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The name of Ferenc Szisz is forever etched in the history books – the winner of the very first Grand Prix in 1906 and the only Hungarian to succeed at that level so far.
Background and early racing career
Originally trained as a locksmith, he switched to engineering studies after becoming fascinated by the new automobile. Szisz moved from his native Békés region to Paris in 1900 and joined the Renault brothers in their test department.
He was Louis Renault’s riding mechanic in 1902 and started racing himself a year later. Szisz was noticeable for his calm control of those monster Edwardian cars. He finished fifth in the French trials for the 1905 Gordon Bennett Trophy after being delayed by overheating and tyre problems. He repeated that result in the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island in October.
The first Grand prix winner
Frustrated by the limited number of French entries in the Gordon Bennett Trophy the Automobile Club de France decided to organise an alternative event in 1906. The GP de l’ACF (simply referred to as "The Grand Prix" in most quarters at the time) gave Szisz his unique page in history. After two days of competition Szisz, riding mechanic M.Marteau and their 90hp Renault AK finished half an hour ahead of Felice Nazzaro to win the race that launched today’s GP racing.
The roles were reversed a year later with Szisz following Nazzaro home in Dieppe and he retired from both the French and American GPs in 1908. Szisz stopped racing and left Renault a year later to build his own garage business in the Neuilly-sur-Seine suburb of Paris.
He returned for one final race with Fernand Charron’s Alda concern. However, Szisz retired from the 1914 French GP due to an injury sustained when hit by a passing competitor while changing a punctured tyre.
Now known as François Szisz, he joined the French army on the outset of World War I and served in Algeria before being struck down by typhoid. He worked in the aircraft industry after peace was restored and eventually retired south-west of Paris in Auffargis, by chance the hometown of Robert Benoist. He died there in 1944 and his grave has been tended by Renault and the Automobile Club de France ever since. An exhibit to GP racing’s first winner forms part of the Renault museum at Le Mans.