Teams Jean Lucienbonnet
Jean Lucienbonnet: 1959 Formula One SeasonBy Jeremy McMullen
|1959|| Jean Lucienbonnet ||Cooper || || ||Climax FPF 1.5 L4 ||T45 |
Quite often, throughout the early history of grand prix and Formula One racing, would-be drivers would have to take on a pseudonym to fool unsupportive parents or family members. There would be many other names that would come and go that appear for but a brief moment, almost an apparition that would be surrounded more in mystery than any concrete evidence. However, in 1959, one man would embody both the mystery and the misdirection.
In January of 1923, Jean Bonnet would be born in Nice, France. It is believed that Jean would come to find work as a car mechanic throughout the 1940s. Though this much is known about the man, very little else can be found, and even where he had been born is a matter of much investigative work.
The lack of clear information can be partly put down to the fact that his name is Jean Bonnet. However, when he decided to take a crack at motor racing in the 1950s and early 1960s he would enter under the name of Jean Lucienbonnet.
There is nothing but speculation as to why this is. There are suggestions of possible family interference and the combining of 'Lucien' with the 'Bonnet' name would be enough to throw off would-be suspicious parents and family. However, there would be another speculative suggestion that this nickname of sorts would be merely a combination of Jean's two names, Lucien and Bonnet. Whatever the motivation and the reasoning behind Bonnet becoming Lucienbonnet, the simple fact of the matter is that this man from Nice would be yet another that would attempt to make a splash on the grand prix scene, but would end up another enigmatic name to briefly appear in Formula One history.
What can be concretely deduced is that Lucienbonnet would make a couple of appearances in single-seater races throughout the 1959 season. He was, at that point in time, already 36 years of age, and therefore, nothing more than a gentleman racer looking to experience the thrills of a World Championship race, competing against the best drivers in the world.
Jean Bonnet would not be an entirely unknown name within the racing world of the 1950s. Although, obviously, not one of the greatest drivers of the decade, he would ritually take part in the Mille Miglia, starting in 1951. Records would indicate he would also take part in the Hyeres 12 Hours in 1952 in which he and Francois Picard would combine to finish 5th overall.
Though unknown to most, Bonnet was not to be considered incapable. In 1955 he would earn a class victory in the Bol d'Or driving a Panhard Dyna. He would then finish 18th overall in the 1958 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a D.B. Coupe. Therefore, Bonnet was certainly a capable driver, but was he good enough to compete in Formula One where it would be just him against some of the best drivers in the world? This was truly the question, and he would attempt to find out the answer to the question the following year.
Though pushing 40 heading into the 1959 season, Lucienbonnet would have his best opportunity to try his hand at Formula One. Throughout the '58 season the mid-engined Cooper would come on strong earning a couple of victories within the World Championship and contesting many others. The Coopers were customer cars enabling customers to buy a competitive car without having to have an extensive factory effort behind them. This was ideal for Bonnet who was the epitome of the gentleman racer.
Besides Cooper itself, there would be a number of other racers that would be either upgrading to a new Cooper chassis, or, were stepping out of Formula One altogether. This meant there were a number of used Cooper chassis that a racer could get for even less money.
Andre Guelfi had been born in Mazagan, Morocco, but had moved back to France in the early part of his life. However, while still a young boy, his family would move back to Morocco and Guelfi would become a regular in the racing scene around Morocco in the post-war years. In 1958, Guelfi would take part in the only edition of the Moroccan Grand Prix. Since it would be the one and only time the Moroccan Grand Prix would be conducted as part of the Formula One World Championship he would have a Cooper T45 that he would have very little use for anymore. This was ideal for Bonnet.
A deal would be struck and Bonnet would purchase Guelfi's Cooper T45, chassis F2-18-58, from him. Bonnet now had his car. He was ready to test his hand in single-seater grand prix racing.
Actually, Guelfi would enter the 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix under the Cooper Car Company banner. The factory, therefore, gave Andre the car to use for the race and then it was taken back to England following the end of the race. Bonnet would travel to England to work out the deal for the chassis. Upon striking a deal for the car, Bonnet would look to take the car to a circuit and give it a try.
At the time Lucienbonnet would travel to England to make the deal with Cooper to gain use of the T45, the grand prix season would be kicking-off in Europe. In England, it would be the end of March, and that meant it was time for the Easter Monday Races held annually at Goodwood near Chichester.
RAF Westhampnett had been ushered into service with the Royal Air Force in 1938 and served right up through 1946. At the conclusion of the Second World War there would be a number of air force station that were decommissioned and disused. The satellite station attached to RAF Tangmere had been built on the lands of the Goodwood Estate. Following its being decommissioned the Duke of Richmond would be in search of a use for the turf airfield. Being a keen racing enthusiast himself, he would jump at the notion of turning the perimeter taxiway into a 2.38 mile road course. Naming it after the estate, the Goodwood Circuit would be born.
Besides the short-lived nine hour race, Goodwood would become famous for its Easter Monday Races which would feature a number of categories of cars racing in short events providing spectators a look at just about every kind of racing category in one big event.
One of the events held over the course of the day would be the Formula 2 event called the Lavant Cup race. The race, in 1959, would be held on the 30th of March and would cover just 15 laps, or, 36 miles. Still, with drivers like Jack Brabham, Roy Salvadori, Graham Hill and Bruce McLaren in the mix, Jean would get an idea, real quick, of where he stood.
He would find out real quick as Brabham would take the pole for the race setting a lap time of 1:32.4. Lucienbonnet would be more than twenty seconds slower posting a personal best of 1:54.6 during practice. Therefore, Brabham would start from the pole and Jean would start from the back.
More evidence would come during the race. Though only 15 laps in length, Lucienbonnet would be visited more than once by Brabham and Salvadori over the course of the race. It would all start when Brabham would get away from the grid fine but Salvadori would struggle. Brabham would be in the clear air while Salvadori would be pushing hard to regain what he had lost. In short order Salvadori would close the gap to Brabham. It would help that Salvadori would set a fastest lap time more than two seconds quicker than Brabham's best in practice. This meant Salvadori not only caught up to, but was pestering the Australian for the lead.
This would be about the first time Lucienbonnet would be visited by the leaders. About the time Jean would have gone a lap down for the first time, Salvadori would make his way by Brabham for the lead of the race. Unfortunately for Roy, the lead would be short-lived as Brabham would sweep back by into the lead.
Salvadori would pressure Black Jack throughout and this pressure would increase the pace to the point that Jean would be passed for a second time. A number of others would find the pace too much for their cars. More than a half a dozen drivers would find their races come to an early end despite the race being just 15 laps long. Lucienbonnet would be still in the race at the time, but he would certainly not be on the pace.
Though driving for the Cooper factory team at the time, Lucienbonnet would not be competing in the same category with Brabham. In fact, Jean would be another that would retire before the end of the race. This would leave Brabham on his own to face the challenge from Salvadori.
Jack would need no help. Despite being pressured at every moment, Brabham would hold on to win the race defeating Salvadori by just four-tenths of a second in a truly exciting race. Jim Russell would complete the top three finishing a little more than ten seconds behind the first two.
Lucienbonnet's first foray into single-seaters would not be something to be all that excited about. Yes, it was his first time driving the car, but to be more than twenty seconds off the pace did not bode well for the Frenchman who looked to entering at least one round of the Formula One World Championship in 1959. He would need to be careful in the race he chose to enter. He needed to give himself the best opportunity possible of not only making it into the race, but also, coming away with a result worth the time and effort.
Lucienbonnet would find himself in a real difficult situation following the Lavant Cup race at Goodwood. Though he had not driving the car before, he had come away from practice more than twenty seconds off the pace to that of the front-runners. This was not a good situation given the races that were part of the '59 Formula One World Championship. There was really just one round of the championship that would not take place around an ultra-fast circuit. That one round would be the first one, but it came with a huge pitfall.
The Argentine Grand Prix would not be on the calendar in 1959. The loss of the race from the calendar meant there was one fewer race that didn't place such an emphasis on horsepower. The only other race on the calendar for that year that featured an average speed below 100mph would be the Monaco Grand Prix, which was the first round of the World Championship.
The Monaco Grand Prix ideally suited the Cooper. The year before, Maurice Trintignant had come through to give Cooper its second-straight victory in Formula One. The mid-engined cars occupied a number of places throughout the first couple of rows and looked very competitive all throughout the weekend. And, given the fact the circuit was just 1.95 miles and relatively slow, Lucienbonnet would find the difference in lap times to be less. But it came with a huge potential for trouble.
The starting field for the Monaco Grand Prix had been limited to sixteen cars for years. And, with all of the factory efforts and top drivers, it left many would-be starters scrapping for very few leftovers. Jean would have a real problem. He had been more than twenty seconds slower than Brabham around Goodwood. It was highly unlikely the slowest qualifier for the Monaco Grand Prix, the jewel in Formula One's crown, would be more than twenty seconds off the pace. Jean would be taking a huge risk by entering the race, but at any other circuit, the twenty second difference meant a long and unfruitful afternoon.
Lucienbonnet would take his chances around the streets of Monte Carlo. And around Monte Carlo, Jean wouldn't just be competing against the many other drivers vying for a spot on the sixteen-car grid. He would be competing against the circuit as well. Tight, twisty and technically-difficult, the Monaco Circuit penalized any lapse in concentration. The walls, the guardrails, were all too close. One error under braking and the whole weekend could be written-off, just like that. It was a slower circuit, but it still took as much, or more, concentration to get right than some of the other circuits that placed an emphasis on horsepower and speed.
The quickest around the circuit in all of the practice sessions would be Stirling Moss in a Cooper T51. He would set the bar at 1:39.8. The entire front row would be tight, with just three-tenths of a second being the difference. Moss would take the pole. Jean Behra would end up 2nd in a Ferrari being just two-tenths slower. Then there would be Jack Brabham in 3rd. He would end up just one-tenth slower than Behra. Brabham's time was 1:40.1. Heading into the final moments of practice, Bruce Halford would be the slowest qualifier. His best effort would be exactly five seconds slower than Moss. Therefore, if Jean desired to qualify for his first World Championship race he would have to lap the circuit in under 1:44.8.
If being under twenty seconds being was a reasonable goal, then being less than five seconds slower would be virtually impossible. And it would be. Lucienbonnet would try his hardest in the Cooper. He would certainly improve his time. However, his best, which would be a 1:50.9, would be more than 11 seconds off the pole and six seconds beyond the final spot on the grid. Jean would miss out on his opportunity to take part in the Monaco Grand Prix and a round of the Formula One World Championship.
Following the failure to make it onto the grid for the Monaco Grand Prix, Lucienbonnet would suffer no false illusions about himself and his prospects within Formula One. He would not take part in another non-championship Formula One, or, a Formula 2 event for the rest of the season. In fact, following the unfortunate showing, Jean would return to hillclimbs and sportscar events, racing in the Cuban Grand Prix in 1960 finishing in 13th place overall at the wheel of a Porsche 550.
Attempts at Formula One would come to an end. However, Lucienbonnet would not turn away from all forms of open-wheel racing. By the early 1960s, Jean would be taking part in Formula Junior races and would actually earn a victory or two and some other top results.
A couple of top results in a row would be followed by a race in Pergusa. During that race, Lucienbonnet would be following another car when a wheel would come loose. Jean would swerve to try and avoid hitting the tire, but, in the process, would crash his Lotus 22 so heavily that he would die in the wreckage. He was 39 years of age.
As a result of his death in 1962, the mystery and the lack of understanding remain. Instead, all that is left is another name, another individual, that appeared for a brief moment. Who tried to measure himself against the best in the world and came to realize just how wide the chasm really was. He had come. He had seen. He departed.Sources:
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'Complete Archive of Lucien Bonnet', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Lucien-Bonnet-F.html). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Lucien-Bonnet-F.html. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
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Wikipedia contributors, 'RAF Westhampnett', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 31 January 2014, 20:36 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=RAF_Westhampnett&oldid=593332010 accessed 12 June 2014