Had he lived, Ferenc Szisz would have turned 141 today.
Good ol’ Ferenc was not, of course, a McLaren driver, since in fact he died in February 1944, at the age of 70, fully 19 years before Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd had been incorporated. Good ol’ Ferenc was and is, however, a veritable motor racing legend, and always will be, his insuperable claim to fame being that he won the first Grand Prix ever to be held, namely the 1906 French Grand Prix, run over a 64-mile (103km) circuit made up of unmade public roads in and around Le Mans.
It was a 12-lap race, staged over two days, totalling 769 miles (1238km) in all, and good ol’ Ferenc won in a time of 12 hours 14 minutes and 7 seconds; half an hour behind, in second place, was Felice Nazzaro’s FIAT; three minutes behind Nazzaro was Albert Clément’s Clément-Bayard.
You will notice that I wrote ‘FIAT’ rather than ‘Fiat’. Founded in Turin in 1899, that noble brand was always written out in proud capitals in those days in conspicuous homage to the company’s original moniker, Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino. Fiat is still going strong today, of course, its most recent (end of 2012) financial results recording its total assets as €82.119 billion (£64.31 billion); in Formula 1 terms, of course, it is worth remembering that one of Fiat’s principal subsidiaries is Ferrari.
Less is known – or remembered – about Clément-Bayard, the company that made the car that crossed the line in third place.
Founded in 1903 by one Adolphe Clément, Clément-Bayard was a manufacturer of rudimentary aeroplanes, ships and cars, headquartered at Levallois-Perret, a north-western suburb of Paris.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, the Clément-Bayard factory was seized by the German army, marching through France as it then was, and the Clément-Bayard workers were immediately instructed to abandon what they had been doing hitherto, and turn their hands and adapt their tools to the production of German weaponry instead.
After WW1 had ended in 1918, Citroen took over ownership and control of now-moribund Clément-Bayard. Like Fiat, of course, Citroen is also going strong today, quoting total assets of €59.912 billion (£46.980 billion) in its end-of-2013 financial results.
So much for the second- and third-placed cars, but what was Ferenc driving, perhaps you are anxious to know? The answer is an automotive behemoth built by Renault, whose four-cylinder engine measured a mighty 13.0 litres in swept cylinder volume, and grunted out a then-dizzy 90bhp. I would not wish to be hit over the head with one of those pistons on a Saturday night in Romford, Essex.
Like Fiat and Citroen, Renault is of course also going strong today – and indeed, to McLarenites’ chagrin, its engines have won Formula 1 world championships (with Red Bull) in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Renault’s total assets were recorded at the end of 2013 as €74.990 billion (£58.810 billion)… all of which means that, extrapolated to their modern-day equivalents, the cars driven by the first three drivers home in the world’s first ever Grand Prix have spawned success in spades (although I would hesitate to attribute that success entirely to the early efforts of Messrs Szisz, Nazzaro and Clément).
Nazzaro was from Italy, Clément from France. Drivers from those countries have gone on to great and glorious success in Grand Prix racing these past 108 years – and, in terms of Formula 1 (ie, Grand Prix racing from 1950 onwards), the two nations lie in fourth place (France, with 79 Grand Prix wins) and sixth place (Italy, with 43 Grand Prix wins) in the all-time table of Formula 1 Grand Prix winners as classified by nationality.
As a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I am delighted to be able to inform you that we top the list, with a hefty total of 233 British grand prix wins; having said that, had the Scots voted differently earlier this week, that magnum opus would have been dealt a hefty blow, bearing in mind that between them Dumbartonshire’s Jackie Stewart and Fife’s Jim Clark account for 52 brilliantly wrought Grand Prix victories between them.
And Ferenc? Ferenc was from Hungary – and to date he remains that country’s first and only Grand Prix winner. Indeed, only one other Hungarian has ever started a Grand Prix, namely the haplessly named Zsolt Baumgartner, who started 20 Grands Prix for Jordan and Minardi in 2003 and 2004, achieving a best finish of eighth place at Indianapolis in the second of those years, albeit three laps behind Michael Schumacher’s winning Fiat (okay, Ferrari, if you insist).
In 2008 Zsolt became the test driver for something called Team Tottenham Hotspur FC in something called Superleague Formula, I was told by a friend who happened to telephone me while I was writing this more-whimsical-than-usual blog, but in truth I do not know what that means. Do you (be honest; no Googling)?
What has all this got to do with McLaren? As the Yorkshire-born magician Paul Daniels was fond of saying, no’ a lo’ (not a lot). So I will add this, to keep you lot happy. Clearly, Hungarian racing drivers are not writ large in the story of Grand Prix racing, but Hungary itself is. The Hungarian Grand Prix has been held annually since 1986, in other words 29 times in all, and of those 29 Hungarian Grands Prix no team has won more than McLaren, with 11 victories (well ahead of Williams , Fiat [sorry, Ferrari]  and Red Bull ).
Anyway, if you are anything like me (unlikely), you will now be focusing your Formula 1 consciousness on the 2014 Singapore Grand Prix, which McLaren has won only once, in 2009, its second victory in a season that had started very poorly indeed.
Will Jenson Button or Kevin Magnussen be able to achieve a renaissance as glorious as did Lewis Hamilton for McLaren on September 27th 2009? In truth, I doubt it, and so do you. But it will not be for want of trying. And Lewis? He may well win the 2014 Singapore Grand Prix and, if Jenson or Kevin cannot, then I for one damn’ well hope he does.