Robert Manzon, the last surviving driver to have competed in the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship season in 1950, has died at the age of 97.
Born in Marseille, the Frenchman hailed from an Italian immigrant family which switched from dairy farming to the garage trade thanks to a wealth relative who had made a tidy fortune in Mexico.
The young Robert learned to drive in taxis which he borrowed from the rank outside his mother’s grocery store, but a lack of available funds and the intervention of World War 2 meant that he didn’t make his racing debut until 1946 in the Coupes des Alpes rally.
His initial successes earned him the attention of Amédée Gordini’s small eponymous outfit, which was in partnership with Théodore Pigozzi, the boss of Simca. Racing alongside a number of luminaries including Maurice Trintignant, Jean-Pierre Wimille and Raymond Sommer and later Jean Behra, Manzon raced in single-seaters and sports cars.
He made his Formula 1 debut at the season’s second race, the Monaco Grand Prix, but his race didn’t last long after he was taken out in a huge opening lap pile-up when a freak tidal wave flooded the circuit at the Tabac corner! He claimed a fourth-placed finish in his second outing, on home soil, behind a 1-2-3 finish for the dominant Alfa Romeo team.
While he managed to win a number of Formula 2 and non-championship F1 races, Manzon’s best finishes on the World Championship stage were a pair of third places at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1952 and the French Grand Prix in 1954.
He retired from racing at the end of 1956 at the age of 39, and ran a Renault dealership for a number of years. He is survived by his two children.
Image via Forix