- December 22, 1905
- June 11, 1955
- Not Active
Pierre Levegh (1905-1955) was a French racing driver who was active during the 1930s and then again after the World War II, recording six starts in the Formula One World Championship (in 1951 and 1952) and seven starts at 24 Hours of Le Mans between 1938 and 1955.
Unfortunately, his place in racing books is marked by the greatest tragedy in a history of motorsport, when he crashed out into the crowd at 1955 Le Mans race, killing himself and more than 80 spectators.
Established sportsman started a racing career in 1937
Pierre Eugene Alfred Bouillin was born on December 22, 1905, in Paris. In a racing career, he was using a name Levegh in memory of his late uncle. Pierre Levegh was an established sportsman in several disciplines, gaining good results in an ice-hockey and tennis, before turning to car racing.
The first record of his racing attempts dated to 1937 when he was driving a Bugatti T57 in several French national events.
Two Le Mans attempts before the World War II
Levegh made a debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 1938, together with Jean Trevoux in a Talbot-Lago T150C. They retired after 159 laps. A month later, they participated in the same car at Spa 24 Hours, recording one more DNF due to an accident.
In June 1939, Levegh returned to Le Mans with Luigi Chinetti's Talbot-Lago SS, sharing it with Rene le Begue. They stopped after 102 laps. It was the last pre-war Le Mans race and the race cars returned to Le Mans ten years later, in 1949.
Resuming racing activities in 1946
Levegh himself continued with racing activities in 1946, finishing in the second place at Grand Prix de Belgique at Bois de la Cambre circuit. He was driving a Talbot-Lago T150C in that race, losing a victory to Eugene Chaboud in a Delahaye 135CS.
Levegh recorded one more good result at Paris 12 Hours race in September 1948, finishing in the fourth place in a Delage D6-3L he was sharing with car owner Marc Versini. A year later, Pierre Levegh and Louis Gerard failed to finish the Spa 24 Hours race.
Three starts in the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship
During 1949, Levegh was a regular competition in Grand Prix races. The Formula 1 World Championship was established in 1950 and Pierre Levegh was a part of it. He came to Monaco Grand Prix in May with his own Talbot-Lago T26C but didn't start the race. A month later, he made F1 debut in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, driving the #22 Talbot-Lago T26C. He finished the race in seventh place, two laps behind race winner Juan Manuel Fangio (Alfa Romeo).
In July, Levegh participated in the French Grand Prix at Reims-Gueux circuit, retiring after 36 laps with a broken engine. One more DNF followed in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September. This time, a broken gearbox was a cause.
Three more starts in the 1951 Formula One season
Levegh recorded three more Grand Prix starts in the 1951 Formula One season, all three with his own Talbot-Lago T26C. In the Belgian Grand Prix, he finished 8th in the #26 car, four laps behind race winner Nino Farina (Alfa Romeo).
In July, Levegh manages to finish the race at Nürburgring Nordschleife, scoring a ninth place in the #90 Talbot-Lago, two laps behind race winner Alberto Ascari. Levegh's last F1 attempt was in the Italian Grand Prix where he stopped after just nine laps with a broken engine.
Fourth place at 1951 Le Mans, retiring from lead in 1952
Although Le Mans 24-hour race resumed in 1949, Levegh returned for his third attempt in 1951. He and Rene Marchand were driving the #10 Talbot-Lago T26 Monoplace Decalee, finishing in the respectable fourth place, behind factory-entered Jaguar, Aston Martin and one private team.
In 1952, Levegh participated in several sports car races before coming to Le Mans in June. Rene Marchand was officially listed as his co-driver but the race was marked by Levegh's attempt to drive the entire 24 hours in the #8 Talbot-Lago. He was in the lead near to the end of the race but he made a mistake while changing gears and destroyed an engine.
Later in the season, Levegh recorded few more DNFs (Targa Florio, Goodwood 9 Hours, GP Bari) but also won the race at Autodrome de Linas-Montlhery.
Driving for Talbot factory team in 1953
Levegh's attempt to drive single-handedly and attempts of some other drivers in previous years forced the organizers of Le Mans race to set driving limitations because of safety reasons. In 1953, a limit was set as a maximum of 80 consecutive laps and 18 hours in total for each driver.
Levegh was a part of Talbot-Darracq factory team, sharing the #7 Talbot-Lago T26GS Spyder with Charles Pozzi. They finished the race in the 8th place. Later in the season, Levegh repeated a victory at Autodrome de Linas-Montlhery's Coupe d'Automne. In December 1953, he and Philippe Etancelin finished third Casablanca 12 Hours.
At 1954, Levegh was again driving his private Talbot-Lago T26GS Spyder, retiring after seven hours due to an accident. In September 1954, he scored a third consecutive win at Coupe d'Automne race.
Causing a Le Mans disaster in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR
For the 1955 Le Mans race, Levegh joined Mercedes factory team to drive the #20 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR together with John Fitch. Unfortunately, Levegh's race and also a life ended up on lap 35 when he crashed out into the crowd, resulting in most horrific disaster in motorsport ever.
The unfortunate sequence of moves that led to a tragedy started when Mike Hawthorn slowed down significantly to pit his Jaguar D-Type. Lance Macklin was behind him in an Austin-Healey and he had to brake hard, losing a control and swerving across the track. Then Levegh came and hit Macklin's car, getting airborne over the barrier. The car exploded, burning with extra heat from its magnesium-alloy body. Pierre Levegh and 83 spectators lost their lives.