17 – 1908 French GP


A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

What would Jacques Laffite have thought? The Frenchman arrived in his pyjamas before the 1984 Dallas GP, a protest against a 7am start for Sunday morning warm-up. A few generations before, his antecedents were ready to race at 6am…

Dieppe hosted the French GP for a second time and there were new rules this year, with fuel restrictions lifted and a higher, 1100kg minimum weight limit. The theory ran that heavier cars would be sturdier and safer… although they didn’t appear to stop so well. There is a demonstration of period handling frailties on YouTube, in a short, charming sequence swiped from a Shell VHS documentary.

The 48 cars set off at one-minute intervals, with Dario Resta (Austin) balloted to lead away. The host nation had high hopes, with strong representation from Renault, Clément-Bayard, Panhard-Levassor, Mors and others, but most major manufacturers were present – including Itala and Fiat from Italy, Benz, Opel and Mercedes from Germany, Austin from England and Thomas from America.

View the 1908 French Grand Prix on the Database

Panhard-Levassor’s latest car featured a 12.5-litre engine and had a claimed top speed of 100mph, but frequent tyre changes prevented it mounting a challenge to the Germans. Leader Christian Lautenschlager was among the many to run wide and hit the flimsy trackside fencing, but there was ample time to extract his Mercedes, turn the crank and restart to win by more than eight minutes. Benz drivers Victory Hémery and René Hanriot completed a clean sweep for German manufacturers, with Victor Rigal’s fourth-placed Clément-Bayard best of the French contingent, more than half an hour adrift. SA

About 100 Greatest Grands Prix | From the editor Damien Smith
The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…

This was a special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.

It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…

Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.

Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!

Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.

You can download 100 Greatest Grands Prix in PDF form in the Motor Sport app.

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