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Jean Behra

Full Name:
Jean Marie Behra
16th February 1921
Nice, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur
1st August 1959 (Aged 38)
Avus, Berlin (D), sports car race
Most recent race (in database):

Jean Behra was a match for anyone on his day but unfortunately that was never in a World Championship Grand Prix. He started racing motorcycles in 1938 and rode a Moto Guzzi to successive national titles from 1948 to 1951.

Switch from two to four wheels

His four-wheel debut on the 1949 Mont Ventoux hillclimb was with a Maserati and he finished third overall in the 1950 Monte Carlo Rally. "Jeannot" also made his Le Mans debut that year before joining Simca-Gordini for 1951. Amédée Gordini’s four-cylinder creations lacked both pace and reliability at the time but Behra excelled as the underdog. His first appearance in the World Championship was in the 1951 Italian GP when a secret replacement for the unwell Maurice Trintignant. He wore his compatriot’s helmet to disguise the switch and was never officially credited with the start.

Grand Prix driver with Gordini and Maserati

Behra finished third on his official GP debut in the 1952 Swiss GP and he won the lesser Reims GP by beating the previously invincible Alberto Ascari and the works Ferraris. That victory secured national fame and he won further non-championship races during 1954 with an upgraded Gordini T16.

But it was his move to Maserati for 1955 that launched Behra’s career onto another level, although that first season had its trials. He scored early non-championship Formula 1 success at Pau and Bordeaux but he was forced to miss Le Mans when hit by another car in the pitlane during practice. He then lost an ear in a crash during that year’s Tourist Trophy at Dundrod.

Close to Grand Prix victory

However, he recovered and almost won the Argentine GP at the start of 1956. He finished second on the road behind Juan Manuel Fangio although the local hero had received a push start after stalling. Maserati protested and it was six months before Fangio was confirmed as the race winner.

Behra won the 1956 Nürburgring 1000Kms and scored seven GP podium finishes during his three seasons driving the classic Maserati 250F. That consistency was rewarded with fourth in the 1956 World Championship and he was second behind Fangio once more in the 1957 Argentine GP.

He then won at Sebring when sharing with Fangio but was sidelined after breaking his wrist testing ahead of the Mille Miglia. He missed the Monaco GP as a consequence and retired from that year’s British GP while leading convincingly. Five non-championship F1 wins that year included BRM’s first F1 victories at Caen and in Silverstone’s International Trophy when guesting for the British marque. The season ended with another victory in the Moroccan GP at Casablanca – his 250F beating a field that could have graced any championship race at the time.

Maserati withdraw from racing

Maserati withdrew from racing at the end of 1957 so Behra moved to BRM for F1 and Porsche for sports cars. Third in the 1958 Dutch GP with a BRM P25, he won minor sports car races at Reims, Avus and the Nürburgring for the latter.

Behra moved to Ferrari for 1959 and won the Aintree 200 before he was dismissed after just three GPs. He had made a bad start to the French GP but climbed from the tail of the field to run third before his Ferrari Dino 246 threw a piston. Evidently the frustration on home soil was too much and Behra then punched team manager Romolo Tavoni in the pits.

A month later, Behra was gone. He led the 1500cc sports car race that supported the German GP but rain had made the high-speed Avus banking treacherous. His Porsche 718 RSK crashed over the high-banked North Turn on the fourth lap and Behra was killed instantly after being thrown clear into a flagpole.