Statistics will tell you that Jean Behra never won a Grand Prix. They will tell you that he never started from pole, that he retired as often as not, and that his highest finishes were a pair of second places.
Statistics tell you very little.
Jean Behra was a star on two wheels before he ever thought of Formula One. He was French motorcycle champion three years running before he acquired a Talbot, a Simca, a taste for rallying and hill-climbs. A win in a hill-climb in 1950 brought him to the attention of Gordini, and it was with Gordini that he started his Grand Prix career at the ripe age of 30.
Another scan of the damn statistics will tell you that three years with Gordini brought little but mechanical failures. Statistics don’t tell you about the non-championship Reims Grand Prix in 1952.
Non-championship it might have been, but the grid was still graced with Ascari and his Ferrari at the height of their powers. Unbeatable? Not to Behra. He held off the Ferrari for lap after lap until its engine failed from the strain of the pursuit, and with that historic victory Behra became a national darling.
He inspired a few young Frenchman too, who were no doubt following the race that day. Beltoise was one, Depailler was another.
Finally, in 1955, the break came that would surely mean victory - after equaling Ascari’s testing times at Monza, Behra was signed to Maserati. Non-championship wins followed, but luck in Grands Prix would continue to elude him. Luck would desert him altogether in the 1955 Tourist Trophy, where an accident resulted in the loss of his right ear. No handicap to Behra… he wore a prosthetic thereafter.
1956 would continue with a lack of victories, but there were podium finishes aplenty, the best a second in Argentina which he would repeat in 1957. He was in Fangio’s shadow that year, but the non-championship wins still flowed.
1958 was a loss, struggling with the terminally unreliable BRM, but in 1959 the decimated Ferrari team came calling, and surely this would be Behra’s chance to finally land that Grand Prix win.
It was not to be. An engine failure at Reims while in a strong position was one disappointment too many, and when Behra returned to the pits a physical altercation with Ferrari manager Tavoni followed, and Behra found himself surplus to requirements at the Scuderia.
Behra was determined not to let Ferrari keep him from Grands Prix. He entered for the 1959 German Grand Prix at AVUS at the wheel of his own Porsche, but the car would never race, and neither would Behra. Running hard in the rain in the support race, he lost control and was flung from the car, dying instantly when he struck a flag pole.
Jean Behra never won a Grand Prix, the statistics will tell that much. But that he was a hero and an inspiration to the likes of Beltoise and Depailler, winners both… that tells infinitely more.