A resume of the Monaco G.P., due to be held on the 19th of this month.
What with the Royal wedding and the Royal baby, Monte Carlo is very much in the news these days. It is a story-book town, this capital of the little Principality ruled over by handsome Prince Rainier and his film-star bride. Here the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean lap the shores of a harbour full of luxury yachts, amongst which that of the Greek millionaire Onassis is brilliantly illuminated at night. Houses are scattered haphazardly amongst the rocky outcrops on the steep hillside flanking the famous bay, and the resident ladies and their escorts dress as if time had stood still for a hundred years. Gamblers crowd the Casino or seek the pawn-shops hidden discreetly in the back streets, and elegant cars of many nationalities drive in from Nice and Cannes with scantily-clad sun-tanned beauties. Comic-opera police control the traffic and a Walt Disney train occasionally thunders its way along a ledge cut in the hillside on which the town is built.
As the sun, warm in January, scorching-hot in summer, goes down and myriads of lights begin to twinkle in the waters of the harbour, it is droll to realise that beneath that placid scene there used to lie several of the latest racing engines, which, taken out of Grand Prix cars, were installed in racing boats that subsequently sank. But in Monte Carlo anything is possible and it seems perfectly normal that Rally cars should dice through the streets in winter and Grand Prix cars race uphill past the hotels, down round the ugly bend by the railway station and across the Boulevard Albert Premier above the harbour walls each spring. This motor race through the streets, on one of the most punishing circuits there is, has had more than its share of drama.
The first of the series took place in 1929. The organisers realised that the course was a severe test of man and machine and entry was by invitation. In that year the Bugatti was at the height of its supremacy and the Englishman Williams won in a Type 35 from Bouriano’s Bugatti and Caracciola, who lost the lead and was delayed when his SSK Mercedes-Benz had to stop for fuel and tyres. The severity of the Monaco course was evident from the winner’s speed, which was a mere 49.83 m.p.h., with fastest-lap by the same driver at 52.7 m.p.h.
In 1930 Dreyfus, private owner of a Type 35C Bugatti, was able not only to win the race but, with his supercharged engine, to average 54.63 m.p.h. The following year Louis Chiron secured a hat-trick for Bugatti, winning at 54.09 m.p.h. from Fagioli’s Maserati, with Varzi’s Bugatti third. Chiron had the new twin-cam Type 51 Bugatti, Fagioli a slightly larger but older 2.5 Maserati.
The new P3 Alfa-Romeo wasn’t ready for the Monaco of 1932, but with Nuvolari at the wheel a Monza Alfa-Romeo won, with Caracciola in another of these cars second and Fagioli’s Maserati soundly trounced. The race speed, however, was still only 55.8 m.p.h. and drivers had in some cases to be assisted out of their cars after driving this punishing course, where steering wheel and gear-lever were never still for more than a few moments.
The 1933 Monaco G.P. was characterised by that drama for which this street race became noted. The not-friendly rivals Nuvolari and Varzi, driving respectively 2.6 Alfa-Romeo and Type 51 Bugatti, duelled furiously until the Alfa-Romeo caught fire on the last lap, was pushed from the tunnel, only to be disqualified because a mechanic assisted Nuvolari in this task. Varzi won at 57.04 m.p.h. from Borzacchini’s Monza Alfa-Romeo and Dreyfus’ Type 51 Bugatti.
Racing was about due to be revolutionised by the Germans in 1934 but neither team was ready for Monaco. In practice Straight “lost” his Maserati, when trying to better his under-two-minutes’ lap. He came out of the curved tunnel, where the course runs under the Tir aux Pigeons, backwards, and, spinning twice, damaged the back axle against the kerb. Two spare axles were promptly flown to Monte Carlo, one from Brooklands, one from Paris, the latter arriving at 6 a.m. on race-day. From the start the battle raged between Chiron’s Scuderia Ferrari blood-red P3 Alfa-Romeo, Dreyfus in a blue works Bugatti and Etancelin driving an official Maserati, with Moll, Nuvolari and Taruffi fighting another battle behind. Etancelin proceeded to pass Dreyfus and go in pursuit of Chiron, who, in spite of his precision-driving, made a mistake at the hairpin and embedded the Alfa-Romeo in the sandbags, on the last lap but one and after Etancelin had crashed at Casino bend. So Moll won, for Alfa-Romeo, at 56.04 m.p.h. from Chiron and Dreyfus.
The next year Mercedes-Benz were there and Fagioli won at 58.16 m.p.h. However, Entacelin’s Maserati challenged so effectively before dropping back as its brakes gave out that Caracciola’s Mercedes-Benz was ousted from second position and finally retired, letting Dreyfus, now Alfa-mounted, and Brivio (Alfa-Romeo) into second and third places.
Drama also marked the 1936 race, for the weather was appalling and on the oil-and-rain slippery new chicane-corner on the approach to the harbour a fantastic multiple crash occurred, involving five cars, after Chiron had hit the sandbags. Drivers struggled furiously to extricate their cars; luckily, no injuries were suffered. Later Fagioli’s Mercedes-Benz skidded at the same spot and crashed against the harbour wall farther on, and then Rosemeyer’s Auto-Union slid backwards off the road going up to the Casino, to hang suspended half-way over a stone wall, some 60 ft. above the road leading out of the tunnel. After which, Caracciola, the rain-master, won for Mercedes, but at only 51.69 m.p.h., from the Auto-Unions of Varzi and Stuck.
The 1937 race lived up to Monaco’s reputation for excitement. Caracciola and Brauchitsch disobeyed Neubauer’s orders, in itself a very brave act, to fight a duel in the later stages of the race in which Caracciola put the 5.6-litre 500-h.p. Mercedes-Benz round the 1.98-mile circuit at the record speed of 66.99 m.p.h. This regained for the leader his lead, which Brauchitsch had taken, but also caused him to stop at the pits for plugs, so that Brauchitsch, almost in a state of fatigue-collapse, won at 63.27 m.p.h. Kautz (Mercedes-Benz) was third. It was this year that Hasse crashed on the first lap after spinning in the tunnel and emerging backwards, unfortunately killing a photographer on the way.
That was the last of the pre-World War II races at this picturesque circuit. The series revived in 1948, when Farina’s Maserati won at 59.61 m.p.h. from Chiron’s Talbot and de Graffenried’s Maserati. Nineteen fifty saw Fangio the master, his 1½-litre Alfa-Romeo winning by two miles at 61.33 m.p.h. from Ascari’s Ferrari and Chiron’s Maserati. Again a spectacular multiple-crash occurred Farina’s Alfa-Romeo skidding on the wave-wetted harbour turn, Gonzalez’ Maserati ramming him and blocking the course so that, the leader, Fangio, had to stop on the next lap until a gap could be cleared. There was no play in 1951 and for 1952 only sports cars ran, Marzotto winning a Ferrari-dominated race at 58.2 m.p.h.
In 1952 the race was again for sports cars. Fagioli unhappily crashed fatally in practice. Marzotto’s 2.7 Ferrari coupe won the big-car race, which was again decimated by a multiple-crash. Again no play in 1953 or 1954, but all the glory returned to “the race of a thousand corners” (ten acute ones per lap and 100 laps) in 1955, when it ranked as the European G.P. Fangio’s short-chassis 196 Mercedes set a practice-lap at 69.59 m.p.h. This was the race in which Moss’ Mercedes-Benz blew-up and had to be pushed over the line, Ascari’s V8 Lancia shot into the harbour while in the lead, the Italian World Champion displaying incredible presence of mind in somehow getting clear of the car and swimming for it, and Trintignant’s Ferrari won at 65.8 m.p.h. Fangio set a record race-lap of 68.73 m.p.h. before retiring with transmission failure. Then, last year, there was that great battle between Moss and Fangio, with the World Champion bending his Lancia-Ferrari attempting to close on the Englishman, and finally losing the race in Collins’ Lancia-Ferrari by a shade over 6 sec. in a race of nearly 200 miles. Moss won his first real Grand Prix in a 250/F1 Maserati, at 64.94 m.p.h., troubled by a lifting bonnet, and on his last lap Fangio made fastest race-lap, at 67.42 m.p.h.
This year’s race promises to be just as exciting as the most dramatic of its forerunners, with a good chance of another victory for Moss, this time in a Vanwall.
We advise you to grab a toothbrush, a camera, a swim-suit and a girl-friend and set off to where heat shimmers over the blue Mediterranean against a background of palms, orange trees and azure, yellow, white, venetian red-and-cream villas, and where the XV G.P. de Monaco is due to take place on May 19th. There is just about time to fix things with the travel agents and airlines. — W.B.