Harry Schell

Full Name:
Harry Lawrence O'Reilly Schell
Born:
29th June 1921
Paris, Ile-de-France (F)
Died:
13th May 1960 (Aged 38)
Silverstone, Northamptonshire (GB), International Trophy practice
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

America’s original Formula 1 driver, Harry Schell was raised in France and his interest in motor racing was all-but inevitable as both his parents were involved in the sport before World War II.

Family background

His mother was Lucy O’Reilly, a strong-willed heiress of Irish descent who had won the Coupe des Dames at the 1929 Monte Carlo Rally. She was married to Laury Schell whose Ecurie Bleue concern scored a famous victory at Pau in 1938 when René Dreyfus’ Delahaye 145 beat the mighty Mercedes-Benz team.

The family remained in Paris despite the onset of World War II but his father was killed and mother seriously injured in a road accident barely a month later on October 18 1939. So when Ecurie Bleue entered two Maseratis in the 1940 Indianapolis 500 it was the 18 year old Harry Schell who arrived as team owner.

It was a feat just to get the cars from war-torn France to America and Schell had to take an emergency course in English for he was only fluent in French at the time. Greeted by the locals as heroes, only one car qualified but a 10th place finish for the René le Bègue/Dreyfus shared entry was a fine and popular effort.

Post-war racing career

Schell served in the United States Tank Corps during the conflict and returned to France once peace was restored. Schell was racing by 1949 and he made his Grand Prix debut with a Cooper T12-JAP at Monaco a year later. He raced the car in Formula 3 trim in the support race before fitting an 1100cc twin engine for the main event. However, Schell did not get far in the GP for he was eliminated in the pile-up at Tabac on the opening lap. He entered a more conventional Lago-Talbot T26C in the Swiss GP and finished eighth.

The next couple of world championship seasons with Enrico Platé’s modified Maserati 4CLT/48 were without success and a couple of seventh place finishes for Gordini in 1953 were his best results so far.

He acquired a Maserati A6GCM for the following season. Sixth in the 1954 Argentine GP was his best championship result to date and Schell was second in the minor Rome GP. Armed with a Maserati 250F before the end of the year, he battled for the lead in Spain (when fuelled light) before retiring.

Starring for Vanwall

The 1955 season began with another sixth place in Argentina when sharing a works 250F with Jean Behra. Schell then raced for Ferrari in Monaco before joining Vanwall mid-season. He won a couple of minor British races and that form translated to the world championship in 1956. Fifth on the grid for the Monaco GP, he crashed at Ste Devote when avoiding Juan Manuel Fangio’s spinning Lancia-Ferrari.

Fourth and a world championship points’ scorer for the first time in the 1956 Belgian GP, Schell was brilliant in France (when challenging the works Ferraris) and led at Monza although he retired from both races. He also won the non-championship race at Caen and scored the highest profile victory of his career with a works Maserati 300S in the Nürburgring 1000Kms.

Works driver for Maserati and BRM

Fangio’s Maserati team-mate for the 1957 F1 season, he was fourth in Argentina and third at Pescara to finish seventh equal in the world championship. His 1958 move to BRM included a second place finish in the Dutch GP and second on the grid in Britain – both career bests. Fifth on another four occasions, he finished in that position in the championship itself. However, he was lucky to escape rolling at Lesmo on the opening lap of the Italian GP after being rammed by Wolfgang von Trips.

The flamboyant American’s second season with the team was less successful with fourth in the British GP and fifth in Portugal his best results. He finished 1959 driving a Cooper T51-Climax entered under his father’s Ecurie Bleue banner in the inaugural United States GP at Sebring. He qualified third and continued with the car in the 1960 Argentine GP – his last championship race.

Schell joined the British Racing Partnership’s Yeoman Credit Racing Team for the European season. Practice for the International Trophy was run in depressing Silverstone rain and the mood suddenly got worse. Schell’s Cooper T51-Climax shed a wheel on the approach to Abbey and he crashed into the bank at 100mph. There was little damage to the car but Schell was thrown clear and killed instantly.

A man of independent wealth, Schell did not need to race for money but he was anything but an amateur. He ran a restaurant in Paris (L’Action Automobile) which was a popular haunt of the French racing community during his life. A practical joker and debonair character, he was popular with his peers and race fans alike.