Niki Lauda will soon know whether he will be able to drive for Ferrari in the Monaco Grand Prix. This is reported by the Austrian newspaper Kurier. The former World Champion had fractured a rib during the practice sessions for the Spanish Grand Prix held last Sunday. Currently, at his home in Salzburg, he is under the care of physiotherapist Willy Dungl, who already helped him recover last year after the tractor incident.
"Monaco is not lost yet, but it would be megalomaniacal to confidently say that we will be able to get Niki back in shape for that race".
According to Kronenzeitung, a usually well-informed newspaper about Lauda, Dungl is preparing a special seat for the driver. This is crucial due to the many curves of the Monaco circuit that subject the drivers' bodies to significant stress. Modifications to the cockpit of the Ferrari 312-T2 will begin next week in Italy when Lauda resumes testing. Dungl mentioned having the necessary thermoplastic material already imported from Germany. The plastic substance will be molded to fit Lauda's body. Kronenzeitung adds that Lauda and Dungl are optimistic, and the driver no longer feels any pain. Dungl complains about the onslaught of photographers at Lauda's house.
"We had to shake the photographers out of the trees".
Will Niki Lauda, injured in the free practice sessions of the Spanish Grand Prix, race in Monaco on Sunday? The mystery will be revealed on Tuesday, May 17, 1977, when the Austrian driver will be in Maranello to personally state his intentions and undergo a medical examination that Ferrari has requested for liability reasons. Meanwhile, Enzo Ferrari, in a meeting with journalists attending the world congress of sports press, held on Monday, May 16, 1977, at the factory, not only updates on Lauda's case but also announces an interesting technical innovation: the development of a 1500 cc supercharged engine. Enzo Ferrari declares he is not currently able to know if the former World Champion will be able to compete in the Monaco Grand Prix, the sixth race of the Formula 1 World Championship.
"Lauda will be here tomorrow. We will listen to him, examine the X-rays, the medical reports. Our trusted doctor - we still have to decide who - will conduct the necessary examinations on the driver".
Regarding the reasons that prevented Lauda from participating in the Jarama race, won by Andretti with the Lotus ahead of Carlos Reutemann with the second Ferrari, Ferrari states:
"We don't know if it's the rib he broke last year at the Nurburgring or a new fracture. I'm not a doctor, but in the first case, it could be hypothesized that the cartilage has affected the pleura; in the second, we must convince ourselves that this is the consequence of our driver's bone fragility".
Ferrari makes a distinction.
"We need to determine whether it's bone fragility or the consequence of an accident he had and that we are not aware of. Some journalists have claimed that Lauda was involved in a spin at Jarama from Saturday and that this caused the injury. Lauda denied this hypothesis and explained that on the last lap of practice that Saturday, he was 14 seconds slower than usual, not because of a spin but by slowing down to find the best traffic situation on the circuit and achieve a good time".
Ferrari confirms that, in the absence of Lauda, only Reutemann will be in Monaco (thus dismissing rumors of possible substitutes) and concludes:
"Lauda is a responsible man, with great pride. We hope he can overcome this occasion as well".
Ferrari reiterates that those who suggest a transfer of the Brazilian to Maranello are just making up stories. The discussion about drivers closes with a mention of the young Giacomelli ("I suggested he leave March, but he didn't listen to me; I could have done a lot for him") and Hunt ("last year he called me crazy, but if he came here, I would offer him tortellini and Lambrusco"). As for technical innovations, they are essentially new explorations: six tires on the car and a De Dion rear axle are now joined by a supercharged 1500 cc engine (the number of cylinders is not specified). When asked for a comment on the Renault with a turbocharged engine recently presented in Paris, Ferrari responds:
"Today we have several initiatives under consideration, and just these days we tested an engine of this kind, which at 7.000 RPM provided about 400 HP on the dyno: Since there is a planned speed of 11.000 RPM, this power will increase significantly. At Ferrari, we believe we can surpass the 500 HP level that the twelve-cylinder boxer currently delivers. It's an exploratory experience, and before thinking about its application, we obviously need to verify its competitive efficiency, compare it with naturally aspirated engines, and see if supercharged ones can be superior. In any case, if this type of engine is used, it won't happen before 1978. As for the developments of the six tires and the De Dion axle, everything depends on Goodyear, which must provide specific tires. Ferrari hopes that Michelin's entry into Formula 1 will encourage the American company to greater commitment. Goodyear has soft compound tires suitable for the current T2, but it denies them to us, unable to make a complete supply to Formula 1 teams".
Enzo Ferrari asks for time for the development of Formula 2 engines and declares that Luca Montezemolo will not return to oversee the Ferrari team. The next day, the announcement is made: Niki Lauda will race in Monte Carlo. This is the decision made by Ferrari officials after the medical checkup that the Austrian driver undergoes in the morning by Professor Leonardo Gui at the Rizzoli Clinic in Bologna. The examination results are fully satisfactory, and according to the report, Lauda is clinically and physically fit to resume activity; hence, there should be no problems on Sunday.
"I'm fine, everything's in order. See you in Monte Carlo".
The Ferrari driver comments with a smile after the afternoon tests at the Fiorano circuit, driving the car that will be used on the famous and challenging Monaco track. Lauda is happy and, despite the rush, willing to exchange a few words while Ferrari officials compile the results of the visit: no recent fractures, the pain felt by Lauda at Jarama in the free practice for the Spanish Grand Prix was merely the consequence of a previous fracture of the seventh rib suffered in the famous Nurburgring incident. The intercostal pains, after eight days of prescribed rest, are completely overcome. So far, the official statements, which still leave doubts or at least perplexities. After the episode of the Spanish Grand Prix, Austrian doctors who had taken care of the driver had diagnosed the fracture of two ribs; later, there was talk of a crack, while Enzo Ferrari himself, during the press conference in Maranello, had dwelled at length on the possibility of a possible weakening of the bone structure. Conflicting viewpoints, erased by Professor Gui's report, a renowned European orthopedic: there was no fracture at Jarama, simply an old pain surfaced, stemming from the Nurburgring drama. Lauda explains himself, while someone draws on a sheet of paper, and he points with his finger in agreement:
"In Germany, among other things, I also broke a rib, but for obvious reasons, I had to lie in bed, while the fracture, to heal perfectly, required movement. It happened that there was no bone fusion, but the two pieces were long held together by simple cartilage, which broke under the stresses of the racing car. That's it".
And he continues talking about the treatments he has undergone in these eight days, daily electrical applications, to conclude bluntly, regarding the Austrian diagnosis, that the doctors were wrong. It's 5:00 p.m., and in front of the entrance to the Fiorano circuit, there are five patient journalists, eleven staunch fans, and four oblivious children. Carlos Reutemann's car is still on the track, having practically tested all day, while Niki has just finished his work session. In all, about fifty laps, without experiencing any discomfort or pain, and his companions, armed with data, pile on, explaining that not only did Professor Gui find Lauda healed, but he also praised him for his splendid physical condition. Niki Lauda himself smiles happily, not too tired despite the effort and the early rise: he landed at Bologna airport around 9:30 a.m. with a private plane (not his, which is under revision) after a technical stop in Ronchi del Legionari. Then the liberating visit, the dash to Maranello, three hours of testing, with a sandwich in his stomach and perhaps a bit of fear. From a distance, he follows the roars of the red Ferrari, a group of enthusiasts armed with keen eyes and accurate stopwatches: according to them, Lauda lapped in 1'17"76. Not bad for someone returning to the wheel after eight days of absolute rest; and not bad either for the performance, for someone who perhaps feared, deep down, not to make it for Monte Carlo. Considering the complete physical recovery of the driver, Ferrari officials have decided not to make the small modifications to the car's cockpit that were initially thought to make driving possible or easier.
"No special seat, no touch-up. Lauda is perfectly healed, so the issue doesn't even arise".
They also smile, full of attention and concern for the pilot, confirming that the cars from Maranello will leave for the French Riviera on Tuesday night, while Lauda will return to Salzburg to join the team on Wednesday. Niki shakes hands with everyone and bids farewell with a wink:
"All is well, see you in Monte Carlo".
So here we are in the circuit of concrete and steel that every year confines the roaring horses of Grand Prix single-seaters and arouses fears and concerns for the safety of both drivers and spectators. Here we are among skyscrapers, streets, and sidewalks in this Principality of Monaco that transforms into a monstrous money-making machine during the Grand Prix days. Sport takes a back seat, unrestrained exhibitionism, opportunism, and wasteful spending become the ingredients of a spectacular but perhaps inappropriate cocktail for the times we live in and the more authentic forces that underlie Formula 1. Complaining is useless, however. Everyone loves the Monaco Grand Prix: organizers, the drivers themselves, the people who focus on the external aspects of this show. Discussions about safety are met with a certain annoyance.
"In Monte Carlo, you go slow, and the circuit is kept under control by experienced people with excellent equipment".
And it's true, as long as you close your eyes to what could happen due to the collision of two cars or the loss of a wheel or a wing by a single-seater: the tragedy of Montjuic in Spain has already been forgotten. At the Monaco circuit, for the sixth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, the usual protagonists are reunited, including Niki Lauda. Ferrari fans can breathe a sigh of relief and start hoping again. Lauda is the perfect driver for Monte Carlo, the strength of Maranello on this particular, ephemeral track that requires absolute concentration, precision in driving, and a perfect understanding of one's car.
Qualities typical of Niki Lauda, while Carlos Reutemann has not shown particular performances here in the past. The happy conclusion of Lauda's injury in Spain is providential for the title challenge. As you know, after five races, the leaders in the World Championship are Jody Scheckter (Wolf) with 23 points, Mario Andretti (Lotus) with 20, Lauda, and Reutemann with 19. The big game, unless there are surprising changes, should now be limited to these magnificent four, supported by valid and efficient teams and driving competitively and substantially equal cars. Woe to those outside the fray now: every race in the European period is of extreme importance, and then there's Andretti threatening to win. And Lauda knows it well. The behavior of the Italian-American and the Lotus (and, by extension, that of his rivals) on the Monte Carlo circuit is perhaps the main unknown of the eve. If the tests reconfirm the superiority shown in Spain, the situation appears very difficult for Scheckter, Lauda, and Reutemann. But it's not certain that this will happen, considering the different characteristics of the Iberian and Monegasque circuits and the types of tires that Goodyear has brought to the Principality. Certainly, Andretti now emerges as the driver to beat for everyone, and Lauda's return, assuring that he is in perfect shape and eager to win, will be the reason for a suspenseful challenge. On the one hand, the Italian-American who a few years ago, with a Ferrari, failed to qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix, on the other hand, the cold Austrian, who won here in 1975 and 1976 and who is facing the traps and adversities of his pilot profession with strength of will: two very different men, but both worthy of respect and admiration. There are 25 entries, with 20 drivers allowed to race. Therefore, five will be excluded: the tests, for this reason, and due to the anxiety of the top drivers to occupy the best positions on the starting grid (overtaking is very difficult in Monaco), will be a Grand Prix in advance. Thursday, May 19, 1977, the yachts sway in the bay, violent gusts of wind come from the coast towards Ventimiglia, and the sky is crossed by dark clouds.
It's not exactly the weather for the French Riviera and the Monaco Grand Prix. Rain spares the first hour and a half of tests, then unleashes itself on the last sixty minutes of the day, preventing the drivers from seriously engaging, so the assessment is necessarily limited to the opening session. It's a bit too little. Many issues remain open, many verifications are still to be made; however, one must be content, hoping that it doesn't pour even on Saturday, in the last hour of valid training for the starting lineup. The game; otherwise, it would have already been done today. The first results are surprising. Among the top positions in Formula 1, a team reappears - the Martini-Brabham-Alfa Romeo - which, after promising a lot in the initial phase of the World Championship, had somewhat disappeared into anonymity. The Tyrrell with six wheels is also back, while Ferrari confirms itself among the most competitive teams. In the background, however, are Wolf and Lotus. Hans Stuck and John Watson, with their twelve-cylinder boxer Alfa Romeo-powered Bt 45, are the fastest drivers, clocking 1'30"73 and 1'30"86. Ronnie Peterson follows with the six-wheeler (1'31"15), and the Maranello duo: Niki Lauda in 1'31"32 and Carlos Reutemann in 1'31"33. Jody Scheckter, the current leader of the World Championship standings, sets the seventh time (1'31"78) with his Wolf, and Andretti, the dominator of the Spanish Grand Prix with the Lotus, only the eighth (1'31"85). Has something changed in the Formula 1 landscape from Jarama to Monte Carlo? It would be daring and premature to claim so. Given that, by now, a different car is noticed in every circuit (with some exceptions, of course), depending on the tire-chassis-track combination, it can be noted that some have made interesting progress, and others still need to finalize the setup: the rain has ruined many plans. Brabham has improved. Compared to the recent Spanish race, there is a significant difference on the red single-seaters of Stuck and Watson: a rear wing of large surface, much wider than those mounted before. It was Stuck who convinced Bernie Ecclestone and the English technicians.
"In Spain, I realized that I couldn't use the power of the engine because there wasn't enough aerodynamic load on the rear of the car: my Bt 45 was too light; I didn't have enough grip. We changed the wing design; I tested it on Monday and Tuesday on the Alfa Romeo's private track in Balocco, and the results are coming, at least it seems to me. I'm confident I can take almost a second off my time today".
Watson is more cautious:
"Yes, we're doing better, but there are too many people who have driven slowly: Andretti, Hunt, for example. Let's wait until Saturday evening before talking".
Engineer Carlo Chili, who follows this adventure in Formula 1 for Alfa Romeo, hoping sooner or later to lead it with a purely Alfa car, is especially pleased with the technical aspect of the matter.
"The important thing is to have finally found a way to improve the chassis and allow the drivers to exploit the qualities of our engine more effectively. It could be a significant progress for the rest of the season".
Considering that Peterson and the six-wheeled Tyrrell have always performed very well on the concrete and steel circuit of Monte Carlo, let's now take stock of the situation for Ferrari. The situation is decent, and engineer Mauro Forghieri, the man of difficult moments, is moderately optimistic.
"We are among the top. Lauda, after the mishaps of the Spanish Grand Prix, returns to the track and achieves the fourth time. Reutemann is on the same values and complains of being delayed by traffic on the circuit just as he was improving. The cars did not experience particular problems. We would have liked to try the changes suggested by the drivers after the first hour and a half of training immediately, but the rain forced us to stand still. Now we will check everything again and hope on Saturday to put Niki and Carlos in a position to be faster".
Lauda is annoyed by the doubts and insinuations raised in Italy about the Jarama injury.
"I just want to work, I want to, I am sure to win another five championships with Ferrari. But let me work, don't make a big fuss. In Spain, I didn't have a cracked rib, the Austrian doctors were wrong: it happens, right? But then I had a lot of pain, and I did well not to race. Now everything is fine. Today I had too little time to evaluate the possibilities of my car. We'll see on Saturday".
Niki could have probably achieved a better time if he hadn't been forced to stop during the most intense minutes of the practice due to a transmission joint failure. He had to switch to the reserve car and, with it, set a lap time of 1'31"32. Now, let's turn to Scheckter and Andretti. A quick exchange with the South African.
"I'm in trouble up to my neck, too much oversteer, staying on the track is a challenge".
And indeed, his Wolf resembles a runaway horse. Andretti subtly protests to his boss, Colin Chapman:
"He insisted that I use one of the new Cosworth engines with a magnesium head on my Lotus. A disaster. Yes, it offers slightly better performance, but it overheats too much: in two or three laps, the water temperature rises to 160 °C, and I have to slow down. In practice, I can only do one fast lap. That's enough; I'm going to throw it into the sea".
In the shadow are Hunt and Laffite, struggling are Brambilla and Merzario due to the engine failures of their Sturtees and March. In a sea of troubles is Regazzoni, who hasn't qualified yet today and may, perhaps, give up on flying to Indianapolis. On the other hand, Patrese is happy, making his Formula 1 debut. Mogio, Renzo Zorzi was wandering around the pits, and his Shadow ended up colliding with Patrese's car. A sad and tangled story in which the financier Ambrosio plays a leading role. From football to cars, unfortunately. On Friday, May 20, 1977, is a calm day for the Formula 1 circus. Complete relaxation for the drivers, peaceful work for the mechanics who are fine-tuning the cars for Saturday's trials.
At Ferrari, they replace the engine of Niki Lauda's car because, at the moment of the joint failure, the 12-cylinder might have gone over the limit: caution is never too much. The English teams continue experimenting with new types of Cosworth engines: after the one with magnesium heads (saving nine kilograms), a special version has appeared that uses conventional materials but has been completely redesigned in terms of mechanics. Keith Duckworth says:
"We hope to achieve a significant power increase at the same weight because our 8-cylinder, all in magnesium, saved weight but couldn't deliver the power of the normal type".
Three of the new engines have arrived in Monte Carlo for Andretti's (Lotus), Hunt's (McLaren), and Peterson's (Tyrrell) cars. They will be used in an attempt to achieve good times for the starting lineup, but likely not for the race due to uncertainties about their reliability. Also, the Alfa Romeo engine rests on a trolley waiting to be mounted on Hans Stuck's Brabham. The team's mechanics work in apparent confusion in the shade of the large workshop truck. Two men discuss around the 12-cylinder Alfa Romeo, one in a blue shirt and checkered pants, the other bundled up in a raincoat. The first is Keith Duckworth, the creator of the famous Cosworth DFV, the engine that won the first victory with Jim Clark and Lotus in 1967 in the Netherlands and could achieve the hundredth success in Formula 1 on Sunday. The second is Carlo Chiti, the father of this boxer engine built in Milan that powers Stuck and John Watson's single-seaters, who set the best times in the early trials of the Monaco Grand Prix and are candidates, at least for now, for a victory on Sunday in the Monte Carlo circuit. Duckworth and Chiti chat for a few minutes. The Englishman compliments the Italian on the performance of the Alfa Romeo engine, which he defines as exceptional, and explains that he is trying to develop a new version in lightweight alloy for the Cosworth.
"Things are not going too well for now".
Carlo Chiti retorts:
"In an experiment we tried last December, which did not continue because there were no guarantees of reliability".
Chiti, from Pistola in Tuscany, is 52 years old, has a wife, two children, and a great love for nature and animals ("If I hadn't become an engineer, I would have wanted to be a veterinarian"). He has five dogs at home, the latest of which was given to him by the Brabham mechanics and is naturally named Brabham. He runs Autodelta with an iron fist: one hundred and twenty employees, the Alfa racing department, is famous for his jokes, and for the passion he puts into his work. He is one of the characters in the racing world, and with him, we talk a bit about the current situation of Martini-Brabham. How are the relations with the English and especially with Bernie Ecclestone, the team's boss?
"Well, well. Bernie is not bad; he behaves admirably with the drivers. The English must be known: they are tough in negotiations, but then they stick to the agreements. Things are going a bit better this year".
An update on the Alfa Romeo engine.
"The base is that of the 12-cylinder boxer with which we won the 1975 World Sports Car Championship. There have been changes to heads, camshafts, pistons, and so on, but the base is the same. Now we have the version capable of developing 540 HP, but we don't install it on the BT 45 because it is not reliable enough. The English are developing a new chassis; it is not the case to experiment with the engine; we would end up making a mess. The car should debut in Dijon or Silverstone in mid-July".
Why has Martini-Brabham not kept the promises of the early stage of the season so far? What troubles have you had?
"Simple, other teams have improved their cars more quickly. Also, there was the insistence on adopting the same aerodynamic setup on the car on every track. A big mistake. Did you see yesterday? With a new wing suitable for the characteristics of this circuit, Stuck and Watson were the fastest. Stuck deserves credit for convincing the English. Before, there was poor Pace, who had other ideas, who wanted little load on the rear for more straight-line speed, not realizing that he was losing more time in the turns. But sometimes, drivers don't want to admit they were wrong".
If you were in charge of Martini-Brabham, would you change anything?
"How do you answer that? This is a marriage: a spouse should not speak ill of the other. Of course, I have different opinions on many things, but I reason with the mentality of someone who has a big manufacturing company behind him, while the English can only rely on the strength of their team, which is a small team. They already do a lot".
How do you judge the current situation in Formula 1?
"Ferrari, which I envy for the strength of the team and has a competitive car even if it dates back to two or three years ago, offers the greatest continuity of performance. Each, however, depending on the circuits, has ups and downs, linked to many factors. I would still say that Lotus, uncomfortable in Monaco perhaps due to the excessive flexibility of the chassis, is destined to achieve more successes. We have set good times on this circuit, but we haven't won yet. In fact, I make a prediction: Lauda will triumph in Monaco, a driver I admire for his seriousness, just as I respect Colin Chapman for his technical activity".
And when will there be an all-Alfa Romeo?
"Too early to talk about it. I would like to have a team of our own, but I am convinced that the contract with Brabham, expiring at the end of the year, will be renewed".
Chiti doesn't say more, but a hint of regret seems to linger in the background. How can someone who names engines with names like Supertigre, Tigre, Leone, and Bernie (the latter obviously being the least capable) not dream of having his own Formula 1 team? Yes, things will more or less go well with the English, but a car built in Milan would be something else. And he, Carlo Chiti, knows well how it should be. So he waits and, in the meantime, suffers. On Saturday, May 21, 1977, the smile on John Marshall Watson's face is emblematic. The expression of the thirty-one-year-old Northern Irish driver is that of a satisfied man. Starting in pole position in the Monaco Grand Prix is a bit like having victory within reach. But perhaps what makes Watson more confident of winning his second Formula 1 race (he had obtained his first and only victory last year in the Austrian Grand Prix with Penske) is the belief that he has the best car on this occasion. The Brabham-Alfa-Martini has thoroughly demonstrated to be the most stable and fastest among the cars in the competition. Watson says, with sparkling eyes:
"When I press the pedal, the acceleration is frightening, and I have no grip issues. I was, in fact, sure to go under 1'30"0, and I would have already done it on Thursday if, in the best lap, when I had concentrated to achieve the day's performance, I hadn't found the yellow flags of the track marshals signaling oil on the track after the tunnel. However, the indication was incorrect: the spots on the road were formed by water coming out of Andretti's car radiator. No big deal, anyway. I managed to get the pole position".
The joy of the Italo-British clan for this partial achievement is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Hans Stuck, who had been the best in Thursday's trials, failed to maintain contact with Watson. The German, who is comfortable on the winding streets of Monte Carlo, stopped after only twenty minutes of training with the engine out of order. He was immediately given the reserve car, but this turned out to be poorly balanced. With the differential set not perfectly, Stuck had to perform acrobatics to stay on the track and has to settle for the fifth position on the starting grid, ahead of Niki. Carlo Chiti, in charge of Alfa engines for Brabham, is nevertheless very satisfied with his drivers:
"Some said I would be happy if it rained today because no one would do better than the times set the other day. Instead, the sun came out, and the Alfa engines proved not to fear the competition".
If there is a certain euphoria in the Brabham team, it cannot be said that Ferrari is lamenting Reutemann's third place and Lauda's sixth. There are still problems to solve, but the biggest one, namely Lauda's physical reliability, seems to be largely overcome.
"I'm fine, while the car has a slight oversteer on the exit of the turns. At the end of the trials, the behavior has changed slightly, I don't know if due to tire wear or because of a shock absorber. I hope to finish the setup in tomorrow morning's free trials. Predictions? The first five or six from the start can all win".
Carlos Reutemann agrees with his teammate.
"On this circuit, it is very difficult to prepare the car perfectly. Anyway, it's better than in Spain".
There was a visit from Dr. Giovanni Agnelli to Ferrari, which drew everyone's attention. Obviously, the conversation also touched on football. In response to a specific question, the president of Fiat replies:
"If I have to be honest, I would prefer Juventus to win tomorrow. It excites me more. I think I will watch the start of the Grand Prix and then, by helicopter, I will go to Marassi. However, a Ferrari victory, the third consecutive one, would be a great feat for the Italian industry. Ferrari is part of the Fiat group, and its success is a success for all of us".
Vittorio Brambilla, after seven laps, spun due to the sudden failure of a tire. He hit a guardrail after the chicane of the swimming pool and damaged the left rear suspension.
"The mechanics are working to fix the car".
Complete disappointment, on the other hand, for Arturo Merzario, who did not qualify. The oil filter of the gearbox broke in the car of the Italian driver, and Arturo remained stationary for quite some time. A significant result, finally, for the debutant Riccardo Patrese, who set the fifteenth time and will be in the race. At the end of the trials, Riccardo had a sore hand from changing gears. But he did not feel out of place among the Formula 1 drivers. On Sunday, May 23, 1977. After a Renault-sponsored race and a lunch break, things are ready for the great occasion we have all come for: the 76-lap race around the streets of Monte-Carlo. While the racing cars warm up, there are parades around the circuit of Rolls-Royce cars, girls on Honda motorcycles, vintage sports cars sponsored by Gitanes cigarettes, all interspersed by Vic Elford going around in a 928 Porsche course-car loaned by the Stuttgart factory. Finally, the parading comes to an end when Prince Rainier himself drives his Princess around the circuit in an open Rolls-Royce, and then 21 Formula 1 cars roar around on their way to the starting grid, with Merzario hopefully in twenty-first place.
The 928 follows, going a bit quicker this time, and they all form up on the 1 x 1 grid while poor Merzario returns to the pits with no hope of joining in. Another warm-up lap, serious this time, in strict formation and another fast lap for Vic Elford, and then they are all lined up under the cold stare of the regulation Red Light, having been informed that there will be no passing between the start line and the Saint Devote Corner-a rule announced by the Sporting Commission of the Automobile Club de Monaco in the interests of safety. The Red Light goes out, the Green Light comes on, and Scheckter is gone, overtaking Watson’s Brabham as it hesitates with spinning wheels. Scheckter leads into the Saint Devote chicane and away up the hill. By all the rules, the whole field should have ascended the hill to the Casino in grid order, but it isn’t a bit like that. While the rule-makers open their mouths in shock, the twenty cars are gone in a roar that shakes the town, with Vic Elford in the 928 really scratching to keep the tail enders in sight during his regulation opening lap follow-up with the course-car. It is a pretty orderly opening lap that all twenty cars negotiate safely, and the order is Scheckter, Watson, Reutemann, Stuck, Peterson, Lauda, Hunt, Depailler, Mass, Jones, Jarier, Nilsson, and the rest, with Binder bringing up the rear. Watson is very close behind Scheckter, trying hard to make up for his hesitant start, and though there is little hope of getting by in the tight confines of the street circuit, unless Scheckter makes a mistake (which isn’t likely by the look of it), the Ulsterman is not going to relax and settle for second place. Among the rest, Stuck’s Brabham is grounding over the bumps, throwing out showers of sparks. Patrese has the right front canard fin on his Shadow crumpled by someone’s rear wheel, and Nilsson is in trouble with his gear linkage and stops at the pits after seven laps. By 10 laps, Peterson goes into the pits with defective brakes. Although Scheckter is leading all the time, he is having to work hard, for Watson has the nose of his red Brabham right under the Wolf’s tail, pushing hard all the time. Depailler drops a couple of places when his brakes play up, and Mass goes past Andretti. On the twentieth lap, Stuck’s Brabham goes coasting through the Casino Square, suffering a major electrical failure and stops in a small cloud of smoke as a short-circuit manifests itself. This lets Lauda take over fourth place, behind his teammate Reutemann, but the Ferraris are barely in sight of the Wolf/Brabham duel at the front.
Laffite is trying hard to get Brambilla, but in vain, and Keegan is bracing himself to overtake the ex-World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi. At the front of the race, although a production Cosworth DFV is leading, it is hotly pursued by three Italian 12-cylinders, with Hunt and his Super-Cosworth trying to keep up. With wide cars on a narrow circuit and a remarkable equality among the drivers and cars, a race must, of necessity, become a procession, with everyone waiting for the others to make a mistake or have trouble. The Monaco GP is no exception, though it isn’t a dull procession, for groups of cars are running very close to each other. Finding he cannot keep up with the leaders, Reutemann lets his teammate go by into third place and settles himself into a safe fourth position. Andretti is pressing hard on the tail of the number two McLaren as the number one McLaren expires in a cloud of smoke as its special Cosworth engine breaks! Laffite is hounding Brambilla, for Jarier acquires a flat front tyre and stops at the pits to change it, and Keegan takes a deep breath and passes the ex-World Champion, which makes Fittipaldi stop and try some different tyres. At 30 laps, Watson is still pressing hard, but Scheckter is completely unshakable and looks to be well in control of the situation; Lauda is third, Reutemann fourth, Mass fifth with Andretti still under his tail, and Depailler close behind them in seventh place. Alan Jones was holding a nice eighth place, and then came Brambilla and Laffite. A long way back, but doing very well is Patrese in the second Shadow leading Ickx in the Ensign, and then comes Keegan about to be lapped by the leaders. Fittipaldi and Binder are bringing up the rear. A few spots of rain are falling at 40 laps but do not develop into anything, and the roundy-round continues at unabated speed. Ickx and Patrese are lapped by the leading pair without any trouble, and then the Brabham’s brakes play up, and Watson goes up the escape road at the chicane onto the harbour front, letting Lauda slip through into second place. Watson gathers himself up before Reutemann appears, and Scheckter cannot now relax for the first time in 45 laps. Four laps later, and the Brabham locks up its gearbox as Watson enters the Saint Devote corner, and he spins to a stop. Depailler disappears when his gearbox breaks just before this, and then Nilsson goes out with the same trouble on his Lotus, after running many laps behind the race, following his pit stop.
While Scheckter can now run the race at his own pace, with Lauda comfortably behind him, and Reutemann even further back, Jochen Mass still has Andretti right on his tail, the Italian (USA brand) studying all the nuts and bolts on the back of the McLaren, hoping one of them would fail. Keegan is slowing down as his Hesketh is falling apart behind him, the rear anti-roll bar mounting breaking up, and Laffite is pressing Brambilla so hard that the two of them are closing up on Alan Jones. With ten laps to go, Scheckter is in complete command of the situation, easing off as his pit keeps him in touch with what is behind him. The Wolf is running perfectly, and as the remaining laps tick by, the South African judges his position perfectly, allowing Lauda to close up to within sight of its tail as they cover the last lap. But while Lauda is pressing hard, Scheckter is cruising, so that if anyone is going to make a last-minute mistake, it is going to be the Ferrari driver, not the Wolf driver. The Mass-Andretti battle lasts right to the end, the Lotus driver making a desperate attempt to overtake but failing, and Laffite finally takes the Ligier past Brambilla’s Surtees as the Italian has to ease off when his fire-proof Balaclava inside the helmet slips down over his eyes. After two years of Ferrari and Niki Lauda, Monte-Carlo has a new king: Jody Scheckter, who, with the Wolf, secures a beautiful victory on the concrete and steel circuit of the Principality. But Lauda and Ferrari are far from being overshadowed. The Austrian claims second place, and Carlos Reutemann, with the other 312 T2, takes third. A reassuring outcome after the troubles before the race and difficulties in tuning the cars. Mario Andretti, with the Lotus, finishes fifth, fighting to the maximum. Meanwhile, James Hunt confirms that this is an unfavorable championship for him and McLaren, leaving the race due to an engine failure. Unfortunately, the Martini-Brabham-Alfa Romeo has offered yet another disappointment, made bitter by their previous excellent performances: Hans Stuck and John Watson had to retire, and perhaps Watson bears some responsibility. Scheckter's and Lauda's races were magnificent. The South African secured a spot on the front row alongside Watson with an extraordinary feat. On Saturday, he had even gone off the track in the series of curves near the pool, attempting to improve his time.
In the race, he started with extraordinary timing, taking the lead from Watson and then skillfully taming his Wolf on the Monte-Carlo circuit. It's perhaps one of the rare cases where one can say that the driver outperformed the car. Scheckter and Wolf: a strong combination, considering they had already won in Argentina and came close to success in Long Beach. Not bad for a team that didn't exist last year. Niki Lauda delivered a perfect race. He utilized the possibilities of his Ferrari, which was not 100% tuned for this Monaco Grand Prix, and showed that he had overcome the rib problem. A remarkable performance for a driver who didn't even know a few days earlier if he would be able to race in Monte-Carlo. The Austrian and Reutemann's 312-T2s experienced oversteer and abnormal rear tire wear. There's some regret for the events during the practice sessions. With better-prepared cars, Lauda and Reutemann could probably have challenged Scheckter. But these are futile discussions. It's worth noting the complete agreement between the Austrian, the Argentine, and the team: Reutemann let his teammate pass without creating any difficulties, as befits professionals. This is not always the case, as evidenced by certain dramatic episodes in Lauda and Ragazzoni's Ferrari careers. Lotus had shone in Spain. Andretti had dominated both practice and the race. Here, he should have confirmed his good form, but the Italian-American only managed to minimize the damage. First with experiments on the Cosworth engine, then with the Saturday accident, Mario couldn't tune his car properly. In the race, he did what he could, losing the battle for fourth place to Jochen Mass's McLaren. The events of Wolf, Ferrari, and Lotus in the Monaco Grand Prix reaffirm a concept that emerged in this championship: there is no super-protagonist yet; three teams are on equal footing with their men and machines. There is a certain balance of power that can be broken in a circuit due to a combination of various elements but fundamentally continues. The overall better performance comes from those who, in these last races, haven't won, namely Ferrari: Lauda second in the USA, Reutemann second in Spain, Lauda second, and Reutemann third in Monaco. Scheckter strengthened his position as the World Championship leader, reaching 32 points, Lauda is second with 25 points, Reutemann third with 23 points, and Andretti fourth with 22 points. Four drivers within ten points; the championship is their affair while the gap with the rest widens. After Andretti, we find Hunt with 9 points, a driver who laughs and seems content while the title slips away.
The championship is wide open, and it's the time for every team to engage fully. Ferrari has the technical and moral resources for this effort. Certainly, Lauda, Reutemann, and the technicians must work with great dedication. And the 312-T2 needs further refinement because it's with this car that the Austrian and the Argentine can win the title, not with the six-wheeler or a turbo-compressed engine. The attempt of Martini-Brabham-Alfa to join the challenge faded almost immediately. First, Watson had an unfortunate start, then Stuck stopped due to a short circuit that caused a fire onboard, and finally, Watson had brake problems, spun, and retired. For Stuck's BT45, another stupid setback that compromises any hope, for Watson, a negative day: the mistake at the start, the misjudgment in braking. And Carlo Chiti has a moment of anger:
"See, when I say that having a driver like Lauda matters, I know what I'm talking about: Niki won't make mistakes like these".
A polemic but understandable observation. It seems to be the fate of the Anglo-Italian team not to translate the promising performances of the eve into results this year. And, of course, those who suffer the most are the Alfa Romeo men, who provide Brabham with an excellent engine, the qualities of which end up being almost wasted. More setbacks of this kind, and perhaps in 1979, we'll see an Alfa Romeo in Formula 1. People always complain about the invasions that happen at Monza at the end of the Grand Prix, but here in Monte-Carlo, a minute after the end of the race, the track and the pits were literally invaded by thousands of spectators hunting for autographs. Passing through the crowd around the Wolf team trucks, the media talk to Scheckter, the brilliant winner of this Grand Prix.
"It's a very important success because it allows me to consolidate the championship lead; at this point, I'm sure to win. I was a bit scared in the last laps because the fuel wasn't coming regularly, and I was afraid I might have to stop at any moment".
Walter Wolf is visibly happy too, the Canadian billionaire who, in a single season, has formed one of the most competitive teams.
"I'm satisfied with the car even if it's not the one I want. In fact, it's a car that performs at 90%, while to win the World Championship, you need a car that is efficient and reliable in all aspects".
There are also happy faces in the Ferrari team for the excellent placements achieved. Before leaving with a helicopter for Nice airport, Niki Lauda comments on his race, saying:
"I pushed to the maximum, and I'm happy for this second place, which is very important, after all the troubles I've been through. I had problems, not with the ribs, but with severe oversteer that forced me to work a lot with my arms and tired my wrists. Given Jody's final drop, I could have even won if there had been one more lap".
Carlos Reutemann adds:
"It's a valuable placement for the World Championship standings. I was happy initially because my car was good, and I had caught up with Scheckter and Watson. Then, the car lost grip, and despite driving with the same commitment as before, I couldn't keep up with the others".
The Ferrari team managers are also satisfied. Mauro Forghieri says:
"Niki had a fantastic race, and we have shown that we still have competitive cars".
Engineer Roberto Nosetto adds:
"We agreed with the drivers that if the one in front was in difficulty, it would favor the other's passage. Everything went as expected, and I must also acknowledge that Reutemann was very smart to let Lauda pass at the Rascasse, a point where others wouldn't have been able to slip into Niki's wake".
Riccardo Patrese is understandably pleased with the excellent debut.
"I achieved a placement I certainly didn't hope for before the start. The start and the first lap were the most difficult moments because we were all in a few meters, and it was easy to touch. In fact, I bumped into Nilsson and bent the right front spoiler, which fortunately didn't compromise anything, and I could run regularly for the rest of the race. Of course, Monte-Carlo is extremely tiring; I'm dead tired, and my hands are sore".