Races

<em>Photo: Getty Images</em>

The Ferrari F1 racer who was first to win for France

Maurice Trintignant won for Ferrari both in Formula One and at Le Mans
Words

Richard Aucock

Charles Leclerc will drive for Scuderia Ferrari in 2019, becoming the first Frenchman to race for the team since Jean Alesi in 1995. France, which held the world’s very first motor races in the 1890s, has a long history of race-winning drivers in Formula One – and the first to win, Maurice Trintignant, did so behind the wheel of a Ferrari. The breakthrough victory came in 1955.

By then, Trintignant was a Scuderia Ferrari driver, having been promoted into a works seat from the privateer Ecurie Rosier team. Both teams were running four-cylinder Ferrari 625s, and it was at that year’s Monaco Grand Prix that Trintignant was victorious. The wily Frenchman lined up ninth on the grid, but quickly started gaining places in the race.

Trintignant proudly wore the French tricolore on his race helmet<em> Photo: Getty Images</em>
Trintignant proudly wore the French tricolore on his race helmet Photo: Getty Images

By the end of the 100-lap epic, he was leading the field, and gleefully took the chequered flag to earn his maiden Formula One victory. In doing so, he secured his place in history as the first driver from France to win in Formula One. How long before Leclerc joins him on the list of French F1 winners? Earlier that year, Trintignant had scored another memorable result in the Argentinian Grand Prix behind the wheel of a Ferrari.

He’s listed in the record books as finishing both second and third – because, as the day was incredibly hot, many drivers shared cars. Maurice’s name is therefore on the second-place trophy, with Jose Gonzales and Giuseppe Farina, and the one for third, with the same two drivers plus Umberto Maglioli. It was all so confusing on the day, race organisers apparently had to call in an accounting firm to audit the results.

Trintignant was victorious for Ferrari in the 625 F1 racer<em> Photo: Getty Images</em>
Trintignant was victorious for Ferrari in the 625 F1 racer Photo: Getty Images

By the end of the year, Trintignant was ranked fourth in the World Championship – a fine result, given the true legends ahead of him: Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss and Eugenio Castelotti. However, it wasn’t just in Formula One that Trintignant was winning. The previous year, he had taken a top-line victory in World Sports Car racing.

Sharing a Ferrari 375MM, he and Gonzales triumphed in the 1954 Le Mans 24 Hours. In 1956, he was to finish third overall, and second in his class, driving a Ferrari 625LM Touring with Olivier Gendebien. By the standards of the day, Trintignant had an incredibly long career. He first raced before the Second World War, took part in the first post-war ‘liberation’ races in 1945, and didn’t stop racing in Formula One until 1964.

The French racer famously won the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix<em> Photo: Getty Images</em>
The French racer famously won the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix Photo: Getty Images

By then, he had been awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French president in 1960. Outside of motorsport, Trintignant was a successful vintner, and it was to this that he turned his attention when he retired from motor racing. His vineyards were in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, an area where he also served as Mayor of Vergeze. It was through wine that Trintignant showed his sense of humour. In motor racing, he had a nickname – Le Petoulet, or ‘rat droppings’.

The unenviable but affectionate name came from a comment made after he retired from his post-WW2 comeback race. The car had suffered fuel starvation, which was later traced to rat droppings in the system, caused by it being hidden in a barn under bales of hay during the war. Showing the good grace with which he accepted his nickname, Trintignant later launched a special vintage of red wine – named, what else, but Le Petoulet…

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