Is Petrov Really the First Russian in F1?

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The Internet has been awash with plenty of conversation regarding Vitaly Petrov’s arrival in Formula 1 with Renault recently, mostly on the significance of Russia having a driver on the grand prix grid for the very first time.

Even with the small motorsport infrastructure in his native Russia, it does beggar belief that Petrov is the first driver from one of the biggest countries in the world to grace the pinnacle of motor racing. So being the inquisitive type, I wondered if this was actually true or not, and after some delving into the history books, it seems Petrov may have been beaten to the punch by some sixty years. For that accolade goes to Count Igor Troubetzkoy.

French by birth, Lithuanian by descent, Troubetzkoy drove the very first Ferrari (the crimson red two-litre Ferrari “Tipo” 166) to be entered into a Grand Prix, the Monaco Grand Prix, which was also the first GP since the end of the second world war.

He didn’t do too badly either. Through high attrition, the 37-year-old found himself sitting comfortably in the top eight before disaster struck on the 54th lap. Monegasque Louis Chiron punted him off into the straw bales on the chicane near the harbour, and through heavy damage to his suspension, Troubetzkoy’s first taste of grand prix racing was over. He then removed himself from his stricken Ferrari and proceeded to walk towards the bar of the Hotel de Paris where he remained for the rest of the day.

Troubetzkoy would then go on to own and loan out, when they weren’t being used by the team principals, three Ferrari Tipos that would race under the “Gruppo Inter” (Team International) banner with minimal success. By the end of the year the trio of cars were in dire need of rebuilding to bring them up to the latest specification, this coupled with the internal squabbling with fellow team manager Goffredo Zehender saw the team later disband.

Away from racing, Troubetzkoy was perhaps more famous for marrying Barbara Hutton, an American socialite who happened to be one of the richest women of the time. Hutton had left California after divorcing Cary Grant, one of the biggest movie stars of the day, and headed to Paris where she met the expatriate Russian prince, and the two would then marry in the spring of 1948.

Their marriage was a rocky affair, and Troubetzkoy would later file for divorce in 1951 after years of trying to help his wife overcome her addictions to no success. Hutton’s suicide attempt would then make headlines around the world, were the press would later label her as the “Poor Little Rich Girl,” and while Troubetzkoy would fade into obscurity, Hutton would marry three more times and continue to be exploited by the media.

So why then is Petrov grabbing all the attention as being labelled the first Russian driver in Formula 1 and not our beloved Troubetzkoy? I can only imagine that various different factors have resulted in him being omitted from the forefront of most journalists’ minds.

First there is the fact we’re talking about something that happened over sixty years ago and to be honest, with his meagre success, Troubetzkoy didn’t exactly leave a lasting impression on the racing world, so it’s perhaps understandable his efforts may well have gone unnoticed.

There is also some doubt as to whether the Monaco Grand Prix of 1948 actually constitutes as a bonafide Formula 1 race. General consensus dictates that the first one began a couple of months before Monaco, in the French town of Pau, and that technically the subsequent races that year fell under the Formula 1 banner.

What Troubetzkoy can’t lay claim to is participating in a world championship, as that started in 1950. But otherwise, he was the first Formula 1 driver to herald from Russia (albeit the Soviet Union back then) and participated in several grands prix.

Your history lesson is over for today.

11 Comments

  1. How come he’s Russian then, if he’s Lithuanian by descent? :) However, that is a nice chance to see how complicated this could be – French guy of Lithuanian descent with Russian surname… I guess the only answer was nationality in his passport, otherwise let’s call Rosberg Jr. a swede, instead of letting him carry German flag :)

    • Lithuania was under Russian rule until 1918 when they declared their independence under German protection. Troubetzkoy was born six years prior to this in 1912.

  2. Great piece of investigating and an interesting read
    (although while Count Igor Troubetzkoy may be Russian, Louis Chiron wasn’t French)

  3. Pingback: Viva F1 » Something for the Weekend – XII

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