One story is that incumbent Hans Stuck blocked Nuvolari’s path. Another is that Varzi did the dirty deed. Yet another is that Il Duce Mussolini insisted that his country’s greatest driver – even Varzi called Nuvolari ‘Maestro’, albeit out of his earshot – should drive an Italian car. So Nuvolari returned to Alfa Romeo and Varzi landed the Auto Union gig. The latter adapted swiftly to the radical machine, with its 5-litre V16 sited behind the driver, and won on his debut with the team: at Carthage’s Tunis GP.
He also won Pescara’s Coppa Acerbo in August. But he became badly unravelled in 1936: a theatrical reaction to team orders – even though they were in his favour – an affair with another driver’s wife, an addiction to morphine and a huge accident that he miraculously walked away from. All so out of character.
This most orderly of men, who fussed over every aspect of his cars, now led his employers a merry dance, either performing erratically or absenting himself entirely. Such was his talent, however, he was awarded second and third chances before being sacked. Having missed the bulk of 1937, he returned, insisting that he was reformed.
But he arrived at September’s Masaryk GP in Czechoslovakia with bandaged fingers and no explanation, drove slowly and asked to be excused. He had a train to catch, apparently. Barring an outing for Maserati at his beloved Mellaha circuit, near Tripoli – he had won at this superfast, sand-strewn track three times in four years – he was lost to the sport. Nuvolari felt this loss keenly.