Sometime within the last couple of months, the Formula 1 megastar Lewis Hamilton wondered aloud whether the Monaco Grand Prix, the world’s most historic pure street race, deserves to be on the modern F1 calendar. The debate is essentially about whether today’s cars are so wide and fast that it’s impossible to pass on Monte Carlo’s sinuous streets. That’s an issue for Liberty Media, which owns Formula 1, to debate. What’s arguably more significant is the grand sweep of international racing history that Monaco represents. Bugatti, which is now an Italian brand of gigabuck hypercars instead of a French one, owns a huge and very significant piece of Monaco history, including four wins in the Grand Prix era that preceded today’s Formula 1 until after World War II. For this weekend’s running of the 13th annual Grand Prix de Monaco Historique, for vintage race cars, Bugatti reflected on that august heritage, especially as it concerned one of its star drivers, who happened to be a Monaco native.
Known for their aesthetic flawlessness and jewel-like level of preparation, Bugatti cars built in Molsheim, part of the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, won the Monaco Grand Prix four times, beginning in 1929, when William Charles Frederick Grover-Williams, who raced under the pseudonym W. Williams, crossing the line first in the Grand Prix’s inaugural running. Bugatti would subsequently win Monaco four times: with René Dreyfus in 1930, Louis Chiron in 1931, and Achille Varzi in 1933. Chrion’s win stands out, however, as representing the only time that a native Monégasque won the race. A true continental gentleman with exquisite breeding, Chiron later suffered nearly crippling injuries and the loss of his beloved spouse in a skiing accident, but recovered mightily to resume his career, which included an attempt at the Indianapolis 500 and a point-scoring finish in his final Grand Prix, fittingly also at Monaco. That occurred in 1955, when Chiron was nearly 56. Chiron is still the oldest driver to ever start a Formula 1 race. In 2016, Bugatti honored his memory by naming one of its supercars in his honor, the Bugatti Chiron.