Born on this day in Kidderminster, Peter Collins was a force in Formula One and sports cars through the 1950s. His move to Ferrari in 1956 proved inspired, winning grands prix in Belgium and France and was poised to secure the drivers' title when he handed over his car to Juan Manuel Fangio during the Italian GP and the car then suffered mechanical failure. Collins finished the season in third. While disappointed, the gesture in handing the vehicle to Fangio won him tremendous praise in Italy. Enzo Ferrari was so grateful that his relationship with Collins thereafter was described as being akin to that of a father and son. In 1957, Mike Hawthorn joined him at Ferrari and the pair bonded immediately both on and off the track. But the car was not as competitive as it had been and two third-place finishes were the highlight of a disappointing season. All that was put right in 1958 when Ferrari introduced the Dino 246, allowing Collins to take his third and final win at the British GP. That success left him lying third in the drivers' championship, but two weeks later at the German GP Collins was killed when, chasing race leader Tony Brooks, he lost control and his car careered over a bank. He was thrown clear but crashed into a tree and sustained fatal injuries to his head.
Damon Hill's victory in the rain-soaked Japanese Grand Prix kick-started his faltering, and ultimately futile, championship bid. In a two-part race, interrupted because of rain, Hill beat Michael Schumacher by three seconds leaving him needing just to finish ahead of him in the season finale in Adelaide to take the title. "I was on the radio on every lap," Hill said, "being informed of Michael's progress and it just served to spur me on. I told them there was no point telling me to go faster, because I was already on the limit." In dreadful conditions, Martin Brundle admitted he had a lucky escape when he came within an inch of hitting a caterpillar tractor removing Gianni Morbidelli's Footwork. "I really thought that was it," he said. "I hit a patch of standing water and closed by eyes … I really thought this is the end."
Dubbed the King of the Hot Rods, Jack McGrath was killed on the final day of the season when his car broke an axle and somersaulted. He had previously decided this would be his final dirt-track race. He took part in eight Indianapolis 500s, six of them in the FIA championship, twice finishing third.
Air Commodore Whitney Willard Straight CBE, MC, DFC, born on this day in New York, was raised in England and raced across Europe in the 1930s with success, even forming his own team and as owner-driver winning the 1934 South African Grand Prix. After serving with distinction as a pilot in World War Two he went on to be deputy chairman of BOAC and then Rolls Royce.