Jump to content


Photo

The curious case of the French


  • Please log in to reply
29 replies to this topic

#1 BRG

BRG
  • Member

  • 11,668 posts
  • Joined: September 99

Posted 12 October 2001 - 17:02

Recent threads on "Italian underachievers" and "Better or Worse" led me to muse on the French. Now as we know, the French invented Grand Prix racing (hence the name - I wonder what races would be called if it had been left to us British....but that's another thread!) yet right from the very outset, they lost to a Hungarian. Over the years, despite France's importance in motor sport, they do not seem to have produced their fair share of real stars. OK, in Prost they have one of the all-time greats, but then there is...well, no other driver who comes even close.

We have seen Talbot and Renault, Bugatti and Delahaye, Ligier and Matra, Panhard and Peugeot - no shortage of marques. But the success of French drivers rarely seem to have matched the success of their cars.

Why is this? And who would you identify as France's best drivers? My favourite has always been Francois Cevert, the very epitome of the 1960/70s GP driver in looks, manner and talent. What a tragic loss he was.

Advertisement

#2 dmj

dmj
  • Member

  • 1,956 posts
  • Joined: August 01

Posted 12 October 2001 - 17:32

Didier Pironi, he should be champion in 1982.

#3 LittleChris

LittleChris
  • Member

  • 2,183 posts
  • Joined: April 01

Posted 12 October 2001 - 17:51

Jean Behra

#4 Rob G

Rob G
  • Member

  • 10,905 posts
  • Joined: April 01

Posted 12 October 2001 - 19:35

I think Jean-Pierre Wimille could have been World Champion had he not been killed in 1949. Robert Benoist dominated everybody in 1926 (or was it '27? I'm at work, so I can't look it up.).

I've always been partial to Raymond Sommer and Jean Alesi, the lion-hearted drivers of two different generations.

#5 FEV

FEV
  • Member

  • 909 posts
  • Joined: May 01

Posted 12 October 2001 - 20:09

Yes Robert Benoist was king of the world in 1927.

If you look at the 30s-50s era the most stricking point about french drivers is that most of the best of them were hardcore privateers who didn't really seem to fit with factory spirit. Raymond Sommer, Fifi Etancelin and Louis Rosier were great drivers but never really had top cars. Yes Sommer was part of the Scuderia Ferrari in the very begining of it but he prefered to be his own boss. Same for Etancelin who often was an official Maserati driver pre-war but he had more success in his own cars.
The two exceptions of this era were Trintignant and Behra but, altough world class drivers they maybe lacked a little something to match JMF, Moss & Ascari's pace.

There also seems to be some kind of curse over top french drivers. Guy Moll (shooting star : often forgotten but really a top driver), Jean-Pierre Wimille, François Cevert, Didier Pironi, Patrick Depailler really had what it takes to be World Champions but tragic accidents prevented them from making it.

One of the best era for french drivers was the first 20 years of motorsport history. From Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat to Louis Wagner with Jules Goux, André Boillot, René Thomas, Victor Hémery, Théry, Duray, Guyot, Bablot... all really at the top of the sport, winning everything from Grand Prix racing to Indianapolis.

#6 buddyt

buddyt
  • Member

  • 161 posts
  • Joined: February 00

Posted 12 October 2001 - 20:10

In the old days sometimes when a race on a oval track was getting a little to boring with one leader...a caution yellow flag was needed and sure enought one would fly to bunch the field up ....most of the time this was caused by debris spotted on the backstrech.....Once at a race someone asked Chris Economaki "whats the yellow for" and he replied "there's a FRENCHMAN on the backstraight a MR. DEBRIS........:lol:

#7 Prostfan

Prostfan
  • Member

  • 826 posts
  • Joined: September 01

Posted 12 October 2001 - 20:50

There were many great French drivers,
for instance Pironi (almost WDC '82); Trintignant; Arnoux; the quiet but great Laffite; Jabouille (the hero of the turbo invention period); the tragically died Behra, Cevert and Depailler and so on
But they had the greatest driver ever!!!!!

#8 jmp85

jmp85
  • Member

  • 59 posts
  • Joined: October 01

Posted 13 October 2001 - 03:09

also remember jean pierre beltoise. he was very seriously handicapped by his arm (fractured during an F2 accident in 64, he had it "welded" into place so he could drive...)

his win at monaco showed how talented he was... under the rain, the driving was more manageable for him and his only "good" arm... in terms of talent, he certainly was "able"

cheers,

jmp85

#9 Zawed

Zawed
  • Member

  • 4,500 posts
  • Joined: February 99

Posted 13 October 2001 - 07:38

Rene Arnoux has to be the next most successful Frenchman after Prost with 7 wins. If you think the French is a curious case what about the Germans? until Michael Schumacher arrived, Germany had only 1 (Mass) GP winner. Now of course HHF and Ralf have joined the winners circle...

#10 byrkus

byrkus
  • Member

  • 813 posts
  • Joined: October 01

Posted 13 October 2001 - 08:20

How about Wolfgang von Trips?? He was also German, and had 2 wins!!

#11 Zawed

Zawed
  • Member

  • 4,500 posts
  • Joined: February 99

Posted 13 October 2001 - 08:50

Originally posted by byrkus
How about Wolfgang von Trips?? He was also German, and had 2 wins!!


:blush: oops sorry, a brain fart there!

#12 Roger Clark

Roger Clark
  • Member

  • 6,040 posts
  • Joined: February 00

Posted 13 October 2001 - 08:59

We should mention that the last three posts refer only to the last 50 years or so. Germany did have some quite good and fairly successful Grand Prix drivers befoe that.

#13 Wolf

Wolf
  • Member

  • 7,881 posts
  • Joined: June 00

Posted 13 October 2001 - 09:32

One name is surprisingly not mentioned, yet. OK, I must admit that he lacked certain kamikazi je-ne-sais-qoi to match his arch-rival, but... And I don't think we would call him under-achiever with four titles and 51 notches on his victory belt.;)

#14 schuy

schuy
  • Member

  • 1,980 posts
  • Joined: September 01

Posted 13 October 2001 - 16:06

ciao a tutti,
guys, it really does seem, the french are having problems, in F1.
i mean, let's look at Rally!
they have many stars there, actually.
what about Gilles Panizzi, and Francois Delecour?
do you think, the french have a certain special talent?

ciao,
liran biderman.

#15 leegle

leegle
  • Member

  • 499 posts
  • Joined: June 01

Posted 15 October 2001 - 05:12

Louis Chiron did fairly well for a little while. :) What about the Renault brothers?

#16 Prostfan

Prostfan
  • Member

  • 826 posts
  • Joined: September 01

Posted 15 October 2001 - 07:22

Chiron was not French, but citizen of Monaco!!

#17 Kpy

Kpy
  • Member

  • 1,188 posts
  • Joined: February 01

Posted 15 October 2001 - 08:05

Originally posted by Prostfan
Chiron was not French


Oh yes he was. He was born in that ridiculous money-grubbing little chocolate box tax-haven by the sea :rolleyes: , but had dual natonality due to his father being French.

#18 Kpy

Kpy
  • Member

  • 1,188 posts
  • Joined: February 01

Posted 15 October 2001 - 08:09

Originally posted by Wolf
One name is surprisingly not mentioned, yet.

Think Prostfan mentioned the "greatest driver ever" a few posts back - not the same guy ??;)

#19 Jonas A

Jonas A
  • Member

  • 113 posts
  • Joined: September 00

Posted 15 October 2001 - 11:37

In the modern era many French drivers
have not been in the right place at the
right time. For example Jean Pierre Jarier,
surely one of the best drivers ever to never
win a Grand Prix Race.

Advertisement

#20 BRG

BRG
  • Member

  • 11,668 posts
  • Joined: September 99

Posted 15 October 2001 - 11:46

Originally posted by Wolf
One name is surprisingly not mentioned, yet.

I did name Prost in my original post as the exception to what I see as a surprisingly low level of success otherwise for French drivers. But when you look for the next best Frenchman, you hjhave to look a long way down the "roll of honour".

I see that no-one has really contested my assertion but also no-one has ventured any real ideas about why it should be. France has long had an active motor racing culture which by the laws of averages should have turned up a few champions by now. I know that there were some sad losses like Cevert and Depailler who might have done better but where were the rest of the great French drivers? FEV has rightly pointed to the very early days but since then it has been a story of might-have-beens. Yes, there have been some memorable drivers culminating in every one's favourite, Jean Alesi, but the wins and the WDCs haven't been there. I remain puzzled why this should be...

#21 Vitesse2

Vitesse2
  • Nostalgia Forum Moderator

  • 24,353 posts
  • Joined: April 01

Posted 15 October 2001 - 12:02

The big gap in French achievement was really the period from 1949 (the death of Wimille and a year later Sommer) to the late 60s and the rise of Beltoise and others. We discussed lack of heroes in the Kiwi drivers thread and I think it applies here too - apart from Trintignant and Behra, two "near-greats", French youngsters in the 50s had no national racing heroes and the ones they could look up to in the early 50s were old men past their prime: Chiron, Giraud-Cabantous and "Phi-Phi". Had Wimille or Moll survived into the WC era, I think the story might be different ...

#22 FEV

FEV
  • Member

  • 909 posts
  • Joined: May 01

Posted 15 October 2001 - 14:49

Another fact in the "big gap" you rightly pointed V2 is the lack of racing teams and racing industry in general. Gordini who was the last of the great french racing makes dissapeared from the scene for various reasons and the young french drivers didn't have much cars to race (unlike young brits for instance). If you look at the international drivers of the 50-60s they were all part of countries with a major racing industry : Great-Britain (helping along Australia & NZ drivers), Italy, Germany, USA. The execption being Argentina who maked-up for the lack of racing makes with national and governmental support.

The 1955 le Mans disaster also played a role. A lot of races dissapeared for ever, giving less opportunities for these same young drivers to learn racing.

Another point could be the reactionary look of french over the evolution of motorsport. Before WWII basically anyone who could afford it could buy a Grand Prix car (or at least a Voiturette) and go racing with the great names. If you were good at it than you could make a life of it (as it was the case for Wimille, Moll and the others). After WWII the sport became more and more organised. Junior formulae began to be run giving young drivers opportunities to learn racing. France didn't follow the F3/FJunior trend like Britian, Italy or Germany did. The aspiring french drivers of the 50s still had a pre-WWII approch to the sport, as probably had the all french motorsport scene.

#23 cabianca

cabianca
  • Member

  • 641 posts
  • Joined: September 00

Posted 19 October 2001 - 04:59

I thought Guy Moll was Algerian, not French.

#24 FEV

FEV
  • Member

  • 909 posts
  • Joined: May 01

Posted 19 October 2001 - 09:58

Guy Moll is one of the many french drivers born in Algeria. Algeria was at this time (and until 1962) a french colony. Same case as Bandini who was born in Lybia but was italian, for instance.

#25 Vitesse2

Vitesse2
  • Nostalgia Forum Moderator

  • 24,353 posts
  • Joined: April 01

Posted 19 October 2001 - 10:03

Originally posted by cabianca
I thought Guy Moll was Algerian, not French.


Just what I was going to say FEV!:)

#26 fines

fines
  • Member

  • 9,647 posts
  • Joined: September 00

Posted 19 October 2001 - 14:59

Algeria was not a French colony, it was part of the motherland, rather a county or something like that.

#27 FEV

FEV
  • Member

  • 909 posts
  • Joined: May 01

Posted 19 October 2001 - 15:54

Fines,
Algeria can be considered a colony for it was an independant country since 1710 and remained one until France invaded it in 1830. At some point early in the 20th century (can't remember the date) it did become a proper french department (sort of equivalent of english county) but still, not many of the algerians considered themselves as french and every french living there was seen as a settler.

#28 fines

fines
  • Member

  • 9,647 posts
  • Joined: September 00

Posted 19 October 2001 - 19:00

Ok Frank, I bow to your superior knowledge! :blush: Just goes to show how important history is... :)

#29 FEV

FEV
  • Member

  • 909 posts
  • Joined: May 01

Posted 19 October 2001 - 19:27

Michael,
So France-Algeria history is the one and only subject in which I might have a superior knowledge to you - you're one of my maestroes (maestri ?) here.:);) :up:

#30 fines

fines
  • Member

  • 9,647 posts
  • Joined: September 00

Posted 20 October 2001 - 08:45

:blush: :blush: :blush: :blush: :blush: :blush: :blush: :blush: :blush: