Birabongse Bhanudej

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Birabongse Bhanudej
Prince of Siam
Air cadets learn the basics of flight at RNAS St Merryn in Cornwall, February 1944. A22064-croponBirabongse Bhanudej.jpg
Birabongse in 1944
Born(1914-07-15)15 July 1914
Grand Palace, Bangkok, Siam
Died23 December 1985(1985-12-23) (aged 71)
Barons Court Station, London, England, United Kingdom
SpouseCeril Heycock (1st) (1938–1949)
Celia "Chelita" Howard (1951–1956)
Salika Kalantananda (1957)
Arunee Chuladakoson (1959–1964)
Chuanchom Chaiyananda (1967–1980)
Ceril Heycock (2nd) (1983–1985)
IssueBiradej 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)
HouseBhanubandh family (Chakri Dynasty)
FatherPrince Bhanubandhubongse Voradej
MotherMom Lek Bhanubandh na Ayudhya
(née Yongchaiyudh)
Formula One World Championship career
NationalityThailand Thai
Active years19501954
TeamsEnrico Platé, Gordini, Connaught, Maserati, Scuderia Milano, independent
Entries19
Championships0
Wins0
Podiums0
Career points8
Pole positions0
Fastest laps0
First entry1950 British Grand Prix
Last entry1954 Spanish Grand Prix
24 Hours of Le Mans career
Years1939, 1954
TeamsRaymond Sommer
Aston Martin
Best finishDNF (1939, 1954)
Class wins0

Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh (Thai: พีรพงศ์ภาณุเดช; RTGSPhiraphong Phanudet; 15 July 1914 – 23 December 1985), better known as Prince Bira of Siam (now Thailand) or by his nom de course B. Bira, was a member of the Thai royal family, racing driver, sailor, and pilot.[1]

Birabongse raced in Formula One and Grand Prix races for the Maserati, Gordini, and Connaught teams, he was the only Southeast Asian driver to compete in Formula One until Malaysia's Alex Yoong joined Minardi in 2001, as well as the only Thai driver to compete in Formula One until Alexander Albon made his debut in 2019. He also competed in sailing events at four Summer Olympic Games, and flew from London to Bangkok in his own twin-engine Miles Gemini aircraft in 1952.

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 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]

Auto racing[edit]

Prince Bira with Franco Comotti and René Dreyfus at Grand Prix races in 1938
Prince Bira in 1948

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 among the more powerful Grand 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.

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.

Sailing[edit]

Bira competed in sailing events at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in the Star, 1960 Rome Olympics in the Star, 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the Dragon and the 1972 Munich Olympics in the Tempest.[3] In the 1960 Games he competed against another former Formula One driver, Roberto Mieres, who finished seventeenth, ahead of the prince at nineteenth.

Death[edit]

Prince Bira died at Barons Court tube station in London on 23 December 1985, he collapsed and died having suffered a major heart attack, but as he carried no identification with him, his body could not initially be identified. A handwritten note was found in his pocket by the Metropolitan Police and was sent for analysis at the University of London, where it was shown as being written in Thai and addressed to Prince Bira; the Thai Embassy was notified, who realised his significance. A Thai funeral service was held at the Wat Buddhapadipa in Wimbledon, and he was later cremated according to Thai and Buddhist tradition and customs.

Other honors[edit]

Bira Circuit, based just outside Pattaya, Thailand, is named after Prince Bira.

In 2016, in an academic paper that reported a mathematical modeling study that assessed the relative influence of driver and machine, Prince Bira was ranked the forty-third best Formula One driver of all time.[4]

Development of the Thai racing colours[edit]

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

Racing record[edit]

Complete European Championship results[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 EDC Pts
1938 Squadra Sabauda Maserati 8CM Maserati 3.0 L8 FRA GER SUI
141
ITA 1
Source:[5]
Notes
  • ^1 – As a co-driver Bira was ineligible for championship points

Complete 24 Hours of Le Mans results[edit]

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Laps Pos. Class
Pos.
1939 France Raymond Sommer France Raymond Sommer Alfa Romeo 6C 2500SS 3.0 173 DNF DNF
1954 United Kingdom Aston Martin Lagonda United Kingdom Peter Collins Aston Martin DB3S Coupé S 3.0 138 DNF DNF
Source:[6]

Post WWII Grandes Épreuves results[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5
1947 Enrico Platé Maserati 4CL Maserati 4CL 1.5 L4s SUI
8
Ecurie Souris Blanche ERA B ERA 1.5 L6s BEL
DNS
Scuderia Milano Maserati 4CL Maserati 4CL 1.5 L4s ITA
Ret
FRA
1948 Equipe Gordini Simca Gordini T15 Simca-Gordini 15C 1.5 L4s MON
Ret
Enrico Platé Maserati 4CL Maserati 4CL 1.5 L4s SUI
Ret
Prince Chula ERA B ERA 1.5 L6s FRA
DNS
Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 125 Ferrari 125 F1 1.5 V12s ITA
Ret
Prince Chula Maserati 4CL Maserati 4CL 1.5 L4s GBR
5
1949 Prince Chula Maserati 4CLT/48 Maserati 4CLT 1.5 L4s GBR
Ret
BEL
Enrico Platé SUI
5
FRA
2
ITA
3
Source:[7]

Complete Formula One World Championship results[edit]

(key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 WDC Pts
1950 Enrico Platé Maserati 4CLT/48 Maserati 4CLT 1.5 L4s GBR
Ret
MON
5
500 SUI
4
BEL FRA ITA
Ret
8th 5
1951 Ecurie Siam Maserati 4CLT/48 Maserati 4CLT 1.5 L4s SUI 500 BEL FRA
DNA
GBR GER
DNA
ITA NC 0
OSCA 4500 4.5 V12 ESP
Ret
1952 Equipe Gordini Gordini T15 Gordini 1500 1.5 L4 SUI
Ret
500 BEL
10
NC 0
Gordini T16 Gordini 20 2.0 L6 FRA
Ret
GBR
11
GER NED ITA
1953 Connaught Engineering Connaught Type A Lea-Francis 2.0 L4 ARG 500 NED BEL FRA
Ret
GBR
7
GER
Ret
SUI NC 0
Scuderia Milano Maserati A6GCM Maserati A6 2.0 L6 ITA
11
1954 Officine Alfieri Maserati Maserati A6GCM Maserati A6 2.0 L6 ARG
7
500 17th 3
Prince Bira Maserati 250F Maserati 250F1 2.5 L6 BEL
6
FRA
4
GBR
Ret
GER
Ret
SUI ITA ESP
9
1955 Prince Bira Maserati 250F Maserati 250F1 2.5 L6 ARG MON 500 BEL
DNA
NED GBR ITA NC 0

Non-championship Formula One results[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)

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 4CLT 1.5 L4s 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 Enrico Platé Maserati 4CLT/48 Maserati 4CLT 1.5 L4s SYR
Ret
PAU
Ecurie Siam OSCA 4500 4.5 V12 RIC
1
SRM
Ret
BOR
4
INT
17
PAR ULS SCO NED ALB PES BAR GOO
1952 Equipe Gordini Gordini T15 Gordini 1500 1.5 L4 RIO SYR VAL AUS RIC LAV PAU IBS MAR
2
AST INT
6
ELA NAP EIF PAR
Ret
AGP
NC
FRO LAC
5
WEC SAB
4
CEA DMT COM NAT BAU MOD CAD SKA MAD AVU JOE NEW RIO
B Bira Maserati 4CLT/48 OSCA 4500 4.5 V12 ULS
Ret
MNZ
Equipe Gordini Gordini T16 Gordini 20 2.0 L6 MAR
4
1953 Ecurie Siam Maserati A6GCM Maserati A6 2.0 L6 SYR PAU LAV AST KMS INT
4
ELA NAP ULS WIN COR FRO
Ret
SNE EIF
11
AGP COU PGG WEC MID ROU 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
7
SYR PAU LAV
Prince Bira Maserati 250F Maserati 250F1 2.5 L6 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
1955 Prince Bira Maserati 250F Maserati 250F1 2.5 L6 VAL
8
PAU GLO BOR
6
INT
3
NAP ALB CUR COR LON DAR RED DAT OUT AVO SYR
Source:[8][9]

Ancestry[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Prince And I: The story of the last Thai F1 driver". 27 November 2018. Retrieved 29 November 2018 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
  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.
  3. ^ Viva F1. "Formula One at the Olympics". Archived from the original on 8 August 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  4. ^ Hanlon, Mike (12 May 2016). "The Top 50 F1 drivers of all time, regardless of what they were driving". New Atlas. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  5. ^ "THE GOLDEN ERA – OF GRAND PRIX RACING". kolumbus.fi. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  6. ^ "All Results of "B. Bira"". racingsportscars.com. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  7. ^ ""B Bira" – Biography". MotorSportMagazine. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  8. ^ ""B Bira"". motorsportmagazine.com. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  9. ^ "Prince Bira – Involvement Non World Championship". statsf1.com. Retrieved 14 October 2017.

External links[edit]