Maurice Trintignant was one of France's national heroes. He raced on the Formula One and sportscar circuits for nearly three decades from the early 1930s onwards, competing in 82 Grands Prix.
Maurice was born in Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes, Vaucluse in France, the youngest of the five sons of a prosperous vineyard owner. Maurice learned to drive at 9 on the family estate and followed three of his brothers into racing. One of them was Bugatti driver, Louis Trintignant, who was killed in 1933 while practicing on the Péronne racetrack in Picardie, he was also the uncle of renowned French film actor, Jean-Louis Trintignant.
He began racing in 1938 at the wheel of the 2.3-liter supercharged Bugatti in which his brother Louis had been killed. The family had sold the car after the accident but five years later Maurice bought the Bugatti, which he called "Grandma", back. He took it to fifth place in the Pau GP, and won the 1939 GP des Frontières at Chimay before the war caused the cessation of racing activities.
After the was Trintignant used the Bugatti in the first postwar European race, the Coupe de la Liberation, which was held in the Bois de Boulogne in September 1945. Unfortunately the car's preparation had been cursory, to say the least and while it was stored in a barn during the war, a family of rats had made their home in its fuel tank causing the car to suffer from fuel starvation. Because of this he aquired the nickname 'Le Petoulet' which literally means Rat Droppings. A sobriquet which he accepted in fine spirit.
He soon replaced the Bugatti with an Amilcar, winning at Avignon in 1947, and after half a season in the Gersac team's Delage, joined the Simca Gordini team.
The 1948 season started well with wins at Perpignan and Montlhéry, but he was seriously injured in the voiturette race prior to the 1948 Swiss Grand Prix at Berne in which three drivers were killed (Achille Varzi in practice, Christian Kautz in the race, and Omobono Tenni who was killed in practice for the supporting moto GP). He was more fortunate. Maurice spun his car and was flung into the middle of the track and only split-second reactions by the approaching Farina, Bira and Manzon enabled them to miss his unconscious body, the three brave drivers eliminating themselves in avoidance. In hospital Maurice's life hung by a thread as he lay in a coma for eight days. At one stage he was pronounced dead, but his pulse returned and he recovered to forge a reputation as a steady and versatile, though somewhat unspectacular, driver over the next decade.
The accident left him highly superstitious. Whenever he raced thereafter he slipped a handful of amulets into his overall pockets. He also invariably wore a St Christopher medallion and one from the Automobile Club de Marseilles, given to him by an unknown admirer before the start of a race.
By 1950 he had been successful enough in Grand Prix motor racing to join the newly formed Formula One racing circuit where he competed until his retirement after the 1964 season. 1954 and 1955 were his best years on the F1 circuit, finishing 4th in the drivers championship both years. In 1954 he won the 24 hours of Le Mans in a 4.9-litre Ferrari with Froilan Gonzalez and then the Grand Prix of Monaco in 1955 after Fangio went out with a broken axle, Stirling Moss suffered an engine failure and Alberto Ascari crashed into the harbour.
In 1955, he drove a Bugatti Type 251 in the French Grand Prix, becoming the last driver to represent the famed marque at a Grand Prix race.
In 1956 Trintignant drove in Bugatti's sole Championship appearance at the French GP at Reims. He was released by Vanwall to drive the technically advanced Type 251, the first French mid-engined design. The car featured a straight 8-cylinder engine laid out transversely across a flat chassis with the fuel tanks mounted in the bulky sidepods.
In 1957 he was back at Ferrari driving a Lancia-Ferrari. He did a stint with BRM in 1958 but drove mainly for Rob Walker, winning at Monaco again as the opposition once more fell by the wayside. In 1960 he drove briefly for the Aston Martin F1 team before moving on to Scuderia Centro Sud.
After Stirling Moss's accident in 1962, he raced again for Rob Walker before concentrating on racing his own private BRM V8.
His last race came at Le Mans in 1965, ending a remarkable career during which he had driven in 82 Grands Prix. His Bremgarten crash aside, he had been one of the safest drivers around and his mechanical sympathy was much appreciated by team managers.
Following his retirement from racing, Maurice Trintignant returned to a quiet life taking over the family vineyard near the town of Vergèze, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, where he produced a wine called "Le Petoulet". He was elected the local mayor for a period and died, aged 87, in 2005.