Paul Frère, the journalist who kept his promise to Enzo Ferrari



Paul Frère, although born in Le Havre on January 30, 1917, is remembered as a pilot of Belgian nationality, having obtained this in the course of his experience. Although he failed to achieve exciting results in Formula 1, Frère nevertheless managed to take victory in the coveted 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1960.


In the early years of his career, Frère alternated his passion for engines with that for journalism until 1952, the year in which, after winning the Formula 2 Frontieres Grand Prix, he decided to devote himself full time to racing.


During the same season, Paul made his Formula 1 debut with HWM Ecurie Belge. On his home track, the French driver, a naturalized Belgian, proves to have great talent, scoring the eighth time in qualifying and recovering three positions in the race, winning the first world championship points from the first Grand Prix of his career.


Having skipped the races in France and Great Britain, Frère returns to the track at the Nurburgring. Paul immediately understands that it will be difficult to repeat Spa's performances, in fact he is thirteenth in the official tests. In the race, things will not go any better, as he will retire on lap 13 due to a gearbox problem.


The same scenario takes place in Zandvoort, where at the end of training he gets the eleventh spot, and the next day he is forced to park his T15 again along the track, this time on the eleventh lap, due to a clutch failure.


Thus ends his first season in Formula 1; with the sixteenth place in the drivers' standings, obtained thanks to the two points awarded at the debut. In 1953 Frère also made his debut in the tourism category. If in the Mille Miglia he does not go beyond the 58th position, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans he is fifteenth, paired with Van Frankenberg driving a Porsche.


At the end of June, in Belgium, the second Formula 1 World Championship begins for Paul, which aims to improve the results obtained the previous year. However, at Spa he does not repeat last season's performance.


After the eleventh time obtained in qualifying, in the race the Belgian was unable to recover sufficient positions to reach the points, and had to be content with finishing in tenth place. Paul is not able to redeem himself even in Switzerland, since in the race he is forced to retire on the sixteenth lap.


Frère, disappointed for that season which was supposed to be the one of consecration, in 1954 decided to race with the Gordini in Formula 1, while to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans he left Porsche, and accepted the Aston Martin offer.


On the Le Sarthe circuit, the Belgian driver makes his seasonal debut paired with Shelby, but on lap 74 the two see their hopes of being protagonists at Le Mans vanish, as they are forced to retire during the eleventh hour.


The negative moment also continues in the moment of the debut with Gordini in Formula 1, in Belgium. In qualifying, Frère is in the fourth row, tenth, behind the new teammates Pilette and Behra.


But as in Bregmarten a few months before, the Belgian's race lasts only ten laps, because due to an engine problem he is forced to get off his Gordini 16. The same situation recurs in France, where in qualifying he cannot even make a timed time, and the day after he was forced to retire for the second consecutive race, due to a transmission failure.


The Belgian, as soon as he gets the chance, shows everyone that he has the talent to stay in Formula 1, and in Germany he marks the sixth time in qualifying, although with his Gordini he is 15.8 seconds behind poleman Fangio.


In the race, however, once again a technical problem prevents him from completing the laps necessary to see the checkered flag. This time Paul is betrayed by a wheel, and for the second consecutive year he finishes the world championship with zero points.

1955 will be the year of Frère's redemption. The Nurburgring incident will give Paul the opportunity to decide to say goodbye to Gordini, later offering himself to Ferrari:


I went to Ugolini to ask him for a seat on the Ferrari for the Mille Kilometer of the Nürburgring. He replied: It's a possibility. At the beginning of '55 they asked me to try the car. There were Trintignant, Schell and Nino Farina to make the reference time. After the tests, back in Maranello, Ferrari called me into his office and told me that there was a car for me. I pointed out that I didn't want to do the full season, because it would interfere with my profession as a journalist. And I asked him not to debut in Moaco, because Monte Carlo in a Ferrari was a big responsibility for a rookie. A week later the call for Monte Carlo arrived from Ferrari".


The debut in the 555 F1 therefore takes place in the Monaco Grand Prix, paired with Taruffi. The Italian-Belgian duo, fifteenth at the start, recovered up to eighth place, reaching fourteen laps behind the winner and teammate Maurice Trintignant. This result gives Paul back his confidence in view of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which he will compete again at the wheel of Aston Martin.


Frère leaves for France with good feelings, as he had won the Spa Grand Prix twenty days earlier. On a tragic day, due to a bad accident in the first part of the race in which many people, along with Collins, will lose their lives. the Belgian is fighting for the podium.


The long duel for second place with Valenzano and Musso ends in the morning, when the Maserati number 16 is forced to retire, and Frere / Collins defend their position, inserting themselves between the Jaguars of Hawthorn/Bueb and that of Swaters/Claes, respectively first and third at the finish.


Despite the Le Mans podium, Paul is still not satisfied with good results, and in the home race in Belgium he repays the confidence of Enzo Ferrari. In qualifying he is eighth, ahead of Trintignant who is only tenth, while in the race he climbs up to fourth position, behind Farina, Fangio and Moss, who conquer a double for Mercedes.


With this placement, Frère returns to conquer points three years after those obtained in Spa, and at the end of the season he will occupy the fifteenth position in the drivers' standings, thanks to this result.


During the winter, the Belgian decides to concentrate only on the 24 Hours of Le Mans: in his programs there is no space for Formula 1, but during the course of the Mille Kilometer of the Nurburgring Musso breaks his wrist, and Ferrari, who had already sent the car to Spa, asks Frère to replace him.


"On the Thursday before the race, the sporting director Sculati phoned me and called me for the Grand Prix. The first reaction was denial, so as not to make a bad impression. I went to Spa as a journalist, and there they asked me to drive again. two test laps to decide".


When he gets back behind the wheel of Ferrari, Frère will not be able to resist, and will compete for the entire race weekend. If he has to settle for eighth time with the D50 in qualifying, he will be unleashed in the race, recovering six positions from the start, and conquering the first podium in Formula 1, finishing second behind winner Collins, completing the double for the Scuderia. of Maranello.


Spa's performance, however, will not change his mind, so in subsequent seasons he will devote himself full time to his dream: to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After two consecutive fourth places obtained with Jaguar and Porsche in 1957-1958, Frère returns to the podium the following year, together with former teammate Trintignant. But to try to reach his goal, in 1960 Frère returned to Le Mans with Ferrari, accepting a bet with Enzo, an anecdote that Drake tells in the book Piloti che gente:


"I also met a journalist-pilot, the Belgian Paul Frère, who alternated between racing and articles, and I don't know where he was better. He also wrote a book about his experiences, quite nice. I have a similar memory of him to that of Taruffi. That is, I counted for something at a decisive moment in his life. I knew that he was so keen to compete, and possibly win, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I invited him, then, to team up with Gendebien in one of my cars , with the pact that if he had won he would have stopped running, thus fulfilling the prayers of his wife and his three daughters".


So it will be. When the eighth hour of the race strikes, Frère and Gendebien resume leadership, overtaking Clark and Savadori. Then, during the night, a technical problem of the Maserati couple allows the two Ferrari drivers to go on the run.


At the crack of dawn, Frère and Gendebien have five laps ahead of their rivals. The two Belgians manage the mechanical vehicle in the final, avoiding taking any kind of risk. Paul thus fulfills his dream, and keeps the word given to the Drake. He withdraws. However, almost as if to cement an extraordinary memory of such an important event, Ferrari asks Frère for one last gift:


"After Le Mans 1960 I wrote to him asking him as a gift for the steering wheel of the car in which I had won. He sent it to me: he had also had his signature engraved on it. He was a man who knew how to surprise".


Frère hangs up his helmet after having obtained six wins and twelve podiums. The Belgian will return to the track briefly in 1963, participating in the Targa Florio, and in 1966 at the 1000 kilometers of the Nurburgring, without obtaining great results, taking a break from his work as a journalist, which he had resumed from the day of the retirement.


In fact, Paul never wanted to give up his two passions, and even when he was a pilot he continued to write. Precisely for this reason, he has always defined himself as a journalist who has raced, and will be remembered for the promise made and kept to Enzo Ferrari, after winning the most important race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the most important car in history. of motoring, Ferrari.


Massimiliano Amato

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