Willy Mairesse

From the town of Momignies, right on the Franco-Belgian border in the province of Hainaut, Mairesse did not start competing until he was 25 when he joined a friend in a Porsche 356 on the Liege-Rome-Liege race in 1953. Having got a taste for the sport he entered his own Peugeot 203 the following year and in 1955, using the same car, he finally won the 1300cc Class. The following season he acquired a Mercedes 300SL and started racing as well as rallying, and finished third in the GT race supporting the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. The same year he won the Liege-Rome-Liege and caught the attention of the Equipe Nationale Belge, which was being run at the time by Ferrari importer Jacques Swaters. He drove for the team in 1957, 1958 and 1959 in sports cars but had few results beyond a second place in a Ferrari Berlinetta in the 12 Hours of Reims.

A battle with fellow countryman Olivier Gendebien on the Tour de France automobile in 1959 brought Mairesse to the attention of Enzo Ferrari and he was signed as a Ferrari driver for 1960. He made his F1 debut with the team at Spa where he was dicing for position with Chris Bristow when the Englishman crashed and was killed. At the French GP he qualified fifth and at Monza in September he finished third in a Ferrari 1-2-3. That year he placed well on the Targa Florio and won the Tour de France automobile. He won the Tour again in 1961 and finished second at Le Mans and raced three times in F1: the first with Equipe Nationale Belge, the second with Team Lotus and the third in a Ferrari.

There was more success in sports cars in 1962 with victory on the Targa Florio with Gendebien and Ricardo Rodriguez but at the Belgian GP he had a huge fiery crash after a collision with Trevor Taylor, while fighting for second place. It was a similar story in 1963 with victory in the Nurburgring 1000 with Surtees and F1 outings at Monaco and Belgium. He was en route to victory at Le Mans a few weeks later when a fuel spillage during a pit stop resulted in the car catching fire as he went into the Esses. A big accident followed and Mairesse emerged burned and bruised. He fought back to be ready to race at the German GP and qualified seventh only to crash at the Flugplatz on the first lap, killing an ambulance man and suffering severe arm injuries.

He did not return to racing until the end of 1964. The following year he drove a variety of different machinery and finished third at Le Mans in an Ecurie Francorchamps Ferrari which he shared with Jean Blaton. That year he entered only one World Championship race in a Scuderia Centro Sud BRM in Belgium. In 1966 he won the Targa Florio again in a Scuderia Filipinetti Porsche 906 but spent less time racing and concentrated on building up a business he had started. His last major result was at Le Mans in 1967 when he finished third. A year later, driving a private Ford GT40, he suffered a serious accident when the door latch of the car failed and the door flew up. Mairesse lost control and hit the wall and spent the next two weeks in a coma. He never fully recovered from his injuries and, sadly, committed suicide in a hotel room in Ostend in September the following year.