Today marks 54 years since the death of one-time Grand Prix winner, Luigi Musso, who was killed while competing at the 1958 French Grand Prix at Reims.
Musso was among several of his ill-fated compatriots to meet with death during the halcyon days of the 1950s, when the very notion of driver and safety circuit safety was unthinkable.
Following in the footsteps of one of his older brothers, the Roman’s initial forays into racing were hardly impressive. Steadily, however, he gained more experience and when he acquired one of Maserati’s new sports cars in 1953, he romped to the Italian two-litre championship crown.
His performances were so impressive that Maserati gave him a drive at that year’s Italian Grand Prix, where he shared their #56 entry with Sergio Mantovani. The pair finished seventh overall.
In 1954, he returned to the sports car scene and successfully defended his title – also finishing second in the Targa Florio and third in the Mille Miglia – but he made a few more Grand Prix appearances with the team, peaking with a non-championship win at the Pescara Grand Prix and finishing a fine second at the season-ending Spanish Grand Prix at Pedrables.
The 1955 season was another spent splitting his attention between Grands Prix and sports car racing. He finished third at the Dutch Grand Prix in the 250F challenger.
He earned a call-up to Ferrari for 1956, and kicked off the marriage with a win shared with Juan Manual Fangio at the Argentine’s home race. His season was interrupted with an arm-breaking crash during the Nürburgring 1000Km sports car race, but he returned before the season’s end.
Again faced with having to hand over his car mid-race to Fangio at his own home race at Monza, Musso refused the order. Upon assuming the lead of the race, fate intervened and he retired when one of his tyres threw its tread and broke his steering arm.
Musso’s ‘nearly man’ status continued for the next two years, with outright success continuing to elude him. He finished second at the 1957 French and British Grands Prix, and the replicated the feat with runner-up results at the following year’s races in Argentina and Monaco.
After losing a possible win at Spa-Francorchamps when he crashed following a tyre failure, Musso arrived at Reims determined to claim victory once and for all. Chasing down team-mate Mike Hawthorn during the race, he carried too much speed through the long Gueux corner. Driving at over 150mph, the car ran into a ditch and flipped, killing the hapless Musso instantly. He was thirty-three years old.
[Images via F1 Facts, Hooniverse, The Cahier Archive]