#164 1968 Monaco Grand Prix

2021-11-27 23:00

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#164 1968 Monaco Grand Prix

It had been a particularly brutal twelve months for the Formula 1 circus since the last visit to Monte-Carlo, which in 1967 had seen the death of Lore


It had been a particularly brutal twelve months for the Formula 1 circus since the last visit to Monte-Carlo, which in 1967 had seen the death of Lorenzo Bandini. The Italian's fatal accident had seen the banning of straw bales and the steady implementation of safety barriers, which were in abundance around the Principality. The chicane where Bandini had died had also been remoulded, now a much tighter affair to slow the cars after the tunnel blast. The organisers had also opted to reduce the race distance to just 80 laps, done to reduce the impact of fatigue on the ten invited drivers, and accepted entrants. The only team not to take up their invitation would be Ferrari, who provided no explanation for their absence, despite the fact that Chris Amon had had a strong start to the season, even if the results were against him. Their two car entry was therefore handed to Matra, entering Jean-Pierre Beltoise, and Dan Gurney in the Eagle-Weslake.


Lotus-Ford Cosworth were arguably the most intriguing entries, as Graham Hill and Jackie Oliver arrived with their two new Lotus 49s. The two cars were officially the B-spec version of the car, featuring new winglets on the nose, and a sweeping spoiler on the back, designed to channel air around the oil cooler. Both cars were also given the new team colours of red, white and gold, as a new era of aerodynamics and team sponsorship began to dominate the world of Formula 1. The other invitational entries were largely to be expected, and unmodified from the Spanish Grand Prix. Brabham-Repco were given two entries for Jack Brabham, using the newest car, and Jochen Rindt, while McLaren-Ford Cosworth had Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme accepted as their two entries in unmodified cars. B.R.M., Honda and Cooper-B.R.M. completed the invitational realm, although they were only guaranteed one starter each.


The other entries would have to fight for six other grid slots, although there would be quite a lot of shuffling as driver lineups changed ahead of the weekend. Chris Irwin, for example, remained in hospital after a heavy crash at the Nürburgring, so Reg Parnell Racing decided to employ Richard Attwood once again, using the Englishman to partner Piers Courage. Yet, B.R.M. made a late attempt to poach Attwood, with an agreement reached between the teams, where Attwood joined the factory squad, while Tim Parnell got factory support to run Courage, much as they had done for Irwin through the second half of 1967. Another change was at Cooper-B.R.M., where Pedro Rodríguez was guaranteed a race start, while Brian Redman opted to honour his Ford commitments at the 1000 Kilometers of Spa. Lucien Bianchi therefore got another of his rare outings, as Ken Tyrrell entered Johnny Servoz-Gavin in the junior Matra International, for favoured driver Jackie Stewart remained sidelined with a broken wrist. Elsewhere, Jo Siffert would have his Rob Walker Racing Team Lotus 49, Jo Bonnier had the second oldest McLaren, the oldest being entered for Keith St. John, while Silvio Moser rounded out the field with his Brabham-Repco. David Hobbs was also entered with Bernard White Racing, although the car, as usual, never gave a hint of materialising.


Hill had taken over control of the World Championship with his first victory in over a season in Jarama, taking over from the late Jim Clark who had dropped to second. Hulme was into third as the new McLaren-Ford Cosworth ignited his title defence, with Rindt slipping to fourth, level on points with Redman. The luckless Amon found himself level on points with Ludovico Scarfiotti and Beltoise, the latter rounding out the eight scorers. Lotus-Ford Cosworth were heading the charge in the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers, having scored maximum points at the first two rounds. McLaren-Ford Cosworth were up to second thanks to Hulme, whose work also left them ahead of his old employers Brabham-Repco. The defending Champions were tied on points with Cooper-B.R.M. and one ahead of Ferrari, with Matra-Ford Cosworth and McLaren-B.R.M. (the old McLaren factory car) rounding out the table.


Practice would run over three days once again, with the Friday session being held at 8:00 am to appease local tradition rather than the locals themselves. The sessions on Thursday and Saturday were, in contrast, held in the afternoon lasting for two hours each, with differing conditions across all three. The modifications to the circuit, meanwhile, meant that the circuit record of 1'27"6, set by Jack Brabham on his way to pole in 1967, was not expected to be threatened, with most predicting the best times to fall around a second off of the Australian's mark. There was some confusion caused by the programme with regards to times, both in terms of records and session starts, but when the first practice session of the weekend opened on Thursday these issues were resolved. On the circuit, meanwhile, it was the two Matras that set the ball rolling, Johnny Servoz-Gavin taking the Ford Cosworth engined car out for an early run, quickly joined by Jean-Pierre Beltoise in the Matra-Matra. The circuit soon became flooded with the sound of Grand Prix engines as the entire field got out to complete at least an exploratory lap, with the two Matras rather stealing the show as Beltoise and Servoz-Gavin threw their cars around the narrow streets.


Yet, the fast and furious start to the weekend in Monte Carlo could only last so long, and when Jo Siffert broke a driveshaft, it was problems, rather than times, that came thick and fast. John Surtees was an early casualty with a stripped crown-wheel, Ludovico Scarfiotti dropped a driveshaft in the Cooper-B.R.M., while Dan Gurney had to abandon the new Eagle-Weslake car after a spectacular engine session after only a handful of laps. Other teams such as McLaren and Matra were experimenting with bodywork, the latter running without a nose cowling at all for most of the session, leaving the updated Lotus 49 in the hands of Graham Hill to top the times, the Englishman ending the day with a 1'28"9, almost a second faster than his nearest challenger Jochen Rindt.


The early start on Friday caused logistical issues for some teams, Gurney forced to sit out the session in its entirety as he awaited a new engine from England, while Brabham would only get a few late runs in after his parts arrived. Once again, a flurry of improved times was followed by a flurry of failures, with Jackie Oliver the latest to hit driveshaft trouble, the new Lotus racer having to walk back to the pits with the failed part in hand. Bruce McLaren, Siffert and Surtees had identical failures on their cars, all driveshaft related, a particular headache for Siffert who had just bested Hill's time from Friday. Yet, time wise, the very end of the session would see several drivers managed to get a stronger time out of their cars, headlined by a stunning lap by Hill at the end of the session. The Englishman hustled his 49B round to record a 1'28"2, particularly impressive given that he had managed to hit a kerb with enough force to deform his left rear wheel rim. Servoz-Gavin also impressed, putting the test car through its paces to best Siffert's time by a fraction of a second, with Surtees finally got a trouble free run to leap in the 129"0.


Sadly, the upward trend for the pace setters would not continue, for Saturday dawned with dark clouds and drizzle, while the track had gained a fair amount of oil after two Formula Three heats. For the most part, Saturday would be limited to simply testing out repairs, with Beltoise and Gurney both putting in a series of runs to test out their new engines. Servoz-Gavin, meanwhile, had his official entry changed so that he could run the test car, in which he had done his best times so that he could keep his second placed grid slot, while Surtees was left to abandon his car on the circuit for a third day in a row as he broke (surprisingly) a driveshaft. Suddenly, the relative calm on the circuit would be broken near the end of the session, when Lucien Bianchi finally put together a strong lap, despite the conditions, and got out of the relegation zone. The Belgian was just one of eight cars fighting for six qualifying spots, and his time was strong enough to get him ahead of Scarfiotti and Gurney, both automatic starters. Jo Bonnier and Silvio Moser duly scrambled out of the pits to try and qualify, and although the both bested the times of Scarfiotti and Gurney, neither made the cut.


Raceday was a perfect day for racing on the Mediterranean coast, with blazing sunlight and a cloudless sky creating the most cliche sight of the season. French fans flocked to the circuit as news of a Frenchman on the front row spread across the city, prompting Louis Chiron, the de facto race director, to deliver the pre-race meeting in French. As there were only five drivers who spoke the language, there were quite a few puzzled faces among the sixteen starters, who would just assume it would be business as usual when the flag dropped to signal the start. One of the puzzled drivers proved to be pole sitter Graham Hill, who crept even so slightly forward as he saw the flag being prepared. Chiron immediately made the Englishman stop, just as the starter waved the French tricolour, allowing Johnny Servoz-Gavin to leap into the lead.


Hill's reaction was instant although he was powerless to stop the Matra-Ford Cosworth from leading the field up the hill after Saint Devote, with Jo Siffert leading the rest through a huge cloud of dust kicked up by the leading duo. It was in the midst of the first lap dust bowl that the first casualties of the race, the action having really kicked off through the tunnel. Bruce McLaren found himself at the back of the leading pack as the field streamed into the semi-darkness, when his car suddenly slid sideways and threw itself into the barriers. The New Zealander was just winding down his crippled car when the chasing group came thundering past, and it was no surprise when the limping McLaren got collected by an unsighted Jackie Oliver. Both escaped without injury, although the McLaren and the Lotus would be out of action until the next race.


The field was therefore down to fourteen cars at the end of the opening lap, and at the rate that Servoz-Gavin was already working his Matra, it looked as if that number would be further reduced. Indeed, after three laps in the Mediterranean sun, the race lead managed to clip the wall, break a driveshaft and ruin his race once the suspension failed too. As he came to a disappointed halt in the pits, Piers Courage rejoined the action after stopping with a brake issue, Ludovico Scarfiotti having been the other early stopper with a gearbox issue. With Servoz-Gavin out of the way Hill duly inherited the lead, and one that he would steadily grow with assistance from the older Lotus 49 in the hands of Siffert. The Swiss racer was pushing the Englishman on to escape the clutches of John Surtees in the Honda, who was now getting harassment from Jochen Rindt, Richard Attwood and Pedro Rodríguez. Just behind the first group came Jean-Pierre Beltoise in the Matra, followed by Jack Brabham, with Dan Gurney and Denny Hulme keeping them occupied, well ahead of the early stragglers.


For several laps the leaders simply followed one another, although that relative peace would only last so long. As it happened the changes came thick and fast after lap seven, when Brabham stopped at the Station with suspension failure. A lap later and it was Gurney's turn to drop, the American's engine getting rougher and rougher, prompting him to retire the car, collect his starting money, before getting himself psyched up for the Indianapolis 500. Back with Brabham, and his car was causing havoc on the side of the road, denying Rindt the chance to dive down the outside of Surtees for third. The Austrian's charge continued, however, and when the pair came through Casino Square a lap later everything looked set for the Brabham-Repco to snatch third place. Surtees, however, did everything he could to defend the position, forcing Rindt onto the dusty side of the track, throwing up another cloud of dust.


In the midst of the cloud he was creating, the Austrian, speared himself into the barrier after locking up the rear wheels, leaving him with a severely bent Brabham, just a few yards up the road from the collapsed car of the gaffer. The casualties were piling up already, and after just ten laps there were only ten cars left in the order, although this was to be a footnote. On lap eleven Siffert suffered a rather harsh transmission failure while keeping Hill honest, with the Swiss driver limping in to retire, just as the third of the French speaking contingent found a kerb. It was Beltoise in the previously healthy Matra engined Matra, with the Frenchman's slide into the kerb at Massanet to bend the front right suspension.


A lap after Beltoise went out, Courage decided that his original brake issue, combined with an all new handling issue, was enough to force him to call time on his race. A brief hiatus allowed the seven remaining cars to be accounted for, just before Pedro Rodríguez made a mistake while chasing after Surtees, the Mexican slamming into the barriers at Mirabeau to end a promising race. Patience, as it turned out, would have been the better choice, as Surtees dropped out at the end of the lap when his gearbox imploded to leave just five healthy cars after sixteen laps. The remaining quintet settled into a steady rhythm, with Lotus making sure that Hill knew exactly where his rivals were, or at least those who he had not seen climbing out of ruined machinery. Richard Attwood was his only active threat, with the B.R.M. racer pushing on to try and force Hill into a mistake. The Englishman, however, was driving with the intelligence of a former World Champion, simply pacing himself against the charging BRM as his Lotus was untested in terms of the suspension setup, and its combination with the new aero.


The race was a rather drab affair come half distance, with Hulme looking vulnerable to being lapped, with Lucien Bianchi and Scarfiotti already two laps down in the painfully slow Cooper-B.R.M.s. The only incident of note at that point would be caused by the man running last, when Scarfiotti slithered into the chicane and smashed a wheel, although the Italian was able to limp back to the pits for a change. Hulme, meanwhile, would have to stop to have a driveshaft replaced, the delay allowing the two Coopers to scamper up the road, while the New Zealander suddenly came under threat from not reaching the minimum race distance. The final laps saw McLaren urge Hulme to up his pace, the orange car providing ample entertainment on his own as he drifted through every corner. Hill and Attwood were only a few seconds up the road, and if the New Zealander fell another lap down he would not score any points at all, despite finishing.


On the final lap Hill eased off having just pulled within sight of the orange car, deciding that his six second margin would be enough to keep Attwood at bay. Indeed, the Englishman's impeccable judgement proved correct, as he duly swept home a lap later to take a record fourth win around the Principality. It was a close run thing however, as Attwood recorded a new lap record of 1'28"1 on the final lap to close the gap to a little over two seconds. He would be one of two maiden podium finishers, as Bianchi beat Scarfiotti to the podium in the off pace Cooper battle, while Hulme collected two points for finishing fifth, before joining a number of his colleagues to board a plane to the United States.


A second consecutive victory, combined with a second place at the season opener, left Graham Hill with a daunting advantage at the top of the World Championship standings, the Englishman leaving Monte Carlo with a fourteen point lead. Denny Hulme proved to be the closest challenger, and the only other man in double figures for the season, just a point ahead of the late Jim Clark. Ludovico Scarfiotti found himself in fifth, tied on points with fourth placed Richard Attwood, while Lucien Bianchi found himself tied with fellow third placed finishers Jochen Rindt and Brian Redman. It had been, points-wise, a perfect start to the season for Lotus-Ford Cosworth, with three wins out of three starts to lead the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers. Cooper-B.R.M. and McLaren-Ford Cosworth were level on eight points, the New Zealand backed effort ahead through Hulme's second place earlier in the season, with the pair of them already nineteen points off of the Norfolk squad. B.R.M. found themselves ahead of Brabham-Repco, while Ferrari were level with new comers Matra-Ford Cosworth outside of the top five.


Anthony Quartey

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