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#270 1976 Monaco Grand Prix

2021-04-16 01:00

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#1976,

#270 1976 Monaco Grand Prix

Report of Formula 1 1976 Monaco Grand Prix, at Monte-Carlo circuit, won by Niki Lauda with Ferrari.

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Wednesday, May 26, 1976 we return to the Monte Carlo circuit for the most famous Grand Prix of the Formula 1 World Championship, the only one that retains a certain flair of elegance and worldliness, and that evokes the heroic times of the sport of the automobile, when man was still able to impose himself on the machine and its vicissitudes, woven of daring and often of a vein of madness, prevailed over the technical, economic and advertising facts.

 

There are twenty-five entrants, twenty places available for the race, therefore five drivers - those with the worst times - are excluded. For some, the fight will be desperate: for Emerson Fittipaldi, for example, who already failed to qualify in Belgium, and certainly not because he is suddenly no longer capable, but because of the lack of competitiveness of Copersucar, so celebrated at the beginning of the year by Italian commentators, to the point of being presented as a rival to Ferrari.

 

RAM does not participate, while Copersucar and Hesketh present only one car: the British team brings only Ertl. Mario Andretti also misses the race, engaged in the Indianapolis 500; Lotus does not replace him with any other driver. However, Henri Pescarolo is back, with a Surtees of the Norev team. The Frenchman, who in 1975 had been entered in the Grand Prix but did not take part due to the unavailability of the car, again a Surtees, had not been in Formula 1 since the 1974 Italian Grand Prix, raced at the wheel of a B.R.M.

 

The Monaco Grand Prix was the 200th for Lotus as a manufacturer. Colin Chapman's team had made its debut in the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, and has so far won fifty-seven races, second only to Scuderia Ferrari, as well as having obtained sixty-seven poles, fifty fastest laps, one hundred and three podiums, six world championships for constructors and five for drivers. In Monaco we return, finally, to relive the exciting hours that Ferrari was able to give in 1975. The pole position after three days of practice with Lauda, the lonely ride of the Austrian, the perfect change of tires when the rain was replaced by the sun, the triumph ahead of Fittipaldi, then with the McLaren, and Pace with the Brabham-Ford.

 

It was in Monaco that the 312 T - now in a museum - won its first race: it was in Monaco that Lauda began that superb flight that was to bring him and Enzo Ferrari the world title. A flight that continues: Lauda is leading the championship with 42 points, Regazzoni is second with 15. Then, the others, those of the English teams: Depailler with 10 points, Mass and Scheckter 8, and so on. There is an abyss between the Ferraristi and their rivals: if it will remain so in Monaco, the challenge for the 1976 title will be closed in advance.

 

Emerson Fittipaldi has been, last year, the most direct adversary of Ferrari. When Lauda conquered the world title at Monza, the Brazilian smiled wistfully, while recognizing the value of his rival who had not made any mistakes, and the validity of the red car from Maranello. However, he was animated by belligerent intentions of revenge, intentions sadly wrecked this year, since Fittipaldi, since the beginning of the season, is relegated to the role of extra: Copersucar, whose advantageous proposals have forced him to reconsider making him divorce from McLaren (rumors would indicate in 75 million liras per month the Brazilian's contribution), continues to disappoint.

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After the first sporadic flashes that thrilled the cariocas in the tests of the Grand Prix of Brazil, the car of Fittipaldi has not yet reached a degree of competitiveness such as to place it among the favorites of 1976. Emerson is also unlucky: on Thursday, May 27, 1976, during one of the many pit stops necessary for a tuning that seems to be difficult, while the mechanics pour a liquid into the trumpets that helps the start-up, a fire develops and is promptly tamed, but it forces Fittipaldi to lose precious time. The incident creates some nervousness: Fittipaldi loses his calm and gets angry with his technicians, who struggle to calm him down. A squabble with no aftermath, as the Brazilian driver regains his usual smile after about ten minutes.

 

"Despite the anger, I am sure that in a relatively short time our efforts will be successful. It will take two or three more Grands Prix to reach a satisfactory level of tuning. I'm still one second off today, but I did it intentionally. The day after tomorrow it will be better".

 

We will see if the Brazilian will be able to keep his promise. Copersucar is in dire need of a quick turnaround because in Brazil, for some time now, people have begun to criticize the o rey of the steering wheel. The fastest car in the first practice session is again Ferrari, and again Niki Lauda in the Monte Carlo circuit. The reigning World Champion is the fastest in the first day of practice for the Monaco Grand Prix, turning in 1'30"38 at an average speed of 131.923 km/h. An excellent performance, even though it was four seconds slower than the one that earned him the pole position last year (1'26"40). The difference can be explained by the changes made to the track in the Santa Devota and Rascasse curves, which are already being discussed and which some drivers, such as Clay Regazzoni, are contesting, although limited to verbal attacks.

 

"It doesn't do any good. On the contrary, if before you made a mistake on the curve and touched the side, now you get right into the guardrail and if someone in front turns you'll find him right in the middle. You get to the casino at the same speed as before".

 

In the first case, the speed of the cars has been slowed down with a more pronounced curve to the left, as requested by the drivers' safety commission already in the previous year. The Rascasse, on the other hand, is enlarged and delayed in order to make the entrance to the pits safer. The stands eliminated by these changes are replaced by a new structure at the Tobacconist's corner, and others in other points of the track. Even Jackie Ickx disputes the new changes, while Arturo Merzario underlines the goodness of them and how the new Saint Devote slows down the cars before the ascent towards the Casino.

 

If Lauda and the Ferrari 312 T2 confirm once again to be the man-machine couple at the top of Formula 1, Tyrrell reveals to have two very competitive cars, at least in this tortuous track. Jody Scheckter runs in 1'30"58 and Patrick Depailler in 1'31"03: it is necessary to point out that the Frenchman takes part in the last hour of training with the four-wheel Tyrrell, as the gearbox on the other one is broken. Patrick, therefore, cannot improve, and it is known that the author of the progress of the car is just him, and not Scheckter, who only in Belgium, two weeks before, has driven for the first time the six-wheeler.

 

"My single-seater in Monte-Carlo can beat the Ferrari. There are a lot of tight corners here: I think I can deal with them faster than any other car. In the stretch along the pool on the harbor, for example, I'm the fastest. We removed the big air intake on the engine and the road holding has improved: it was affecting the aerodynamics negatively. It's clear that we still have a lot of work to do, but for the third Grand Prix we can be quite satisfied".

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The Tyrrell technicians, however, are worried about Sunday's race. The Monte-Carlo circuit has always been tiring for brakes and transmissions; now the stress has increased, since the modifications made to the Santa Devota and Rascasse curves force the drivers to brake and use second gear two times more. It is no coincidence that one of the gearbox gears mounted on Depailler's car breaks during practice. In addition to brakes and transmissions, the circuit stresses the suspensions and, with all the jolts and shakes it imposes, the cars as a whole. In this sense we can give an extra card to the Ferrari team, which is proving to have not only fast but also very strong single-seaters. Even today the 312 T2 of Lauda and Regazzoni did not have the slightest problem, and the two drivers were able to devote themselves with commitment to the usual tuning operations: ailerons, shock absorbers, springs. It was precisely the happy choice of a type of spring that allowed Lauda to beat everyone:

 

"I am now ninety-nine percent fit, so much so that I have left both my wife and physiotherapist Dungl at home. I have almost no more pain, and I feel able to race in Monaco without any problems. Today I tried my best to set the best time, but I hope to improve it on Saturday. The Tyrrell are fast: with their small wheels, and with the tires that Goodyear prepares on purpose, they are able to face the curves very well. But we are too. I have tuned the car, I have chosen the best tires and only in the final part of the race I have been able to drive comfortably. I haven't found the limit yet and I hope to do so on Saturday".

 

Niki is sure, but perhaps Depailler prepares him some surprise: the Frenchman, who knows how to drive the six wheels much better than Scheckter, is blocked in the last hour of tests by the failure of the gearbox. What else could he have done, since Scheckter is only two tenths of a second behind Lauda? The Ferrari seems to be the favorite, but during the tests not everything works properly: almost at the end of the first hour and a half of training, when Regazzoni is finishing the preparation of the car, Gunnar Nilsson makes a pirate maneuver ramming the Ferrari at the Portier curve, the one that leads to the promenade after the descent from the Casino. The Lotus throws the 312 T2 against a guardrail, which in the impact breaks the front left suspension.

 

"That Nilsson, I don't know how he can make such mistakes. Inexperience, probably. Afterwards he said sorry, sorry, but in the meantime he gave me a big blow to the rear side of the car while I was taking my turn. I flew through the air. It's a good thing that our cars are really strong".

 

In the second part of the training the Swiss driver is forced to use the forklift, that is the car with which in Belgium he was classified second and that here had been replaced by a new body. Another time lost for the set-up, so that his 1'31"13 - fourth absolute performance of the day - must be considered with particular respect. On the other hand, as said, Tyrrell amazes, and its owner does not hide the fact that it is normal that its designer - Derek Gardner - had once again a very good intuition. He's good, and Tyrrell has given him full confidence. When the six-wheeled car was presented, many smiled and said it was a purely publicity stunt, but now they are realizing that it is not at all.

 

Gardner, with his professorial air, reminds us of the fundamental criteria that led to his 34 design: reduced drag and improved stability and braking. The reduction of aerodynamic resistance is obviously obtained by making the front wheels very small, and by reducing the track width; moreover, the small wheels work practically in the wake of the nose and do not cause that lift phenomenon, well known in aerodynamics, which is produced when a cylinder turns vortically. In this way the aerodynamic pressure that needs to be applied to the front end is reduced and power is saved. But at Monte Carlo there is another advantage, as Gardner says: since grip does not depend so much on aerodynamics, but on the geometry of the front end itself, the drivers feel safer because the car's response does not change between slow and fast corners. A further improvement in stability is given by the lowering of the center of gravity, thanks to the small wheels. This has made it possible to reduce the track width without losing anything.

 

To consider, finally, that the brakes are four and not two, so they end up being less fatiguing. This of the four front brakes is a fixed nail of Gardner, who had already tried cars with two brakes for each front wheel, just here in Monte Carlo, four years before. As Tyrrell himself says, his car is fast not because of a single element, but because of the combined effect of many things, among which obviously the six wheels are the most striking detail. The very fact that they were able to develop a single-seater with such complex mechanics, and without having a major weight handicap, demonstrates the ability of the designer.

 

At Tyrrell they say, even if in a whisper, that now they could beat Ferrari, in Monte Carlo and elsewhere, because they have also enough speed for the fastest circuits; perhaps they will not succeed, but probably Tyrrell will be the car that will offer the most electrifying shows in the rest of the championship. Ferrari and Tyrrell, therefore, for a duel that promises to be unmissable, even if Saturday's tests could bring some changes, while Amon's Ensign grows, with a time of 1'31"75. Some progress for the Brabham-Alfa Romeo: Carlos Pace is seventh in the ranking, with a time of 1'32"20.

 

Vittorio Brambilla, very fast in the early stages, finds a failure of the rear brakes: the March of the Italian ends up on the sandbags that protect the area like a military post, and the chassis bends. If it will not be repairable, Brambilla will use a mule on Saturday. The McLarens are behind: Hunt gets the sixth time in 1'31"88, and Mass the seventeenth in 1'33"40. Teddy Mayer's single-seaters, after the adaptation to the new Formula 1 rules, are still to be tuned. Chris Amon, with his Ensign, seems to be competitive, while Laffite does not shine, with the Ligier-Matra, as the Frenchman is forced to solve some problems with the brakes and the ratios.

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On Friday, May 28, 1976, there is no racing; at noon the bar of the Hermitage hotel, characterized by golden stuccoes and red velvets, is quiet and silent. In one corner, on black leather sofas, a group of Italian ladies discuss the morning's purchases. The skyrocketing prices of the Principality are not a problem, at least for them. On another sofa, dressed in blue jeans and a sweater, Formula 1 World Champion Niki Lauda sits relaxed, sipping a juice with a satisfied look.

 

He came to this belle époque hotel together with Ferrari's sporting director, Daniele Audetto, to collect the prize awarded by Irpa, the association of specialized journalists who follow motor racing. Irpa gave the Austrian a double prize: the orange, for sympathy, and the lemon, for antipathy. The vote had divided the jurors into two exact parts. For Ferrari, however, only the orange, recalling the work carried out with intelligence last year by Luca Montezemolo, and continued now with commitment by Audetto.

 

"I have the impression that the fifty percent who voted for the lemon were British. They must be fed up with always having to write Lauda first".

 

On this line the conversation with Lauda opens. Two calm chats, something impossible in the convulsive hours of track tests, to take stock of the situation of the Formula 1 championship, of Ferrari and of Lauda himself, who wins in a continuous stream.

 

"What am I supposed to do, let someone else pass? I'm not bored at all, because each race represents a commitment in itself, an effort that the whole Ferrari team makes together. I race to win, it seems natural to me, and I have to do it for my team too. On the other hand, I don't understand why some people have to get fed up. In cycling there is Merckx, in skiing Klammer, in motorcycles Agostini, in Formula 1 there are Lauda and Ferrari, and I hope they will stay there for at least another two years. Understood? Besides, something can always happen: a thousand factors that influence a Grand Prix, Sunday I could lose, so be it, it would be a normal thing. In the championship I have twenty-seven points of advantage on Regazzoni and thirty-two on Depalller. So far I have obtained all positive results: four successes and a second place out of five races. Between the Grand Prix of Monaco, Sweden and France I will have to, for regulation, discard a result, the worst one. This means that on Sunday and in the next races I will be able to pull to the maximum, trying first to win and then to score points".

 

Niki pauses for a drink, then scans his interlocutor with an inquisitive look.

 

"Am I satisfied? Yes, I am, let's move on to another question".

 

What do you have to do to win in Monte Carlo?

 

"Many things, but above all to start on the front row, in pole position. Tomorrow I will do everything to keep it, on this circuit it is too important. If you are in pole position and you start well and afterwards, obviously you have no problems with the car, you have won because nobody can overtake you. In addition, the changes made to the Saint Devote curve, which joins the start straight to the uphill towards the Casino, will make the start uncertain and dangerous. I have the impression that some mistakes will happen, that some cars will touch others. Twice better, then, to be in front of everyone".

 

Lauda's remark automatically shifts the discussion on safety and on the opportunity to run or not to run in Monte Carlo. Among other things, just in Saint Devote Vittorio Brambilla went off the track, destroying with his March the sandbags placed to protect the curve and dirtying the roadway. During the day on Friday, the bags were removed, the bean-shaped platform that delimits the road was covered with asphalt, and old tires piles appeared again.

 

"I make a very simple premise: Ferrari pays me for me to race, so I have to do it even when I don't like it. This is not the case, however, at this circuit. Last year, for example, after the tragedy of Barcelona, Enzo Ferrari had left me free to come to Monte Carlo or not. It was a magnificent gesture, but I preferred not to give up. In a race anything can happen, and therefore also in Monte Carlo, but the chances are the same as in all the other circuits. On the contrary, I think that this is a not very dangerous track: if an accident happens, there is a seventy percent probability that no one gets hurt and a thirty percent probability that the damages are minor, or a broken leg or arm, something like skiing. Speeds are contained, the fastest point is after the tunnel on the waterfront, before the port chicane: 230 km/h. But you don't have to reason with the yardstick of the common motorist. Formula 1 single-seaters are special cars, with the enormous tires they have and the brakes they use, a driver in trouble can decelerate enormously in a few meters. Slamming into a guardrail at eighty kilometers per hour is no big deal: we are wearing helmets, we are strapped in with safety belts, every car is built with deformable structures that cushion the impact. Where you really risk your skin is at the Nurburgring, in Germany. There, anyone who flies out is one hundred and ten percent dead. But they don't want to spend money to improve the circuit".

 

It is a tradition that the World Champion - see Jackie Stewart or Emerson Fittipaldi - is very committed to safety issues. And Lauda?

 

"I do everything I can, and I would do it even if I were not World Champion. With the other drivers we have created a study commission, and we try every year to improve the circuits under this point of view. An accident, by the way, represents the worst possible publicity for Formula 1".

 

Back to the Monaco Grand Prix. This Tyrrell...

 

"No, no, calm down. The six-wheeled Tyrrell is fast, all right, it's fine, but every judgment must be projected in the arc of the championship and of all the tracks. Let's wait. The six-wheeler is strong here, but what did it do in Spain or Belgium and what will it do, for example, in Sweden? It's still a question mark, while Ferrari has by now proven to be competitive on every type of track. This is its real strength, which comes from the union of intentions of the whole team and from having chosen technically correct roads. If a car is in good shape, four wheels are enough. And if in the future they are not enough, I will ask Maranello to give me six or eight".

 

Niki laughs and takes another sip of his fruit juice. Audetto interjects.

 

"And who's to say, moreover, that the times Tyrrell got here were not only due to the six wheels, but also and above all to the special compounds Goodyear had to prepare for the small front wheels?".

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However, in the doubt that this Tyrrell is growing a bit too much, Ferrari has resumed the De Dion program, that is the tests to introduce a rear axle of rigid type on the 312 T2. A test in this regard will be carried out by Lauda on Tuesday on the Tuscan track of Mugello. Jackie Stewart is always a character, especially in Monte Carlo where he won three times. The Scotsman has played an important part in the work that the organizers have done, making numerous improvements to the circuit that are essential for the safety of the drivers and the public.

 

"I defended Monte-Carlo because it must not disappear. It is the circuit that most propagandizes motorsports and also sensitizes those who marginally follow the events".

 

What do you think of Niki Lauda as a driver and as a man?

 

"He is intelligent and technically gifted, two qualities that he has been able to combine perfectly, reaching almost total perfection in a short time, giving a basic contribution to the tuning of the Ferrari".

 

What is the difference between Lauda and Regazzoni?

 

"The Austrian is young and is in a continuous upward parabola. Regazzoni may have more experience, but if we look at a hypothetical graph, we can see that his rise has been less rapid: an upswing, a period of stagnation, then another upswing and so on. But without any drop in performance".

 

And Fittipaldi?

 

"I wouldn't single out one driver as better than the others. In my opinion there are five or six, and among them Fittipaldi and Lauda. Also Scheckter, but he is quite inconstant in his performance".

 

Stewart then expresses his opinion on the Saint Devote modification.

 

"It will be necessary for the drivers to remain calm immediately after the start, because the passage is narrow and there is only room for one car".

 

In this regard, the managers have already issued a circular among the competitors: they will have to pay close attention to the yellow flag: an overtaking at Saint Devote could cost them disqualification. Jackie has also begged Lauda to attend the gala on Sunday evening, as last year the Austrian had been eclipsed. However, it seems that this year Lauda is leaving by helicopter as soon as the Grand Prix is over: his wife is not too well and, as a good newlywed, Niki feels the desire to return to her side quickly. As Audetto puts it:

 

"Lauda is shy and avoids everything that is exterior, dedicating all of himself to the preparation of the car, to the understanding with technicians and mechanics. He is the maximum expression of the modern driver: human, fast, rational. I would also like to say a few words about our mechanics who carry out their duties with passion and efficiency, even those who do not follow us on the circuits. For my part I have tried not to upset the precious team balance created by Luca Montezemolo".

 

In the meantime Bernie Ecclestone confirms that with the shift of the dates, which makes it possible for the cars to return to their locations for overhaul, the last three Grands Prix of the season can be regularly held. According to agreements with the organizers, the new calendar would be:

 

  • October 3 - Canadian Grand Prix
  • October 10 - USA Grand Prix
  • October 31 - Japanese Grand Prix

 

Between USA and Japan there would be three weeks, enough time for the revision of the cars and their return. The CSI agrees, so everything should be definitive. The hypothesis of the race that would take place in Imola on September 19, 1976 remains open, with the displacement of one week of the Canadian Grand Prix, under Enzo Ferrari's suggestion.

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Saturday, May 29, 1976 the roar of the engines bounces again on the walls of the houses; people break their ears, but they are fascinated and watch, perched on some grandstand, crowded on balconies, softly lying on the deck of yachts that look like ships. Logic would have it that these four- and now six-wheelers would not run on roads suitable for common traffic. Just to give an example, Merzario managed to get a front wheel into the cockpit, such was the impact. In short, the risk is there, and especially for the public.

 

At the end of the tests Niki Lauda keeps the pole position, and at his side Clay Regazzoni. The two Maranello drivers are therefore on the front row, an ideal situation in the Monte Carlo circuit, where overtaking is very difficult, almost impossible. An ideal situation especially if the Austrian and the Swiss know how to run a judicious race, bearing in mind, as in Belgium a fortnight earlier, that a Ferrari must assert itself. And both Lauda and Regazzoni seem convinced of this necessity, which exceeds their personal ambitions.

 

"I am delighted that Clay is with me. Here we start slightly staggered: my car will be seven or eight meters ahead of his. This means that, if I can get off without any problems, Regazzoni will be behind me. Then we will be able to impose our pace on the race. We must also think about finishing the race: the risk of failure is greater here than on other tracks. Of course, life will be hard tomorrow".

 

Lauda affirms, and Regazzoni is also happy.

 

"We are in the first row, the prospects for Niki and for me are good. I am especially pleased not to be in the group: at Saint Devote, at the start, collisions could easily happen. I won't attack Lauda: I didn't do it in Belgium, I don't see why I should do it here, where it would be more difficult and risky. Only if he will have some problem and will have to slow down, or stop, I will take the lead".

 

Lauda, who had lapped in 1'30"38 on Thursday, goes down to 1'29"65, confirming on the one hand his exceptional skills and on the other hand the possibilities of the 312 T2, which superbly takes up the legacy of the glorious 312 T. The timekeepers give Regazzoni an excellent 1'29"91. A time that surprises the Ferrari team itself, as it was not detected by the Heuer specialists with their electronic timing equipment. Perhaps there was a mistake, perhaps the 1'29"91 was actually obtained by Lauda, who had twice consecutively dropped below 1'30". If it really happened like that, the fact is definitely funny: the Austrian not only gained the pole position, but also allowed his teammate to reach the long awaited first row.

 

"We should be at this point full of confidence, but in reality we can only have hope. This is a difficult race, you'll see a few come in tomorrow, I'm afraid of statistics: it's a long time we haven't lost a Grand Prix, sooner or later something will have to happen. Now it's a matter of choosing two perfect sets of tires for Niki and Clay. We don't want any surprises".

 

Commented engineer Mauro Forghieri, while engineer Giovanni Sguazzini, managing director of Lancia, for some time very close to Ferrari, present for the occasion in Monte Carlo, admitted:

 

"There are many competitive cars and the circuit is very selective. I have followed the rally sector closely, while I have never been to a Formula 1 Grand Prix. There is an incredible tension".

 

Calm statements, as it should be on the eve of a race as special as this one. But once again Ferrari is at the top, and is the favourite, combining performance and reliability. This happens - it must be underlined - in every circuit: a beautiful demonstration of completeness, a fact to be proud of as expression of the work of an Italian factory. The Tyrrell six-wheelers were not able to threaten the 312 T2 in these tests, on the contrary they were overtaken today by the March of the unrestrained Peterson. The Swedish driver, who has always performed magnificent tests in Monte Carlo, improved his time by more than three seconds: from 1'33"40 to 1'30"08, while Depailler and Scheckter only went down to 1'30"33 and 1'30"55. The French driver of Tyrrell, very tired, says:

 

"I raced like never before in my life, but more than that I could not do. After about twenty minutes of practice, the tires have worn too much and my car has become oversteering".

 

Emerson Fittipaldi, in the Coopersucar, took a significant step forward: the Brazilian, who dropped from 1'39"96 to 1'31"39, gained the fourth row, like Laffite, whose Matra-Ligier proved to be less competitive than elsewhere. During the final minutes, Fittipaldi returns to the pits to refill the tank, having been left with little fuel. But as he stops, he raises the visor of his helmet and yells at his mechanics:

 

"You have screwed me a good lap, I have no more fuel".

 

Jo Ramirez, his chief mechanic, responds:

 

"Okay, that's something that happens sometimes. Don't turn off the engine."

 

After refueling, Emerson Fittipaldi comes skidding back onto the track, while Wilson puts his hands in his hair. The Brazilian driver, on his last attempt manages to climb from twentieth position to fourth. When he discovers that he had set an excellent time, Emerson is happy, but the team is deeply disappointed with the Brazilian's behavior. Jo Ramirez says with his driver:

 

"If you don't want to do it anymore, say so. It's not nice that we all work our asses off for you if you don't intend to race. From now on, all we're going to do is upset you at the last minute and put five liters of gas in your tank to make the car go a second and a half faster."

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Vittorio Brambilla, this time, was not the fastest of the March team, but he has good reasons: his gearbox breaks in the last decisive quarter of an hour of training. Disappointing the behavior of the Brabham-Alfa Romeo and the McLarens: the team of Bernie Ecclestone, moreover, distinguishes itself for some not really genial ideas, that make the Alfa Romeo men dumb. To lighten Pace's car, the Brabham mechanics remove the alternator, weighing three kilos, so that at a certain point poor Carlos stops on the track without electricity, with a flat battery. Hunt, Lauda's great rival in the opening phase of the season, gets the fourteenth time.

 

"In Monte Carlo the McLarens never went well. Of course, if I had a Ferrari...".

 

During morning practice on Sunday, May 30, 1976, McLaren will remove the air intake to improve the car's efficiency and give the rear wing a cleaner airflow. The Grand Prix will be all-Italian, as always, but the effects of the economic crisis translate into a drop in receipts for the Monegasque hoteliers, where generally a bed was charged about ten thousand lire, up to sixty-seventy thousand in luxury hotels. The result is that people stop high up on the Moyenne Corniche with their binoculars to catch the evolutions in the eastern part of the circuit, the one that the close-up spectator cannot see because there is no space to stay close to the track.

 

In Monte Carlo it is hot and there is little above the jeans, a common uniform despite the brand differentiation. Around the circuit the invasion proceeds at an intense pace, and the Monegasques make up for it with the prices of drinks; the exchange rate has risen to two hundred, almost as if the official one were not enough. Yet the heat is rising and the Coca-Cola is flowing. The little that is on top is removed within the limits of the respective positions: an ancient sense of discretion in the public spaces (grandstands and the new box, where there is a minimum of privacy, boats, balconies and terraces), which means nothing on.

 

There is a free practice session, a little to break in the tires and establish possible rain setups, a lot to remind everyone that we are here for the Grand Prix. The noise is a rule and a guarantee that all attention will be focused on the track. Yet in the general relaxation there are also those who have a way of making their liver ache: the marshals block Emerson Fittipaldi at the pits because his name on the car is less than eight centimeters. To tell the truth it wasn't there at all, then they recovered a sticker of those that children usually put on the bicycle handlebars, but it wasn't enough. Wilson Fittipaldi curses in a wonderful Italian-Portuguese mélange, but Emerson remains at the pits under the watchful eye of a commissioner who thinks he is defending law and order in Formula 1. A little further on, Mass sneers and says:

 

"They have set us up well by making us respect the rules. We will win in the eighties. Of course, even the inscriptions...".

 

Excluded were Jacky Ickx with Wolff-Williams, Henri Pescarolo with Surtees, Larry Perkins with Boro, Harald Ertl with Hesketh and Arturo Merzario with March. It's hot and above all it increases the fever of waiting for something inexplicable, certainly irrational, but intense and almost palpable. The restaurants distribute impossible food to people who are happy to eat it, and then don't bother to pay because for one day they feel like masters of the world: in reality they are only masters of a numbered seat in the stands, but this is already a great advantage over those who bivouac perched on the tree because if they give up their seat they will find twenty others to occupy it.

 

It's hot and empty bottles fly from the stands with molotov cocktails: one, two, ten, a thousand: once the game is discovered, no one can stop. The Principality does not give up its traditions. People laugh when they hear about their serene heights, but Ranieri, a little grayer, faded and weighed down, does not give up driving his Rolls Royce for the closing of the track. Applause rains down on him from the half-naked people on the balconies, but the stands and above all the parterre, which is the whole circuit, are not moved.

 

A little later, the cars enter the track. They are lined up in a chessboard pattern, in reality in twenty rows because the narrow roadway recommends caution. At the end of the starting straight there is the new variant at Sainte Devote, a curve consisting of a triangular concrete flowerbed that forces a curve and counter-curve, where everyone fears a general pile-up. After the reconnaissance lap, in front of the pits Lauda arrives, but Regazzoni is not seen. A moment of suspense, then the engineer Mauro Forghieri recognizes the sound of his engine at the passage before the Rascasse, and Daniele Audetto sighs:

 

"The first pathema".

 

It's 15:30 when the start is given: at the first lap Lauda passes followed by Peterson, while Regazzoni is third; the mechanics prepare the hydraulic bolts, Forghieri drinks half a bottle of mineral water.

 

"They are all crazy. Not the ones racing, but the ones watching. They see a little piece like that running, they talk, but they don't hear each other because of the noise. All crazy, but you have to understand them".

 

Niki Lauda keeps the lead of the race, followed by Ronnie Peterson who overtakes Clay Regazzoni. Then come Patrick Depailler, Jody Scheckter, Emerson Fittipaldi and Hans-Joachim Stuck, while Jones hits Reutemann and both are forced to retire.

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Lauda is able to follow a very fast pace already in the first laps, distancing the Swede of the March. In the back positions remain mostly frozen, if not for the overtaking attempt, for the ninth place, of Jochen Mass on Vittorio Brambilla at the eighth lap. James Hunt, who is following the two, turns around to avoid contact and is forced to lose several positions.

 

The tranquility at the pits involves everyone: Giulio Borsari, in charge of Regazzoni's car, sits on a high pile of tires and jokes with Ermanno Cuoghi, chief mechanic of Lauda's car. Derek, from Goodyear, asks Sante Ghedini, who is in charge of reporting, about Niki's times. There is some movement at the pit stop when Brambilla - it's 15:46 and it's the ninth lap - spins at the exit of Rascasse, due to rear suspension failure. Then everything returns as before.

 

On lap 15 Scheckter passes Depailler, who has technical problems on his single-seater. On lap 24 Stuck attacks Fittipaldi, but without finding enough space, making it easier for Jacques Laffite who passes the German, while James Hunt, who in the meantime had fallen to the bottom of the standings, retires because of an engine failure.

 

On lap 26 Regazzoni makes a mistake in braking at the chicane after the tunnel, due to the presence of oil on the track: this costs the Ticinese driver two positions, lost to the Tyrrell duo. Forghieri tells Audetto to report the fact to Lauda, but immediately after, at lap 27, Peterson loses control of his March at the Rascasse: the car crashes against the protections and the Swedish driver is forced to retire. Regazzoni goes up to fourth place, while Forghieri, framed in close-ups by cameramen led by Jackie Stewart, goes to follow the race on the televisions placed in the stands of the guests, while the sun disappears.

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On lap 28 Laffite is able to pass Emerson Fittipaldi at Saint Devote, with a nice maneuver on the outside that allows him to grab the fifth place. A few laps later the Brazilian is also passed by Stuck, and then by Mass. Now, after forty laps, the classification sees Lauda always in the lead, ahead of Scheckter, Depailler, Regazzoni, Laffite, Stuck, Mass and Fittipaldi. At 16:31 we are about halfway through the race, and Audetto signals to Forghieri that Regazzoni is approaching Depailler.

 

"The temperature has dropped, and that benefits tire grip".

 

By now everyone has focused their attention on Regazzoni's exciting pursuit, while Lauda continues his race alone. Campiche, Heuer's timekeeper, signals to Audetto that everything is perfect, as the Ticino driver is progressing. On lap 52, Hans-Joachim Stuck passes Laffite for fifth place: the Ligier Frenchman is penalized by a gearbox problem. A light rain begins to fall on the circuit but it does not affect the performance of the cars. At 16:59 the loudspeaker erroneously announces that Clay has passed Depailler; however, in reality Depailler passes, but between him and Regazzoni there is Mass - lapped - who does not give way to the Ferrari number 2.

 

When the three leaders slipped into the tail group, Clay received special treatment from Pryce, and then immediately afterwards also from the other Shadow, that of Jarier. Each time his gap, which in the meantime had been reduced to a minimum over Depailler, returned to three seconds. Clay insists with tenacity so much to put together, lap by lap, record on record, but he is still on the road Mass before succeeding to hook up directly to Depailler; the French understands that this time the overtaking is done, and suddenly he gives up the rhythm to safeguard the little of wheel that remains to him, and the mechanical parts.

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At the sixty-fourth lap the Ferrarista is finally able to take the third place, passing the Frenchman. At the pits and in the grandstands they do the math: Clay has seven seconds on Scheckter, and there are twelve laps to go. The Ferrari driver gains a second per lap and can make it to complete the success that Lauda is now administering with his usual tactics. Clay sets the lap record, 1'30"28, and is three seconds off the pace with eight laps to go, reducing to six tenths of a second with five laps to go. But in the way is Watson in the Penske: Clay tries to overtake at Saint Devote and finds himself on the divider.

 

"They don't flag down Mass to warn him to let Clay pass".

 

Says Audetto cursing with a gesture of annoyance. But on the next lap, Mass is overtaken: even if by a few tenths, Clay's gap has once again risen to two seconds. Thirteen minutes later, a bit of a thrill: it starts to rain. Few drops, but they bother the Ferrari technicians. They prepare the rain tires, while Regazzoni is again separated from Scheckter by a small group of lapped drivers.

 

The signalman, on the other side of the track, is comfortably leaning on his flag, like a walking stick. Audetto throws a few insults at him. Regazzoni is very close to Scheckter, Audetto is cheering him on. But shortly afterwards Clay does not pass anymore. A moment of panic, then the loudspeaker warns that the Swiss driver has touched the guardrail and is forced to retire: at Rascasse Clay arrives a little long in a wave of blue flags that should make it easier for him to overtake. But no one leaves space and the Swiss driver touches the guardrail on the right, and then ends up bouncing on the opposite side.

 

In the meantime the fight for fifth place between Stuck, now penalized by a gearbox failure, and Laffite is heating up: the Frenchman is however the author of a mistake at Rascasse, which forces him to touch the car of the overtaking Mass. It's 17:29 when Ghedini takes Lauda's windbreaker and a bottle of mineral water, and rushes to the finish line, welcoming Niki Lauda as the winner in a blaze of kisses and hugs at the Ferrari box, congratulations and handshakes, ahead of the Tyrrell duo Scheckter-Depailler, Stuck, Mass and Fittipaldi.

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The Austrian driver and Ferrari replicate in Monte-Carlo the triumph obtained in 1975: a success in this circuit, where only the real champions and the most competitive cars can emerge, is enough to make a driver happy for the whole season. But for the Austrian it is only a stage towards the reconquest of the Formula 1 title, and of a very happy series that seems never to stop. And if in 1975 the Lauda-Ferrari duo, right in Monte Carlo, found the impulse to aim at the conquest of the championship, now this umpteenth affirmation is simply another stone in a building that does not fear hurricanes. Races are always a bit boring, but there is nothing better to describe a situation, a moment.

 

So, with the triumph of Monte Carlo Ferrari gets the eighth consecutive victory, and Lauda the fifth of the current season. The Maranello Factory has not lost a race since September 1975, that is since the Italian Grand Prix in Monza: the Austrian driver is back from the successes in Brazil, South Africa, Spain and Belgium. And it is ridiculous to claim now that any driver would be able to win with a Ferrari: but who would have been able to contribute with greater dedication and competence to Maranello's progressive escalation? Lauda drove an astonishing race to the joy of thousands and thousands of Prancing Horse fans who joyfully filled the Principality.

 

An impeccable start, a race without problems, in the lead from start to finish for seventy-eight long laps. A walk in the park, but only for those who followed him on television or along the circuit, admiring the exact precision of the trajectories on each lap, the composure and cleanliness of driving, the perfect behavior of his car. At the end of the race, on the Ferrari truck, surrounded by a huge mass of fans armed with flags and cameras, Niki Lauda bites into an apple and drinks mineral water, while not far away Clay Regazzoni angrily bites into a slice of country salami, swallowing champagne, as if it were a consolation prize. A fan, not seen in the confusion, pulls off a piece of the fiberglass bodywork of the smashed nose of Regazzoni's car. In the truck, people take turns to offer their congratulations to Lauda, who is quite exhausted, while the mechanics work frantically.

 

"It was very hard, harder than you might think. The car always went perfectly, especially at the beginning with full tanks. That was very important because being able to get some advantage over Peterson was very important. But I always pulled because I knew that Scheckter behind him was just as strong and would not have forgiven me the slightest hesitation".

 

Admits Niki Lauda, interviewed by Jackie Stewart.

 

"I didn't make any mistakes, and I don't have a single mistake on my conscience or a single moment when I could have said it could have been done better. The only skid I made was at the Pool, because there was oil on the track and it wasn't reported to me".

 

Did Lauda also have physical difficulties due to the aftermath of the tractor hit in Salzburg?

 

"No, my side never hurt. Fatigue, however, was felt, especially in the final laps. I think this is one of my most suffered victories, in terms of physical and nervous commitment".

 

And when it started raining?

 

"When it started to rain I prepared myself with a lighter foot on the accelerator, but I immediately realized that it could not have affected the driving behavior because, despite the slick tires, the asphalt was not wet to the point of compromising the road holding".

 

Is Niki happy with the victory he achieved?

 

"Even though it may seem strange, I'm happier today both because Monte Carlo is always Monte Carlo, and because compared to last year I think the race was harder and more tiring, if only because of those damned chicanes. But we've been telling Ecclestone since the trials that for us drivers the current setup is not good. For next year, either they change or we don't race".

 

Does Lauda believe that he already has a second world champion title in his hands?

 

"Let's say I'm on the right track. But the road is still long, there are races to be run and anything can happen, even if I feel sure of my chances and those of the car".

 

After a long time, engineer Forghieri speaks in strict Modenese with the mechanics, complaining because someone made the tarpaulin that repairs the box too high to dismantle it. Then, however, he confesses to the journalists:

 

"The six wheels did a great race. But obviously that's not enough. We didn't have any problems, apart from Regazzoni's unfortunate accident. We will also give Clay a course on starting. He let Peterson pass him too easily. If he had stayed in second position, maybe nothing would have happened to him. But that's okay too".

 

Lauda hears about the six-wheel Tyrrell, and intervenes.

 

"They went really strong, but I won with four wheels. A sign that for now they are enough to be the fastest".

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Immediately after Niki leaves, in the company of Sante Ghedini, with a helicopter that brings him to the airport of Nice. From the Còte d'Azur, with his personal plane, he will continue immediately to Salzburg. Together with Regazzoni, a very intense week awaits him. Tuesday tests at Mugello, Wednesday the challenge at Varano dei Melegari against the rally champions Munari and Cambiaghi (the proceeds will be donated to the earthquake victims of Friuli), and finally the preparation for the next race, scheduled in Anderstorp, Sweden, in fourteen days. The 312 T2 has supported without interruptions the effort of the reigning World Champion. The circuit is a very hard test bench for transmissions, brakes and suspensions, and it is not by chance that the March of Peterson and Brambilla have suffered some failures, while Depailler with the six wheels Tyrrell has finished the race with a broken suspension.

 

Also Clay Regazzoni has disputed a splendid race, and it must indeed be said that if at the beginning there had not been the attack of Peterson on Lauda and then the stupendous comeback of the Swiss against the Tyrrell of Depailler and Scheckter, the Grand Prix of Monaco would have offered very few thrills. Regazzoni paid hard for an unhappy start, then complicated by an error at the variant on the harbor that forced him to chase, until the impact against a guardrail at the Rascasse curve. Giordano, his younger brother, and Clay Regazzoni seem to have been made with the same cliché: both are slightly thickset, with moustaches and the air of a Latin lover with a touch of Swiss coldness. Giordano tried his luck in Formula 3 but with little luck, as he ended up against a guard-rail; the same fate befell Clay, but in a very different situation.

 

The driver of the Ferrari number 2 was the true animator of the race, together with Depailler who raced with the six-wheel Tyrrel for two thirds of the race with one of the front rims twisted due to a blow, and still managed to finish third. Lauda, as usual, was perfect: he conquered the first place at the start and a discreet progressive advantage, then wisely administered until the end. For the Austrian, the commitment was certainly harder than it appeared to those who witnessed the Monaco Grand Prix, but he did not give much in the way of entertainment. Symptomatic were his last laps, when he lost a few seconds to Schecker who was chasing him.

 

"They naively asked me why Lauda lost ground at the end of the race, but didn't they realize that he was passing in the middle of the track, well away from any obstacles, and that in overtaking he was more than cautious?"

 

Says engineer Mauro Forghieri; a Niki-like conclusion, we might say, which however allowed the Austrian champion to conquer his eighth consecutive success for the Ferrari colors. Clay Ragazzoni received the most applause and encouragement. Always Forghieri welcomed the Ticinese with this sentence:

 

"This was perhaps the most beautiful race of your career".

 

And Clay also receives compliments from engineer Sguazzini, who now manages Lancia but has not forgotten the times when he was in charge of Ferrari. Regazzoni was pleased to receive all the compliments, but he certainly cursed his bad luck inside: being knocked out five laps from the end was a blow.

 

"I had a third place assured, and it is not said that I could not have tried the attack for the second. But nobody helped me. In fact, they got in my way in every way. I can't understand why. Perhaps some of my colleagues disliked me".

 

What exactly happened?

 

"What happened was that all the overtaking for me was difficult. When the Tyrrell cars arrived, the lapped drivers would pull to the side. When I arrived they were pushing desperately not to let me pass. I was glued to Scheckter, he overtook easily and I immediately lost three or four seconds to perform the same maneuver. A real conspiracy against me. I could not understand why. So, taken by excitement and anger, I found myself long at the Rascasse curve and what happened happened".

 

How did the incident that put him out of the race happen?

 

"Simple. I came in a little long at the Rascasse turn. The car was already turned to the left and I could see the hairpin following. I had to touch the brake, and unfortunately I ended up spinning even more: I ended up with the front left wheel against the guardrail and the tire immediately sagged. The big hit pushed me to the right, where there was another guardrail, and I destroyed the nose. I took quite a hit and my hands still hurt. It's a pity because I think I was having a good race".

 

From the pits you had the impression that in the overtaking you had a very hard life...

 

"It's true. Nobody has given me anything. Otherwise I think I would have gone on the podium with the first ones. I had to work miracles to keep up with Scheckter. I was almost hooking him when that mistake happened".

 

Regazzoni is now no longer furious, but rather drained, as he recounts his magnificent race with calm, resigned words.

 

"It's fate that in Monaco it never goes well for me. At the start I let Peterson pass me because when I put the second gear, very short, the too much power discharged from the engine made my wheels skate. Then I lost the third place because of an oil trail left by a McLaren, which I think was Hunt's. I found myself going straight as if I were going straight. I found myself going straight as if I were traveling on a frozen lake. Peterson's spin, on the other hand, didn't bother me. I saw him from a distance and I was able to avoid the collision".

 

What plans does Regazzoni have for the future?

 

"Plans? Winning races of course. Now Niki shouldn't have many problems with the world title. He'll basically just need placings. Where I'll be able to take the lead, so I think I'll be given a clear path. Now I'm going to practice making scorching starts".

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Regazzoni's stop allowed Lauda to further increase his advantage in the World Championship: Niki rose to 51, that is 36 points over his teammate and 57 over Depailler and Scheckter. Regazzoni, or the Frenchman, or the South African, would have to win four consecutive races, and Niki would never place himself in order for a conjunction at the top to take place. The fact appears unthinkable and, Regazzoni apart, that has also him in hand a Ferrari, the six wheels Tyrrell has not yet reached the level of the 312 T2. It is a fast car, valid, but rather fragile and delicate; it remains to see if also on the next circuits it will behave as well. Ken Tyrrell, who had already confided his conviction that he was on the right track with the six-wheeler, says:

 

"We still have to work on the chassis. We would be very happy to have forty more horses, but we hope to be able to challenge the Ferrari".

 

To the request for more details about the engine, Tyrrell adds:

 

"The eight-cylinder Ford Cosworth can be improved, and something is being done about it".

 

Tyrrell does not specify if the requested improvements will be made by Cosworth or by Tyrrell itself. It is however evident that the mechanics of Tyrrell, both for the new six wheels chassis that goes very well, and for the mysterious modifications to the engine, are the most optimistic among the adversaries of Ferrari. Dark faces, instead, at the others. McLaren had to be content with a fifth place with Mass, while Hunt retired; the March had a jolt of vitality, but how long will it last? Teddy Mayer, patron of McLaren, with some stymiedness, exclaims:

 

"We proved at Jarama that we can beat there because of our chassis, which is better. Actually, the Ferrari engine is superior and has been for years, so now that the chassis is also good, it is inevitable that Ferrari will win. Making a competitive engine takes two years and a lot of money".

 

Even Ronnie Peterson, who struggled for a long time with his March to maintain contact with Lauda, still believes in the superiority of his chassis, while the Ford engine is now lacking. However, the mysterious mishap that forced him to go off the road, as well as the breakage of the rear left suspension on the identical March of Vittorio Brambilla, leads to the supposition that the so-called superiority of the English chassis is to be attributed to an extreme lightness, source of fragility. More possibilist is Wilson Fittipaldi, who obviously knows he can count on a formidable driver like his brother Emerson:

 

"The chassis still needs to be refined, but we are getting closer. The new car we are making is not revolutionary, on the contrary it is similar to this one, but it will be better. As for the engine, we know we can't get any better, at least for now".

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Bernie Ecclestone, the owner of Brabham, is strangely talkative at the end of the race, despite Reutemann's collision in the first few meters of the race, and the bad behavior of Pace's car:

 

"We have to reduce weight and consumption, which in turn means more weight at the start. We'll try to reduce the weight of the car, for the consumption ask engineer Chiti".

 

Turning the question over to the interested party, the answer is this:

 

"With the pump that we have put to point we would have to reduce the consumptions of the twenty percent; we count to have the motors with the new pumps between a pair of races".

 

And so the Monaco Grand Prix also passed into the archives. It was the sixth of the Formula 1 World Championship and said nothing new compared to the others: Ferrari continued to win, the British teams to lose. Niki Lauda obtained his umpteenth success, reinforcing his position as leader and Clay Regazzoni, once again, was unable to put his splendid efforts into a result. Probably in the middle of the season, that is in July, in Great Britain, continuing at this pace Lauda will be the heir of himself; with Ferrari he has reached a continuity of performance that has rare echoes in the history of Formula 1, and it is easy to think of being in front of a harmonious complex, in which every element carries out its tasks in an excellent way.

 

In the factory they work on the development of the cars, in Fiorano they work on the tuning, and on the tracks the technicians, drivers, managers and mechanics work with serene confidence. No one forgets that it's difficult to get to the top and that it's very easy to get off, but the team seems to be able to reach every goal with ridiculous ease. The Austrian gave the umpteenth confirmation of his splendid gifts: intelligence, coolness, sense of measure, driving composure. A textbook race, a race reminiscent of those of the famous Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart. Whoever persists in not recognizing in Niki an authentic champion - beyond the superiority of the single-seater entrusted to him - is either in bad faith or a fool.

 

Anthony Quartey

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