Nice Grand Prix – 22nd April, 1946
Before the likes of Nino Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio and Alberto Ascari began dominating and winning Formula 1 World Championships, there were a breed of pre-war racing drivers who came before them.
According to some sources, the first official non-World Championship Formula 1 Grand Prix took place on 22nd April, 1946 in Nice. It was given the title “V Grand Prix de Nice” and would be competed over 65 laps, with each lap covering a distance of 3.218 miles along the promenade. A street circuit in every sense of the word.
Europe had been ravaged by World War Two, but prior to this between 1932-1935, there had been grand prix’s in Nice at the height of the Riviera summer. One participant in the 1946 race, Louis Chiron had won the race driving a Bugatti in 1932. He would also go on and win the first post-war French Grand Prix held at Lyon in 1947.
This Grand Prix was open to cars from 1500cc-2500cc, with or without superchargers. Most of the drivers participating were from either France or Italy. It was decided by organisers that no German drivers or teams were allowed to start. There was an eagerness for racing drivers, who had seen their careers stopped due to the war. to race again. Fuel was difficult to obtain, but somehow they managed to get twenty cars on the starting grid.
Crowds of people gathered in a very excited mood behind low walls and straw bales that lined the circuit. The drivers prepared themselves for the start of the 1946 Nice Grand Prix.
Because no official interviews were conducted prior to the race, it is not known what the drivers were thinking or what was said, but stepping into my imagination I can possibly conceive what may have happened.
I now hand you over to our fictional grid walk, with our man on the spot, Martin Brundle.
“It’s a lovely sunny day here on the grid, I can see the drivers just checking over their cars. I’m going to see if I can work my way through to speak to the main protagonists today. It is a bit chaotic on here, we have cars three abreast. I can see Louis Chiron, I’m going to see if I can have a word. He is the only Monaco born driver to win the Monaco Grand Prix back in 1931. Louis, Hi…Martin Brundle, Sky F1, any chance of a quick word.”
“Now, you know this track you won this race in 1932. But you were driving a Bugatti then, pretty
much one of the top cars of its era. Today you’re in a Talbot-Lago, how is that going to compete with
the dominant Maserati’s?”
“Well I am close to the front of the grid. If I can keep tabs on Gigi going down to the first turn then I
think we have a good chance.”
“You mentioned Gigi, and for the fans at home that’s Luigi Villoresi in the Maserati, who is sitting on Pole for today’s race. You also have Raymond Sommer for company.”
Yes Raymond too, I hope to get a good start off the line, maybe in straight line speed the Maserati
and Alfa Romeo will be faster than us, but there are 65 turns on this circuit and I feel my car has an
“And after a long time of not racing I can see by the smile on your face it’s good to be back on the
“For sure, it has been a tragic and different way of life due to the war but now we have peace and the
people can once again enjoy motor racing.”
Louis, thanks for taking the time to speak to us I’m going to let you get ready for the race. Now, I want to find the gentleman he just spoke about, Raymond Sommer. Interesting character. Won the French Grand Prix in 1936 and turned his attention to 24 hour sports car racing. Also a member of the French Resistance during World War Two. I’m just going to fight my way through these French journalists, he’s a bit of hero here as you can imagine. Raymond, Hi, Martin Brundle, Sky Sports F1. Quick Word?”
“Sure, Martin. How are you?”
“I’m very well Raymond. Thanks for asking. You have Villoresi sitting on pole, but some are
saying you have the faster car in the Alfa Romeo.”
“Yes, we had a few issues in qualifying which we have now resolved and I think that we will be very
“If I look around the grid it’s mainly Maserati’s, two Bugatti’s, Talbot-Lago’s and Delahaye’s.
There’s only you and Maurice Varet, who is back down the grid, in Alfa’s today, do you know something everybody else doesn’t?”
“It is a very good car. I think everybody on the grid knows it is a good car, I don’t know why there are only two on the grid, but we shall see what happens today.”
“Great stuff, Raymond, thanks. Right I want to try and find the man of the moment, Luigi Villoresi, or Gigi to his friends. Just there on my left is the 1938 24 hours of Le Mans winner Eugene Chabaud, he’s driving a Delahaye 135S about 120-145 brake horse power, it’s a competitive little car and could be up there challenging the Maserati’s. Here’s Luigi. Hi, Gigi, time for a quick chat?”
“For you, Martin. Always.”
“That’s very kind of you. Gigi, you’re on Pole, you are the man to beat. But you have Raymond Sommer for company. Nervous?”
“It is always good to be a little nervous, but Raymond is an excellent racer and I think that he will be
challenging me quite a bit during the race.”
“We’re probably looking at a little over two hours of racing here today, obviously Raymond is used to 24 hour racing so this should be a walk in the park for him, surely?”
“Yes, but I feel that the Maserati is a better car. Since the war we have been experimenting with a tubular chassis and two-stage supercharging and I think the car is probably the best around at the moment.”
“Gigi, all the best. The race is due to start. I’m going to let you get prepared, thanks very much for talking to us. Now, as Gigi gets himself ready for this Grand Prix he, like all drivers had to deal with the onset of the war, but on a personal level he lost his brother and co-racing driver, Emilio, to a testing accident in Monza, so this guy has been through the mill. Winner of the 1939 South African Grand Prix just before the outbreak of war I think he could bring home the Maserati today. It’s time for the national anthem, hope you enjoyed today’s grid walk.”
Although in that era both the Maserati and Bugatti were touted for being among the best racing cars in the world, for this particular Grand Prix, no Bugatti’s finished in the top five. Maserati claimed the victory and a fifth place with the driver pairing of Arialdo Ruggieri and Franco Cortese. the victor was one Luigi ‘Gigi’ Villoresi, who won in a time of just over two hours.
His rival in the race, Raymond Sommer, came second, a whole lap behind Villoresi. However, Sommer did manage to post the fastest lap of the race. It is said that Villoresi was averaging around 65mph, whereas Sommer was averaging 70mph during the race.
Some of the names mentioned went on to have great racing careers, others sadly died doing what they loved to do. Race cars.
FINAL RACE POSITIONS:
1st – Luigi Villoresi (ITA) – Maserati – 2:00.04.5
2nd – Raymond Sommer (FRA) – Alfa Romeo – +1 lap
3rd – Eugene Chabaud (FRA) – Delahaye – +4 laps
4th – Georges Grignard (FRA) – Delahaye – +6 laps
5th – Arialso Ruggieri/Franco Cortese – Maserati – +7 laps
6th – Louis Chiron (MON) – Talbot-Lago – +7 laps
7th – Marice Varet (FRA) – Alfa Romeo – + 10 laps
8th – Charles Pozzi (FRA) – Delahaye – +14 laps
9th – Fernand Bianchi (FRA) – Bugatti – +17 laps
10th – Henri Louveau (FRA) – Maserati – +21 laps
*Villoresi took Pole with a time of 1:45.0 in qualifying
** Sommer posted the fastest lap with a time of 1:44.8
DID NOT FINISH
Franco Cortese (ITA) – Maserati – Supercharger – No lap completed, Ruggieri took over
Roger Deho (FRA) – Maserati – Problem Unknown – Lap 5
Phillipe Etancelin (FRA) – Maserati – Magneto – Lap 8
Marcel Balsa (FRA) – Talbot-Lago – Accident – Lap 15
Raph (FRA) – Maserati – Accident – Lap 15
Henry (Harry) Schell (USA) – Maserati – Accident – Lap 20
Henri Trillaud (FRA) – Delahaye – Connecting Rod – Lap 20
Robert Mazaud (FRA) – Maserati – Magneto – Lap 22
Maurice Trintignant (FRA) – Bugatti – Ignition – Lap 30
Pierre Levegh (FRA) – Talbot-Lago – Rear Axle – Lap 41
DID NOT START
Disconde Lanza (ITA) – Maserati
Paul Friderich (FRA) – Delahaye
See you at the chequered flag.