Raymond Sommer

Full Name:
Raymond Pierre Sommer
Born:
31st August 1906
Mouzon, Champagne-Ardenne
Died:
10th September 1950 (Aged 44)
Cadours, Midi-Pyrenees, Haute Garonne GP
Nationality:
French
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Known as the "Coeur de Lion" due to his never-say-die attitude, Raymond Sommer was one of France most famous pre-war drivers and a sportsman in every sense of the word. One of the three sons of early aviator Roger Sommer, his father settled in Sedan where he ran a successful carpet manufacturing business. In part educated in Manchester, England, Raymond Sommer worked in the family business after graduation. However, Sommer had his father’s sense of adventure.

Early success at Le Mans

He first raced at Antibes in 1928 and competed in both the Le Mans and Spa 24-hour races in 1931. An Alfa Romeo 8C was acquired for 1932 which he entered in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Co-driver Luigi Chinetti fell ill so Sommer drove for over 20 hours to victory by beating the works cars in the process. Tazio Nuvolari accepted Sommer’s invitation for the following year’s event and a second Le Mans victory was secured when the Italian maestro passed Chinetti on the very last lap.

Those back-to-back victories confirmed Sommer’s status as a national hero. He led the 1933 Spa 24 Hours after driving through the night before handing over to Henri Stoffel at 8am. Sommer left the circuit and flew to Reims to race that afternoon. Sommer finished third in the Grand Prix de la Marne but, back at Spa-Francorchamps, his co-driver was unable to hold on. He was overtaken during the final hour and they had to settle for second.

Grand Prix privateer and sports cars with Bugatti

Success in GP machinery was confined to minor races, especially after the arrival of the German teams in 1934. Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union were absent from the Belgian GP and Sommer took advantage to finish third with an Ecurie Braillard Maserati 8CM. He acquired an Alfa Romeo Tipo-B "P3" for 1935 but the once-great car was now outdated.

When the French authorities switched their races to sports car rules for the following season, Sommer joined the works Bugatti team. He partnered Jean-Pierre Wimille to win the 1936 French GP at Montlhéry. Winner of that year’s Spa 24 Hours with Scuderia Ferrari’s Alfa Romeo 8C "Monza", continued sports car success a year later was rewarded with the title of 1937 French Champion.

Frustrated by uncompetitive GP Alfa Romeos during 1938 and 1939, a second French title in 1939 was scant consolation. Sommer served as a private in the French Army at the start of World War II but was later captured and interned in a prisoner of war camp. However, he was a prime mover at the end of the conflict in negotiating Dr Porsche’s release from prison in Dijon.

Post-war racing

He raced a variety of machinery in 1946. He won the Marseille GP in a Scuderia Milano Maserati 4CL and at St Cloud when he beat the works team in the private Alfa Romeo 308 he had raced in 1939. That resulted in the Champion de France title once more. As GP racing was re-established in the 1940s, Sommer finished third in the 1948 Italian GP with a works Ferrari 125 and at the 1949 Swiss GP in his own Lago-Talbot.

1950 Formula 1 World Championship

The Formula 1 World Championship was introduced in 1950 and Sommer finished fourth on his debut in Monaco with a private Ferrari 125. He did not finish again but his normally aspirated Lago-Talbot led at Spa-Francorchamps when the fuel-thirsty Alfa Romeos pitted.

Sommer was the original BRM driver – for the marque’s first yard at least. Entered in the non-championship International Trophy at Silverstone, the BRM V16’s transmission shattered as soon as Sommer dropped the clutch. That British disaster mirrored Sommer’s involvement in the equally overly-optimistic French SEFAC and CTA-Arsenal projects earlier in his career.

French Champion for a fourth time in 1950, he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur that year. A week after the final world championship race of the year, the 44 year old Sommer borrowed a 1.1-litre Cooper from Harry Schell for the minor Haute Garonne GP at Cadours. He crashed into a tree and overturned when his wheel bearing seized. Sommer was killed on impact.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1950 F1 World Championship
Raymond Sommer
Automobiles Talbot-Darracq
5 0 0 0
0% win rate
13th 3
1939 European Championship
Raymond Sommer
3 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1937 European Championship
Raymond Sommer
Scuderia Ferrari
4 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1936 European Championship
Raymond Sommer
3 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1936 AAA National Championship
Raymond Sommer
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
11th 210
1935 European Championship
Raymond Sommer
3 0 0 0
0% win rate
0