Story of the month
"The Grand Prix of the century" : Reims 1953
Testimony of Christian Mathieu who watched the race when 18 years old


Illustration by Benjamin Freudenthal

Version Française

On sunday july, the 1953 French Grand Prix takes place in reims.

Almost 18 years old, the finals passed since 48 hours, my father decides to take me and my best friend to watch the Grand Prix in Reims. Used to go to Montlhery, then in decline, I didn't imagine that we would attend the race of the century.
All my idols were present : Farina, the 1950 world champion, Fangio (1951) with his T-shirt and brown casket, Ascari (1952) and many others. 25 all together among which "the big Gonzales" also knowed as Argentine Buffalo or the bull of the pampas, and a young englishman, recognisable by his buckskin jacket and bow tie, accessory that would become famous from that day on.

Right away Gonzales sets the pace with a hell of a start and leads Hawthorn by five seconds, already in the tenth lap ; Fangio is thrown back to the sixth place at ten seconds.

Everything is going to change at mid race during the refuelling stop of Gonzales, who started with a tank half empty ; he is relegated to the sixth place while Fangio leads Hawthorn with a half-second.

It is the begining of a dazzling reshuffle, the leader changing almost every lap. What a spectacle, to watch the racers careening down the Soissons hill, then slamming on the brakes the valiant pilots taking the Thillois curve, two or three alongside, sometimes a bit oblique. Indeed, it's because of a little skid that Fangio ends at the second place at one second from the leader after a 2hr 44' race, 4/10' ahead of Gonzales who came roaring back.

That's how Mike Hawthorn became famous, winning the race of the century, as it was dubbed by quite a few spectators and journalists. Nobody was mistaken : this young englishman would eventually become world champion.

Fifty years later, the memory of these images still fills me with delight.

Christian Mathieu

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Autre histoires :

The Thillois bend with the
"auberge de la Garenne" in background :


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..."What a spectacle, to watch the racers careening down the Soissons hill, then slamming on the brakes the valiant pilots taking the Thillois curve, two or three alongside, sometimes a bit oblique".


La Masseratti de Fangio