- February 16, 1921
- August 01, 1959
- Not Active
Jean Behra (1921-1959) was a French racing driver who competed in Grand Prix races in the early years of the Formula One Championship, between 1952 and 1959. He was also a regular competitor in sports car races, becoming one of the victims of the deadliest period in a history of motorsport, losing a life in a crash during sports car race at AVUS circuit in Berlin.
Behra recorded 52 starts in the Formula One World Championship, driving for Gordini, Maserati, BRM or Scuderia Ferrari. He scored nine podiums but no wins. On the other side, he was a winner twelve times in non-championship Formula 1 races, including three consecutive wins at the famous Pau Grand Prix.
In sports car races, he participated at Le Mans 24 Hours nine times. He reached the finish just once, in 1958, in the third place together with Hans Herrmann in a Porsche 718 RSK. His greatest sports car success was a victory at Sebring 12 Hours in 1957, together with Juan Manuel Fangio in a Maserati 450S.
Racing motorcycles before switching to cars
Born in February 1921 in Nice, Jean Marie Behra started his racing career in motorcycle competitions before switching to car racing in the early 1950s.
He opted for French manufacturer Gordini, recording his first appearance at 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 1950 in Gordini T15S. He was sharing a car with his older colleague from motorcycle races Roger Loyer. They had no luck in Le Mans debut, stopping after 50 laps with a broken engine.
Formula 1 Grand Prix debut in 1951
A year later, Behra returned to Le Mans in the same car, sharing it with Maurice Trintignant. Their race lasted for 49 laps before technical failure stopped them.
In August 1951, Behra made a debut in Formula 1, participating at the non-championship Grand Prix de l'Albigeois. He finished 8th in a Gordini Type 16. The race winner was Maurice Trintignant.
Scoring podium in the first F1 Championship race
In 1952, Behra joined Equipe Gordini in the F1 World Championship, recording six starts in a Gordini Type 16. He scored a podium in his championship debut at Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten Circuit, finishing third behind Piero Taruffi and Rudi Fischer. Later in the season, Behra scored points with a fifth-place finish at German Grand Prix, ending his first F1 Championship season in 11th place.
It remained his best F1 Championship season with Gordini. In 1953, his best result was the sixth place at Argentinean Grand Prix and he scored no points. He scored no points again in 1954, earning just 1/7 of the points for the fastest lap at British Grand Prix.
Four non-championship Grand Prix wins with Gordini
While struggling in the F1 Championship races, Behra had lots of success in non-championship races. In 1952, he scored five podiums in different Gordini cars (Type 11, Type 15, Type 16), including wins at Circuit du Lac and Marne Grand Prix.
In 1954, he won two non-championship races again, including his first victory at Pau Grand Prix. Driving the #2 Gordini T16, he beat Maurice Trintignant in a Ferrari by just two seconds.
Three more DNFs with Gordini at Le Mans
During his three-year F1 stint with Gordini, Behra continued to drive for the French manufacturer in sports car races. He had no luck at Le Mans, recording three consecutive DNFs. In 1952, he was sharing a car with Robert Manzon. In 1953, his partner was Roberto Mieres. In 1954, he was sharing a Gordini T24S with Andre Simon.
In November 1952, Behra crashed out from the lead at Carrera Panamericana in a Gordini T15S. He returned to Mexico in 1953 in a Gordini T24S, recording one more DNF. His only win in that period was at Coupes du Salon at Montlhery circuit in October 1954.
Behra joined Maserati factory team in 1955
For the 1955 season, Behra moved to Maserati factory team, driving a Maserati 250F in six F1 Championship events. He was third at Monaco Grand Prix, sharing a car with Cesare Perdisa. Behra then finished in Belgium, where he crashed out his car but joined Roberto Mieres in another car. Behra was in the points again at Monza, finishing fourth.
In the non-championship races, Behra participated in just four but managed to win two times, at Bordeaux Grand Prix and Pau Grand Prix. In sports car races, Behra didn't start at 1955 Le Mans because of an accident during practice but he scored few wins in a Maserati 300S (Bari GP, Supercortemaggiore, Portugal Grand Prix, Nurburgring 500km).
Five podiums in the 1956 F1 Championship season
The season 1956 turn to be the best for Behra in the F1 World Championship. He ended a season in the fourth place, without wins but scoring five podiums. He was closest to the victory at Argentine Grand Prix, finishing 24.4 seconds behind winners Luigi Musso and Juan Manuel Fangio who were sharing a Ferrari.
Later in the season, he was in the third place at Monaco Grand Prix, French Grand Prix, British Grand Prix and German Grand Prix.
DNF at 1956 Le Mans, wins at Nurburgring and Paris
In 1956, Behra had an intense sports car racing programme with Maserati, participating in almost twenty races over the year. At Le Mans, he retired again, for the sixth time in a row, sharing a Maserati-powered Talbot-Lago Sport with Louis Rosier.
However, he scored many good results in other races in a Maserati 300S - 3rd at Buenos Aires 1000 km (with Jose Froilan Gonzalez), 5th at Sebring 12 Hours (with Piero Taruffi and Cesare Perdisa), 1st at Nurburgring 1000 km (with Taruffi, Harry Schell and Stirling Moss), 1st at Paris 1000 km (with Louis Rosier).
Five non-championship Grand Prix wins in 1957
In the 1957 Formula One Championship season, Behra's best result was the second place at Argentine Grand Prix, the same as the year before. He was beaten by Juan Manuel Fangio. Behra scored no more points that season, finishing 11th in the final standings.
On the other side, he was extremely successful in non-championship Grand Prix races, scoring five wins over the year. The most valuable was his third win at Pau Grand Prix. Other wins were at Caen Grand Prix, BRDC International trophy, Modena Grand Prix and Moroccan Grand Prix.Two of those four wins (Caen and BRDC) he took in his own BRM P25.
Victory at Sebring 12 Hours for Behra and Fangio
In 1957, Behra scored his greatest success in sports car racing career, winning the Sebring 12 Hours together with Juan Manuel Fangio in the #19 Maserati 450S. They beat teammates Stirling Moss and Harry Schell who were driving Maserati 300S.
1958 Formula 1 season with BRM
In 1958, Behra left Maserati factory team and started the F1 season with Ken Kavanagh's Maserati 250F at Argentine Grand Prix, finishing fourth. After that, he joined BRM (Owen Racing Organisation) to drive a BRM P25. In nine races with BRM, he recorded seven retirements. He was third at Dutch Grand Prix and fourth at Portuguese Grand Prix, ending a season 11th in the points.
In non-championship races, Behra was also driving factory-entered BRM P25 but without notable results.
Overall podium and class victory at 1958 Le Mans 24 Hours
In sports car racing, Behra had a fantastic season in 1958, scoring nine wins all over the world with different cars. The most important was a class victory at Le Mans 24 Hours, where he finally reached the finish line in his ninth attempt. He and Hans Herrmann were sharing the #29 Porsche 718 RSK, finishing third overall and the first in S2.0 class.
In other races, Behra was S2.0 class winner at Buenos Aires 1000 km (with Stirling Moss in a Porsche 550 RS), S1.5 class winner at Targa Florio (with Giorgio Scarlatti in a Porsche 718 RSK), S2.0 class winner at Tourist Trophy (with Edgar Barth in a Porsche 718 RSK)
Driving alone in a Porsche 718 RSK, Behra won at Rouen, Nurburgring Nordschleife, AVUS and Riverside. He also scored one win in a Ferrari 250 GT, at Grande Premio de Venezuela.
Nasty split with Scuderia Ferrari after a fight with team manager
In 1959, Behra joined Scuderia Ferrari and scored a victory in his first race with Ferrari Dino 246. In April, he won the BARC Aintree 200 race at Aintree Circuit. In the F1 Championship, his first race was Monaco Grand Prix where he retired with a broken engine after 24 laps.
Behra scored points in a Ferrari at Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, finishing fifth and the best of four Ferrari drivers. In the next race, at French Grand Prix in July, he retired again with a broken engine.
Behra was accused he pushed too hard and that it's his fault of broke the engine. He argued with team manager Romolo Tavoni, ending a discussion with a punch. After that, Behra had been fired.
Losing a life at dangerous AVUS circuit
Before splitting with Ferrari, Behra recorded some good result with Italian squad in sports car races. He and Cliff Allison finished second at Sebring 12 Hours in the #9 Ferrari 250 TR. He and Tony Brooks retired at Targa Florio but scored a podium (3rd) at Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers. At Le Mans 24 Hours, Behra was sharing the #12 Ferrari 250 TR with Dan Gurney, fighting for the lead until gearbox expired after ten hours.
In July, after being fired from Ferrari, Behra scored a class win at Trophee d'Auvergne in a Porsche 718 RSK. On August 1, he was driving the same car at AVUS Circuit, in a sports car race that he won a year earlier. Unfortunately, the race at the dangerous track, which was wet and slippery that day, ended with a fatal crash on lap 4.