Known for his fair play and good sportsmanship, Sommer always raced flat out even when all hope of a good position was lost. He refused any major offer for a works drive, preferring to be his own man. He won the French GP in 1936 and Le Mans twice in 1932 and 1933.
Raymond Sommer was born in the small French Ardennes town of Mouzon, which today still boasts a Stade Raymond Sommer. His father, Roger, broke the Wright Brothers record for the longest flight in 1909. His family were carpet manufacturers in the larger town of Sedan, on the edge of the Ardennes, and it was the prosperity of the business that enabled him to start racing. Raymond was a successful boxer and went to college in Manchester, England before returning to work for the family business in France.
He decided that he wanted to be a racing driver, persuaded his father to buy him a Chrysler Imperial and, in March 1931, he took part in his first road race, between Paris and Nice. The following year he bought an Alfa Romeo 8C and, when his team mate Luigi Chinetti became ill, Sommer drove 20 of the 24 hours at Le Mans to win. Three weeks later he finished third to Louis Chiron and Rene Dreyfus in the Nice Grand Prix and a week after that, he won the Grand Prix de Marseilles at Miramas.
In 1933 he joined the Maserati team while continuing to race his Alfa in sports car events and, sharing with Nuvolari, he won the Le Mans 24 Hours for a second time. In 1935 he bought an Alfa Romeo P3 and won races at Comminges and Montlhery but by 1936 the car was no longer competitive. That year he shared victory in the Grand Prix de l'ACF at Montlhery with Jean-Pierre Wimille in a Bugatti. Raymond also won the Spa 24 Hours and finished fourth in the Vanderbilt Cup.
In 1937 Raymond raced for Ferrari and competed in France with a Talbot sports car, winning the Marseilles Three Hours at Miramas and the Grand Prix de Tunisie and becoming French Champion. There was little success in 1938 although he led at Le Mans before his car failed. He was French Champion again in 1939, racing as variety of cars.
During the war Sommer was a member of the French Resistance, but at the end of hostilities he brought out the Alfa Romeo 308 he had campaigned before the war and found immediate success, beating the 158 Alfettas at St Cloud, before joining Maserati, unsuccessfully, for 1947.
After suffering from an illness and involvement with the ill-fated CTA Arsenal project, Sommer joined Ferrari in 1948 but left midway through the following season to run his own Talbot Lago, winning at Montlhery and leading the 1950 Belgian Grand Prix. He was signed by BRM for the marque's infamous debut at the 1950 British Grand Prix where the car failed to move from the grid.
His efforts during the season in 1950 had once again earned him the title of Champion of France and his achievements had been rewarded with the Legion d'Honneur. A week after the Italian Grand Prix - the last of the season - Raymond arrived at the difficult Cadours circuit for the Haute Garonne Grand Prix. Driving an 1100cc Cooper Sommer crashed out, it is thought a wheel bearing seized, and collided with a tree. The fragile little car overturned and the man they called 'Coeur de Lion' was killed instantly. He became the first fatality of the F1 World Championship era..