After one and a half hours of testing on Thursday morning the amount of work being done in the pits during the lunch break suggests that a lot of the guesswork is a bit wide of the mark. Some of the cars are looking really nasty out on the tight and twisty part of the circuit where it runs downhill from the Casino Square. Many of the drivers are not helping matters by bouncing wheels over the bevelled kerbs and upsetting the balance of the car, while Lauda and Tambay are particularly neat and having a smoother ride in consequence. At 1:00 p.m., when the timed hour begins, Piquet is at the pit lane exit ready to go and is quickly followed by Arnoux and Tambay in the Ferraris. The rest soon follows and it is not long before Laffite returns to the pits, somewhat chastened having hit a barrier and damaged both left side wheels. As this is the crucial session in which marked tyres are in use he has to wait while the tyres are removed from the damaged wheels and fitted to a new pair. Patrese has to take the spare Brabham when his own car dies with an electrical fault and Piquet in the leading Brabham is not as quick as the Renaults and Ferraris. For a change Tambay is having a trouble-free day but it is Arnoux who is setting the pace, strongly challenged by Prost in the Renault. As the minutes ticks by it becames another needle match between Ferrari and Renault, Prost holding fastest lap with 1'25"223 and while he rests Cheever went out in the second Renault but is more than a whole second off the pace. Meanwhile Arnoux is sitting in his Ferrari with a totally blank look on his face while mechanics applies cold-air blowers to the radiators and others cooled the tyres with cold water. The day itself is not very warm, at least, not for Monaco, but obviously the Ferrari team has everything wound up fairly tight and is about to give it all it has got. Suddenly Arnoux’s engineer unpluggs his inter-com, the air-starter is connected and the engine starts.
As Arnoux eases his way down the crowded pit lane it is obviously going to be worthwhile keeping an eye on the time-keepers’ automatic read-out which is relayed direct to the pits. After a lap in 1'43"0 to warm up Arnoux zapps round in 1'25"182 to snatch fastest lap from Prost, and as he returns to the pits the scrutineer’s automatic red light indicates that the next car in should be weighed! While the Ferrari is being weighed and the team is beaming happily at his little Frenchman the other little French driver in the rival team is doing a warm-up lap in 1'36"0 and then wham the time indicator showed 1'24"840 and Renault is back on pole position, and then the hour is up and it is time to take stock of the also-rans. Normally a Grand Prix circuit is allowed 26 starters on the grid, but Monaco being Monte Carlo only 20 starters are permitted, so the six slowest are going to be spectators, except that there is another chance to improve on Saturday. Or is there? Apart tram Patrese being a long way down the list, due to the troubles with his Brabham-BMW, all the hard-chargers are in the top-20 and after all the trouble in pre-qualifying early in the morning Derek Warwick is pleased to be in 10th position, with the twin-plug Hart engined Toleman. His team-mate Giacomelli is just out of the running in twenty- first position, but behind him are Lauda and Watson in the McLarens, both using DFY Cosworth power. Excuses are rife but none holds water and the party-line from the team management is that their Michelin tyres are unsuitable for a normally aspirated engine, having been developed specially for Renault turbo-power. It is a splendid story that is blown into the harbour by the fact that the Cosworth-powered Ligier cars are both in the top-20, Jarier in ninth place and Boesel in 18th place, both running on Michelin tyres. There is a slight modification to the story that said that the Ligier is such an evil chassis that it heats its Michelins up to working temperatures unintentionally, whereas the McLaren International chassis is so perfect that it cannot get any temperature into its Michelins.
While the McLaren situation is no real surprise, neither is the Williams situation, for Rosberg is right up among the front runners by dint of really hard press-on driving, his progress being good value for the spectators, even if it is a bit unruly. He ends up in a courageous fifth place, albeit one- and-a-half seconds slower than Prost, and that is forever round the streets of Monte-Carlo. You simply cannot keep a good Finn down. As the first day at Monte-Carlo is inevitably a bit of a guess, everyone is relieved that there is no Formula 1 practice on Friday, so that they have time to re-think the whole situation. Saturday morning sees the activity starting up again under overcast skies and the pit lane is filling up with everybody and his girlfriend or someone else’s wife, as is the fashion in Monaco. Some personalities are there because they love motor-racing, others because they love themselves, and one or two because it is their business, notably Signor Agnelli the number one man of Fiat, and the number two man of the Regie Renault. Although the morning is meant for testing in preparation for the final hour of qualifying, there is a lot of testing to destruction, among such action being the driveshafts on Piquet’s Brabham, the engine in Arnoux’s Ferrari and the front end of Salazar’s March when he understeers into a barrier. Nigel Mansell leaps smartly out of his Lotus 92/10 when the battery under the seat shorts out and passes a heavy current through the carbon in the fibre seat pan, nearly setting his backside on fire. Not everyone is in trouble and Patrese is getting into the groove with his BMW-powered Brabham, and Manfred Winkelhock shakes everyone when he scratches round in the ATS to record an excellent 1'25"0, while Lauda and Watson quietly put in some laps that would put them in mid-field if they can repeat them after lunch. But it is not to be.
At 1:00 p.m. the rain is still dripping down and the town is very wet, while the wind is stirring up the sea and rocking the boats in the harbour so that many of them have their decks awash with gin and tonic. As far as qualifying for the starting grid is concerned it is all over; Thursday’s times are the ones that are going to count and while some of the non-qualifiers don’t bother to get themselves wet, others like Lauda and Watson splash around for no good reason. Those who are confirmed for the start, with good times, are soon skating around the circuit on wet weather tyres just in case the rain stays for another day. Tambay is the first to venture out, running on some new Goodyear tyres of radial construction against the American firm’s normal cross-ply construction. Michelin and Pirelli, of course, make all their tyres, wet or dry, in radial form. The other Goodyear users, like the Williams team and the Tyrrell team, are also using the new radial wet-weather tyres and Rosberg is again good value for the damp spectators. He doesn’t display the artistry of a Stewart or a Villeneuve, but he does have the courage and skill of a Peterson, and he should be paid special appearance money by FOCA for he keeps the paying customers happy, wet or dry. Needless to say he makes the best time of the afternoon with 1'52"030, just beating Arnoux in his spare Ferrari, who records 1'52"183. Some idea of how slippery the circuit is can be gained from the fact that lap times are nearly 30 seconds slower than in the dry. As if to issue a warning to Formula One to watch it the rain stops when the qualifying hour is over and the scene dries quite rapidly for the supporting events, but it returns in the evening as everyone contemplates the Sunday race and the starting grid without the McLaren team and with Patrese (Brabham) and de Angelis (Lotus) right down at the back. The former have good excuse to be there with tangible reasons and troubles with his Brabham-BMW, but the latter seems to spend most of the time moaning about everything except the colour of the Lotus-Renault and the money he is being paid.
While everyone surfaces on Sunday morning the rain pours down and as all the grandstands around the circuit are uncovered it is a very wet and miserable crowd that assembled to watch a race that is going to bear little relationship to reality. By 11:00 a.m. when the old sports cars have their 10 laps race the rain has stopped and before Martin Morris has completed his start to finish win the streets are drying rapidly and even the narrow tyres of the old cars are beginning to make a dry line round the circuit. The Formula One warm-up starts at 12:30 p.m. for 30 minutes, but continuous spatterings of rain keep parts of the circuit damp so that even though treadless dry weather tyres are being used by most of the twenty starters it is impossible to do much in the way of fast laps, and as the rain returns after the warm-up is over nobody really knows where they are going. The Alfa Romeo team knows where they are not going, for the engine in de Cesaris’ car springs an oil leak underneath, which takes a fair time to cure, and the Toleman team stops going anywhere when Warwick comes to a stop just past the pits with a damaged turbocharger, so they are soon hard at work fitting a replacement one. The 76 lap race is due to start at 3:30 p.m. and at 3:00 p.m. when the pit lane is opened it is still spitting with rain and the circuit is very damp in places, no nobody knows what is going to happen. One colleague who is watching events with four local people asks their opinion and two say the rain would hold off and it would dry up and two say the rain would return. A weather specialist says the rain would return because the wind is coming from east, while another looks at the clouds and says they are rising so the weather would clear up and it would be dry. Not surprisingly none of the teams know what to do as their cars go off on the warm-up lap.
As the twenty cars sit on the grid awaiting the signal to start up and prepare for the parade lap final decisions have to be made as to whether to start on heavily grooved rain-tyres with all the springs, shock-absorbers and anti-roll bars adjusted to soft conditions for rain, as Renault decides. Whether to start on rain-tyres but with dry settings, so that if it dries up a stop can be made for dry tyres and the car would then be well set up, as Ferrari and Brabham decide to do, or whether to gamble on it drying up and start on dry tyres, hoping that the drivers can keep out of trouble in the opening laps. The Ferrari team decides that both of their drivers would start on wet-weather tyres, in spite of Tambay coming back from the warm-up lap and offering to take a chance and start on dry-weather tyres. Both Renaults are on wets as are both Brabhams, but Rosberg has the same feeling as Tambay and wants to start on dry tyres, which suits Frank Williams and Patrick Head, as they have seen that all the front-running turbocharged cars are starting on wet tyres. If they start both their cars on wet tyres the outcome is obvious, they would not keep up, but on dry tyres it is a fair gamble. If it dries up they are in with a chance while the others stop to change, if it rained they would have to stop and change tyres and all hope of getting anywhere would be gone. There are three possibilities, two of which are dead-cert losers and the third is a gamble that could pay off. They gamble, as did most of the others who are not in the front-rank turbo race, including Warwick with the Toleman, the Tyrrells and Surer with his Arrows. Alan Rees hedges his bets both ways and puts his second car on wet tyres. As the twenty cars go off on the parade lap behind Prost it is all up to the controller of the heavens. The constant spits of rain are not enough to penetrate through the trees, but enough to dampen the road where they fall, so on the starting grid those on the right like Prost, Cheever, Rosberg and de Cesaris have a dry surface and those on the left like Arnoux, Tambay, Piquet and Laffite have a damp surface on which to start.
As the grid line-up bears little resemblance to what it would have been had it not rained on Saturday afternoon, the whole affair is a bit of a joke. It was a gambler’s paradise, so suitable for Monte-Carlo. When the green starting lights shines Arnoux’s Ferrari hangs with wheelspin, Prost makes a good start but Rosberg simply rockets off the line, diving down the middle into second place, managing to miss everybody this time. Up the hill it is Prost, Rosberg and Cheever with the rest hard behind and no spray coming up from the tyres, for the wind is drying the track rapidly, even though the downhill hairpins are still damp. At the back Mansell is trying to force his Lotus 92 into gaps that don’t exist as they disappear into the Casino Square, so it is no surprise when he tangles with Alboreto’s Tyrrell before the end of the opening lap and they are both out of the race. Before the end of the lap Rosberg has dived past the leading Renault and leads the field as they start lap two, and there is already a fair sized gap between these two and the others led by Cheever. Already the conditions are changing visibly and it is not going to rain, so all those who have started on rain tyres are in trouble. Rosberg makes the most of the clear road ahead by reading the changing road surface and running on the dry patches, changing his line each lap as conditions improve. Piquet is the first in, at the end of lap four, and with a set of dry tyres on his Brabham is back in the race, but down in fifteenth place as a lot of time is lost on the slow entry and exit of the Monte-Carlo pit lane. On the next lap Patrese is in for a tyre change, and Jarier is in with the Ligier, followed by Arnoux, but the Ferrari is in for a different reason. On lap six there have been a collision between the Ferrari and Laffite’s Williams as they descend to the sea-front before the tunnel, and the Ferrari has come off second best. While Arnoux’s car is in the pits being attended to Tambay wants to come in for a tyre change, but he is kept out until the end of lap 10, by which time he has dropped a long way back from the leaders.
Prost has been in and out at the end of lap seven, but has dropped back to eighth place, and Cheever’s stop has put him back to 12th place. At 10 laps the order is Rosberg well ahead of Laffite, with Surer a long way back in third place, followed by Warwick, all four having start on dry tyres and the gamble has paid off, for though the afternoon is not bright the rain is holding off. Behind Warwick come Prost, de Angelis, Piquet, Cheever, and Jarier, with Baldi leading the rest. Arnoux has done one more slow lap and then retires and Winkelhock has eliminated himself and Boesel’s Ligier in a collision. It is now all over, the gamblers have succeeded and the two Williams cars are uncatchable, but there is a good scrap going on behind. Surer is third in his Arrows, but it is not a secure third place for Warwick is pressing on in the Toleman-Hart, which is behaving itself for the first time in a long while, and its Pirelli tyres are performing well. The reason the Hampshire driver is pressing on is not so much that he is trying to catch Surer, but that he is being chased hard by Prost and Piquet, though they both are a bit handicapped, the Renault by reason of being too softly set up for the dry conditions and the Brabham by having its BMW boost-pressure held down in the interests of fuel economy. With refuelling forbidden and the BT52 tank being below the maximum permitted capacity, Piquet is having to run on restricted boost and power to make the fuel last the distance. Nonetheless both he and Prost are driving hard and Warwick is doing a good job staying in front of them. Rosberg is driving brilliantly and has settled into a very consistent rhythm once the track has dried out all round, and Laffite is holding station some thirty seconds behind. After being passed by Cheever’s Renault, de Angelis stops at the pits for more Pirelli tyres, pretending they would make an improvement to his poor progress, which they don’t do, and meanwhile Warwick’s Pirellis are working admirably.
Patrese in the second Brabham is still working away to overcome his initial starting-grid position handicap and Tambay is making fastest race laps in his endeavours to make up for the time lost while the Ferrari pit keeps him out on his wet tyres on the dry track. Everyone’s handicap, self imposed or acquired by chance, is too much to affect the overall result of the race, and provides Rosberg doesn’t throw it away victory is there for the Williams team to take as the result of a good gamble; and second place as well. Cheever stops out on the circuit when his Renault engine breaks and Jarier’s Ligier sits down like a broody hen when the drive-belt to the hydraulic pump for the suspension breaks, and without oil pressure the Citroën suspension units collapse. At just over half distance, on lap 43 to be exact, Rosberg has an anxious moment when his Cosworth engine misses a beat three or four times and then cuts out momentarily as he dives into the swimming pool corners on the harbour front. The engine cuts in again and runs perfectly for the rest of the race. Laffite is not so lucky, for he misses a gearchange as he ends lap 53 and as he starts on his next lap he knows it is not his fault, for something has broken internally and though he gets back to the pits his race is run. Meanwhile the battle for third place has become very heated for Warwick and Piquet have caught Surer, and the Arrows, Toleman and Brabham are nose to tail. Prost is having trouble finding fourth gear and has dropped back, while Rosberg’s slight hesitation in his rhythmic progress has allowed Patrese to get by the Williams and on to the same lap, though Tambay is still a lap behind, but going very fast and smoothly. A piece of the complicated rear aerofoil on the Ferrari has broken off, which changes the trim of the car slightly, but Tambay is easily able to allow for it. As Surer is completing lap 49 Warwick is looking for a way by and Piquet is watching the two of them.
Both drivers are driving hard with more at stake than ever before, and the inevitable happens. Surer inadvertently squeezes Warwick over to the left as they pass the pits and then when braking for the St. Devote chicane from 130 m.p.h. the Toleman hit the Arrows and punt it into the guard rails. Surer is out on the spot while the Toleman bounce off into the rails and wreck its left rear suspension. While a smiling Nelson Piquet go by into third place, soon to become second place when Laffite retires, alas poor Warwick limps round to the pits to retire from his moment of glory. As he does so de Angelis is back in the pits with the Lotus-Renault for more Pirelli tyres and as he sets off again a drive-shaft breaks which saves everyone a lot of embarrassment. Meanwhile the Pirelli engineers are looking at the tyres on the Toleman, which have been driven hard, and are delighted with their condition. Patrese has recorded fastest lap of the race, improving on Tanabay’s times, but then has to stop for a tyre change and this let the Ferrari by into fourth place for the Frenchman’s speed has carried him by Rosberg, to be on the same lap as the leader. After his stop Patrese’s BMW engine coughs and dies, then picked up again, and then dies altogether with a malfunctioning in the fuel system. With the end in sight Piquet wounds things up for a couple of laps and snatches the fastest lap from his team-mate, but cannot make any impression on the flying Rosberg, so settles back in second place a comfortable few seconds ahead of Prost. Only four cars complete the full 76 laps, Rosberg winning in 1 hr. 56'38"121 having driven hard the whole way, so much so that he has blistered his hands and is very relieved to be able to stop, but it is a fine example of his tenacity and enthusiasm and a well deserved gambler’s win.
He is followed home by Piquet, Prost and Tambay on the same lap so it is Williams-Cosworth V8, Brabham-BMW, Renault V6 and Ferrari V6, an interesting result for the Golden Book, but one that bears little resemblance to reality. The remaining three runners are Sullivan (Tyrrell), Baldi (Alfa Romeo) both of whom have had non-stop runs, and Serra (Arrows) who has stopped to change on to dry tyres. All three are two laps behind the winner, but at least they have kept off the guard-rails and clear of trouble, unlike many others.
Maria Ginevra Ferretti