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Who spoke English?


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#1 Barry Boor

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 19:09

In modern motor sport it would appear that reasonable knowledge of the English language is not only desirable but more or less essential.

There was a period in the 1960s when, Ferrari aside, virtually every team on the grid was British or at least, ran British cars. Indeed, most of the drivers were English speaking too.

However, I just wonder how many of the drivers from the era before the English speakers dominated F.1 (1958-1969) were able to communicate in English.

I appreciate that it wasn't a prerequisite but then again, several non-Brits drove for British teams; e.g. B.R.M, Vandervell, in the 1950s, so is there any record of those who could talk to their British teams?

I seem to recall that Fangio did not speak English.

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#2 sramoa

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 20:13

Interesting topic!

#3 paulhooft

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 20:22

Back in the Netherlands
We had restaurants that had ad some decal that said:
English Spoken..
In our language Spoken are Ghosts
So a little yoke: English Ghosts,

#4 David McKinney

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 21:35

1. The Belgian driver Johnny Claes (who had a London-based jazz band)

#5 Ray Bell

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 22:07

I would suggest that de Portago did, wasn't he proficient in several languages?

Probably Trintignant, too.

#6 GMACKIE

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 22:19

Jack Brabham.........he was a 'non-Brit'. :wave:

#7 Barry Boor

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 23:00

By using the phrase 'English speaking' I thought I had included Americans and Antipodeans.

#8 D-Type

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 23:02

I think Gonzalez spoke at least some English as in Mon Ami Mate there is an account of him having a conversation with Mike Hawthorn who most definitely did not speak Spanish.

#9 Tim Murray

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 23:21

According to Vanwall by Jenkinson and Posthumus, Piero Taruffi spoke excellent English, and apparently Giuseppe Farina was also able to converse with Tony Vandervell, who had no Italian at all.

#10 Ray Bell

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 23:47

Taruffi would be no surprise, he was an intelligent and well-educated man according to Moss...

Jo Bonnier would be another, probably (though he's probably more from a later era...) Hermann and de Beaufort too.

#11 Nick Wa

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 03:10

I think Gonzalez spoke at least some English as in Mon Ami Mate there is an account of him having a conversation with Mike Hawthorn who most definitely did not speak Spanish.

Could the conversation have been in Italian? Remember they both drove for Italian teams for most of their careers.
I observed a conversation in Italian led by Collins with Ferrari personnel with Fangio and Gonzalez as bystanders and they all seemed to understanding each other. At this time Collins had only been with Ferrari 4 months. So I would suggest that in the 50s the British spoke Italian not the other way round.

#12 Rob G

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 04:18

Heck, even American Harry Schell's first language was French. How good was his English by the 1950s?

#13 Ray Bell

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 04:37

In the time 'arry and his friend Jean Behra spent with BRM, it's hard to think that neither of them spoke English...

I'm wondering about some earlier drivers too, like Sommer and Chiron for instance.

#14 David McKinney

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 05:45

I think Gonzalez spoke at least some English as in Mon Ami Mate there is an account of him having a conversation with Mike Hawthorn who most definitely did not speak Spanish.

When Gonzalez visited Goodwood and Silverstone in the 1990s/2000s he needed his son to act as interpreter

#15 David McKinney

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 05:46

Heck, even American Harry Schell's first language was French. How good was his English by the 1950s?

He had English-speaking parents, and went with his mother to the States in 1941. I imagine that by the time he returned to France in 1946 or 1947, if not before he left, his English was perfect

#16 RacingCompagniet

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 10:56

Jo Bonnier would be another, probably (though he's probably more from a later era...) Hermann and de Beaufort too.


Bonnier was aboslutely fluent in English, French and German (in addition to Swedish) and was said to get along quite well in Italian and Spanish as well.

#17 Vitesse2

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 11:44

He had English-speaking parents, and went with his mother to the States in 1941. I imagine that by the time he returned to France in 1946 or 1947, if not before he left, his English was perfect

From what little I've been able to glean, Lucy was more or less a monoglot French speaker in her youth: an American press report I found from about 1916 suggested she may have needed her father to interpret for her (it can also be read as meaning she wasn't able to speak French, but having grown up in Paris I think that's unlikely!) No doubt her English improved when she married Laury (or maybe his French did) but René Dreyfus suggests that 'Arry's English was almost non-existent when they went to America in 1940 (not '41 and without Lucy ;) ) although it was pretty soon good enough to get him into the US Army.

#18 bradbury west

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 11:57

Could the conversation have been in Italian? Remember they both drove for Italian teams ....I observed a conversation in Italian led by Collins with Ferrari personnel with Fangio and Gonzalez as bystanders and they all seemed to understanding each other..... So I would suggest that in the 50s the British spoke Italian not the other way round.


I always understood that Surtees spoke Italian very well, at MVAugusta etc prior to Ferrari, and Michael Parkes was fluent too. In view of his long sojourn in Italy do we assume that Pete Coltrin was fluent in Italian, certainly having an Italian wife. From what he said to me once, Jenks and Fangio had a common communication medium in Italian, so presumably it was fairly commonplace in period. I suppose it all depends on the level of detail needed for the topic discussed.
Roger Lund


#19 Tim Murray

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 12:04

According to BRM by Raymond Mays with Peter Roberts, Jean Behra spoke very little English, but this didn't stop him in his continual enthusiastic badgering of the BRM team about how their car might be improved

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#20 Bloggsworth

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 12:42

The lingua franca of motor-racing is English...

#21 kayemod

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 12:58

The lingua franca of motor-racing is English...


Sì, oggi lo è, ma che non era così nel passato.


#22 Sharman

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 13:08

Sì, oggi lo è, ma che non era così nel passato.

Can I have chocolate sauce with mine please

#23 Ray Bell

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 13:15

Originally posted by Bloggsworth
The lingua franca of motor-racing is English...


Indeed, Barry stated that in the opening paragraph of this thread...

But his question is about who might have spoken English back in the days when that wasn't so.

#24 Barry Boor

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 13:16

It may be now but that wasn't the case in the 1950s.

Edited by Barry Boor, 17 October 2011 - 13:16.


#25 Michael Ferner

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 14:46

I'm pretty sure that neither Alfred Neubauer nor Rudi Caracciola spoke much (if any) English, and neither did Tazio Nuvolari, Alberto Ascari or Aurelio Lampredi. Farina's English was, I believe, quite rudimentary, but Antonio Brivio was apparently quite fluent.

#26 Russell Burrows

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 15:19

I just don't understand why everyone doesn't speak it all the time?

#27 Vitesse2

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 15:33

I'm pretty sure that neither Alfred Neubauer nor Rudi Caracciola spoke much (if any) English, and neither did Tazio Nuvolari, Alberto Ascari or Aurelio Lampredi. Farina's English was, I believe, quite rudimentary, but Antonio Brivio was apparently quite fluent.

Agreed on Nuvolari, although I believe he spoke good French. Nuvolari and Rosemeyer were also reputed to be able to carry on mutually understandable conversations, despite having no languages in common, since Bernd spoke only German. Neubauer was presumably able to call on Uhlenhaut's expertise when required.

#28 chdphd

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 15:43

I just don't understand why everyone doesn't speak it all the time?

C'est la vie.

#29 scheivlak

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 15:54

I'm pretty sure that neither Alfred Neubauer nor Rudi Caracciola spoke much (if any) English


Rudi made two quite long visits to the USA, in the winter of 1934/35 and after the war in 1946.
He had a lot of contact and stayed with people like Pop Myers, Peter de Paolo and Tony Hulman.

I would be surprised if everybody talked German with him all the time.

#30 Tim Murray

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 16:09

I would be surprised if everybody talked German with him all the time.

Agreed. In his autobiography he recounts conversations with the police when he was stopped for speeding, with spectators at a midget race, etc. These conversations must have been in English.

#31 Pablo Vignone

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 17:03

I understand that the only argentinian driver able to speak english in the 50's was Roberto Mieres. Fangio spoke italian 'cause her parents were born in Italy. Gonzalez learned some Italian during the Galliate days with the ACA team. When they went to England to drive for the BRM team, Jackie Forrest Greene acted as interpreter.

#32 Michael Ferner

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 18:32

I would be surprised if everybody talked German with him all the time.


Yes, that's right, but he may have had an interpreter. I may be totally wrong, however, but somehow I always thought hs English was rudimentary...  ;)

#33 Doug Nye

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 19:07

I'm pretty sure that neither Alfred Neubauer nor Rudi Caracciola spoke much (if any) English, and neither did Tazio Nuvolari, Alberto Ascari or Aurelio Lampredi. Farina's English was, I believe, quite rudimentary, but Antonio Brivio was apparently quite fluent.


As was Trossi. Villoresi Major spoke some English, I believe, while Taruffi spoke and wrote good English.

DCN

#34 scheivlak

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 19:38

Yes, that's right, but he may have had an interpreter. I may be totally wrong, however, but somehow I always thought hs English was rudimentary...  ;)


:D

Well, not everybody's English is laudable.

#35 D-Type

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 20:31

Trying to think who actually drove for British factory teams.

I can find

BRM - Fangio (RA), Behra(F), Schell(F/US)
Vandervall - Farina (I), Taruffi (I), Gonzalez (RA), Trintignant (F)
HWM - Frere (B), Giraud-Cabantous (F), Claes(B), Laurent (F), van der Lof (NL), Scherrer(CH)
Connaught - Claes (B), Pilette (B)
Cooper - Pedro Rodriguez (MEX), Rindt (A) (admittedly in the 60's)

and in sports cars
Jaguar - Biondetti (I)
Aston Martin - Mieres (RA), Tomasi (RA), Kerguen (F), Colas (F), Frere (b), Trintignant (F)
Lotus - Masson (F), Héchard (F)

I'm sure there must be more

#36 David McKinney

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 21:25

As in Post 27 :)
Uhlenhaut's mother was of course English

#37 wenoopy

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 10:35

I think a number of the non-English drivers mentioned by D-Type were local drivers who got a drive in their home GP or Sports Car Championship race with a British team as a sort of Rent-a-Drive arrangement with the race organisers. Obviously it was a crowd-puller to have more Belgian or Dutch etc. drivers in their home races. Gordini, Maserati and Ferrari did this sometimes in the mid-1950's too.

In those circumstances the organisers might well have eased the language problems by having someone available who could speak English.

A look through some available motor racing books from the 1950's reveals some of the situations that arose.

When Mike Hawthorn first drove for Ferrari in 1953, he was able to communicate through Ugolini and Lampredi, who spoke French.
Five years later, he mentions having a talk with Ferrari in "my indifferent French" with the help of an interpreter. I don't know whether Peter Collins was any more of a linguist, although in a thread last year involving the identity of the slim young model(?) he was photographed with at Monte Carlo, he appeared not to have any communication problems. A more universal language maybe?

From a 1959 Le Mans book under Stirling Moss's name, an Aston-Martin drivers' meeting has Reg Parnell asking Paul Frere to translate for Maurice Trintignant. Frere, I imagine, was fluent in most of the Western Europeans languages.

But, people got by in those times. The British mangled their language in a multitude of different ways, the French insisted on theirs being spoken properly, especially in Quebec. The Italians and Greeks tried to understand what you were saying, the Swedes made fun of the Finns' non-European language. Has anything really changed in 50 years?



#38 Paul Parker

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 12:27

He had English-speaking parents, and went with his mother to the States in 1941. I imagine that by the time he returned to France in 1946 or 1947, if not before he left, his English was perfect


As I understood it Schell's first language was French.

If you look at Doug's BRM vol 1 you will find reproduced therein a letter or two from 'arree' to Raymond Mays (from memory) circa 1958 that is almost indecipherable so mangled is the English.

Meanwhile it is noticeable how many professional Italian, French, German, Spanish et al car and bike racers can manage good or basic English during interviews, ditto some professional footballers, something I suspect would not be the case with many of their British equivalents.



#39 sramoa

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 16:17

The pre-war hungarian drivers were spoke german and if I remember Wilheim,Sztriha and Hartmann could to speak english.After WW2 didn't have a chance speaking for any language....

Edited by sramoa, 18 October 2011 - 16:27.


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#40 Barry Boor

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 17:24

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this thread. It has taken off exactly as I hoped it would.

#41 Richard Jenkins

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 19:38

I understand that the only argentinian driver able to speak english in the 50's was Roberto Mieres. Fangio spoke italian 'cause her parents were born in Italy. Gonzalez learned some Italian during the Galliate days with the ACA team. When they went to England to drive for the BRM team, Jackie Forrest Greene acted as interpreter.


Not quite - not as noted as Mieres, but Adolfo Schwelm Cruz was schooled in Windsor, had British relatives and spoke, and still does speak, very good English.

So much so, he told the English speaking journalists and announcers to add Cruz on the end of his name, in case they couldn't pronounce Schwelm, they could just call him Cruz!

#42 D-Type

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 00:21

When I looked at who had driven for British teams I was surprised how few there were, even when including "one-offs" getting a "hometown" drive.

Going the other way, most British drivers would have spoken some form of schoolboy French which would have given them a start in learning Italian. As he spent some time living in Paris, I expect that Peter Collins spoke fair French which would have helped him pick up Italian. I believe Jenks developed a working knowledge of colloqial Italian. German was another story - few Britons learned German. I am sure that Moss, Collins and Fitch probably communicated through Uhlenhaut; at Porsche, Von Hanstein spoke fluent English so Graham Hill and Gurney would have had no difficulties. And isn't Mrs Evi Gurney a former secretary of Von Hanstein's?



#43 Simon Davis

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 12:59

Rudi made two quite long visits to the USA, in the winter of 1934/35 and after the war in 1946.
He had a lot of contact and stayed with people like Pop Myers, Peter de Paolo and Tony Hulman.

I would be surprised if everybody talked German with him all the time.



I get the impression with Caracciola that he did not claim to be able to speak English and yet there is so much circumstantial evidence to suggest that he must have been able to speak some words. I agree with schievlak's assumption concerning the 1930s trip to the US. Off the top of my head I think it was at the end of 1935 after he had won the European championship. I believe that he was accompanied by Hans-Joachim Bernet but I have no knowledge of the latter's language skills. With regard to the 1946 US trip Rudi was of course accompanied by Alice Hoffmann whom he married in 1937. She was fluent in at least English, German, French and Swedish (I can't remember without checking which other languages she could speak). With Alice around Rudi could be lazy and just rely on her. In the late 1930s Alice was unofficial time keeper for Daimler-Benz and so she would have been an additional translation resource for Neubauer.

#44 Michael Ferner

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 21:39

Yes, I thought of Alice, too, but she wasn't with him in '34/35, was she?

#45 scheivlak

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 21:54

Yes, I thought of Alice, too, but she wasn't with him in '34/35, was she?

Indeed.
Interestingly, in his autobiography he mentions that he realised that she would the ideal woman for him after returning in 1935 from his first visit to the States.

#46 PSB

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Posted 24 October 2011 - 18:20

From the current crop of F1 drivers, Vitaly Petrov's english is getting better and better as the season progresses.