Robert Manzon

Robert Manzon

12/4/1917 - 19/1/2015

Robert Manzon was a French racing driver who participated in 29 Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, debuting on 21 May 1950. He achieved two podiums, and scored a total of 16 championship points. At the time of his death, Manzon was the last surviving driver to have taken part in the first Formula One World Championship in 1950.

Born in Marseille, France, Manzon began work as a mechanic and diesel equipment distributor. He started racing in 1947 after acquiring an 1100cc Cisitalia D46 and enjoyed initial success with wins at Angouleme and Comminges.

This caught the eye of the Simca Gordini team who offered him a drive in both single-seaters and sportscars midway through 1948 making his debut at Angouleme where he had won the previous year. He was leading in the final and had set fastest lap before mechanical failure intervened. It turned out to be a mixed season, beset with further reliability issues caused by the Simca Gordini's high revving engine, however he did take third in the 1948 Grand Prix de Geneva and wins in some minor races.

He continued with the team in 1949 taking second to Maurice Trintignant at Angouleme as well as second to Raymond Sommer at Lausanne. He won the Bol d'Or in a production Simca and went to Le Mans that year to partner Maurice Trintignant in a Simca Gordini T15S Compresseur but they dropped out in the 4th hour with overheating problems. It was the start of a poor run at Le Mans when, over the ensuing years he failed to reach the finish.

When the World Championship was established in 1950, he made his debut at Monaco at the wheel of a Type 15 Simca Gordini. He qualified 11th but on the first lap of the race the field entered Tabac only to find it flooded. Nino Farina, who was running at the front of the pack in second, spun causing a crash which eliminated 10 cars, including Manzon. His next appearance was at the fifth round in France. He qualified thirteenth and came home a respectable fourth behind Alfa Romeo duo of Juan Manuel Fangio and Luigi Fagioli, and the privately entered Ferrari of Peter Whitehead.

Away from his Grand Prix duties he enjoyed some success that year in Formula 2 with a couple of podiums and wins at Mettet in Belgium ahead of Moss and Lance Macklin and at the Circuit de Perigueux with Moss finishing 3rd.

His best season in Formula One came in 1952 when he finished sixth in the standings thanks to points finishes in France and the Netherlands as well as a podium in Spa where he crossed the line in 3rd. He had qualified in 4th and in the wet race he passed Mike Hawthorn to claim the last spot on the podium.

He left Gordini after the Argentine GP, the first race of 1953, when a wheel came off at high speed while he was running second, finally succumbing to frustration with the reliability of the machinery he was being given to drive. He spent the rest of the year in sportscars racing for Lancia, with a best result of second in the Coppa Inter-Europa at Monza, before joining Louis Rosier's privateer Ferrari team for 1954.

In 1954 he raced for both Lancia and Rosier, taking his second podium in a world championship race at the French GP. Driving the Equipe Rosier Ferrari 625 he finished third behind the two Mercedes W196s which were making their debut in the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling.

He returned to the Gordini in 1955 but with no success in the World Championship. Manzon shared the third placed Ferrari 860 Monza on the 1955 Targa Florio with Eugenio Castellotti.

He started 1956 with a win in the non-championship Naples Grand Prix and was catching Castellotti for fourth a week later at Monaco but he crashed when his brakes failed with just 10 laps to go. The Circuito di Pescara for 2-litre sports cars was Manzon’s final victory, his Gordini T15S beating Piero Taruffi’s Maserati by just 0.5 seconds.

Robert Manzon retired from racing at the end of 1956. He ran a garage and became a distributor of Bosch diesel equipment in his native Marseille.

Widley regarded as capable of winning more races had he been in better equipment, Manzon died on 19th January 2015 in Cassis, Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France. He was the last living driver who has taken part in the first Formula One season in 1950.

historicracing.com

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