It is the nature of Grand Prix racing that its history is laced with some tragic days. But few have been as bad as September 10 1933 when three leading drivers lost their lives at Monza. The barrel-chested Giuseppe Campari was racing in Italy for the final time before retiring and was feted all day. He suffered the first accident of his 20-year career that day and paid the ultimate price.
Background and early racing career
Cavaliere Giuseppe Campari had three main passions in life: opera, fine cuisine and motor racing. He joined ALFA as an apprentice and soon joined its competition department. 1914 was his debut season with the four-cylinder 40/60hp – Campari retiring from the Targa Florio but was fourth in the Coppa Florio.
ALFA was taken over by Nicola Romeo during World War I and emerged as Alfa Romeo. Campari gave the new marque its first victory when his Alfa Romeo 40/60hp won the 1920 Circuito di Mugello after Carlo Masetti’s Fiat crashed out.
Third on the 1921 Targa Florio, Campari won again at Mugello despite lengthy repairs brought on by banging wheels with Alfieri Maserati’s Isotta-Franschini. But hopes of a Mugello hat-trick in 1922 were dashed when he collided with Masetti with both cars eliminated.
Grand Prix winner on his debut
Alfa Romeo introduced the new P1 at the 1923 Italian GP but Campari’s GP debut was thwarted when team-mate Ugo Sivocci was killed in practice and the team withdrew as a mark of respect. So his first such race was the 1924 French GP at Lyon with Campari’s Alfa Romeo P2 starting on the fourth row of the grid. He was trading the lead with team-mate Antonio Ascari by half distance before his colleague retired. That left Campari to win on his GP debut after seven hours of racing – his prize being a huge sausage!
Campari’s position within the team was further cemented by finishing third in an Alfa Romeo 1-2-3 at the 1924 Italian GP. Second in the following year’s Belgian GP (only he and Ascari finished at Spa-Francorchamps), the team-mates were again leading at Montlhéry before Ascari suffered a fatal accident. So Campari was withdrawn from the lead by a team in mourning.
Marriage and further racing success
He married opera singer Lina Cavalleri and Campari was now also singing tenor – surely his was a unique combination of careers? His rich vein of racing form included victories in the Mille Miglia (1928 and 1929), Pescara’s Coppa Acerbo (1927 and 1928) and class success in the 1928 Targa Florio when second overall.
Campari sold his faithful Alfa Romeo P2 to Achille Varzi in 1928 and they combined to finish second in that year’s Italian GP. He was among the continental drivers to travel to Ireland for the 1929 Irish GP in Dublin and Tourist Trophy near Belfast. The former race ended in hospital when he was hit in the eye by a flying stone but he finished second to Rudolf Caracciola on the famous Ards course.
Italian Grand Prix victory
With GPs 10 hours long in 1931, the Italian GP was run in May to maximise Monza’s daylight. Campari shared a new Alfa Romeo 8C-2300 with Tazio Nuvolari and battled Varzi’s Bugatti T51 early on. The Italians then cruised to an impressive debut win for the 8C-2300 (thereafter nicknamed the Alfa Romeo “Monza”) after the French car retired.
Campari and Borzacchini finished second in the French GP despite a 15-minute delay to rectify brake problems and Campari led the fledgling European Championship with just Spa remaining. However, his car and title hopes were destroyed by fire during the Belgian GP. Campari finished a fine 1931 with victory in the Coppa Acerbo in the twin-engine Alfa Romeo Tipo-A.
Campari’s final season
His final year in the sport would be 1933 and he defected to Maserati after three decades with Alfa Romeo. The 40-year-old led his debut for the marque in Tripoli only to retire but scored a controversial farewell victory in the French GP at Montlhéry – passing Philippe Etancelin’s clutch-less Alfa Romeo on the last lap. Campari had been pushed away from a late pitstop by three rather than the permitted two mechanics. However, rather than be disqualified, he was fined 1000 francs.
That was his only victory in a Maserati for he was back in Alfa Romeo’s new Tipo-B “P3” by the end of the year. Monza and tragedy was next however. Campari against Borzacchini was the highlight of heat two of the Monza GP but both lost control on oil on the South turn. On a track already rendered dangerous by light rain, Campari crashed over the banking to his death and Borzacchini was also killed taking avoiding action. The sombre mood deepened when Count Czaikowski became the third fatality of the day in the final.