For some strange and seemingly masochistic reason everyone wants to compete in the Monaco Grand Prix and, equally, everyone would like to inscribe their name on the long list of winners. It is probably due to the relative unavailability of the circuit, for it is only in use by racing cars once a year and there is never any opportunity to do any private test driving on the circuit or any pre-race meeting practice, as there is with most permanent circuits on private ground. Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Monza or Nurburgring you can go to at almost any time of the year and drive your racing car, but not at Monte-Carlo, so that every occasion is a rare and valuable one, and the chance to race through the streets of the world-famous principality, in front of the Prince and Princess of Monaco themselves cannot be equalled anywhere else in the world. By the standards of the so-called modern safety requirements that cause trouble at Spa, vast modifications at Nurburgring and the virtual abandonment of street-racing in other countries, the circuit through the streets of Monte-Carlo is a joke, with its complete lack of a fenced-off pit road, hairpin bends with no escape roads, kerbstones and brick walls, spectators within a few feet of the passing cars and, to cap it all, a tunnel with a curve in the middle of it. The circuit has just about everything that the improvers are trying to eliminate on other circuits, yet everyone clamours for an entry at Monaco and accepts a limitation of starters imposed by the autocratic Automobile Club of Monaco under the leadership of Jacques Taffe and Claude Fin. Perhaps it is all because it started in 1929 and that, apart from minor details, the circuit has remained unchanged since that day, even though Monte-Carlo has been almost totally rebuilt over the years; many of the old hotels being replaced by sleek skyscrapers, the gasworks being removed completely, the station being moved to a new site, the trainlines being re-routed, an old train tunnel turned into a motor road, a new elevated road being made and yet the shape and character of the roads used for the circuit are unchanged.
Where the racing cars blast along the harbour front, you are still not allowed to drive on non-race days and you are still not allowed to ride a motorcycle through the Casino square, while you must drive your car anti-clockwise round the square, whereas the racing cars circulate clockwise. One French paper summed it all up by asking whether the Grand Prix of Monaco had grown up with the town or whether the town had grown up with the Grand Prix circuit? To add to this strange and irrational attitude to the Monaco Grand Prix Stewart wrote a piece for the powder-puff press saying that if he was limited to driving in only one Grand Prix each year he would choose the Monaco Grand Prix. If he ever has an accident at Monaco and frightens himself, as he did at Spa in 1966, I think he would change his tune. The practice time for the Grand Prix is four hours, divided into one and a half hours on Thursday afternoon, one hour early Friday morning and one and a half hours on Saturday afternoon, during which time all 23 entries can thrash round as much as they wish and at the end of it all the fastest 18 would be allowed to start in the race. This year there is no Mayfair agreement or Geneva agreement or even a Gorgonzola agreement, which means no pre-arranged favouritism; it is quite simply the 18 fastest, though the timekeeper’s word is law. A lot of people seem to think that this system results in a fiendish last-minute dice by everyone, where in plain fact the only dicing that is necessary is by the odds and ends who occupy the last two or three rows of the starting grid. Even before things get under way on Thursday the rain begins, and gets worse and worse as the official hour and a half dragged on. The pits are jam-packed with cars and drivers, Fittipaldi and Wisell with the two Lotus 72 models, Ickx, Regazzoni and Andretti with the Ferraris, Hill and Schenken with the Brabhams, Hulme and Gethin with the McLarens, Stewart and Cevert with the Tyrrells, Rodriguez, Siffert and Ganley with the B.R.M.s, Peterson, Soler-Roig, Galli, Pescarolo and newcomer Barber with the March 711s, Amon and Beltoise with the Matra-Simcas and Surtees and Stommelen with the Surtees cars.
Never is quite such a fully-equipped, ready-to-go, collection of Grand Prix talent and machinery so reluctant for the starting signal to be given. Rain on the second or third practice session often happens at Monte-Carlo, but such rain before anyone has even turned a wheel is more depressing than can be imagined. So many designs have never been on the circuit before; Tyrrell, Surtees, March 711, Lotus 72, the new Ferrari, McLaren and Brabham models, they all have so much to learn and time is so short. Black visors and air ducts can alleviate the troubles of a too hot sun, but rain is difficult to stop so that the first practice becomes a bit of a fiasco and those who venture out do so more in fear of the rain continuing through to race day than with the hope of learning or proving anything. Andretti, with his South African victory to uphold is trying Monaco for the first time and hating every one of the 119.1 sec. that it takes him on his fastest lap. His only consolation is that Stewart takes 129.9 for his best lap and calls it a day. Something gets into Amon and he does heroic things with the Matra to go round in 108.8 sec., his heavy braking for the hairpins being awe-inspiring to watch. He is the only one to get below 1'50"0 (110 sec.), though Wisell, Hill, Beltoise, Surtees and Rodriguez are heroes as the Practice Times first column indicated. So bad are the conditions that the organisers cancell the practice for the Formula Three supporting race, which is a wise decision in view of the way some of the up-and-coming stars can have accidents under perfect conditions. Friday morning is at least dry but by no means bright in the normal sense of Monte-Carlo weather, and practice is a bit late as the Formula 3 chaps are given extra time to compensate for the cancelled practice. When the Grand Prix field is released there is a mad rush for no one believes that the dry weather is going to last and an instant quick lap time is essential.
Stewart is away first, followed by the rest and there is so much traffic that any fast times are impossible, like the speed in the fast lane of a Motorway being controlled by the flat-out VW. Fairly soon the mad rush subsides as cars stop to have adjustments made and with more room available some semblance of reality begins to emerge. Bogey time is obviously the lap record, which stands at 1'23"2, but as this has been set by the late Jochen Rindt on the last lap of the 1970 race when he was fully wound-up in his chase of Brabham, no one feels very confident that they can match it in stone-cold unemotional conditions, even given more b.h.p., better cars, better tyres, better brakes and all the other improvements made in 12 months’ racing development. Stewart, Ickx and Rodriguez are setting the pace, their lap times getting down below 1'25"0, which means that creditable times by drivers like Peterson, Gethin, Regazzoni and Wisell are being overshadowed. After a few laps with the new radiator cowling on his new Tyrrell Stewart reverts to the original nose with the wide, flat aerofoil and left everyone overshadow with a lap in 1'23"2, equalling the record. While Stewart is having his glory others are having their despair. Notably Andretti whose Ferrari engine has died in the Casino square when the fuel-injection system has stopped working. He coasts downhill to the sea front in an endeavour to get it starts but to no avail, so he is stranded on the far side of the circuit. As he is still learning his way round and is still trying to get used to the confined spaces of the circuit, a feature of the Barcelona circuit that has troubled him, he has not made any very fast laps and everyone is in front of him on the starting grid list except Galli, as the Alfa Romeo-engined March 711 is popping and banging with fuel starvation trouble due to installation problems, Soler-Roig because his March 711 has shed a rear wheel due to poor inspection back at the factory letting a machining error creep through, and Barber who never gets going at all as his gearbox is all wrong.
On Saturday afternoon two heats of the Formula Three race are held in the dry, but heavy rain clouds are coming over the mountains and before the last Grand Prix practice begins rain is falling once again. The outcome is settled before anyone goes out, the Friday morning times are going to settle the grid, Andretti would be a nonstarter and the dividing line is drawn between Schenken and Ganley, that inseparable pair that contrive to record almost identical performances everywhere, even though they drive diametrically opposed types of car, which must prove something or other. Schenken is in and Ganley is out, with half a second between them. As lots of teams have installed rebuilt engines, or have cured previous troubles there is a surprising amount of activity, even though none of it can alter the starting grid. Surtees and Stommelen do some filming with their camera car, the Alfa Romeo engine is made to go properly, Cevert overdoes the bedding-in of the new twin-disc Girling brakes and cracks a disc, and Andretti goes round in his own car and the spare one, but without any hope. Towards the end of the session the rain stops and the road begins to dry, but not enough to be significant, and everyone tries surprisingly hard, just in case they are going to have to race under the same conditions. It is Siffert who makes fastest lap as the roads are drying, with 1'31"8, a long way off bogey-time, and quite a long way off the last qualifying time, which is Schenken’s 1'28"3 on the previous day. While the Grand Prix circus returns rather gloomily to their workshops an elated David Walker deals very convincingly with the French Renault-Alpine and Italian Tecno opposition in the Formula Three final, winning the 24-lap race in his works-supported Lotus 69 with Italian Novamotor Ford engine.
Although Sunday is bright and sunny there are still ominous clouds over the mountains behind Monte Carlo, but all morning huge crowds pour into the principality, parking is impossible and walking is the only means of movement. The whole town is overflowing with spectators as Prince Rainier officially closes the roads at the wheel of a Jaguar V12 Roadster, and the 18 starters assemble ready for a warm-up lap. Sixteen of them get away all right, Amon is delayed as his Matra V12 would not generate enough pressure in its injection system, and Regazzoni misses his lap as the fire-extinguisher system goes off inadvertently and there is a panic to fit another extinguisher container. Stewart zooms round in the Tyrrell 003, confident that he has the best engine that Cosworth can supply, and that his pit are well prepared with tyres and pneumatic wheel-nut spanners at the ready should rain develop, necessitating a stop for wet weather Goodyears. The others follow him round at intervals, Peterson using some new Firestone tyres on his March, as are the two Lotus drivers. These are a new compound smooth tyre, reckoned to give increased cornering power, but lack of testing and the poor practice weather mean that their race-long characteristics are unknown, although such knowledge as there is indicated that they would be good on the relatively slow Monaco circuit. Cevert’s Tyrrell 002 is back on normal ventilated single-disc Girling brakes, and shortly before 3:00 p.m. the cars are lined up in pairs and hearts sunk when it is announced that Louis Chiron would give the starting signal, in honour of the 40th anniversary of his victory at Monaco with a Bugatti. Once again Amon’s Matra fails to start and there is some confusion as mechanics push his car to one side, Rodriguez creeps forward and Chiron waves his flag to stop the B.R.M. driver. More by luck than judgement the start is given and Stewart shoots straight into the lead from pole position and leads the pack up the hill from Saint Devote corner. Ickx makes a good start from alongside Stewart, but Siffert makes a better one from behind the Scotsman and lckx can do nothing but fall in behind the B.R.M.
By the time the pack are half a lap away poor Amon gets his Matra starts and screams off in rather hopeless pursuit. With a clear road ahead Stewart is waiting for no one and he makes full use of the empty circuit leaving everyone struggling to keep pace. As the general mêlée are ending the second lap Hill clips the Armco barriers on the inside at the Tabac corner and shoots across the road to demolish the Brabham BT34 against the outside of the corner. It is a most unusual and rare mistake for Hill to make, but there is some small consolation in that he is not alone in clouting a barrier by the end of the race, the wheel and tyre mortality being exceptionally high this year. It takes Stewart only five laps to open up a significant gap between his Tyrrell and the second-place B.R.M. of Siffert, and from then on he is uncatchable, driving an immaculate race that is almost perfection. He does not have to drive so hard and so desperately as he does in Barcelona, when Ickx is hounding him unmercifully, for this time he is in full command and setting the pace. He is in great form and makes fastest lap after fastest lap as his fuel load lightens and everything settles into the swing of the pace he is setting. He is soon lapping under 1'25"0, then under 1'24"0 and just before half-distance he is under 1'23"0, and each one is now a new absolute record. He finally leaves the lap record at a staggering 1'22"2, a whole second faster than Rindt’s seemingly phenomenal lap record of 1970. There is no question of anyone else matching this pace and such interest as there is behind the flying Tyrrell is centred on the progress of Peterson in the works March 711. Siffert is holding second place, with Ickx behind him, but the Ferrari begins to drop back after 10 laps as the rear anti-roll bar has broken and the back is rolling badly on the hairpins and letting the inside wheel spin badly, even lifting it off the ground at times. After dealing with Hulme’s McLaren. Peterson has his red STP-March in fifth place and is pressing hard on the tail of the B.R.M. of Rodriguez, but the little Mexican is not to be pressed-on and refuses to take any notice of the charging Swede.
On lap 13 Rodriguez is desperately braking late for the Gasworks hairpin, about the only place where overtaking is possible between equal cars at Monaco, when a front brake locks on solid and rubs a flat on the tyre as he slithers towards the hairpin. He has no choice but to stop at the pits for a new wheel and tyre, and this let Peterson go charging on unhindered in his pursuit of Siffert and Ickx. While the leader is putting on an impressive display of his superiority over everyone else in Grand Prix racing, and Peterson is giving his supporters something to support, those at the back of the field are having their various troubles. Amon has to stop and change a flat tyre, which put him even further back and with no hope of catching anyone. After his brake-locking incident and subsequent pit-stop, Rodriguez stops again on the next lap as the car does not feel right, but nothing can be found wrong so he carries on. In the opening laps, on lap 4 to be precise, the tail-enders get all muddled up when Cevert stalls on the Gasworks hairpin and Schenken has to take violent avoiding action and brakes both near-side wheels of his Brabham against the outside kerb. As the pits are only a little way away he is able to limp in and have two new wheels fitted and carry on. Two laps later Cevert clouts the edge of the track and damages the rear of his Tyrrell, which stops any further racing for him. At 20 laps Stewart is away on his own, Siffert is second and Ickx third, but Peterson is closing steadily. Hulme is in fifth place and Beltoise sixth, though some way back having made an excursion up the escape road at the chicane on the harbour front. Then comes a furious follow-my-leader group that looks fast and heated and probably is by their standards, but it is only seventh place that is at stake and you have to be higher than that to get into the World Championship stakes.
This comprises Wisell (Lotus 72), Pescarolo (March 711), Regazzoni (Ferrari 312B/2), Stommelen (Surtees TS9), Fittipaldi (Lotus 72), with a clutch that is not freeing, Surtees (Surtees TS9) and Gethin (McLaren M14A), and as they all rush into the relative darkness and shattering noise of the tunnel on the next lap, Pescarolo’s Hewland gearbox jumps out of fourth gear. By the time he is out in the sunlight again and has realised what has happened his rev.-counter is showing 11.200 r.p.m. and all except Gethin has shot past him. This put Regazzoni behind Wisell and next lap, as they go along the sea-front towards the tunnel the Ferrari is nearly touching the Lotus. From all accounts Wisell muffs a gear-change, Regazzoni dodges the Ferrari sideways and strikes the kerb which results in two broken wheels and flat tyres on the right-hand side and he limps to the pits for new ones. WiseII also stops at the pits with a wobbly right-rear wheel, the hub race having broken up, which may have been caused by being struck by the Ferrari or it may not, no one is quite sure what happens in the general scramble. It all results in Wisell’s retirement and Regazzoni rejoining the race way down the field and out of contention. On lap 23 Gethin hits the edge of the track and bends the right-front suspension and that is his race over, and two laps later Regazzoni catches his right-rear wheel on the wooden barrier as he is leaving the chicane and this bends the rear suspension and spins him like a top. He recovers and retires at the pits. Peterson’s meteoric drive in pursuit of the B.R.M. and the Ferrari in second and third places is held up momentarily when he gets behind Pescarolo, as he is lapping him, but then he goes by and takes the Ferrari as well, and in no time at all sweeps past the B.R.M. on lap 31. He is throwing the March about as if he has gone mad, but it is all calculated and he doesn’t bounce off anything, nor does the March fall to pieces under him, which surprises a lot of people.
Although he is only 17 seconds away from Stewart after he has dealt with lckx and Siffert, the Scot is not troubled, and at 49 laps, which is half-distance, the gap is 18 seconds, soon to be increased to 20 seconds and 21 seconds, so it is all over. With Wisell and Regazzoni out of the also-rans battle, and Pescarolo slowing with a deflating near-side rear tyre, Fittipaldi leads the two Surtees cars, but the Brazilian has bumped a kerb somewhere and put the right-rear wheel out of line, with a bent top link mounting pin on the chassis, and a crack in the cross-member supporting it. Beltoise has another excursion up the escape road at the chicane, which let Fittipaldi into sixth place, and then both Matras disappear within two laps, with a breakage in their Hewland final-drive units, Amon on lap 46 and Beltoise on lap 48. There are now only five cars on the same lap, Stewart in an unassailable lead, Peterson in a dominant second place, Siffert third and Ickx hanging on tenaciously, even though half his rear anti-roll bar mechanism has fallen in the road! Hulme is a lonely fifth, just driving round steadily for a finish. As a race it is now a procession to the end with little hope of any last-minute excitement, and on lap 59 as Siffert accelerates away from the Gasometer hairpin an oil pipe brakes and he sees his oil pressure gauge needle drop to zero, so he switches off hurriedly and comes to rest, out of third place and the race. At the back of the field Stommelen and Surtees are running steadily and reliably, nose to tail, in sixth and seventh places and Pescarolo is bringing up the rear, apart from Rodriguez and Schenken who are many laps behind. As the 80 laps draw to a close grey clouds appear over the town and the beady eyes of the race leader look anxiously skywards as he goes up the hill towards the Casino. The weather man is kind and the small pending shower holds off until Stewart receives the chequered flag, and then falls lightly as he goes round on his slowing-down lap accompanied by great applause and appreciation from the great crowd.