On June 30, 1917, Maurice Trintignant was born in Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes, nicknamed a gentleman driver for his ability to not stress tires and mechanics, who entered the history of motoring for being able to win both in Monte Carlo and Le Mans. In Maurice, the passion for the world of motors is transmitted to him by his brother Louis, who in the early 1930s raced with the Bugatti. Although three years later, during a test on the Péronne circuit, the latter will lose his life, this dramatic event will not affect Trintignant, but rather will strengthen the will to repay his brother's trust.
With the same team and car as Louis, in 1938 Maurice made his debut in the 24 Hours of Paris, but without reaching the finish line, while the first placement was achieved in the following season, again with a T57, at the Comminges Grand Prix, finishing eleventh.
There will be no follow-up to these results, as the outbreak of World War II will halt his career for eight years. The return to the track will take place in 1945. Maurice participates in the Liberation Cup, but due to a curious problem with the oil filter he will be forced to retire. It will be discovered, in fact, that this inconvenience was caused by a mouse, and from this moment his nickname will become le Petoulet, as Rob Walker will tell a few years later:
"Maurice had a Bugatti 35 Grand Prix, which during the war he hid in a barn covering it with hay, so that the Germans wouldn't find it. After the war, a race was held in Paris, one of the first after the war. Maurice arrived in his Bugatti, but he withdrew. Wimille won the race, who went to Maurice and asked him: What happened? And Maurice replied... If the petoulet. Petoulet means mouse droppings. The mice ended up in the tank during the war and their droppings had clogged the carburetors. Since then he has been called Petoulet".
After this curious episode, on July 6, 1947, in Reims, Maurice conquers the first podium of his career by finishing third at the finish, driving a Gordini TMM, demonstrating that the long period without competitions has not affected his talent. The worst therefore seems to be behind him, but in 1948, during the Swiss Grand Prix, the French driver goes off the track, and destroys his car after hitting the barriers: for many days, Maurice remains in a coma and is declared clinically dead, but a few days later he amazed the doctors not only waking up, but managing in a short time to completely recover his health, returning to the world of competitions.
His second return takes place at the 24 Hours of Spa, where due to a new technical problem he is unable to pass under the checkered flag, while a month later, at the Coupè du Salon, he proves to have regained confidence in his means by finishing fourth. Performance that will give him further confidence in view of the Madrid Grand Prix, where after twenty-seven months he will return to the podium finishing second, obtaining the best result of his career, but above all showing that he is now ready to participate in the most important races in the world. In 1950 Gordini, a French racing car manufacturer, decided to field Trintignant both in endurance races and in the first Formula 1 World Championship, making him debut at the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the Principality, the French driver is eleventh in qualifying, about eleven seconds behind Fangio, but retires in the race on lap 11.
The same fate will be repeated at Le Mans, where paired with Manzon he immediately leaves the scene due to a radiator failure. After a new retirement at the 12 Hours of Paris, the redemption arrives at the Nurburgring, winning the first career victory. With high morale, ten days later Maurice took part in the Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix: in official tests he was twelfth, but on Sunday the Gordini proved unreliable, and in the space of two laps first Manzon, and then Trintignant, withdraw. In 1951, the French driver decided to devote himself only to Formula 1, and in the first race in which he was deployed in France, in Reims, he was only eighteenth on the starting grid. The only satisfaction that the French driver will be able to get away with is the duel he won with Manzon in qualifying, before the engine betrays all four T11s entered in the European Grand Prix, forcing Maurice to park his car on lap 18.
The Frenchman will also be disappointed following his participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which lasts only forty-nine laps, while at the Nurburgring he is fourteenth in qualifying, and on Sunday once again the Gordini engine betrays him, forcing him to retire. Only in a race not valid for the world championship in Albi, Maurice manages to make it clear that it is only due to the lack of competitive means that he has not yet obtained the desired results in Formula 1, since he wins the pole, and in the race he inflicts over two minutes behind Simon, and a lap at Chiron, who came second and third respectively at the finish.
Unfortunately the negative trend will not change in the following weeks, therefore Trintignant will still be forced to retire in Monza and Spain, ending the 1951 World Championship without having collected any points. In 1952 Maurice decided not to engage exclusively with Gordini, who confirmed him in Formula 1, but took part in some endurance races with Tablot-Lago, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Ferrari. The first part of the season is very negative, as even with the 340 America, he retires at Le Mans, but once again the French driver demonstrates his character, and at the beginning of July, when Gordini offers him the best driven car up to that moment in Formula 1, inferior only to the Maranello team, at the French Grand Prix, Maurice arrives just behind Manzon both in qualifying and in the race, where he finally not only manages to pass under the checkered flag, but gets the best career placement, and the first two points in the Formula 1 World Championship.
Then when Gordini puts him behind the wheel of the T16, on the Nurbugring Trintignant circuit he collects fifth place in qualifying, proving once again to have driving skills. However, in the race the differential forced him to retire on the fifth lap. Trintignant is not the type to be thrown down by a negative result, and on the demanding circuit of Zandvoort, in the Netherlands, he is still fifth in qualifying. In the race, while Ascari wins without problems, Maurice finishes sixth, one step away from the points.
The 1952 world championship ends with a further retirement in Monza, again due to an engine failure. If in Formula 1 he closes the season in sixteenth position in the drivers' standings, Maurice is also the protagonist of a great double triumph, given that driving the T155S, within two weeks, he wins in Roubaix and Agen. Unlike previous experiences, the 1953 season starts very well for the French driver, given that in Argentina, in qualifying, he is the fastest of the Gordini team, and in the race he reaches the finish line seventh.
Before the second round of the championship, Maurice has time to win and get a second place in Nimès, confirming his feeling with T15S, then in Zandvoort he remedies a bad qualifying by recovering six positions and finishing sixth, ahead of Rosier's Ferrari.
The first points of the season arrive in Belgium, at the end of another good recovery from the eighth position from which he starts: Maurice closes the race in fifth place, again preceding a car from the Maranello team, in this case that of Hawthorn.
Moreover, as two years before, the French driver wins in a race not valid for the world championship at the Gran Prix des Frontieres, returning to the top step of the podium. This excellent moment is also confirmed at Le Mans, racing again with Gordini, which he chooses Schell as his teammate. The Franco-American couple is the surprise of a race full of twists, in which the couple is ranked in sixth position, coming very close to the Ferrari of the Marzotto brothers. After this positive trend, returning to a Formula 1 car in France is very difficult, given that after qualifying in which he fails to set even a time, Maurice retires.
The British Grand Prix will also shortly last, in which he starts from the fourth row, only to stop at the fourteenth lap, and will not see the checkered flag even in Germany and Switzerland, after confirming the improvements in the flying lap, closing the official tests. in fifth and fourth position: the continuous reliability problems of the T16 force Maurice to another two zeros in the standings. The Frenchman redeems himself in the last race of the world championship in Monza, given that on Saturday he is eighth, entering the middle between the two Maserati of Bonetto and Graffenried, while in the race he recovers three positions and finishes fifth, behind the Ferraris of Hawthorn, Villoresi and Farina, and of the winner Fangio.
This last placement allows him to improve his position in the drivers' standings, conquering the fourteenth box with four points, but above all gives him the opportunity to convince Enzo Ferrari of his good qualities, pushing him to sign him for 1954. The adventure with the car manufacturer from Maranello got off to a good start right away, as Maurice in Argentina set the fifth time in qualifying, 2.6" behind Giuseppe Farina, his new teammate, and finished the race in fourth place. His results improve with his debut in endurance racing with Ferrari: in the 2 Hours of Dakar he is second, while at the 12 Hours of Hyeres he wins his first victory with the team from Maranello, paired with Piotti. Trintignant arrives with great confidence at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which he will race alongside González. Under pouring rain, the Argentine driver is in the lead, before leaving the Ferrari 375 plus to the Frenchman. In the following laps, Maurice not only managed the lead, but increased it to two laps in Hamilton and Rolt's Jaguar. Then, in the last few hours it will be decisive when the two British drivers approach, reducing the gap to three minutes: Maurice first responds by scoring the fastest lap. Then, however, the intensity of the rain increases, as the Frenchman recalls in an interview:
"Our 375 Plus was perfect, and only Rolt-Hamilton's Jaguar could keep up with us. We were calmly in the lead, I just had to keep pace until the end, when in Arnage I run into a wall of rain and hail, and the machine turns off".
Trintignant in fact forgot the open hood, and the water wet the distributor cables. But even on this occasion, the Frenchman confirms himself as a cold driver, and manages to engage first gear and return to the pits:
"My stomach was contorted with anguish, I was completely drenched in rain and sweat".
Moments of tension follow, in which the mechanics manage to solve the problem after a long stop, and González returns to the track just ahead of Hamilton, managing to defend himself and cross the finish line with a four-minute lead over the Jaguar. The Argentine and Trintignant bring Ferrari back to victory at Le Mans after five years. For le Petoulet, it is the first major success of his career.
And seven days later he completes a triumphal week, when at Spa he is the only driver not lapped by Fangio, arriving under the checkered flag almost twenty-five seconds from the Argentine, celebrating his first podium with Ferrari, after starting from sixth. position on the starting grid. Trintignant arrives at the French Grand Prix with the aim of repeating the Le Mans performance, but an engine problem causes him to retire for the first time since his arrival at the Maranello team. Then, after seeing González triumph at Silverstone, Maurice returns to the podium in Germany: as in Belgium, he doesn't shine on the flying lap, but in the race, in wet track conditions, he comes back and finishes third, behind the González/Hawthorn couple and of Fangio.
As in 1953, Switzerland is bewitched by Maurice: after obtaining the best qualification with Ferrari, which allows him to start from fourth position, an engine problem forced him to retire on lap four. Trintignant confirms himself as a racing driver also in his first Italian Grand Prix with Ferrari. Only twelfth on Saturday, twenty-four hours later he recovers seven positions and is fifth. But despite this series of positive results, the 1954 World Cup does not end as it started. In fact, a gearbox problem made his Spanish Grand Prix last a short time. Maurice ends his best season in Formula 1 in fourth place in the drivers' standings. In 1955 the French driver looked for confirmation.
In Argentina, after a bad qualifying in which he is only fourteenth, alternating driving due to the heat on Ferraris number 12 and 10 with Gonzalez, Farina, and Maglioli, Trintignant conquers the first podium of the season, finishing behind Fangio's Mercedes. The debut in sports cars is not going so well, as Maurice collects two retirements in a row at the 1000 kilometers of Buenos Aires and Cortemaggiore. Trintignant again takes little to forget the negative episodes, and in the second round of the Formula 1 World Championship, in Monaco, he accomplishes his greatest feat of his career.
Ferrari, in fact, seems to be in trouble right from qualifying, but in the race everything happens: at the end of the fortieth lap, Trintignant managed to recover up to fifth position. However, the gap from the Argentine is over a minute. But when there is almost half of the race, Fangio slows down and retires. Moss, despite the advantage, pushes hard to prove that he is not the leader due to the absence of his teammate on the track, but he breaks the engine, so Ascari seems set for victory, but at the Porto chicane he ends up in the sea. With these controversial and favorable circumstances, Trintignant does not miss the opportunity he has been chasing for years, and demonstrates why they call him a gentleman pilot. Despite Castellotti trying to catch him, Maurice dances between the walls and the streets of the Principality without stressing his Ferrari, and on the track where he made his debut he won his first Formula 1 victory.
After obtaining this great result, Maurice's next goal is to be able to repeat himself at Le Mans, but the race does not seem to favor his ambitions, given that already at the end of the first laps, the Frenchman is forced to return to the pits for a problem on the 121 LM. Meanwhile, on the main straight of the track, Levegh follows Mike Hawthorn's Jaguar D-Type, which leads the race, as he overtakes the Austin-Healey driven by Lance Macklin.
Immediately after the maneuver, Hawthorn suddenly brakes to return to the pits, moving to the right. Macklin first tries to brake while staying on the right side, but in the attempt he ends up with the wheels on the dirt on the side of the track and loses control of his car, which begins to swerve to the left. Subsequently Macklin will be able to regain control of the vehicle, but by now he is on the trajectory of Levegh's Mercedes which arrives at full speed. Levegh's car collides with Macklin's Austin which acts as a ramp, is thrown up, and crashes into the barrier that divides the track from the grandstand, catching fire; some parts of the car, including the bonnet and the front axle of the wheels, fly over the grandstand, crashing violently on the spectators.
The accident caused the disappearance of the pilot and eighty-three spectators, in addition to the wounding of one hundred and twenty people. The race, despite the controversy and the withdrawal of the Mercedes after a few hours, continues. Trintignant, who has recently entered the top ten, will be forced to abandon his dreams of victory after a new breakdown, this time with the engine, ends his race. Maurice therefore focuses his efforts on the subsequent third round of the Formula 1 World Championship, in Holland, with the aim of surprising as he did in Monaco. But on the starting grid he is only tenth, and despite being the interpreter of another good recovery up to sixth position, the Frenchman does not score points, while his teammate completes the podium with Fangio and Moss.
Trintignant seems to be able to put an end to that negative moment by winning the 10 Hours of Messina, and instead at Silverstone the 625 is confirmed as inferior to the Mercedes, forcing the Frenchman to start from thirteenth position, and to retire during the race due to an overheating problem. Ferrari hopes to redeem itself at Monza, but undergoes another hard lesson from Mercedes that monopolizes the front row, while the Frenchman is the protagonist of one of the worst qualifying sessions since his arrival at Ferrari. In the race, the Ferrari driver reaches the finish line eighth, three laps behind Fangio and far even from his teammate.
Despite collecting fewer points from the previous year, only 11.33, Maurice is fourth in the drivers' standings, a result that is not enough for him to be reconfirmed by Ferrari, despite giving his team the only victory of the year, at Monte Carlo. However, Trintignant remains tied to Ferrari, given that he is involved in the endurance championship in 1956, but to continue his career in the premier class, the Frenchman will have to agree with Vanwall. The two experiences are completely different, given that with the British team he will never reach the finish line, except for the fourth place in qualifying in Monaco, while driving a Ferrari he will win the Agadir Grand Prix and the 2 Hours of Dakar, also climbing on the lowest step of the podium at the 1000 kilometers of Paris.
Confirmed by these results, Maurice participates in the 24 Hours of Le Mans together with Gendebien. Ferrari number 12, after a cautious start, taking advantage of the rain, moved into third position during the night, four laps behind Collins and Moss. But in the morning, with the track dry, Trintignant and Genedbien, aware that the gap from the top is too wide to fill, prefer to defend their third place and get on the podium. The good time with the team from Maranello also continued fifteen days later, when Maurice won the Swedish Grand Prix paired with Hill, convincing Ferrari to let him run a few races in Formula 1 again, in the 1957 season.
The first time he is given the 801 is in Monaco, where he won two years earlier. In qualifying, Trintignant immediately demonstrates that despite having little knowledge of the car, he feels at ease in the Principality, and is sixth four seconds behind Fangio, but in the race he is unable to reverse the situation as in 1955, reaching the finish line in fifth position. After his debut in the World Championship, Trintignant will compete in the 1000 kilometers of the Nurburgring, conquering the first podium of the year with Hawthorn, and will once again assault his second goal of the season, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Trintignant, always paired with Gendebien, remains in the fight for victory until midnight, when the two drivers are forced to abandon third place. Even in the French Grand Prix, fate does not smile on Maurice, as on lap eight he will be forced to park his 801 along the Rouen track.
For the umpteenth time in his career, the Frenchman shows his best quality, his character, and in Great Britain he gets the best result of the current season. Once again, after having only been able to contain the damage in qualifying, paired with Collins, the Frenchman recovered up to fourth place in the race, being preceded at the finish line by the two Ferraris of Hawthorn and Musso, and by the Vanwall of Moss-Brooks. Maurice will close the championship in thirteenth position, with five points.
At the same time, Trintignant returns to the Tour de France, and wins the second place with Picard, but the relationship with Ferrari is interrupted again. Maurice, eager to be at the start in almost all Formula 1 races, signs with Cooper, which had started the championship well by winning with Moss in Argentina. On the eve of the Monaco Grand Prix, Rob Walker, having to replace Moss, has no doubts about who to choose, and asks Maurice Trintignant to be allowed to participate in the race:
"Mine was the first private team to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix. People didn't stop talking about this, at home, and journalists didn't stop ringing my phone. But everyone said that the merit of the victory was by Stirling Moss. But at the next Grand Prix, in Monaco, Stirling had to go back to his Vanwall, and I took Maurice Trintignant to drive my Formula 1. Trintignant was a brilliant driver on circuits like Monaco: all the things the Brits hated, like walls or sidewalks that could kill you, Trintignant liked them; he was so precise in touching the walls, lap after lap, that it made an impression".
Already in the official tests, Maurice makes it clear that he quickly found the feeling with the Cooper, obtaining fifth place, and the next day he will give his rivals a driving lesson again, given that, like four years before, the Frenchman is good at exploiting the episodes in favor, and in the forty-seventh lap he finds himself in the lead. Just like in 1955, Trintignant rejects Musso's attempt to put pressure on him, keeping twenty seconds ahead of the Italian right under the checkered flag, thus giving the English private team the second consecutive success.
However, in the central part of the season Trintignant will struggle to repeat these performances: in the Netherlands and Belgium he will only be ninth and seventh, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, racing with Aston Martin, will also give him a disappointment. Along the lines of the previous year, at the first light of dawn on Sunday, while he is in the podium area, Mulsanne Maurice stops the car at the bend, as he is forced to retire due to a break in the gearbox. The redemption does not come immediately, in fact in France he does not finish the race again and in Great Britain he is eighth, but in Germany, after starting from the eighth position, Trintignant conquers the lowest step of the podium, behind the other Cooper of Salvatori, and at Brooks.
The last placement is obtained in Portugal by finishing eighth, while in Italy and Morocco he retires. Trintignant ends the 1958 Formula 1 World Championship in seventh place in the drivers' standings, with 12 points. Before going on vacation, le Petoulet says goodbye to Ferrari, with which he will not race in 1959, winning a second place in the Tourist Trophy, aboard a 250 GT, and in the Tour de France, paired with Picard. The 1959 championship starts very well for Maurice, given that in Monaco, in qualifying he is sixth about two seconds behind poleman and teammate Moss, while in the race he celebrates his sixtieth Grand Prix disputed by climbing on the lowest step of the podium.
Trintignant will not be able to repeat itself in the Netherlands, where he will finish ninth, but a few sevenths later he will cancel this misstep, since as in 1959 he will also race the 24 Hours of Le Mans, aboard the Aston Martin, which he chooses as his teammate, Brother. After a difficult start, thanks to the retirements of many of his opponents during the night, Trintignant finds himself in third position, but a few hours from the end the Ferrari driven by Gendebien is forced to retire, and leaves the leadership to Salvatori and Shelby. Warned of this, Maurice began to push to catch up on his team mates, but Aston Martin asked their drivers to freeze their positions and take home the one-two.
The season continues with an eleventh place collected in the French Grand Prix, while in Great Britain, Germany and Portugal, he achieves good placings: in Aintree, thanks to one of the best qualifications of his career, he is fifth, while on the Avus track and Monsanto gets two fourth places. After a small misstep in Monza, where he finishes the race in the ninth post, Maurice ends the season in a great way in the United States. The Frenchman, who started from fifth position, in the end of the race throws himself in pursuit of team mates Brabham and McLaren, even scoring the fastest lap and reducing the gap to just three seconds.
The pressing seems to be successful, as Brabham retires on the last lap a few meters from the last corner, forcing McLaren to slow down. But despite this, Bruce manages to find his calm and crosses the finish line first, while Trintignant is forced to settle for second place, reaching the finish line with a delay of only six tenths. Trintignant closed the 1959 season in a great way, setting his personal record of points in Formula 1, 19 points, obtaining the seventh position in the classification reserved for drivers. In 1960 Trintignant, while still racing with the Cooper, accepted the offer of the Central South Scuderia to compete in the 1960 World Championship. The pairing with the Italian team starts immediately well, given that he is third in Argentina.
However, from now on the French driver's performances start to drop, and during the season he does not go beyond an eleventh place in Great Britain. The situation will not change even when Maurice decides to race with a Ferrari of the Serenissima team in 1962, or with Rob Walker the following year. The last satisfaction, the French driver will arrive in the 1964 German Grand Prix, with the private team BRM. Coming back nine positions from qualifying, Maurice will finish fifth and return to the points after five years of abstinence. A few months later, in Monza, Trintignant will race the last race in Formula 1. At the end of his career, Maurice will decide to become an agricultural entrepreneur and, curiously, he will call his company by his nickname, le Petoulet, because this is how he will want to be remembered, like that pilot who hid one of the things he cared about most, during the war conflict: his racing car.