Formula One driver who raced for the Gordini, Maserati, BRM, Ferrari and Porsche teams. An ex-motorcyle champion Behra never found a Formula 1 Grand Prix win, but his fists did manage to find Maurice Trintigant, Georges Monneret and Ferrari team manager Romolo Tavoni!
Jean Marie Behra was born in Nice, France. He took up motorcycle racing in 1938 but missed out on his best racing years because of the war.
After the war he raced for Moto Guzzi, winning four French national titles between 1948 and 1951. In 1949 at a motorcycle race at Mont Ventoux, he tried his hand at the wheel of a Maserati. He liked it and entered the Grand Prix du Salon driving a Talbot-Lago at Montlhery. He also tried his hand at Rally taking Hellé-Nice's place, driving a Renault 4CV in the Monte Carlo Rally.
This was followed by entering the Le Mans 24 Hour race partnering fellow Frenchman Roger Loyer in a Simca Gordini 15GCS. They failed to finish, going out after just 50 laps. He also raced in the Bol d'Or.
At the end of 1950 Amedee Gordini signed him to race for his Simca-Gordini team alongside Maurice Trintignant, Robert Manzon and Andre Simon. He made his debut at the 1952 Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten, finishing a creditable third. However the Simcas were under-powered and unreliable and the season was mostly frustrating. He did win round four of the Formula 2 championshipt, he Grand Prix of Reims, Behra crossing the line ahead of the Ferrari works drivers, Farina and Ascari, in their Ferrari 500’s.
In 1952 he also entered the Carrera Panamericana with his Gordini. Driving without a co-pilot, Behra won the first stage with an average speed of 143 Kph. On the second stage, Behra led comfortably until he hit a rock, loosing control of his Gordini he left the road and almost down a 25m ravine. Behra escaped serious injury.
Behra stayed with Gordini for two more seasons before signing for Maserati for 1955. Now against the might of Mercedes with Juan-Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, he had little chance of victories. However in non-championship races that year in the Maserati 250F he won at Pau, Bordeaux and Bari. He unfortunately lost an ear in a crash in the TT race that year.
When Mercedes-Benz pulled out of racing, Moss signed for Maserati and Behra was forced to be his number two for 1956. When Moss switched to Vanwall for 1957 Behra thought he would get number one status but then Fangio appeared and once again Behra had to be the bridesmaid as Fangio swept to the World Championship. Behra's most impressive result was victory in the non-championship Moroccan Grand Prix. That year Behra set an unofficial lap record at Modena in his Maserati 250F. Enzo Ferrari called up Eugenio Castellotti, who was on holidays in Florence, to come down and eclipse Behra’s time. Sadly Castellotti died on his third lap trying to break Behra’s record.
In sports car racing he enjoyed some success notably winning the Sebring 12 Hours with Fangio in 1957. He finished the season fourth in the World Championship, only eight points behind Juan Manual Fangio. Behra was the cream of the crop at Maserati that year. He had a one-off drive for BRM in their P25 at the International Trophy, which resulted in a win which prompted BRM to sign him for the 1958 season.
In 1958 however the BRM was unreliable and although Behra did well for Porsche in sports car races and hillclimbs, his only result for BRM was the win back in 1957. Behra entered the Goodwood’s Easter Monday race in a BRM P25. However brake failure saw Behra hit a wall at 112kmph, almost being flung from his car, Behra was lucky to walk away with only heavy bruising. He did win the German and French sports Car Championships in his Porsche RSK Spyder 1500.
Finally in 1959 he joined Ferrari to partner Tony Brooks. Behra qualified second at the season opener Monaco and lead for the first 22 laps until overtaken by Moss, and then Brabham as his Ferrari engine expired. At Zandvoort, Behra had to watch Jo Bonnier take victory for BRM. Behra had begun to believe that the Ferrari team manager, Romolo Tavoni, was plotting against him and at the French Grand Prix at Reims when he suffered piston failure having fought his way to second, he ended up punching him. The Frenchman was eventually pulled away by his wife.
Behra was immediately fired. However he was still employed by Porsche he went to Avus to race a Collotti-built Porsche RSK based single seater in the German GP with much to prove. He was also entered in the support race for sports cars with his Porsche RSK Spyder 1500. Behra never made it to the Grand Prix grid as in the support race he went too high on Nordkurve 45-degree banking and crashed at high speed into a concrete bunker. He died in the initial impact but his body was thrown from the car and into a flagpole.