Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler BlackJack’sBriefs
1906… remembered for…
Einstein introduced his Theory of Relativity, Roald Amundsen located the Magnetic North Pole, Finland was the first European country to give women the vote, 75% of San Francisco was destroyed by an earthquake, Frederick Hopkins concluded the essential nature of vitamins, WK Kellogg founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Co., Rolls-Royce was founded, the Wright Brothers patented a ‘flying machine’, Alfred Dreyfuss was exonerated, Leonardo Torres Queveda invented the ‘remote control’ by guiding a boat from the shore, SOS was adopted as a warning signal, Omnia Pathe opened the first cinema, the first Victor Victrola was manufactured..,
. . . and the first race to be held under the title ‘Grand Prix’ started on this day on closed public roads outside Le Mans. The race took place over two days with 6 laps of the 103km course being covered on the 26th and another 6 laps on the 27th. Overnight the cars were held in Parc Ferme (‘lock-up’). 32 cars set off at 90sec intervals onto the long and daunting road course. The eventual winner was Ferenc Szisz in a Renault, 32 minutes ahead of Felice Nazzaro driving a FIAT. It must say something that both these companies are still involved in F1 Grand Prix Racing…
The circuit was composed primarily of dust roads sealed with tar, with each lap taking almost one hour for the faster cars. Paul Baras, in a Brasier, set the fastest lap of the race on his first lap, holding the lead until the third lap, when Szisz took over first position, holding it to the finish. Hot conditions melted the tar, which the cars kicked up into the faces of the drivers and riding mechanics, blinding them and making the racing treacherous. Punctures were common.
Eleven cars apparently completed the distance but only three of them were on the lead lap – the others must have continued after the race was over because the eleventh driver (in a Mercedes) was four and a half hours behind the winner…
To address concerns about previous races, during which spectators crowding too close to the track had been killed or injured, 65 km of palisade fencing were erected around the circuit, concentrated around towns and villages, and at the ends of lanes, footpaths and roads intersecting the track. Planking was used to construct two bypasses to avoid the towns of Saint-Calais and Vibraye as an alternative to the system used in the earlier Gordon Bennett races, where cars would slow down to a set speed passing through towns and were forbidden to overtake – a forerunner of the pit-speed rule.
French nationalism was strong back then and ‘Le Petit Parisien’, republished in The Motor, declared, “If we win the Grand Prix we shall let the whole world know that French motorcars are the best. If we lose, it shall merely be by accident, and our rivals should then be grateful to us for having been sufficiently sportsmanlike to allow them an appeal against the bad reputation of their cars.”
Ten French manufacturers entered cars in the Grand Prix, with two manufacturers from Italy, and one from Germany.
There was a maximum weight limit—excluding tools, upholstery, wings, lights and light fittings—of 1,000kg, with an additional 7kg allowed for a magneto or dynamo. Five manufacturers used a chain drive system for transmission; the rest used drive shafts. All entries had four-cylinder engines, from 7,433cc to 18,279cc. Teams were allowed to change drivers and equipment, but only between the two days.
Michelin, Dunlop and Continental supplied tyres for the race. Michelin introduced a detachable rim with a tyre already affixed, which could be ‘quickly’ swapped onto the car in the event of a puncture. Only the driver and his riding mechanic were allowed to work on the car during the race, and carrying the detachable rims could save over ten minutes per wheel-change. Additionally Renault had the luxury of hydraulic dampers invented by Louis Renault – the first ever on a racing car.
Roads around the track were closed to the public at 5am on the morning of the race. A draw took place among the teams to determine the starting order, ands cars were dispatched at 90second intervals.
Brasier’s Baras was the quickest; his first lap time of 52min25.4secs (52:25.4) moved him into the lead but he fell back to second on the third lap as Szisz took over the lead. As the day
grew hotter – it reached a high of 49°C – the tar began to melt, which proved to be a greater problem than the dust, being kicked up by the cars into the faces of the drivers and their mechanics, seeping past their goggles and inflaming their eyes.
Szisz finished the first day just before noon in a time of 5hr45min, 26 minutes ahead of Albert Clément of Clément- Bayard, with FIAT driver Felice Nazzaro in third, 15 minutes behind Clément. Seventeen cars completed the first day.
The time each car set on the first day determined the time they set off on the second day, hence Szisz’s time meant he started at 5:45am, followed by Clément at 6:11am, and Nazzaro at 6:26am. This method ensured that positions on the road directly reflected the race standings. A horse, which had been trained before the race to the loud noises, towed each competitor out of parc fermé to the start line. As neither driver nor mechanic could work on their car until they had been given the signal to start the day’s running, Szisz and Clément began by heading directly to the pit lane to change tyres and service their cars. Clément completed his stop more quickly than Szisz, and Nazzaro did not stop at all, and so Clément closed his time gap to Szisz and Nazzaro closed on Clément.
Szisz and his mechanic changed two tyres, filled water, petrol and oil tanks, adjusted his lubricator(?) and tightened half a dozen nuts, in ten minutes. Nazzaro’s haste resulted in a stalled engine and when his mechanic had restarted it Nazzaro didn’t give him time to get back on board. The poor man clung to the bonnet for several miles before being allowed to regain his seat…
Szisz’s Renault suffered a broken rear suspension on the tenth lap, but his lead was so great he could afford to drive cautiously with the damage. He took the black flag of the winner [sic] after a total time of 12:12:07; he had also been fastest on the straight at 154 kph. He finished 32 mins ahead of Nazzaro, who was 3 mins ahead of Clément.
Amazingly there were only six accidents, and just one injury, but everyone suffered burns and eye problems. After three years Renault had slowly disappeared from GP racing, until returning in 1977. And Szisz’s grave, just outside Paris, is maintained by the ACF and Renault.
The Grand Prix name (“Great Prize”) referred to the prize of 45,000 French francs to the race winner, equivalent then to 13kg of gold.
Until the First World War it was the only annual race to be called a Grand Prix (often, the Grand Prix), and is commonly known as “the first Grand Prix”.
Postcards celebrating Ferenc’s victory were produced in France. Ferenc sent this one to family in Hungary
Meanwhile, on this day in 2002, Ferrari was fined $1 million for breaking podium protocol at the Austrian Grand Prix earlier in the year after Rubens Barrichello had moved over to allow Michael Schumacher to win. But on the podium Schumacher pushed his reluctant team-mate onto the top step in an attempt to appease the booing crowd. Rather than slapping a fine on the team for disgracing F1 (team orders were legal at the time), the FIA could only penalise Ferrari for its antics on the podium.
And… on this day in 2005, Max Mosley all but ignored calls for his resignation after the disastrous US Grand Prix in which only six cars took part due to safety concerns over Michelin tyres. Minardi boss Paul Stoddart, whose team was one of the three that took part, said Mosley should stand down after rumours emerged that a resolution to the tyre problem was vetoed by a single team and the FIA just hours before the start of the race. Sir Jackie Stewart also called for Mosely to resign, but the FIA president responded: “My predecessor [Jean-Marie Balestre], had a conflict like this [in the FIA versus FOCA war] – and I was on the other side with the teams – we used to ask him to resign on an hourly basis. He never took any notice. The fact is that the referee is often unpopular, it’s something you can’t avoid.” adding: “I’m not here to try to be friends with the teams, I’m here to see that Formula One is run safely and fairly and that the rules are observed and it’s the same for everyone.”