Maurice Trintignant, born on 30 October 1917, was the son of a farmer and the youngest of four brothers, Raoul, Rene, Louis and Henri. Rene and Louis raced Bugattis and other machinery and, as an 11-year-old schoolboy, Maurice sometimes acted as a riding mechanic.
The Grand Prix des Frontieres
In 1938, after his brother Louis was killed, Maurice purchased the very Bugatti T51 in which his brother had been killed and entered his first race, the round-the-houses Pau Grand Prix. Racing against tough opposition he was fifth. He won his second race, the Grand Prix des Frontieres at Chimay, and repeated this victory in 1939. But for the outbreak of war he would have joined the famous Ecurie Bleue to race Delahayes and Maseratis.
Coupe de la Liberation
Returning home from the war in the summer of 1945, he rebuilt his beloved Bugatti (which had been dismantled and stored in a barn) and entered the first post-war motor race, the Coupe de la Liberation in the Bois de Bologne. He retired when the engine cut out and upon opening the bonnet discovered the fuel filter was clogged with rat droppings. Evidently, a nest of rats had enjoyed the hospitality of the Bugatti's fuel tank while the car had been dismantled.
Race winner Jean-Pierre Wimille
enquired of his friend Trintignant the reason for retirement and Maurice said the filter was clogged with petoule, a word in the local dialect which meant rat-droppings. Wimille collapsed with laughter and Trintingnant was immediately landed with the nickname Le Petoulet. In 1946 the faithful Bugatti - known as Le Grandmere - brought Trintignant second place in the French Championship, and later he turned to various other machinery: Amilcar, Delage, Simca-Gordini. In 1948 he became a member of the Simca-Gordini works team, a team for whom he raced until the end of 1953. However, his first season with Arnedee Gordini's cars was almost his last.
At Berne, the difficult Swiss road circuit, he was running second in the Formula Two race when his 1500cc Simca-Gordini spun and crashed. Maurice was hurled from the cockpit and was narrowly missed by four other drivers. He was taken to hospital and was unconscious for eight days. A newspaper carried a story about his 'death' the next day. But he underwent an operation and fifteen days later Maurice Trintignant's name was removed from the critical list. He returned to racing again in 1949.
In 1954 French privateer Louis Rosier bought two Ferraris for Formula One racing and entrusted Trintignant with one; he won the Buenos Aires Grand Prix against Ferrari and Maserati works opposition. By the time the European season got underway he was a member of the official Ferrari team. He won the Hyeres 12-hours and the Le Mans 24-hours, the Caen and Rouen Grands Prix and the Tourist Trophy (on scratch with Mike Hawthorn) was second in the Belgian Supercortemaggiori, Pau and Syracuse Grands Prix and at Dakar. Not surprisingly he was Champion of France, a title which he regained in 1955. This was the year his cool, calculated driving won him the Monaco Grand Prix in a Ferrari 625, his first World Championship Grand Prix victory.
For 1956 Trintignant signed with Bugatti, the French firm intending to make a post-war comeback to Grand Prix racing. The Bugatti T251 was a disaster, only running in the French Grand Prix where Trintignant retired with a seized throttle linkage. It was back to Ferrari for 1957, but his only success was a win in the Reims Formula Two race. At the end of the year he was invited to drive a BRM P25 in the Moroccan Grand Prix and finished third, silencing critics who thought that at 39, Trintignant was on the decline. Far from it. In 1958 he agreed to race for private entrant Rob Walker in both Formula One and Formula Two. He won the F2 Pau Grand Prix and then the Monaco Grand Prix, beating the Ferrari team. He later won the F1 Caen Grand Prix, the Clermont-Ferrand Formula Two race) was third in the German Grand Prix and was crowned Champion of France once more.
Rob Walker's Cooper T45-Climax
In 1959 Trintignant remained with Walker, finishing second in the United States and third in the Monaco Grand Prix, and piloted a works Aston Martin DBR/300 to second place in the Le Mans 24-hours. For 1960 he agreed to race Aston Martin's new DBR5/250 Formula One car, but it was a disaster. Nevertheless, he won the Buenos Aires Grand Prix in Rob Walker's Cooper T45-Climax and, driving for Porsche, was fourth in the Nurburgring
1000-km. His own Formula Two Cooper T45-Climax was able to provide many excellent results. In 1961 an underpowered Cooper T 45-Maserati entered by Scuderia Serenissima provided little success for Trintignant in the new 2-liter Formula One.
Next season he was back with Rob Walker, but apart from a victory in the Pau Grand Prix with an old Lotus 18/21-Climax, he had no luck. His last success in Formula One was in 1964 when, at 46, he was a rousing fifth in the German Grand Prix in his own privately-entered BRM P57. His last competitive racing appearance was in the 1965 Le Mans 24-hours
where he retired his Ford GT40
after difficulties with his gearbox. But Maurice Trintignant was more than a racing driver. He took control of his family's vineyard (naming the wine Le Petoulet) and developed it into a thriving concern. In 1959 he was also elected mayor of Vergeze, and a year later he was created a Chevalier of the Legion or Honour for his services to France.
Following his retirement from racing, Maurice Trintignant returned to a quiet life as a wine-grower (naming his vintage Le Petoulet), near the town of Vergèze, in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine growing region, where he would eventually be elected mayor. Trintignant died, aged 87, in 2005.