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The best drivers of the 1950s to never win an F1 title: Jean Behra

One of F1’s quickest drivers of his day, he became prone to breaking engines

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Jean Behra started his career in unique circumstances, harnessing an aggressive racing style during his time in motorsport.

The best drivers of the 1950s to never win an F1 title: Jean Behra (Image Credit: @RSF_Motorsport on X)
The best drivers of the 1950s to never win an F1 title: Jean Behra (Image Credit: @RSF_Motorsport on X)
Unusual beginnings lead to a solid rookie campaign

Behra debuted in Italy in 1951 while Maurice Trintignant was indisposed. The Gordini’s Team Principal did not inform the race organisers, fearing they would get a starting fee, so Behra wore Trintignant’s helmet.

Behra signed for Gordini in 1952 after doing a decent job in Italy, but his engine blew. He impressed in Switzerland, qualifying seventh, only behind Peter Collins, the Ferraris of Fischer, Simon, his teammate and the other two Ferraris of Taruffi and Farina. The Frenchman put on a great display, surviving a race of attrition to finish third, taking his first podium.

The Nice native qualified fifth for the second Grand Prix of the year in Belgium. Enjoying a brilliant start, he moved into the lead on the opening lap. He dropped to fourth as  Alberto Ascari, Giuseppe Farina, and  Piero Taruffi passed him before Taruffi spun 14 laps into the race. He could not avoid him, however, and both retired with collision damage.

Behra qualified fourth in France but crashed, finishing seven laps down in seventh. Then, tenth in Germany before finishing fifth, being the only non-Ferrari to have scored points during the race. Retirements in Italy and Zandvoort meant that by the end of the season, he was ninth of the Grand Prix drivers and P11 in the overall standings.

Turning around a challenging patch
Alberto Ascari leads Jean Behra at the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix (Image Credit: @PHN16 on X)
Alberto Ascari leads Jean Behra at the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix (Image Credit: @PHN16 on X)

In 1953, his chances of scoring points were almost nullified with the return of Maserati. This meant he needed a lot of luck to score a top 5 finish with four Ferraris and three Maseratis now on the grid.  He nearly received such luck in Argentina, but Oscar Galvez finished fifth for Maserati. A sixth was the closest he came to points that season.

1954 was not much better, with no top 5 finishes but 1/7th of a point due to sharing the fastest lap at the British Grand Prix with six other drivers. His best result was at home in France when he was sixth.

He made a big move to Maserati in 1955 and had three relatively successful seasons with the team. In 1955, he scored points on three occasions in Monaco, Belgium, and Italy, with a podium in the former.

1956 was Behra at his peak. He qualified fourth in Argentina and finished second. It seemed he could be given his first win, as Juan Manuel Fangio was investigated for having a push start after his spin. No action was taken, and Behra finished second.

Strangely, though, he led the championship, as Luigi Musso and Fangio shared the win and got four and five points overall. Fangio scored the fastest lap point. Behra followed this form up with a third in Monaco, retaining his championship lead due to Collins and Fangio sharing second. Behra led by one point from Fangio and two from Stirling Moss.

An engine misfire cost Behra greatly in Belgium. He ran as high as second before an engine misfire meant he finished only seventh. Now he was down to third in the championship, a point behind Collins and Moss.

In France, he qualified in seventh but finished third despite a lack of pace. Now he was five points behind Collins in second in the championship as Castellotti was second and Collins won.

13th in Britain’s qualifying, but a great race where he finished a comfortable third, gaining a point on Collins, who shared a drive with Alfonso de Portago. With two races left, the standings were: Collins: 22, Fangio: 21, Behra: 18, Moss: 13

Behra finished third in Germany, but Fangio won, meaning he was out of championship contention as he was eight points behind. Due to the points system of the time, he could only get ahead of Collins, who was tied on points with Behra.

He was punished for being highly consistent – Behra had more sole podium finishes than any other driver, as he had five; Fangio, Moss, and Collins had two and Eugenio Castellotti,  Mike Hawthorn, and Paul Frere had one.

The Frenchman retired in Italy, and Moss won, meaning he dropped to fourth in the standings, but still had a phenomenal season despite not winning a Grand Prix. He now had seven podiums but hadn’t won yet.

Tragedy strikes
Jean Behra racing a Ferrari 250 TR 59 at the Targa Florio (Image Credit: @classicracepics on X)
Jean Behra racing a Ferrari 250 TR 59 at the Targa Florio (Image Credit: @classicracepics on X)

1957 was not a standout year, yielding one podium but no other finishes. 1958 was slightly better with three points scores, a podium with BRM, and a solo drive in Argentina.

He moved to Ferrari in 1959 but was sacked after he punched the team manager, Romolo Tavoni, following an argument. Tavoni claimed he deliberately seized the engine in Le Mans and France. It also didn’t help that he funded a Behra-Porsche project, which beat Ferrari in an F2 race.

Behra died after he crashed in a sports car race supporting the German Grand Prix at Avus, aged just 38. The Frenchman raced aggressively one too many times, as he had 12 scars and a lost ear from driving.

He won a staggering 12 non-championship F1 races but never won, somehow, despite scoring nine podiums.


Feature Image Credit: @_F1_Retro on X

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