The assembly and maturation of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) require proteolytic cleavage of the Gag polyprotein. The rate-limiting step resides at the junction between the capsid protein CA and spacer peptide 1, which assembles as a six-helix bundle (6HB). Bevirimat (BVM), the first-in-class maturation inhibitor drug, targets the 6HB and impedes proteolytic cleavage, yet the molecular mechanisms of its activity, and relatedly, the escape mechanisms of mutant viruses, remain unclear. Here, we employed extensive molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and free energy calculations to quantitatively investigate molecular structure-activity relationships, comparing wild-type and mutant viruses in the presence and absence of BVM and inositol hexakisphosphate (IP6), an assembly cofactor. Our analysis shows that the efficacy of BVM is directly correlated with preservation of 6-fold symmetry in the 6HB, which exists as an ensemble of structural states. We identified two primary escape mechanisms, and both lead to loss of symmetry, thereby facilitating helix uncoiling to aid access of protease. Our findings also highlight specific interactions that can be targeted for improved inhibitor activity and support the use of MD simulations for future inhibitor design.