Features - Historical
SEPTEMBER 19, 2000
The 1933 Monza Grand Prix
BY JOE SAWARD
It had been raining in Milan overnight and the Autodromo Nazionale at Monza was damp as the grid drew up for the 1933 Italian Grand Prix, a 50 lap race over the 10km combined road/oval course in Monza.
This was a favourite with the fans who were able to see the cars not once but twice every lap, the first time as they passed the pits and thundered away onto the banked North Curve of the oval and then again when they came off the South Curve and passed the grandstand before heading out into the woods by way of the Curva Grande.
This was to be a special day for Italian race fans, as the Reale Automobile Club Italia had hit upon the new idea of staging not one, but two big races on the same day in an effort to bring in the biggest possible crowd.
The Italian GP would take place in the morning on the combined course, and the Monza GP - comprising three heats and a final - would take place on the oval in the afternoon.
The races were billed as a grudge match between Maserati and the Scuderia Ferrari Alfas and there was plenty of needle between the two which dated back to the start of the year when Alfa Romeo unexpectedly withdrew from racing. It left Enzo Ferrari with a string of old Alfa Monza 8Cs, but locked up the marvellous P3s which had dominated the 1932 season.
As a result the Ferrari drivers struggled to be competitive with the Maserati and Bugatti teams and this came to a head just before the Belgian GP in July when Ferrari's star driver Tazio Nuvolari and his close friend Baconin Borzacchini quit to join Maserati.
Ferrari was furious and sought revenge. He poached his old friend Giuseppe Campari, who had just won the French GP for Maserati. And added another Maserati driver Luigi Fagioli to his roster. Finally he signed up Monaco's Louis Chiron, who had been out of a drive since the CC Racing Alfa team had been disbanded, following Rudi Caracciola's thigh-breaking accident at Monaco.
Ferrari's next step was to convince the Alfa Romeo factory that it had made a mistake and should allow him to race the P3s. Alfa agreed and on August 20 Fagioli raced a Ferrari Alfa P3 at Pescara and beat Nuvolari's Maserati. A week later Fagioli raced at Comminges in France and scored another victory over a field of Alfa 8Cs. On September 3 Chiron pitted his Alfa P3 against Nuvolari's Maserati at Miramas. Nuvolari led but retired and Ferrari had another win.
Monza would be the showdown and there would be added excitement because this would also be Campari's last race because, at 41, he was ready to retire and make a new career as an opera singer.
Campari was a larger than life character. The same age as Nuvolari he had been a top line driver since finishing fourth in the 1914 Targa Florio. In 1920 on the Circuito del Mugello he scored Alfa Romeo's first racing victory and had twice won the Mille Miglia and the Italian GP and was a three-time winner of Pescara's Coppa Acerbo.
His fame was matched by his popularity and racing exploits were as celebrated as his idiosyncracies. Like evry good opera singer he weighed in at 16 stones. He had sung professionally at the Donizetti theatre at Bergamo and admitted to three great passions in life: racing, singing and cooking.
After much excitement it was Fagioli who emerged the winner after Nuvolari pitted in the closing stages of the three-hour race.
After lunch, with drizzle in the air, the first heat for the Monza GP was won by wealthy Paris-based Polish aristocrat Count Stanislas Czaykowski, driving a privately-entered Bugatti Type 54. He was chased home by French Algerian Guy Moll, who recorded a record lap of 122mph. It was Moll who reported to the organisers that there was a patch of oil on the South Curve, dropped it was said by a Scuderia Ferrari-run Duesenberg, driven by the company president Count Carlo Trossi. The American car had been bought by Ferrari in a desperate search for a car to compete with the Maseratis.
Moll's warning was heeded and the South Curve was brushed as the cars for the second heat waited on the grid.
This promised to be a showdown between Campari's Alfa P3 and Borzacchini's Maserati 8C 3000.
Borzacchini was another popular figure. Thirty-four years old and a close friend of Nuvolari, who had worked his way to stardom from working class beginnings. He was named Baconin after the Russian revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin and he had an unusual problem after Mussolini's Fascists took power. A Russian name did not suit the Fascist ideal of a racing driver hero, so Borzacchini was bullied into becoming Mario Umberto Borzacchini.
The Campari-Borzacchini showdown began with a dramatic standing start as the field hurtled away onto the North Curve. Neither driver came back. Going through the South Curve they were wheel to wheel when they hit the oil. Borzacchini lost control and spun wildly in the oily water. Campari swerved to avoid him, went up the banking and into the trees. At the same time Borzacchini's Maserati flipped over. Behind them Ferdinando Barbieri and Count Luigi Castelbarco also went off and both rolled.
Campari was dead, and for Borzacchini there was little hope and he would die that day in Monza hospital. It was a terrible blow for Enzo Ferrari. Scuderia Ferrari had been in operation for just four years and Campari's death was the first in a Ferrari car. That day Enzo Ferrari hardened his attitude towards his drivers. It was a blow too for Nuvolari who had lost his closest friend and a team mate and rival of many years. He spent most of the night at Monza hospital, with the grieving families.
Despite the crash the show had to go on. There was a drivers' meeting before the third heat and the south curve was cleaned more effectively. French Algerian Marcel Lehoux won the heat and was part of a stirring battle in the final with Moll and Czaykowski.
But this grim day was not over yet. On the eighth of the 14 laps Czaykowski's engine blew up, a fuel line broken and burning petrol sprayed back onto the driver. Unable to see, he crashed - at the same spot where Campari and Borzacchini had met their fates - and the Polish count was burned to death in the accident which followed.
The motor racing world was stunned. It had lost three top drivers in one afternoon.
Today, racing historians conclude that the events of Monza 1933 mark a watershed - notably for Enzo Ferrari. It was the end to the joyful era of racing and the beginning of a harsher new age.