The Duel in the Sun, the Monaco Grand Prix of 1933.

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19-Jun-20/Chris Bowen/

This was the first Grand Prix where grid positions were decided by the American sytem of practice time rather than by ballot. It was a race that would not be decided until the final lap with Achille Varzi and Tazio Nuvolari exchanging the  lead 21 times. Who said you can't overtake at Monaco!



With Alfa Romeo pulling out of Grand Prix racing  at the end of 1932, the first race of the new season on the tree lined streets of the Principality saw Scuderia Ferrari running modified Alfa Romeo Monza 8C sports cars for Nuvolari, Baconin Borzacchini, Carlo Felice Trossi and Eugenio Siena. These were matched against six Bugatti Type 51s and László Hartmann's Bugatti T35B. There were also three Maserati 8CM. For the first time grid positions were decided by practice times rather than by ballot.




Practice was thus a more exciting affair than usual with Nuvolari having an off and braking his rear axle and Caracciola hitting a wall and breaking his right leg. At the end of practice, Varzi was on pole with with Chiron and Borzacchini making up the front row. Nuvolari, Etancelin and Dreyfus were on row two with Fagioli, Wimille and Lehoux on row three.




And so it was that on that sunny afternoon on April 23rd the 100 lap race got underway with Varzi ahead of Borzacchini and Lehoux who had made a great start from row 3. By the end of lap 2 however Nuvolari had moved up to second and was on the tail of Varzi. On lap three he took the lead and for the next 97 laps Varzi's Bugatti and Nuvolari's Alfa passed and repassed each other. The Bugatti was better in the corners but the Alfa had the legs on the straights.


Late in the race, on lap 80, Varzi was again in the lead but four laps later Nuvolari was back in front. On lap 99 Varzi turned in the first sub two minute lap and took the lead only to have Nuvolari nip past as they started the last lap.


But the pressure of the race long duel had taken it's toll on the Alfa's engine and an oil line split leaving Varzi unchallenged for the lead for the first time and headed for the chequered flag. Nuvolari kept going, with his car ablaze, down the hill from the tunnel until it came to a halt. In an instant he was out, pushing the stricken machine toward the finish. However, worried about the fire, a mechanic offered assistance which, much to his annoyance, led to his disqualification. The longest dice in Grand Prix history was over, Nuvolari had led for 66 laps, Varzi for 34, including the one that really mattered.


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