In view of the fact that the G.P. de l’Europe is to be run in England this year by the R.A.C. at Silverstone on May 13th, we asked our valued contributor to write up this race this month, in lieu of his usual “Sideslips”—Ed.
Opinions may differ as to whether the French Grand Prix in its heyday surpassed in prestige and glamour the Gordon Bennett contest which it was designed to supersede; but there is no doubt about the fact that between 1906 and 1914 it was the most important motor race of the calendar. The English might run their Tourist Trophy and the Italians their Targa Florio, but, compared with the great international event in France, they were mere local affairs; and countries other than England and Italy hardly tried even to organise something local.
After the first war, however, the French Grand Prix found it hard to recapture its old status. Too many of the great French firms had abandoned motor racing for one thing, and too often it was around an English Sunbeam or an Italian F.I.A.T. that the race revolved. Besides, the habit of running Grand Prix races was spreading. Italy, Belgium, Spain, England, Germany, Switzerland took up the idea; “principalities,” like Monaco, as well as “powers” followed suit, and cities and towns imitated principalities, until there was finally a “Grand Prix” every week of the season. No longer, as in the old days, was it possible for the Grand Prix of the Automobile Club de France to be called simply the Grand Prix.
The Italians were quick to sense this change, and in 1923 they had the ingenious idea of emphasising the importance of their Grand Prix at Monza by calling it the European Grand Prix. I do not know whether the French raised any objections to this, but if they did they rather foolishly allowed themselves to be silenced by the promise that they should be permitted to call their Grand Prix the European Grand Prix next year. As if the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix of Szisz and Nazzaro, of Boillot and Lautenschlager could receive an access of prestige by the addition of an adjective to its name! Besides, after 1924, the title was to move on, to some other deserving recipient.
As a matter of fact, that first European Grand Prix at Monza in September, 1923, was an important race, for in it two of the supercharged F.I.A.T.s, which had failed so brilliantly at Tours earlier in the season, took the first two places; and supercharged engines have dominated Grand Prix racing ever since. Salamano, the winner, put the speed for the Monza race up from 86.9 m.p.h. in 1922 to 91.1 m.p.h.; and Bordino lapped at 99.9 m.p.h., compared with 91.3 m.p.h. in 1922. It was not, perhaps, a very exciting race, because the next fastest cars, the American Millers, were nowhere near as fast as the F.I.A.T.s, but it was also notable for the appearance of the Benz “tropfwagen.” This machine, designed by Professor Rumpler, was lamentably slow, but it had its engine at the back, and the subsequent migration of Benz engineers to Auto-Union contributed notably to the unconventional policy with regard to engine positions adopted by that organisation in the next decade.
The race organised by the A.C.F. at Lyons in 1924 was perhaps the best of the series during the 1920s, but it is doubtful whether this was in any way due to its being called the Grand Prix of Europe. Of more importance, probably, was the Lyons course, which comprised the best parts of that used for the greatest Grand Prix of all, in 1914, and whose virtues were thrown into high relief by the move, the next year, to Montlhèry. The race was, moreover, notable for the unprecedented feat of Alfa-Romeo, which, with the assistance of Campari, succeeded in winning a Grand Prix at its very first appearance, against superb teams from Sunbeam and Delage, and a team from which should have been superb and which failed in an almost unaccountable manner to be anything of the sort. It was also noteworthy for the first appearance of Grand Prix Bugattis which, with their graceful appearance and aluminium wheels, were recognisable as such, in marked contrast to the hideosities which le patron had sent to Strasbourg and Tours in 1922 and 1923.
So far the European Grand Prix had produced two good races, which, however, one may be permitted to suspect, would have been just as good if the European Grand Prix had never been invented. The next year the event was set a more difficult task, for its organisation was entrusted to Belgium, and the result was a dismal failure. The Belgians probably were in no way to blame, but at that time no great prestige attached to the race at Spa, and the title of European Grand Prix scarcely enhanced what was hardly there to begin with. Only Alfa-Romeo and Delage took part in the race; the 12-cylinder Delages, which were to win the French Grand Prix a few weeks later, were on this occasion extremely disappointing, and only two Alfas finished the race, Ascari, the winner, averaging 74.43 m.p.h.
In 1926, it was the turn of Spain, and the European Grand Prix in Spanish hands proved little more glamorous than it had in Belgian. Again only Delage and one other team started, the other in this case being Bugatti. The straight-eight 1½-litre Delages, which were destined to have such a brilliant career, in this race at San Sebastian proved almost undrivable because they burnt their drivers’ feet so badly, and Jules Goux won on a Bugatti at 70.25 m.p.h. The best that could be said for the European Grand Prix of 1926, in which only Bugatti and Deluge started, was that it was better than the French Grand in which only Bugatti started.
In 1927 the R.A.C. took the trouble to organise a Grand Prix, and really one would have thought, after Belgium and Spain, it might have been England’s turn to have the European title for the Brooklands race. But perhaps those responsible for the prestige of the Grand Prix of Europe were by now suspicious of entrusting its organisation to “outsiders,” in any case, it returned, in 1927, to the Italians at Monza. As a matter of fact, however, this move did not do it much good, for again there were only six starters; indeed, about the best thing that could be said for this Grand Prix of Europe was that half the starters were American. The great disappointment was the absence of the new 12 cylinder 1,500-c.c. F.I.A.T. which preferred to run, on the same day, in the Grand Prix of Milan, which it won at 94.6 m.p.h. and in its absence the longer Grand Prix of Europe was won by Benoist on the Delage at 90.04 m.p.h.
In 1928 the race was, I believe, offered to the R.A.C., but by this time Grand Prix racing was in a parlous condition, and only the Italians were prepared to run a race under the unpopular international formula. Once more, therefore, the European Grand Prix was at Monza, and was won by Chiron on a Bugatti at 99.4 m.p.h.
In 1929 there was no European Grand Prix at all. In 1930 Belgium look it on again; but the limited fuel consumption formula then ruling was so unpopular that Bugatti was the only serious entrant, with some Type 35 racing cars, and Chiron, who again won the race, this time at Spa, averaged 71.1 m.p.h., or over 2 m.p.h. less than Ascari in 1925.
Unless I am mistaken, that was the last European Grand Prix to be run, until its revival since the war. Admittedly, some authorities describe both the Italian and the Belgian Grands Prix of 1931 as European Grand Prix; but there cannot have been two in one year, and in Motor Sport, for which I was reporting the Continental racing myself in those days, I call neither of them the European Grand Prix. I think, in fact, that the confusion has arisen because these two races, with the French Grand Prix, ranked that year for the European Championship, which was something quite different.
It seems, therefore, that the European Grand Prix is something that was forgotten for the best part of twenty years; and, in view of its history, the fact is hardly surprising. The trouble is, or so seems to me, that the race has been a mere name arid nothing else: vox et praeterea nihil, as I should not have dared to say in my reporter days. No greater importance has ever attached to winning the European Grand Prix than any other national Grand Prix; and no one has ever been able to guarantee that it would be the most important race of the year.
The reason for this, I think, is that the title of the race has just been handed on from one national club to the next by simple agreement. If you want people to attach importance to anything, you must make it harder to come by than this. If you want national clubs to covet the Grand Prix of Europe, you must make them win it. The proposition is simpler these days when a Maserati entered by a Swiss or a Talbot entered by a Belgian is regarded as a Swiss and as a Belgian car, respectively. Let the country which wins the race, therefore, organise it the next year; and if we have not got a B.R.M. ready this time to keep the European Grand Prix in England, then let us send a B.R.M. to Italy, or wherever it may be, next year, to fetch it back again.
Grand Prix de l’Europe
1923 Salamano (F.I.A.T.) … 91.9 m.p.h. … Italy
1924 Campari (Alfa-Romeo) … 00.00 m.p.h. … Italy
1925 Ascari (Alfa-Romeo) … 74.46 m.p.h. … Italy
1926 Goux (Bugatti) … 70.25 m.p.h. … France
1927 Benoist (Delage) … 90.04 m.p.h. … France
1928 Chiron (Bugatti) … 99.4 m.p.h. … France
1930 Chiron (Bugatti) … 71.1 m.p.h. … France
1947 Wimille (Alfa-Romeo) … 95.28 m.p.h. … Italy
1948 Trossi (Alfa-Romeo) … 90.95 m.p.h. … Italy
1949 Ascari (Ferrari) … 105.84 m.p.h. … Italy