Today marks seven years since the death of former Grand Prix racer Maurice Trintignant, who was France’s first-ever Grand Prix winner, and a man bestowed one of the most unusual nicknames in the sport’s history…
Maurice was the youngest of five sons to a prosperous vineyard owner and amateur racer, and it was little surprise that he followed three of his older siblings into motorsport.
With World War II interrupting his racing pursuits (many felt it robbed Maurice of his most competitive years), he returned to racing at the first post-war event, the Bois de Boulogne, with his venerable Bugatti.
Hopes of a win were dashed when he suffered fuel starvation, which (it later emerged) was caused by rat droppings that had been deposited in the fuel tank during its wartime hibernation. This caused much mirth in the motor-racing fraternity, and Trintignant was awarded the moniker ‘Le Petoulet’ (or literally, the ‘Little Rat Shit’), which he accepted with with great dignity. It was to his credit that when he eventually retired from racing, he took over the family vineyard and even produced a wine varietal called ‘Le Petoulet’ !
Post-war, Maurice was extremely active in motor-racing circles – despite being momentarily sidelined after a nasty crash in a voiturette race at the Swiss Grand Prix in 1948 – and he would later earn a reputation as an extremely versatile driver with Gordini and then Ferrari.
He drove Gordini’s blue Grand Prix racers for four seasons, before making the switch to Ferrari in 1954, and it was with the Italian marque that he won that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, sharing his car with José Froilán González.
His maiden World Championship race win came at the following year’s Monaco Grand Prix, which he won for Ferrari after frontrunners Fangio, Moss and Ascari all retired. The next season, spent with Vanwall and Bugatti, proved far less successful, before he returned to Ferrari for the 1957 season.
He joined Rob Walker’s team for the 1958 season. claiming his second win, again at Monaco when his rivals fell by the wayside. He stayed with the team for two seasons, and despite his ‘number two’ status to team-mate Moss, he provided the team with some excellent results.
His joined Aston Martin’s abortive F1 project in 1960, and after an equally unsuccessful stint racing for Scuderia Centro Sud, he returned to Walker’s team as a replacement for his former team-mate Moss after the Englishman’s career-ending accident at Goodwood. While past his best, he still gave team-mate Jim Clark a run for his money on some occasions.
His final F1 season came in 1964 when he entered a BRM under his own name, and he brought down the curtain on his F1 career at the ripe age of 47, with scarcely a single accident to his name and widely-regarded as one of the most mechanically sympathetic drivers around.
After retiring, Trintignant headed back to his hometown and started working in the wine trade, and later in life he was elected mayor of the Languedoc-Roussillon region.
[Original images via The Cahier Archive]