22 December 1905|
|Died||11 June 1955
Le Mans, France
|Formula One World Championship career|
|Active years||1950 – 1951|
|First entry||1950 Belgian Grand Prix|
|Last entry||1951 Italian Grand Prix|
Pierre Eugène Alfred Bouillin (22 December 1905 – 11 June 1955) was a French sportsman and racing driver. He took the racing name Pierre Levegh (pronounced le-VECK) in memory of his uncle, a pioneering driver who died in 1904. Levegh is mainly remembered for a disaster that killed him and 83 spectators during the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans automobile race.
Levegh, who was born in Paris, France, was also a world-class ice hockey and tennis player. In motorsport he competed in Formula One for the Talbot-Lago team in 1950 and 1951, starting six races, retiring in three, and scoring no points.
At Le Mans he raced for Talbot in four races, finishing fourth in 1951. In 1952, driving single-handedly, his car suffered an engine failure in the last hour of the race with a four lap lead. The failure was due to a bolt in the central crankshaft bearing having come loose many hours earlier in the race, although many fans placed the blame on driver fatigue. Levegh had refused to let his co-driver take over because he felt only he could nurse the car home. In 1953 he came in eighth, and in 1954 he was involved in an accident in the seventh hour of racing.
In 1955 he was tempted away from Talbot and joined the American John Fitch in racing a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. During the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in the third hour of racing, while on the Tribunes Straight, the car of Mike Hawthorn cut into the pits, slowing in front of the Austin-Healey of Lance Macklin. Macklin was forced to make an evasive move away from Hawthorn, pulling across the track into the path of Levegh's faster Mercedes, which was driving just in front of Mercedes teammate Juan Manuel Fangio. Running up the side of Macklin's car, Levegh's car launched into the air, striking high on a retaining wall, disintegrating and scattering components into the crowd. Levegh was killed when he was thrown from the car and his skull crushed by the impact. The flammable magnesium body of the Mercedes quickly ignited in the accident; the combination of the fire and flying car parts killed 83 spectators with over 100 injured. The race was continued in order to prevent the spectators from leaving, which would have blocked all access roads and the ambulances.
Though Levegh was unable to save himself, he may have saved the life of five-time Formula One world champion Fangio, who maintained that a hand-signal from Levegh to slow down, a moment before he struck Macklin's car, was the deliberate warning that had saved Fangio's life.
While Mercedes withdrew from the race as a sign of respect to the victims (and later from motor racing in general for the next 30 years), Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb continued in their Jaguar to win the race. The accident was a major contributor to changing attitudes about the acceptance of danger in motor racing and an increase in the desire to make courses safer for spectators and drivers alike. The small British firm of Bristol Cars, whose entrants achieved a 1–2–3 finish in the 2-litre class at Le Mans that year, decided to abandon racing altogether as a result of the tragedy, scrapping all but one of their racing cars. Fitch became a safety advocate and began research into automotive safety, some of which have advanced into motorsport.
Complete Formula One World Championship results
|1950||Pierre Levegh||Talbot-Lago T26C||Talbot Straight-6||GBR||MON
|1951||Pierre Levegh||Talbot-Lago T26C||Talbot Straight-6||SUI||500||BEL