Did you know that the winner of the world’s first Grand Prix car race was of Hungarian origin ? Ferenc Szisz was a son of a Hungarian who had emigrated to France.

Szisz was born in 1873 in Szeghalm. He came from a Transylvanian Saxon family. As a young man he was already very interested in the automobiles that were becoming popular at the time. So he took up a career in mechanical engineering. He worked as a chief engineer for the railways, even working on the Alpine lines. This made working in the West an attractive alternative for him.  After a spell in Austria, he ended up in France in 1901, via Germany. 

He worked in a coal factory where he met the Renault brothers. At that time they were still at the beginning of their careers and were receptive to making contact with anyone who loved and understood cars. Seeing Ferenc Szisz’s competence and passion, they offered him a job in their factory.  In addition to his assembly work, he also tried his hand at racing and excelled as a navigator. In a pair with Louis Renault, they won the Paris-Vienna multi-day race, where Szisz excelled as a mechanic and navigator.

In 1903, Marcel Renault died under unfortunate circumstances in the Paris-Madrid race. Thus, Ferenc Szisz, who had stepped up to take his place, began to make his way up the motor racing ladder.  During this period, the Grand Prix series was considered the cream of motor racing, as a predecessor to Formula 1.

The first GP was held in 1906 by the French Automobile Club. The first race was contested by 34 drivers, and a limited number of cars from each nation were allowed to compete in the previous races, but an exception was made here. This allowed more constructors to take part in a motorsport dominated by the French.

 Interestingly, instead of qualifying, the starting grid was decided by a draw of lots. Thus Ferenc Szisz could claim to be the winner of the race, the car that started from the first place had to stop, and the second car was overtaken at the start. The Lemans race was not very kind to the comfort of the drivers. 50 degree heat, rising tar and, at the time, tyres of dubious quality made the race difficult.

The car’s top speed reached an average of 154 km/h.  By the end of the test, it had reached 101 km/h. His prize, in addition to 45,000 French francs, was the chance to become a French citizen. In the years that followed, Sisi competed regularly in Grand Prix races, but he was unable to repeat his success of 1906, his best result being a second place the following year. Ferenc Szisz retired from racing in the 1930s and died in 1944 at the age of seventy in Auffargis, France. His grave and legacy are still cared for by the French Automobile Club and the Renault factory.

Ádám Gubán

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