Opportunities in life often come down to who you know, and for Prince Bira of Thailand having a cousin who also owned a racing team proved to be useful when it came to getting a foot on the motorsport ladder.

The boy then known as Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh of Siam was sent to Eton in the 1930s, where he was placed in the charge of his cousin, Prince Chula Chakrabongse. While living in the United Kingdom, Prince Bira fell in love with motorsport, and could often be found among the spectators at Brooklands.

Whatever plans the prince may have had to return to his homeland came to naught when his uncle, the king, abdicated the throne, and instead Prince Bira attended Cambridge University while playing at being an amateur racing driver thanks to Prince Chula, who gave his cousin the use of a Riley Imp and an MG Magnette.

For his 21st birthday, Prince Bira was given an ERA, and it was with that car that he first began to taste real racing success in voiturette events. His first race in the ERA saw him on the second step of the podium, and the young prince continued to perform well throughout the 1935 season, scoring another second place and a P5. In 1936, Prince Bira won the Coupe de Prince Rainier at Monte Carlo, a highlight of his pre-war racing career although far from his only accolade: the Thai prince was awarded the BRDC Road Racing Gold Star in 1936, 1937, and 1938.

After the Second World War, Prince Bira rebooted White Mouse Racing, but with limited competitive opportunities in a poor post-war England he spent the late 1940s racing in continental Europe, where he drove for a range of teams including HRM and Gordini.

He was one of the pre-war racers to make the switch to Formula One when the World Championship got underway in 1950, although he retired from the championship-launching grand prix at Silverstone. That short season saw Prince Bira enter four of seven possible races for Enrico Plat?, driving a Maserati 4CLT/48; he retired in both Silverstone and Monza, but the five championship points accrued from a 4th place finish in Switzerland and a 5th in Monaco saw Prince Bira classified 8th in that year's championship standings.

After 1950, Prince Bira's world championship results took something of a nosedive. In the 1951 season he entered a single race for Ecurie Siam, and retired behind the wheel of a Maserati 4CLT/48, the same car that had let him down in Silverstone. The following season saw Prince Bira enter four of eight races for Equipe Gordini, with two retirements and two pointless results. It was a similar story in 1953, when he drove for both Connaught Engineering and Scuderia Milano, while 1954 saw him collect three points as a private entrant driving the legendary Maserati 250F.

Non-championship rounds proved far kinder to Prince Bira, however, and between 1950 and 1954 he secured two wins and a handful of podium finishes as both a private and works entrant.

Prince Bira died of a heart attack in London in 1985.

By Kate Walker

Kate Walker is a senior F1 writer for Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.