track boisterous personality – one that could provoke the ire of other drivers, including Musso, from time-to-time – but that wasn’t the spark that ignited a rivalry that would see men push themselves to their limits and beyond.

The catalyst for the rivalry was in fact a third individual. Englishman Peter Collins. Collins was perhaps the only other driver on the paddock that shared Hawthorn’s sentiment for living a fast life full of partying and chasing women. The fact that they were both Englishman–who saw their participation in the sport of Formula One to be as much a patriotic effort as a professional one–cemented their friendship. As such, the two men developed an agreement: they would both split the money from either of them winning, and it doesn’t take a world-class detective to see where this goes next.

Hawthorn and Collins were great friends. Source : F1 Legend

Hawthorn and Collins soon saw their on-track strategy change, as their mentality went from seeking to get first for solely themselves to ensuring that either of them are up on the pole. As expected, this didn’t sit well with Musso. Clearly aware of what the two Englishman were plotting, Musso pushed himself and the rest of Ferrari to perform like they never had before. The resulting surge catapulted Ferrari’s performance to the top, which prompted a matched response in kind from Hawthorn and Collins.

The drivers kept pushing, trying to one-up the other. The longer they went, the more dangerous the sport became. Safety regulations and procedures (those that were implemented) fell by the wayside as the sport witnessed a battle the likes it had never seen before. And then, disaster struck. Musso catapulted himself off of the track during the 1958 French Grand prix at Reims as he was hell-bent on chasing his fellow Ferrari driver, Mike Hawthorn. Musso went into a ditch and somersaulted his way across the green. He died later that day. It was revealed later that Musso was battling debt, and was pushing harder than he ever had to secure the French track’s payout – which was the highest on the calendar at the time.

Collins was the next to go, and in a nearly identical crash to Musso as his Ferrari flew into a ditch after running wide at the Nurburgring the same year. Hawthorn went on to finish the season as World Champion, but the conditions of his victory proved too much to bear. He withdrew from Formula One, died later than year in a roadside accident while driving in Southern England.
And just like that, the flame was snuffed out as quickly as it was ignited. Reminding all participants and spectators of what it means to live life in the fast lane.

Hawthorn’s Jaguar following his fatal crash.