99 – 1935 Tripoli GP



A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

From the editor Damien Smith

The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…

Welcome to this special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.

It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…

Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.

Then there were those races of prominence, attached to a certain time or place that made them hugely significant. I’m thinking specifically of Belgrade, 1939. Only five entries took the start of a race that didn’t sound particularly scintillating. But as it happened to take place on the very day WWII broke out, we felt it worthy of inclusion. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel’s remarkable maiden GP win at Monza in 2008, for lowly Scuderia Toro Rosso, was left on the cutting room floor. Is that fair? You decide. We also opted to include a few races that weren’t Grands Prix, leastways in name, although the strength of entry was such that they might as well have been…

Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!

Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.

So turn the page, delve in – and whatever you do, don’t take it too seriously.

1935 Tripoli GP
May 12, Mellaha

North African heat and dust would play havoc with tyres on this flowing 135mph circuit. So Continental brought 50 covers apiece for its three Mercedes-Benz and two Auto Unions. That was only just sufficient.

Although this 40-lap Formule Libre race necessarily attracted a huge grid because its result decided a state lottery, the battle for victory was always going to be between the five Silver Arrows; Tazio Nuvolari’s fearsome and even faster – at 198mph – twin-engine Alfa Romeo Bimotore was even heavier on fuel and rubber.

“A road race won at 122.03 m.p.h.” from the Motor Sport archive June 1935.

Achille Varzi, Auto Union’s star off-season signing, led for much of the way. Mercedes-Benz had decided on a three-stop strategy compared with its main rival’s two, but early punctures and delaminations threw its plan into turmoil – yet not once did Rudi Caracciola give up. Having struggled with injury throughout 1934, he was determined now to prove his fitness and confirm his priority over feisty Italian team-mate Luigi Fagioli, a consummate winner of the Monaco GP in April.

With five laps to go, Varzi, holding a commanding lead, punctured as he rushed past the pits. Not only was he forced to run on the rim, but also the damaged wheel jammed on the hub at the subsequent stop. Caracciola inherited the lead and set the fastest lap – at 136.8mph – in an attempt to ram home his advantage.

“Tripoli – A dip into the past” by Denis Jenkinson (from the archive March 1978).

On fresh rubber and teetering on the edge of exhaustion, however, Varzi hunted down his quarry and was lining up for the kill on the last lap when he punctured again.

Caracciola’s greatest season was under way. PF

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