- November 12, 1914
- September 21, 1958
- United Kingdom
- Not Active
Peter Whitehead (1914 – 1958) was a British racing driver who was active before the World War II and during the 1950s, losing his life in an accident in the 1958 Tour de France race. His biggest success is a victory at 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1951, together with Peter Walker in a Jaguar C-Type. He was again on Le Mans podium in 1958, finishing second in an Aston Martin DB3S.
In Formula 1, Whitehead recorded ten starts in the World Championship between 1950 and 1954, scoring one podium. He was more successful in non-championship F1 races, scoring three wins.
Successful career before the World War II
Born in November 1914 in Menston, Yorkshire, in a wealthy family, Peter Nield Whitehead started his racing career in 1934. His first race car was a Riley, then ERA B-Type and Alta. He gained some notable results, such the third place in the Donington Grand Prix in 1936, where he was sharing a car with Peter Walker.
In 1938, Whitehead was on a business trip in Australia. In April, he participated in the Australian Grand Prix, driving an ERA B-Type and winning the race at Mount Panorama circuit. He also participated in hill climb races, winning the Australian championship. He returned to Britain in 1939 and participated in few more races before the World War II stopped all racing activities.
Surviving an air crash in 1948
During a war, Whitehead was a pilot with the Royal Air Force. He returned to a cockpit of a race car soon as racing was revived, in summer 1947, finishing second in the British Empire Trophy which took place at the Isle of Man. He was driving an ERA B-Type.
In 1948, Whitehead survived a plane crash at Croydon Aerodrome, when he was on his way to Milano, to arrange the purchase of a Ferrari 125. He was badly injured and out of racing for a year.
1949 – Grand Prix season in a Ferrari
However, in 1949 he bought a Ferrari 125 from Enzo Ferrari, becoming the first ever person to buy a Ferrari Formula 1 car.
With that car, painted green, he participated in nine Formula 1 Grand Prix races in 1949, in the last season before the F1 World Championship was inaugurated. In July, he finished third in the French Grand Prix at Reims circuit and then, in September, he won in the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix at Masaryk Circuit in Brno.
Participating in the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship
In 1950, Whitehead continued to race in non-championship F1 races with Ferrari, scoring two wins in the Jersey Road Race and Ulster Trophy. In May, he appeared in Monte Carlo but didn't start in the Monaco Grand Prix, the second race of the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship.
His champion debut came in July, in the French Grand Prix at Reims circuit. Driving his own #14 Ferrari 125, he finished in the third place, behind Alfa Romeo drivers Juan Manuel Fangio and Luigi Fagioli. It remained Whitehead's only F1 championship podium in a career. He started once more in 1950, in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, finishing seventh. With four points on his account, he was classified ninth in the first ever F1 World Championship.
Le Mans 24h debut in 1950, victory in 1951
In 1950, Whitehead also started his sports car racing career. In June, he made a debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing Peter Walker's #16 Jaguar XK120 with John Marshall. They finished in the 15th place. In September, driving the same car, Whitehead finished second in the Tourist Trophy race at Dundrod circuit, behind Stirling Moss.
In June 1951, Whitehead made the greatest achievement of his career by winning the 24 hours of Le Mans. He and Peter Walker were driving the #20 Jaguar C-Type for the factory team. It was the first ever Jaguar's win at Le Mans.
Eight Formula 1 Grand Prix starts in 1951
In Grand Prix racing, Whitehead recorded four starts in the F1 World Championship and four starts in non-championship races. In the World Championship, he participated in three races with his own Ferrari 125, recording three DNFs (Switzerland, France, Italy). In July, he was driving a Ferrari 375 for Tony Vanderwell in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, finishing the race in the 9th place.
In the non-championship races, Whitehead was using his Ferrari 125, with third place at Bordeaux Grand Prix as the best result.
Combining Alta, Ferrari and Jaguar in 1952
In 1952, Whitehead continued with a double programme in Grand Prix races and sports car races. At Le Mans, he and Ian Stewart retired in a factory-entered Jaguar C-Type. In the F1 championship, he attempted two events (GB, Italy) in a Ferrari 125 but also was using Alta F2 car in the French Grand Prix.
Over the year, he participated in thirteen non-championship Grand Prix races, combining Ferrari and Alta. He didn't score wins or podiums, recording five Top 5 results.
1953 – victories with Jaguar in 12-hour races
In 1953, Whitehead had the best results in sports car races, winning two great 12-hour races with Jaguar. He was a winner at Reims 12 Hours and Hyeres 12 Hours, sharing a Jaguar C-Type with Stirling Moss (Reims) and Tom Cole (Hyeres).
At Le Mans 24 Hours, Whitehead's co-driver in the #19 Jaguar was Ian Stewart and they finished in the fourth place. They ended a race seven laps behind teammates Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton. In August, Whitehead and Stewart were third at Goodwood 9 Hours.
Two Formula 1 seasons with Cooper
In Grand Prix racing, Whitehead replaced Ferrari with a Cooper T24-Alta in 1953. He participated in just one championship race, the British Grand Prix, finishing in the ninth place. On the other side, he had a wide schedule of non-championship Grand Prix races, driving Cooper in eleven events and scoring four podiums.
In 1954, he retired with Cooper in three non-championship races and had just one start in the World Championship, in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He failed to finish the race.
Three wins at Lady Wigram Trophy
In 1954, Whitehead repeated a victory at Reims 12 Hours, sharing the #3 Jaguar D-Type with Ken Wharton. Earlier that year, Whitehead and Wharton retired at Le Mans with gearbox failure.
Of other results in 1954, Whitehead's scored his first victory at New Zealand's Lady Wigram Trophy in a Ferrari 125. In 1955, the race wasn't contested. Whitehead scored two more wins in that race in 1956 and 1957, driving Ferrari 500 and Ferrari 555.
Three Le Mans starts together with half-brother
In 1955, Whitehead was driving Jaguar-powered Cooper T38 in sports car races, including 24 Hours of Le Mans. His co-driver was his half-brother Graham Whitehead. They didn't finish the race.
Peter and Graham Whitehead raced together at Le Mans two more times, in 1957 and 1958, driving Aston Martins. In 1957, they retired in an Aston Martin DBR2. In 1958, they finished second in a DB3S, behind Ferrari's Olivier Gendebien and Phil Hill.
Fatal accident at 1958 Tour de France
In that period, Whitehead was combining sports car races and Grand Prix races, achieving some success in Australia and New Zealand. Besides three wins at Lady Wigram Trophy, he was three times on a podium at New Zealand Grand Prix and once in the Australian Grand Prix. In 1956, he won the Rand Grand Prix in South Africa. In all that races, he was driving Ferraris.
In sports car races, Peter contested mostly in Aston Martin cars, together with Graham Whitehead. His career, unfortunately, came to a premature end in September 1958, when he lost his life in an accident during the Tour de France race, driving a Jaguar Mk I 3.4.