February 19 1933: It's snowing in Pau, a town in South-West France in the shadow of the Pyrenees. It's approaching 2pm and the flakes have been falling since last night. Which is a shame, as the very first Grand Prix de Pau is about to start.
The organisers have been toying with the idea of calling the race off - there's no chance of postponing it - but, with a logic that would be welcome amid today's health-and-safety madness, they decide that the drivers are good enough to judge the conditions themselves.
Led by Algerian Guy Moll, the 22-year-old rising star in a Bugatti Type 51, the field slithers away. Conditions are so bad that Philippe Etancelin, winner of the 1930 French Grand Prix on a much-longer road circuit nearby, pits to have snow removed from his plug leads. Eventually the snow stops, the course turns to mud and Marcel Lehoux wins the race from Moll - a one-two for Algerians and for Bugattis (which inevitably comprise most of the field), at the earth-shattering speed of 45mph.
Seventy years later, on June 7 2003: it's blazing sunshine in Pau, even at just after 9:30am. This writer arrived in the town for his first visit only nine hours earlier; it's his first sight of a circuit that, apart from a rerouting around Parc Beaumont for the second running of the race in 1935, has changed very little in the intervening seven decades.
Get back on track. Join today for unlimited access to all Autosport news and features.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from monthly, yearly and two-yearly packages.
Marcus Simmons is the deputy editor of Autosport magazine. As a child he was a regular on the chalk banks of Thruxton, before becoming an MSA timekeeper at the age of 17. Shortly afterwards, he started reporting for Motoring News and joined the staff in 1990.
After abandoning a parallel Formula First career – which had been as incident-packed as his childhood equestrian exploits – he moved to Autosport in 1996. Since then he has had two stints as a freelance and a brief spell as editor of Motor Sport magazine, during which the revered green cover was revived, before rejoining Autosport in 2008. He lives in Twickenham with his partner, two daughters, cat and guitars.