Tripoli Grand Prix

Coordinates: 32°53′13″N 13°18′29″E / 32.887°N 13.308°E / 32.887; 13.308

Tripoli Grand Prix
Mellaha Lake
Race information
Number of times held 14
First held 1925
Last held 1940
Most wins (drivers) Italy Achille Varzi (3)
Germany Hermann Lang (3)
Most wins (constructors) Bugatti (4)
Mercedes-Benz (4)
Circuit length 13.140 km (8.165 mi)
Race length 394.2 km (244.945 mi)
Laps 30
Last race (1940)
Pole position
Fastest lap
1937 Tripoli Grand Prix.

The Tripoli Grand Prix (Italian: Gran Premio di Tripoli) was a motor racing event first held in 1925 on a racing circuit outside Tripoli, the capital of what was then Italian Tripolitania. It lasted until 1940.[1]


Motor racing was an extremely popular sport in Italy and the colony was seeking methods to raise capital and promote tourism—tourists who, it was hoped, would then decide to settle in Tripolitania. But despite the support of the colony's extremely enthusiastic governor, General Emilio de Bono, and some initial success, the events failed financially. Only personal intervention by General de Bono kept the 1929 event from being cancelled, and 1930 was marred by a spartan field, little public interest, and the death of Gastone Brilli-Peri in an accident.[2] Initial enthusiasm and sponsorship had retreated, the fallout from Brilli-Peri's accident meant a 1931 running was impossible, and the dream of a successful Tripoli Grand Prix might have ended there and then.

But the president of Tripoli's auto club, Egidio Sforzini, was resilient. He decided to organize another Grand Prix, this time on a purpose built European style racing circuit. Sufficient capital was raised from the Italian government's funding of a fair promoting the colony so as to make the venture possible, and upon the circuit's completion the Grand Prix was scheduled for the spring of 1933.[2]

This new Mellaha Lake track was a 13.140 kilometer (8.165 mi) long affair situated in a salt basin between Tripoli, Suq al Jum'ah (also known as Suk el Giuma or Sugh el Giumaa (سوق الجمعة)) and Tajura and around the Mellaha Air Base. The track's most distinctive landmark was a brilliant white concrete tower situated across from a large frontstretch grandstand that could hold up to ten thousand people.[3] Mellaha Lake was equipped with starting lights,[2] an innovation, and the additional amenities rivaled the best that continental European circuits had to offer.

With Italy exerting further control over its North African holdings, including the appointment of Marshal of the Air Force Italo Balbo as Governor-General and the joining of Italian Cyrenaica and Italian Tripolitania into a single colony, Libya, the event gained even more spectacle. The participants were treated like royalty, staying in luxury at the Hotel Uaddan with its casino and dinner theater and being entertained by Marshal Balbo at his palace. All this led Dick Seaman to describe Mellaha Lake as the "Ascot of motor racing circuits",[3] and coupled with its substantial total prize, it is easy to see why the Tripoli Grand Prix became such a popular date on the calendar.

From 1933 to 1938, the Grand Prix was run to the Formula Libre standard, meaning that no weight or engine restrictions were enforced on what was then the fastest track in the world. In 1939 the Italians, tired of Germany's dominance, turned it into a Voiturette race for smaller, 1500cc cars, but even so a specially-built Mercedes driven by Hermann Lang won.[4] In 1940, with only the factory Alfa Romeo and Maserati teams plus some independents in attendance, Giuseppe Farina took his only major pre-war victory.[5] It was a last and pyrrhic result for the Italians, because the Tripoli Grand Prix was never held again with the onset of World War II.[6]

1933 - Accusation of corruption

The Grand Prix was held in conjunction with the Libyan state lottery and, in the case of the inaugural Mellaha Lake event, there have long been accusations of result fixing. From October 1932 to 16 April 1933, the government sold 12 lire lottery tickets and, after taking their cut, they put up the rest as the prize for a special lottery based on the outcome of the race. Thirty attendance tickets were drawn at random eight days before the event and assigned to a corresponding race entry. The holder of the winner's entry would receive three million lire, second place two million, and third one million. The story, first publicized in Alfred Neubauer's 1958 book Speed Was My Life (Männer, Frauen und Motoren: Die Erinnerungen des Mercedes-Rennleiters), alleged that Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi and Baconin Borzacchini, along with their respective ticket holders, conspired to decide the outcome of the race in order to split some seven and a half million lire together. Research suggests that the story is a popular myth.[2]


By Year

Year Driver Constructor Location Report
1940 Italy Giuseppe Farina Alfa Romeo Mellaha Report
1939 Germany Hermann Lang Mercedes-Benz Mellaha Report
1938 Germany Hermann Lang Mercedes-Benz Mellaha Report
1937 Germany Hermann Lang Mercedes-Benz Mellaha Report
1936 Italy Achille Varzi Auto Union Mellaha Report
1935 Germany Rudolf Caracciola Mercedes-Benz Mellaha Report
1934 Italy Achille Varzi Alfa Romeo Mellaha Report
1933 Italy Achille Varzi Bugatti Mellaha Report
1930 Italy Baconin Borzacchini Maserati Tripoli Report
1929 Italy Gastone Brilli-Peri Talbot Tripoli Report
1928 Italy Tazio Nuvolari Bugatti Tripoli Report
1927 Italy Emilio Materassi Bugatti Tripoli Report
1926 France François Eysermann Bugatti Tripoli Report
1925 Italy Renato Balestrero OM Tripoli Report

See also


  1. "Video of Tripoli Grand Prix". Retrieved 2011-06-25.
  2. 1 2 3 4 H. Donald Capps. "Tripoli 1933 - A Hard Look at the Legend". The Golden Era of Grand Prix Racing. Archived from the original on March 7, 2005.
  3. 1 2 Dennis David. "The Circuits". Grand Prix History.
  4. Leif Snellman. "XIII° Tripoli Grand Prix". The Golden Era of Grand Prix Racing.
  5. Leif Snellman. "XIV° Tripoli Grand Prix". The Golden Era of Grand Prix Racing.
  6. "Video with images of the 1939 & 1940 Tripoli Grand Prix". 2008-01-21. Retrieved 2011-06-25.
  7. "Circuits of the past". Retrieved 2011-06-25.
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