Prince Bira (1914-1985) or Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh was a racing driver from Thailand, the first and only Thai ever to race in Formula One. He recorded nineteen starts in the Formula One World Championship between 1950 and 1954, and many more starts in F1 non-championship races, taking a couple of victories and few more podiums.
Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh was born in July 1914 in Grand Palace in Bangkok, Siam, as a son of Prince Bhanurangsi Savangwongse and his second wife. Prince Bira's grandfather was King Mongkut.
Bira's mother died when he was four year old. In 1927, he was sent to England to complete his education at Eton College. While he was at Eton, Bira's father died and he was placed under the care of his cousin, Prince Chula Chakrabongse. In 1933, Prince Bira moved in with Prince Chula in London.
Prince Bira started his racing career in 1935 at Brooklands
Prince Bira gained his first racing experience in 1935, driving a Riley Imp at Brooklands for Prince Chula's team White Mouse Racing. He raced under the national colours of Siam: pale blue with yellow. Later that year, Prince Chula gave him a new ERA R2B, which was nicknamed Romulus.
In 1936, they purchased ERA R5B, which Bira named Remus, but also retaing Romulus. Chula also purchased a Maserati 8CM. That year, Bira's most notable result was a victory at the Coupe de Prince Rainier at Monte Carlo. In the following years, Bira races in a Delage or ERAs.
Prince Bira with fiancee in 1937
Le Mans 24h debut in 1939
Besides racing in Grand Prix events, Bira also had some sports car racing attempts. In June 1939, he made a debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans, the last pre-war race at Circuit de la Sarthe.
Bira was sharing the #25 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500SS with Frenchman Raymond Sommer. An engine expired after 173 and they didn't finish the race.
Prince Bira recorded 19 starts in the F1 Championship
Participant of the first F1 World Championship season
After the World War II, Bira returned to racing in 1948. He raced with dfferent cars and different teams in 1948 and 1949, but mostly in a Maserati 4CLT. With that car, he entered the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship in 1950, driving for Scuderia Enrico Plate.
He was the fifth fastest qualifier for the British Grand Prix, not finishing the race due to fuel problems. In the next race, the Monaco Grand Prix, he finished fifth and scored his first championship points. He added more points on his account with fourth-place finish in the Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten. His last F1 Championship start in 1950 was at Monza, where he retired after just one lap.
Outside championship, Bira participated in more than ten F1 non-championship races, finishing best in the second place at Goodwood Trophy.
Prince Bira gained some success in national races
Racing with Gordini in the 1952 F1 season
In the 1951 F1 Championship season, Bira withdrew from several events, starting only in the Spanish Grand Prix in a Maserati and not finishing the race. On the other side, he gained some success in non-championship events, winning the Richmond Trophy at Goodwood.
In 1952, Bira expanded his championship schedule, participating in four races with Equipe Gordini in two different cars (T15 and T16). He retired in Swiss and France, finished 10th at Spa and 11th at Silverstone.
In 1953, Bira changed a machinery again, participating in three F1 Championship races with Connaught Type A and with Maserati A6GCM in the Italian Grand Prix. He scored no points.
Scoring more F1 Championship points in 1954
In 1954, Bira started a season with factory-entered Maserati A6GCM in Argentina. After that, he purchased a new Maserati 250F and drove that car in five championship races.
After finishing sixth at Spa, he collected more championship points with fourth-place finish in the French Grand Prix at Reims. Bira's last F1 Championship start was in the Spanish Grand Prix in October 1954, finishing ninth.
One more Le Mans start with Aston Martin
Outside F1 Championship in 1954, Bira was pretty successful in non-championship events in a Maserati 250F, scoring a victory in the Grand Prix des Frontieres and podiums in Rouen and Pescara.
In June 1954, Bira returned to Circuit de la Sarthe to participate for the second time at Le Mans 24 Hours. He was sharing factory-entered #20 Aston Martin DB3S with Peter Collins. Bira crashed out on lap 139 while running fourth.
Victory at 1955 New Zealand Grand Prix before retirement
In January 1955, Bira recorded his last victory. Driving a Maserati 250F, he won the New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore. Later that season, he participated in several non-championship events, finishing best in the third place at BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone.
Bira retired from racing at the end of the season. He died in December 1985 in London. To honour him as the only Thai driver to race in Formula 1, the construction of the Bira Circuit in Pattaya started in 1985 and it was opened in 1988.