The 1925 World Championship
by Tony Kaye
Sorting Fact from Fiction
Contrary to the writings of several motor racing authors, the first World Championship did not take place in 1950. Even books specifically dealing with racing in the twenties seldom make more than a cursory reference to a Championship in 1925. Some mention that Alfa Romeo was the winning make, but they mostly fail to provide any further details. Others omit the Championship completely. In a broad search of the literature, only two authors* provided a full list of the results of the Championship, including the points for each manufacturer. Only Biffignandi in Auto d'Epoca provided an outline of the regulations.
Hans Etzrodt, who seems to have a predilection for the deeper mysteries of motor racing, started to probe into the 1925 Championship and was aided in this by Alessandro Silva and Richard Armstrong. It was at this point that I became involved in the puzzle and decided to attempt to uncover all of the murky details. Hans kindly passed on to me the research that had so far been conducted and I proceeded to do some 'digging' of my own.
The basic problem was that no-one has so far gained access to a set of the original regulations as issued by the Italian Automobile Club or the AIACR in Paris - assuming that the records still exist. Even contemporary journals are very often frustratingly at odds with each other in describing the Championship. Several, like the British magazine Brooklands Gazette (which became Motor Sport during 1925) failed to make any mention of the Championship whatsoever.
Nonetheless, in lieu of official information, contemporary magazines comprised the backbone of my analysis. Six journals with relevant references were contributed by Richard Armstrong (Autocar/Motor), Alessandro Silva (Auto Italiana via Auto d'Epoca), Hans Etzrodt (Allgemeine Automobil Zeitung) and myself (Light Car/Motor Age). Several others were examined without success. Subsequently, Hans located relevant issues of Automobil-Revue, the contents of which have been added retrospectively. The addition of a French journal would have undoubtedly been of assistance.
No single magazine provided all of the regulations and each of them contained errors of various kinds. In several key areas there were major discrepancies between them and determining which was correct was not a simple task. The American journal Motor Age, is dealt with separately in the last part of this analysis.
* Donna Biffignandi - "La Luce di una Meteora. Primo Campionato Automobilistico del Mondo" - Auto d'Epoca #12 - 2000.
Adriano Cimarosti - "Autorennen" - 1986.
The notion of a motor racing World Championship was first put forward by the editors of the French journal L'Auto as early as 1923. At the end of that year it was discussed by the Commission Sportive Internationale, where it received a mixed reception. It was not until the following year, when the Automobile Club d'Italia gave the Championship its support, that the idea gained real momentum. Early in 1925 the World Championship was approved by the AIACR and the CSI proceeded to draft the regulations. Finally, an announcement of the Championship was made in the first few weeks of 1925. Details of the regulations were issued, but they seemed to cause as much confusion as clarification.
This section attempts to identify the precise regulations, which governed the first World Championship. Purely for the sake of convenience, the regulations are identified by number. This numbering does not signify any official AIACR, CSI or ACI derivation.
1. The Championship was to be for manufacturers, though at least two journals announced initially that it was to be a drivers championship.
2. The series was originally to have consisted of 5 races, each of at least 800 km. To justify the Championship's World status, three races were to take place in Continental Europe, one in Great Britain and one in U.S.A. It was later stated that the British event, the Brooklands 500, was 'cancelled', but the race was never a serious proposition as the track management was at that time close to litigation with local residents over the question of noise.
3. This left four races to comprise the Championship, the Indianapolis 500, the European Grand Prix at Spa and the French and Italian Grands Prix. As an aside, the Spanish Grand Prix was run later in the year according to the official AIACR regulations and would have been a fitting climax to the Championship. It has been suggested that, in its position as organizer of the Championship, the Automobile Club d'Italia vetoed the inclusion of the Spanish race.
4. According to the European magazines, the car specification for ALL four races consisted of a maximum displacement of 2,000cc, a minimum weight of 650kg and two-seater bodywork of 80cm (i.e.32 inches) at the widest point. Riding mechanics were prohibited. For various reasons discussed later, the Indianapolis 500 was run to somewhat different regulations, just as it was in the 1950's World Championships.
5. In acknowledgment of the leading role played by the Automobile Club of Italy, all Championship contenders had to participate in the Italian Grand Prix. Absence from this race would mean exclusion from the Championship, which is precisely what happened to Delage.
6. All contenders had to participate in their national race, though with the cancellation of the Brooklands race, this regulation would not apply to British manufacturers like Sunbeam. Only a couple of the magazines mentioned this regulation and it played little role in the outcome of the Championship.
7. Manufacturers were awarded points in three races of their selection (subject to regulations 5 and 6 above). This regulation, together with the detailed allocation of points, proved to be the most difficult to resolve. Initially, no two magazines seemed to present exactly the same interpretation of the official announcements. The possible reasons for stipulating three races, instead of all four, are discussed towards the end of this analysis.
8. Again subject to regulations 4 and 5, manufacturers did not have to compete in all three selected races, as the scoring system contained a points penalty for those who failed to take part in one of them. When the regulations were first announced, this led to great confusion about what was mandatory and what was not. Even Automobil-Revue, which did its best to keep its readers abreast of the championship, contradicted itself from time to time.
9. There was provision for a tie-breaker, if necessary. This would be an additional race of 200 km to be held in Italy not later than 48 hours after the Italian Grand Prix.
10. According to the scoring system, the eligible manufacturer with the lowest score would be declared the Champion.
11. The scoring system was as follows:
|1st place,|| 1 point,|
|2nd place,|| 2 points,|
|3rd place,|| 3 points,|
|All other finishers,|| 4 points,|
|All non-finishers,|| 5 points,|
|Non-starters,|| 6 points.|
Although this point system seems very straightforward, the contemporary journals found it difficult to understand or at least to communicate. The confusion concerned the last three scores and was bound up with the mandatory race issue. For instance, if they believed that participation in all three races was mandatory, there would be no non-starters, so no-one could earn points for failing to start?
Part of the points' allocation is still reflected in today's World Championship in which the first three finishers are placed on a podium above the rest. This custom may well have begun in the Olympic Games. However, the difference between a finisher and a non-finisher was more significant in 1925 than it is today. The complete distance of 800+ km had to be covered to qualify as a finisher, as races did not end immediately after the winner crossed the finish line. So it was reasonable that all finishers earned four points and those who failed to complete the course obtained five.
12. Manufacturers received only one point score in a particular race, this being the lowest score earned by one of its cars. None of the magazines mentioned this regulation, so it may have been absent from the original version issued to the press. However, without it, a manufacturer entering a team of cars would have been at a disadvantage in the Championship against a singleton entry.
13. The Champion manufacturer was to receive prize money of 100,000 FF, of which 70,000 FF was to be in cash and the remaining 30,000 was to be invested in a trophy. The task of designing the bronze trophy was given to the sculptor Antonio Maraini. These rewards were in addition to the regular prize and appearance money for individual races.
There may have been additional regulations concerning applications for entering the Championship and the definition of a manufacturer. Since no references to such regulations have been found I refrain from any conjecture. They are mentioned merely because, if they existed, they could have affected the final championship results.
An American Perspective
The American magazine Motor Age provides some additional insights into the 1925 World Championship, but taken alone it illustrates the dangers of relying upon only one source.
The entry blanks for the Indianapolis 500 were issued in January and outlined in the January 15 issue of Motor Age. There were two items in the regulations, which were to become of relevance to the as yet unannounced World Championship;
Maximum displacement of 122 cubic inches (i.e. 2 liter).
Minimum weight of 1,400 lbs. (i.e. 635 kg).
The weight limit was potentially important, since it was 15 kg lighter than the AIACR Grand Prix formula. However, the newly introduced front-drive Miller, which was arguably the lightest AAA championship car at that time, weighed 662 kg so it is unlikely that any of the cars competing in the Indianapolis 500 would have contravened the European weight limit of 650kg. Note also that the Indianapolis regulations contained no reference to two seats or to a minimum body width.
Why were the Indianapolis regulations different from that of the other World Championship races? For a start, since the Indianapolis regulations were formalized before the World Championship was even announced, the AIACR was in no position to force the American race to conform to European regulations. It was enough that the cars were of 2 liters. Besides, the AAA regulations applied to all the races in the American championship, not just Indianapolis, and all the existing Championship cars in U.S.A. were built to this formula. It would have been totally impracticable to change to the AAA regulations retroactively and in all probability no consideration was ever given to doing so.
The first official communiqué about the World Championship in Motor Age emanated from Paris on February 18, 1925, but it did not appear in the magazine until the end of the month. The original source was not stated, so it could have been the Automobile Club of Italy, but from the context of the item, it was more likely to have been the AIACR.
Motor Age: "On the initiative of the Italian Automobile Club, the World's Championship was established at a meeting of the International Sporting Commission, and will be open to all nations represented in the International Association of Recognized Automobile Clubs. The Championship, which comprises a cash prize of 70,000 francs, will be accorded to the winning driver in the Italian Grand Prix and in two of the following races selected by him: Indianapolis, European Grand Prix, French Grand Prix. All these races are for 122 cubic inch cars."
It appears from this and the paragraph that followed, that the magazine's contributor misunderstood it to be a drivers championship, as opposed to one for manufacturers. On the positive side it stated correctly that the outcome would be based upon the results of three selected races, one of which was the Italian GP. It did not state, as did some of the European journals, that it would be mandatory to take part in all three selected races. Also note that the regulations mention only the piston displacement, but not the weight and body width.
The same bulletin concluded; "The basis of awards will be one point for first place, two for second and three for third; all other positions equal four points; five points will be given for non-starting. The driver [sic] with the lowest number of points at the end of the season secures the Championship."
This point system proved to be incorrect, as four points were given to all other finishers, five to non-finishers and six to non-starters. However, Motor Age was certainly not alone in getting this wrong. It seems reasonable to suggest that the confusion may have been caused by the wording of the original official announcement. For instance, Richard Armstrong mentions that the Autocar's explanation of the points system was not at all clear.
It is worth pondering why the results would be based on only three races, rather than all four. Naturally, the AIACR was aware that few, if any, European manufacturers would travel to Indianapolis. Apart from anything else, their road racing cars would have been at a disadvantage against the American single-seater board track cars. Equally it was unlikely that American cars would come to Europe, since, as the regulations stood, their layout and dimensions would disqualify them from participation.
So the AIACR, in its wisdom, decided that for any manufacturer only three of the four races needed to count for the Championship, their home race, the Italian Grand Prix and one other (or two others in the case of Italian manufacturers). This was the center of much confusion in some European journals. It was not necessary to compete in all three, which is precisely why six points were allocated for missing a race.
The AAA Championship schedule had been announced in the first week of February, before news of the World Championship reached the USA. It consisted of nine events, but the AAA stated that more races would be added later in the year. Eventually, eleven Championship races took place, the timetable of which would normally have precluded any American manufacturer from competing seriously in both the AAA drivers championship and the AIACR manufacturers championship. However, only one race took place between the Laurel Board Speedway race on July 11 and a return to Laurel on October 24. More than three months were to pass with only one race. This might have released teams to compete in Europe, except for an AAA regulation, which required Championship contenders to compete in ALL championship races, including the isolated race at Altoona on September 2nd. So, effectively, they could compete in either championship, but not both.
Nonetheless, it seems that the AIACR was keen to obtain American participation in the World Championship. On April 30, long before the running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race, a note was sent from Paris to Motor Age to the effect that "American single-seater cars will be allowed to compete in the Italian Grand Prix race at Monza, September 6, against European machines having the official width of 31 inches, on condition that supplementary surfaces are added to give them equivalent cross section."
On May 7th, Motor Age published the complete list of entrants for the Indianapolis 500. In addition to the usual home-grown cars there were entries for Bordino's Fiat, two Guyot's, one for Guyot himself and the other for Maurice Bouvier, and a single Schmidt Special. Of these, only the Fiat appeared in the 500, and it subsequently took no part in the European races.
The May 7 article was effectively a lengthy preview of the Indianapolis 500, yet it did not contain a single reference to the World Championship, which by implication was probably seen as inconsequential in comparison to America's foremost race.
This was further demonstrated several weeks later in the race report, which appeared in Motor Age of June 4. It was 14 pages long and considerably more detailed than today's Grand Prix reports, for instance. Yet again, there was no mention of the World Championship, even though the results temporarily put Duesenberg and Miller in the first two places.
DePaolo finished first in a Duesenberg entered by the factory and thereby earned a point towards the World Championship. Second was a Miller, the Junior Eight Special, driven by Dave Lewis and entered by Cliff Durant. Did the AIACR award two points to Miller for this? The single factory car entered by Harry Miller only lasted 69 laps and would have been eligible for 5 points as a non-finisher. Clearly this is open to debate, but one would assume that points were only given to official factory entries. On the other side of the Atlantic, Automobile-Revue added to the confusion with its point score in the 3rd July issue. In this it gave two points to 'Junior Eight' as if this was a bona fide manufacturer, despite the fact that the cars had been built in the Miller factory.
The European Grand Prix at Spa took place on June 28th, but due in part to delays caused by sea-mail, Motor Age's report did not appear until July 30. The one-page report with three good photos contained no reference to the World Championship. Ironically, a footnote on the same page announced the fatal accident of Ascari in The French Grand Prix on July 26. Presumably the latter item had been sent by cable.
It is interesting that of twelve entries at Spa only seven came to the line. Had some of the missing cars been entered to ensure eligibility for the World Championship even if they had no real intent to compete in Belgium?
Automobil-Revue of July 21 stated that De Paolo had made an official entry to drive his Duesenberg in the Italian Grand Prix.. According to the announcement, AAA drivers were not recognized by the A.I.A.C.R., but the Italians had assured them that they would intercede on their behalf. Clearly, after the poor turnout at Spa, the Italian organizers required as many entries as possible and the World Championship needed representation from beyond Europe to achieve genuine international status.
However, Americans were unaware of this. The next they knew was in the Motor Age issue of August 6, which contained a bombshell under the headline, "Milton and Kreis Decide to Drive in European Race". The sub-line read, "De Paolo Will Stay Home and Represent Duesenberg in All A.A.A. Meets in This Country".
Here are some extracts from this long bulletin: "De Paolo does not give other reasons for not going, in spite of the understanding that A.A.A. officials had finally agreed to credit him with all his earned points even if he went." So the AAA had been prevailed upon to waive their all-race regulation to allow Duesenberg to participate in the World Championship race at Monza.
The announcement, which was made in Indianapolis on August 1 continued, "The two Duesenbergs, which are to be campaigned in Italy and France are nearly ready for shipment. The four-wheel brakes are fitted and the cars are to be shipped from Indianapolis August 4 and are due to sail for Genoa August 8." Clearly they were being sent to take part in the Italian Grand Prix, but the reference to a race in France is inexplicable since the French Grand Prix had already taken place before the announcement was made and no other suitable races were scheduled in France.
"A Duesenberg Victory picnic was given to the Duesenberg drivers and factory workers yesterday at Broad Ripple Park, where De Paolo was master of ceremonies." One wonders what those same workers thought when they subsequently heard that he would be competing against their cars in an Alfa Romeo!
Milton sailed for Cherbourg, France on July 8, while Peter Kreis sailed directly to Genoa with the cars, accompanied by the mechanics James Kemp and Jean Marcenac. The latter was highly experienced, having previously worked as a mechanic for the Ballot factory and for Ralph DePalma.
The same news item continued, "Monza speedway officials are offering the team very substantial appearance money for the trip". It is not clear which was the greater attraction to the team, the possibility of winning the World Championship or the certainty of liberal amounts of lire.
Finally, the item provided the first Championship points tally to appear in Motor Age. "Two European cars have ten points each" (presumably Alfa Romeo and Delage) "while Duesenberg is said to hold seven points." This was written after the French Grand Prix, so it is clear how the Duesenberg score was computed, i. e. one point for a win plus six points for a non-start, a total of seven. But 10 points for a win and a retirement (both Alfa Romeo and Delage) is completely baffling and undoubtedly wrong. Perhaps it is significant that Motor Age distances itself from these scores with the words "is SAID to hold seven points".
Belatedly, the French Grand Prix report appeared in the August 13 issue of Motor Age. A different, but totally acceptable points tally is given at the end of the report. "Delage and Alfa Romeo are placed on an equality for the world championship with six points each," (presumably, one point for a win plus five points for a retirement) "Duesenberg being second with seven points." Note that these scores are consistent with the '1 thru 6' scoring system, and demonstrate that the system published by Motor Age in February was incorrect.
Why did De Paolo decide not to join Milton and Kreis with his Duesenberg? In his biography 'Wall Smacker', which was written ten years after these events, he states on p. 183: "I decided not to take my Duesenberg as it did not comply with the European specifications, being a single-seater compared with the two-man cars which were used in Europe. The Duesenberg was in wonderful condition for the board speedway races in America and I didn't want to change it for just one race in Europe and then have to change it back again."
As it happened, he was probably justified in making this decision. For a start, as he explained in his biography, he managed to get his New York agent (I'm amazed that racing drivers have agents in the twenties?!) "to negotiate with the Italian speedway offices in Milan for an Italian Alfa Romeo car, which at that time was winning about all the European races."
Secondly, as the October 1 Motor Age report of the Italian Grand Prix stated, "European racing rules specify a 122-inch engine, a two-seater body 31 inches wide, with one man aboard. America races with single-seater bodies. The two Duesenberg cars arrived in Milan with the assurance that they would be allowed to race with two plates, 6.6 inches square added to their head resistance equal to that of the wider European cars. The organizers of the race, however, appear to have overstepped their powers in making this concession, and the jury insisted on 31-inch bodies being built. The rule that the two seats should be side by side was not enforced; the American drivers sat in the middle while the European drivers were on the right. The difference between American and European rules caused friction and created a situation which needed very diplomatic handling."
Again quoting 'Wall Smacker', "Milton was unfortunate in having to change the specification of his cars, to comply with the European rules, and I will always remember the manner in which Milton 'bawled out' Alessandro Salvi, when he informed Milton of the necessity of the change."
Automobil-Revue of August 21 explained that when De Paolo heard of Ascari's death, he offered to drive for Alfa Romeo in the Italian Grand Prix, after all, he was Italian by birth. The magazine politely refrained from mentioning that there was abundant prize money to be obtained! Apparently, negotiations with Masetti and Bordino had been fruitless, so Alfa Romeo accepted the American's offer. However, Automobil-Revue admitted that this version was not corroborated by Alfa Corse and it did not appear in De Paolo's memoirs.
The Motor Age report of the Italian Grand Prix did not provide a final points tally for the championship, but it did concede that Duesenberg had not won the title. That proved to be the end of the magazine's coverage of the 1925 World Championship.
In summary, this examination of the 1925 season from an American viewpoint is valuable in four respects:
|i.|| It confirms the 1 thru 6 points system.|
|ii.|| It demonstrates that failure to participate in one of the three races did not mean ineligibility from the Championship; it simply added a score of 6 points.|
|iii.|| Each championship contender scored in precisely three selected races.|
|iv.|| It confirms the historian's adage - whenever possible, do not rely on only one source.|
We can be confident that the Championship results were as follows:
|1. Alfa Romeo ||7 points (1+5+1)|
|2. Duesenberg ||11 points (1+6+4)|
|3. Bugatti ||13 points (6+4+3)|
This agrees with the point scores published in Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung, which, together with Automobil-Revue, was the only identified contemporary journal, which took the trouble to provide regular championship point updates.