A Little Bit of History: The 1906 French Grand Prix

Nearly half-a-century before Formula 1 had been conceived, the first ever official Grand Prix took place around the city and estates of Le Mans in 1906, near the Sarthe River.

Although there had been some races and minor events prior to this, the 1906 French Grand Prix signified the first time the spirit of high speed competition was sanctioned by an Automobile club – namely the l’Automobile Club de France.

The race beginning on June 25th and finishing a day later started a tradition that is still going over a century later, but now in the form of a famous annual 24 hour Sportscar event on a much shorter 8.5 mile course.
The 1906 event became a testing ground for names that are still highly recognisable in motor sports as the event saw competition between the great rivals of FIAT, Mercedes and Renault – a competition that still takes place in 2010, as those three famous marquee am to do battle in the Formula 1 World Championship.

It seems strange that even way back at the very beginnings of the 20th Century, the cars were able to just touch the 100 mile-per-hour mark as they traversed the 64 mile course. The Grand Prix taking place over the course of two days, consisted of 12 laps with two stints of six laps on either day, giving the first great race a total distance of just over 769 miles.
Hungarian amateur driver, Ferenc Szisz won the race in his Renault AK from Felice Nazzaro’s FIAT by 32 minutes with Albert Clement coming home third in his Clement-Bayard machine a further 3 minutes behind the second place man. Only two of the three Mercedes entrants finished the event, albeit 4 hours behind the victorious Szisz, while the third retired nearing the end of the first day.

The victory by Szisz has led to a rather sparse list of racing drivers from Hungary since his victory, with many potential drivers either killed in the wars that took place in Europe thereafter or bound by the communist régime during the second half of the twentieth Century. In 1987, that run seemed as if it might end as Csaba Kesjar tested for the German Formula 1 team, Zakspeed; but unfortunately Kesjar was killed less than a year later in a Formula 3 race at the Norisring circuit in Germany when his brakes failed, pitching his car hard into a tyre wall. The 26-year-old died instantly.
Thereafter the drought continued until 2003, when Zsolt Baumgartner replaced the injured Ralph Firman in the Jordan following a very serious accident – ironically enough, this occurred during the practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Baumgartner competed in the following race as well at Monza, but was replaced by Firman when he was fit enough to return. However the Hungarian was not yet finished with Formula 1 and during the winter he signed a full season deal with the struggling Minardi team for 2004.

As expected, Minardi struggled for results during a hard season as the team lived on the verge of collapse, but despite all the troubles with reliability, money and a general lack of pace, Zsolt Baumgartner scored his and Minardi’s only point of the season when he brought the car home in 8th place at the US Grand Prix; having only just missed out on a point at both Canada and Monaco.
Unfortunately at the end of the 2004 season, Minardi dropped the young Hungarian driver – his Formula 1 career seemingly over at the tender age of 23. Admittedly, it was unlikely that Minardi were going to hold on to Baumgartner on the basis of his talents and despite all his best intentions, the money and sponsorship that he brought to the team ran out and Baumgartner was on the sidelines once more. At this stage, the Minardi team were in their death roes and only remained in Formula 1 for one more season, before finally being bought out by Red Bull Racing and renamed Scuderia Toro Rosso.

Baumgartner’s career has floundered since and he was named as a test driver for Paul Stoddart’s Minardi Team USA team in the Champ Car Series for 2007; however he never took part in any tests and parted with the team soon thereafter. Following the reunification between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League in 2008, Keith Wiggins bought out the remaining shares in Minardi and the team became HVM Racing.
The 28-year-old’s website does not look like it has been updated since 2005 (it’s hard to tell as it is in Hungarian), so it is conceivable that he is out of motor racing altogether now and with few drivers from that territory coming through the lower ranks of junior racing, it appears that it may be a long time before we see a Hungarian national on the Formula 1 grid again.

1906 French Grand Prix

Pos No Driver Car Laps Time/Retired
1 3A Ferenc Szisz Renault AK 12 12:14:07.4
2 2B Felice Nazzaro FIAT 130 hp +32:19.4
3 13A Albert Clément Clément-Bayard 100 hp
4 5B Jules Barillier Brasier 105 hp +1:38:53.0
5 2A Vincenzo Lancia FIAT 130 hp +2:08:04.0
6 10A George Heath Panhard 130 +2:33:38.4
7 5A Paul Baras Brasier 105 hp +3:01:43.0
8 1C Arthur Duray Lorraine-Dietrich +3:11:54.6
9 5C “Pierry” Brasier 105 hp +4:01:00.6
10 6A Camille Jenatzy
J. T. Alexander Burton
Mercedes 120 +4:04:35.8
11 6B “Mariaux” Mercedes 120 +4:34:44.4
NC 1B Henri Rougier Lorraine-Dietrich 11 +1 Lap
Ret 3C Claude Richez Renault AK 8 Accident
Ret 12C Elliot Shepard Hotchkiss HH 7 Wheel
Ret 7A Louis Rigolly Gobron-Brillié 110 hp 7 Radiator
Ret 4A Victor Hemery Darracq 120 hp 7 Engine
Ret 10C Georges Teste Panhard 130 7 Engine
Ret 2C Aldo Weilschott FIAT 130 hp 5 Accident
Ret 6C Vincenzo Florio Mercedes 120 5 Wheels
Ret 3B J. Edmond Renault AK 5 Driver injury
Ret 13B A. Villemain Clément-Bayard 100 hp 5 Wheels
Ret 10B Henri Tart Panhard 130 4 Unknown status
Ret 12A Hubert le Blon Hotchkiss HH 4 Wheel
Ret 13C “De la Touloubre” Clément-Bayard 100 hp 3 Gearbox
Ret 12B Jacques Salleron Hotchkiss HH 2 Accident damage
Ret 4B Louis Wagner Darracq 120 hp 2 Engine
Ret 8A Alessandro Cagno Itala 120 hp 2 Radiator
Ret 8C Pierre de Caters Itala 120 hp 1 Wheel
Ret 1A Fernand Gabriel Lorraine-Dietrich 0 Radius rod
Ret 8B Maurice Fabry Itala 120 hp 0 Accident damage
Ret 9B Xavier Civelli De Bosch Gregoire 70 hp 0 Radiator
Ret 4C Rene Hanriot Darracq 120 hp 0 Engine
DNS 11A Marius Barriaux Vulpes Car overweight

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