23 – 1906 French GP


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

Not the first motor race with a GP suffix – that was Pau in February 1901 – but the first international event so called. It ended with a Renault victory – the result of clever strategy, a sorted chassis with a tyre advantage and faster pitstops.

Much has changed since, of course. The race was held over two days – Tuesday and Wednesday – and covered 769 miles. Its circuit was 64.11 miles in length and short sections were wooden. And the winning car had a 13-litre engine – far from the largest in the field.

Created to circumnavigate the Gordon Bennett Trophy’s restrictive three cars-per-country rule, the GP attracted 34 entries, 32 of which started. Nine French marques, seven of which mustered three cars, faced sparse but stiff opposition from Italy (Fiat and Itala) and Germany (Mercedes).

Paul Baras in a Richard-Brasier set the fastest lap – 73.376mph from a standing start – and led for the first two, but Renault’s Ferenc Szisz controlled proceedings thereafter. 

View the 1906 French Grand Prix on the Database

Hungarian-born but based near Paris – his true surname was bastardised to François by a French public eager to adopt him – Szisz drove with a mechanical sympathy befitting his engineering background. He also benefited from Michelin’s detachable rims. As the temperature rose and the track deteriorated, punctures became common. Szisz and his riding mechanic Marteau could not avoid them, but this quick-change system – four minutes per corner! – meant they lost less time. 

The jante amovible was heavier than a normal wheel, which proscribed many teams from using it lest they were tipped over the 1000kg limit. That Renault, Fiat and Clément-Bayard could use it was due to better preparation and attention to detail. 

Szisz led by more than 26 minutes at the conclusion of the first day’s six laps – a gap he increased by a further six over the second six. 

There was, however, a key place change. Fiat’s Felice Nazzaro jumped Albert Clément on the 10th lap and pipped him – by 3min 20sec – to second. The latter had gone against his team-owner father’s advice and shunned detachable rims – a decision that cost him victory. PF

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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