Luigi Musso (1924 - 1958) - The Monaco GP Master

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Luigi Musso (1924 - 1958) - The Monaco GP Master

Luigi Musso
Luigi Musso was, temporarily, the last of a line of famous Italian Grand Prix drivers. The death of former World Champion Alberto Ascari in 1955 left two young Italians, Castellotti and Musso, to fight for the honour of being their country's champion driver at a time when Grand Prix racing was dominated by the two Italian teams, Ferrari and Maserati.

Then Castellotti was killed before the 1957 season, leaving Musso as Italy's only world-class driver. The deeply religious man, who in his youth excelled at shooting, fencing and horse riding, knew he had the honour of Italy at stake, but it was a terrible burden to bear.

On 6 July 1958, he crashed fatally in the French Grand Prix at Rheims. He had been following his Ferrari teammate Mike Hawthorn round the difficult corner after the pits at a speed in excess of 130 mph, when he lost control and crashed. Musso was born in Rome on 27 July 1924, the youngest of three brothers.

The 1950 Tour of Sicily

His was a wealthy family, his father having served as a diplomat in China, and a sporting one. Speed interested young Luigi as a child, and by the age of 10 his passion was cars. His elder brothers Lucietta and Giuseppe had sports cars, but they refused to allow Luigi to drive them so he bought his own, a second-hand 750 cc Giannini. He entered it for the 1950 Tour of Sicily, but during a lapse of concentration lost control and crashed into a monument of Garibaldi.

This damaged the gearbox and the only way the car could tackle steep hills was to ascend in reverse. Later Musso crashed in the Mille Miglia, but he won his class in the Tour of Calabria and won on handicap at Naples. The 1951 season brought retirements in the Tour of Sicily and Mille Miglia, but for 1952 he persuaded his brother Giuseppe into lending him his 750cc Stanguellini with which he notched up several placings but no wins.

Maserati Offer the A6GCS to 3 Young Italians

Luigi Musso's big chance came in 1953. The Maserati factory offered their new 2-litre A6GCS sports car to three young Italians on terms which involved the purchase of the cars. Out of a long list of applicants were chosen Sergio Mantovani, Emilio Giletti and ... Luigi Musso. The outcome was Musso being hailed as the Italian a-litre Champion after numerous wins. Maserati were quick to test Musso in one of their new 250F Formula One cars in 1954. In sports cars he won at Naples arid Senigallia and tookclass wins in the Tourist Trophy and Buenos Aires 1000 km.

His first Formula One victory came in the non-championship Pescara Grand Prix while he was second in the Spanish Grand Prix after a first-rate drive. The following year he shared the winning Maserati with Jean Behra in the Supercortemaggiore Grand Prix for sports cars at Monza, was second in the Bari, Caserta and Naples sports-car races, second in the Syracuse Grand Prix and third in the Dutch Grand Prix. That year, Luigi Musso was proclaimed Italian Champion.

In 1956 Musso joined Scuderia Ferrari. The season started reasonably well when he 'won' the Argentine Grand Prix, his only World Championship Formula One victory. But in reality Musso was running in fourth place shortly after one-quarter distance and was called in by his pit to hand over to team-leader Juan Manuel Fangio who went on to win. Whether Musso would have won if he had continued driving is open to doubt. After a second in the Sebring 12-hours and a third in the Mille Miglia, Musso was injured at Nuburgring during the 1000 km sports-car race. He returned in time to compete in the Italian Grand Prix matched against arch-rival Eugenio Castellotti (also a Ferrari team driver).

Luigi Musso and Olivier Gendebien winner with his Ferrari 250 TR, circa 1958Luigi Musso and Olivier Gendebien winner with his Ferrari 250 TR, circa 1958.

Disobeying Team Orders

It was inevitable that the pair should disobey team orders and instead of playing a waiting game on the dangerous 6.21-mile banked Monza circuit they rocketed ahead of the opposition in their personal duel. After four laps both had tyre failures. They stopped at the pits and - continued well back. Castellotti was soon out with tyre failure and broken steering, while Musso climbed to second place. During a routine tyre-change Musso was asked to vacate his seat in favour of Fangio, as in Argentina, because the Argentinian needed valuable championship points and his own car had broken down.

Musso refused and roared back into the race, to cat-calls from the crowd. When Stirling Moss's leading Maserati stopped for fuel Musso snatched the lead. The crowd cheered wildly now, but it only lasted a lap. Musso suffered tyre failure coming off the banking before the pits and his steering also broke. Wheels askew, the car skidded to a halt in front of the pits; Musso climbed out and wept.

In 1957 Musso won the Buenos Aires 1000 km sports-car race and the non-championship Formula One Rheims Grand Prix. He was second in the French and British Grands Prix and, at the wheel of the new Formula Two Ferrari, second in the Naples Grand Prix against a field of Formula One cars. In 1958 his long-awaited genuine World Championship Grand Prix race victory seemed close at hand. He won the non-championship Syracuse Grand Prix and the Targa Florio sports-car race and was also second in the Argentine and Monaco Grands Prix.

He escaped from a frightening crash in the Belgian Grand Prix, but returned to drive superbly in the Monza 500-mile race, an event which matched European cars against Indianapolis-type machines around the banked oval, finishing a brave third. A week later Musso arrived to compete in the French Grand Prix at Rheims. He crashed at 130 mph on the 10th lap, his Ferrari Dino 246 striking a ditch and overturning, hurling out the driver. Thirty-three-year-old Musso was killed instantly and Italy was left with the best racing cars but no world-class drivers.
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