Birabongse Bhanudej

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Birabongse Bhanudej
Prince of Siam (later Thailand)
Spouse Ceril Heycock (1st) (1938–1949)
Chelita Hovard (1951–1956)
Salika Kalantananda (1957)
Arunee Chuladakoson (1959–1964)
Chuanchom Chaiyananda (1967–1980)
Ceril Heycock (2nd) (1983–1985)
Issue Biradej Bhanubandh
Rabibara Bhanubandh
Biranubongse Bhanubandh
Full name
 – His Serene Highness Prince (Mom Chao)
    Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh
    (15 July 1914 – 8 November 1927)
 – His Highness Prince Birabongse Bhanudej
    (8 November 1927 – 23 December 1985)
House House of Bhanubandh
Chakri Dynasty
Father Prince Bhanurangsi Savangwongse,
the Prince Bhanubandhubongse Voradej
Mother Mom Lek Bhanubandh na Ayudhya
(née Yongchaiyudh)
Born (1914-07-15)15 July 1914
Thailand Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
Died 23 December 1985(1985-12-23) (aged 71)
United Kingdom Barons Court Stn., London, UK
Formula One World Championship career
Nationality Thai
Active years 19501954
Teams Enrico Platé, Gordini, Connaught, Maserati, Scuderia Milano
Races 19
Championships 0
Wins 0
Podiums 0
Career points 8
Pole positions 0
Fastest laps 0
First race 1950 British Grand Prix
Last race 1954 Spanish Grand Prix
24 Hours of Le Mans career
Participating years 1939, 1954
Teams Raymond Sommer
Aston Martin
Best finish DNF (1939, 1954)
Class wins 0
Olympic medal record
Sailing
Competitor for  Thailand

12th, 1956 Melbourne, Star
19th, 1960 Rome, Star
22nd, 1964 Tokyo, Dragon
21st, 1972 Munich, Tempest

Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh (born 15 July 1914 in Bangkok, Thailand; died 23 December 1985 in Barons Court Station, London), better known as Prince Bira of Siam (now Thailand) or by his nom de course B. Bira, was the only Thai racecar driver to race in Formula One. He raced in Formula One and Grand Prix races for the Maserati, Gordini, and Connaught teams, among others. He also was an Olympic sailor in the Melbourne Olympics, 1956 in the Star, Rome Olympics, 1960 in the Star, Tokyo Olympics, 1964 in the Dragon and the Munich Olympics, 1972 in the Tempest.[1] In the 1960 Games he competed against another former Formula One driver, Roberto Mieres, who finished 17th and ahead of the prince in 19th. Birabongse was the only Southeast Asian driver in Formula One until Malaysia's Alex Yoong joined Minardi in 2001. Prince Bira was not only a racing driver, he was also an excellent pilot of gliders and powered aircraft. In 1952 he flew the remarkable distance from London to Bangkok with his own twin engine Miles Gemini aircraft.

Early life[edit]

Prince Birabongse's parents were Prince Bhanurangsi Savangwongse and his second wife. Birabongse's paternal grandfather was King Mongkut, loosely portrayed in the Hollywood movies The King and I and Anna and the King. His mother died when Prince Birabongse was only four years old.[2] Birabongse was sent to Europe in 1927 to complete his education in England at Eton College, where he joined one of his own nephews, a grandchild of his father through his first marriage.[2] While he was at Eton Bira's father died, leaving him an orphan. He was placed under the care of his cousin, Prince Chula Chakrabongse, who ultimately became Prince Bira's legal guardian. On leaving Eton at age 18, in early 1933, Prince Bira moved in with Prince Chula in London, while he decided on his future.

Prince Birabongse had been registered to attend Trinity College, Cambridge, but on leaving school had not yet passed the Cambridge University entrance examination.[2] Initially, Prince Chula hired a tutor for Prince Bira, to better prepare him for the exam, but Prince Bira changed his mind and expressed a desire to learn sculpture rather than attend university.[2] Prince Chula approached leading sculptor Charles Wheeler, and Wheeler took Prince Bira on as a pupil within his studio. Although Prince Bira showed some talent as a sculptor, in Wheeler's opinion he needed to learn to draw, and so in the autumn of 1934 Prince Bira enrolled at the Byam Shaw School of Art. Prince Birabongse did not attend the Byam Shaw school for very long, but while there he became friendly with a fellow student, Ceril Heycock, and he began courting her in earnest only a few weeks later. However, both Prince Chula and her parents placed severe limitations on their relationship, and it was not until 1938 that they were able to marry.[2]

Racing career pre-World War II[edit]

Bira first raced with his cousin Prince Chula's team, White Mouse Racing, driving a Riley Imp at Brooklands in 1935. In this car Bira established the national motor racing colours of Siam: pale blue with yellow. He later lived near Geneva, Switzerland, and in the south of France.

Later in 1935 Prince Chula gave him one of the new ERA voiturette racing cars – R2B, which was nicknamed Romulus. Bira finished second in his first ever race in Romulus, despite needing to stop for repairs. The remaining races of the season saw Bira consistently placing amongst the more powerful Grands Prix vehicles, with another second place, and fifth at the Donington Grand Prix.

For 1936 the princes decided that the previous season's results merited a second ERA. They purchased chassis R5B (which Bira named Remus) to use in British events and retained Romulus for international races. Chula also purchased a Maserati 8CM to complete the White Mouse roster. Bira's expertise behind the wheel earned him the Coupe de Prince Rainier at Monte Carlo. Bira won a further four races in the ERAs that season, and took the Grand Prix Maserati to 5th at Donington and 3rd at Brooklands. This was the high point for Bira and the White Mouse team.

Following Dick Seaman's move to Mercedes for 1937, the Thais purchased his Grand Prix Delage and all of its spare parts, along with a second Delage. Despite several upgrades, and hiring experienced race engineer and future Jaguar team manager Lofty England, the cars underperformed, and on many occasions Bira raced in the older and by now substantially inferior ERAs. In addition, the money spent on the Delage upgrades had sapped the resources of the team and corners were being cut in the ERA's race preparations. Later in the year White Mouse did invest in a newer C-Type ERA, chassis R12C. R12C came to be known as Hanuman, and Bira attached a large, embossed, silver badge depicting the Hindu deity after whom he had named the car. Following a major accident in 1939 Hanuman was rebuilt back to B-Type specifications, and in light of this major overhaul Bira renamed the car Hanuman II.

While Bira maintained a respectable results tally in British events, the more costly international races were largely a disaster.

Post war[edit]

After the war, Bira returned to racing with several teams. In 1951 he raced in an old 4CLT fitted with a newer V12 Osca engine. No results were obtained this year as a result of the poor performance of the car combined with a severe accident. By 1954, with some newer gear, a Maserati 250F, he won the Grand Prix des Frontières on the Chimay road circuit and then finished fourth in the 1954 French Grand Prix with his own Maserati. In January 1955, he won the New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore; he retired at the end of that season.

Prince Bira died of heart failure at Barons Court tube station, London, in 1985 at the age of 71. Bira Circuit, based just outside Pattaya, Thailand, is named after Prince Bira.

Development of the Thai racing colours[edit]

Prince Bira was instrumental in developing and setting the national racing colours of Thailand.

Bira's 1936 Maserati 8CM, seen in his original all blue livery with Siamese flags on the tail and the Whitemouse emblem just ahead of the cockpit opening 
Bira's second ERA racing car, R5B Remus, in an intermediate livery of blue with yellow wheels only. The United Kingdom's flag is placed in the position of honour, at the right leading edge of the car's bonnet, to represent its manufacturer 
Bira's third ERA, chassis R12B Hanuman II, in the final Thai racing scheme of pale blue with yellow chassis rails and wheels. The Thai flag is placed in the subsidiary position, at the left leading edge of the car's bonnet, to represent the driver 
B. Bira's 1954 Maserati A6GCM Inter in a looser interpretation of his racing colours. Post-WWII, and particularly outside Grand Épreuve events, national racing colour schemes were not strictly enforced 
Bira driving his 1954 Maserati 250F in the 1954 French Grand Prix. The adaptations to the official racing scheme needed for post-WWII cars that lacked visible chassis rails are clearly seen: the yellow now forms a broad band around the lower part of the car's bodywork 

Racing record[edit]

Complete World Championship Formula One results[edit]

(key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 WDC Points
1950 Enrico Platé Maserati 4CLT/48 Maserati Straight-4 s GBR
Ret
MON
5
500
SUI
4
BEL
FRA
ITA
Ret
8th 5
1951 Ecurie Siam Maserati 4CLT/48 Maserati Straight-4 SUI
500
BEL
FRA
DNA
GBR
GER
DNA
ITA
NC 0
OSCA V12 ESP
Ret
1952 Equipe Gordini Gordini Type 15 Gordini Straight-4 s SUI
Ret
500
BEL
10
NC 0
Gordini Type 16 Gordini Straight-6 FRA
Ret
GBR
11
GER
NED
ITA
1953 Connaught Engineering Connaught Type A Lea-Francis Straight-4 ARG
500
NED
BEL
FRA
Ret
GBR
7
GER
Ret
SUI
NC 0
Scuderia Milano Maserati A6GCM Maserati Straight-6 ITA
11
1954 Officine Alfieri Maserati Maserati A6GCM Maserati Straight-6 ARG
7
500
17th 3
"B. Bira" Maserati 250F Maserati Straight-6 BEL
6
FRA
4
GBR
Ret
GER
Ret
SUI
ITA
ESP
9
1955 "B. Bira" Maserati 250F Maserati Straight-6 ARG
MON
500
BEL
DNA
NED
GBR
ITA
NC 0

Non-Championship Formula One results[edit]

(key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40
1950 Enrico Platé Maserati 4CLT/48 Maserati Straight-4 s PAU RIC
Ret
SRM
Ret
PAR
EMP
Ret
BAR
Ret
JER
Ret
ALB
Ret
NED
5
NAT
Ret
NOT
ULS
PES
Ret
STT INT GOO
2
PEN
Ret
1951 "B. Bira" Maserati 4CLT/48 OSCA V12 SYR
Ret
PAU RIC
1
SRM
Ret
BOR
4
INT
17
PAR
ULS
DNA
SCO
NED
ALB
PES
BAR
GOO
1952 Equipe Gordini Gordini Type 15 Gordini Straight-4 s RIO
SYR VAL AUS RIC LAV PAU
WD
IBS MAR
2
AST INT
6
ELA NAP EIF PAR
Ret
AGP
NC
FRO ULS
Ret
MOZ LAC
5
WEC MAR
4
SAB
4
CEA DMT COM NAT BAU MOD CAD SKA MAD AVU JOE NEW RIO
1953 Scuderia Milano Maserati A6GCM Maserati Straight-6 SYR PAU
LAV AST KMS INT
4
ELA NAP ULS WIN COR FRO
Ret
SNE EIF
11
AGP
COU PGG WEC MID ROU
DNA
HAL CRY AVU
Ret
USA LAC DRE BRI MCM SAB NEW CAD SAC RED SKA LON MOD MAD BER JOE CUR
1954 Officine Alfieri Maserati Maserati A6GCM Maserati Straight-6 RIO NZM BUE SYR
DNS
PAU
LAV BOR
Ret
INT
Ret
BAR
6
CUR ROM FRO
1
COM BAF CRY ROU
2
CEA
4
AUG COM OUL RED PES
2
SAC JOE CAD GBE GOO
DAI

References[edit]

  1. ^ Viva F1. "Formula One at the Olympics". Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Birabongse, Princess Ceril (1998). The Prince and I: My life with Prince Bira of Siam. Veloce Publishing. p. 224. ISBN 978-1-845845-69-8. 

External links[edit]