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#320 1979 Monaco Grand Prix

2021-12-10 00:00

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#1979, Fulvio Conti, Martina Marastoni,

#320 1979 Monaco Grand Prix

Due to jollifications, parties, Renault 5 practice and Formula Three practice all taking place on Friday, the Formula One practice is held on Thursday

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Due to jollifications, parties, Renault 5 practice and Formula Three practice all taking place on Friday, the Formula One practice is held on Thursday and Saturday, starting with a test-session between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. and timed practice from 12:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. hours on Thursday. This test hour is vital, because there is no possibility of pre-practice testing or tyre-testing sessions through the streets of the Principality and lots of things like gear ratios and tyres have to be guesstimated beforehand. The two Ferraris of Scheckter (040) and Villeneuve (039) are using forward mounted rear aerofoils, both the Renaults are using twin turbochargers on their V6 engines, Lotus is still running their one Type 80 (Andretti) with three Type 79 cars to back it up, one (79/2) for Reutemann and a spare for each driver. Ligier has a brand new JS11 being held as the team spare, the 1979 Ensign re-appears for Daly, but Fittipaldi is still using his old F5A/1. Brabhams have their usual three cars for Lauda and Piquet, with the prototype BT48/01 in a box as spares. Frank Williams’ team has a third FW07 model nearly completed and Hunt is concentrating on the Wolf WR7, with the newer car WR8 as stand-by. McLaren is having another stab at being competitive with a C-version of the M28 for Watson and Tambay had the B-version. Mechanically the scene is pretty strong, but there is weakness on the driver front. Nelson Piquet stops and gets out of his Brabham-Alfa feeling decidedly queasy, which is just as well for his engine has developed an oil leak underneath. The Ligier team is in a sorry state for Depailler’s accident in Belgium, that has left him with a weak wrist, and Laffite’s right wrist has given way while doing some test-driving, the cause being an old injury from some time ago. The two Frenchmen seem to spend most of the time explaining how they are being brave and courageous and doing very well, in spite of the injury, and suggesting that the other one is exaggerating on the extent of his pain.

 

The afternoon session sees a lot of frantic activity for the Monaco circuit calls for a lot of do-or-die action, rather than scientific softly-softly progress. You can either drive over the limit, bouncing over the bevelled kerbs, brushing the steel barriers, locking up the brakes, powering out of corners on opposite lock, and generally being pretty unruly, in the hope of keeping it all together for a whole lap, with a subsequent fast time, or you can practise care and judgement, conserving the car and remembering the race has to be over 76 laps. Most drivers seem to be desperate. Tambay walks back, having run out of petrol, Jabouille stops out on the circuit with no drive to one rear wheel, because of trouble with the studs that transmit the drive to the wheel, Piquet is still losing oil from his Alfa Romeo V12 engine, Lauda is having his front springs changed, Scheckter is trying the rearward mounted rear aerofoil on his Ferrari and Arnoux is stuck at the pits with the same trouble as Jabouille. This loosening of the driving studs is no doubt due to expansion problems in the alloy hub carrier because of the brakes being outboard, and integral with the hub carrier. From the wiggly bit of the circuit on the harbour front, around the swimming pool, comes a sickening thud as Reutemann hits the steel barrier and stoves in the left-front corner of Lotus 79/2. He walks back to the pits and 79/4 is made ready, but he only does a lap in it as the left front hub developes trouble, so it is a very disgruntled Argentinian that ends the afternoon. Meanwhile the Lotus 80 has also gone missing, but this is merely a shortage of petrol, luckily just before the pits, so the Lotus mechanics are able to take a churn of petrol to the car and get it going again. Daly is plagued by a misfiring engine in the Ensign, which much later is traced to foreign matter in a fuel filter, and Alan Jones prangs his Williams on the far side of the circuit and ends his practice quite early on with a bent monocoque.

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Pironi also prangs, damaging the monocoque of his Tyrrell, and has to transfer to the spare car. Before practice is finished Piquet’s engine blows up, Stuck walks in from engine trouble on his ATS and takes the spare ATS and Lauda has given up trying. From the times being recorded it is obvious that something is wrong, for the two Ferraris are some two to three seconds faster than the rest of the fast runners. The reason is tyres. Michelin are feeding the Ferrari drivers with all the tyres they wanted, from hard race-tyres to super-soft short-life tyres, while Goodyear are in trouble as their supplies of soft tyres had not arrived, and everyone is having to use cooking tyres. With Jones out of the running quite early due to the accident, the two Renaults in trouble, the two Ligier drivers nursing their wrists, and no super-sticky Goodyear tyres, the results of practice are confused to say the least. With Fittipaldi in fifth place, Regazzoni in fourth place and Lauda third, behind the two Ferraris there is obviously going to be some changes made on Saturday. For a long while Scheckter is holding FTD in the mid 1'27"0 area, but just when it all seems settled his young team-mate Villeneuve shatters everything with 1'26"91, saying he is lucky to have everything come right on that one lap. Even so, he has to be ready for such a lucky break and he has to drive hard, luck or no luck. It is a good thing that there is no practice on Friday as it allows the teams time to repair or replace the ravages of the afternoon. New engines are installed, new gearboxes, gear ratios and brakes are changed, air ducts to cool the brakes are modified and a lot of work went on. The Williams lads complete FW07/003 for Alan Jones, the Tyrrell team abandons 009/1 and settles on 009/4 for Pironi and Lotus abandons 79/2 and fettled-up 79/4 for Reutemann. Things start in earnest again on Saturday morning with another hour test-session, held a bit earlier in order to pack in the full day of Renault 5 racing, BMW racing, historic practice and F3 racing. Reutemann is in Lotus 79/4, Pironi Tyrrell 009/4, Piquet has a new V12 Alfa Romeo engine, Stuck has another Cosworth in the newer ATS, the Renault team has solved their loosening stud problem, Ensign has found the cause of their misfire, and Alan Jones has a brand new Williams FW07, the third to be built.

 

Goodyear’s supply of practice tyres has arrived and with only sixteen cars on the Wolverhampton rubber it is decided to give everyone some sticky go-faster tyres. Whether everyone, and that means designer, team-manager and driver, is capable of making the best use of these special tyres, normally reserved for the chosen few, is another matter. During the morning while everyone gets themselves tweaked-up for the all-important hour-and-a-half of timed practice in the afternoon, Reutemann finds his back hurting, as a result of this Thursday accident, the two Ligier drivers are being brave and trying to out-psyche each other, and Lammers is out in the spare Shadow as his own car has broken a driveshaft, a not unusual breakage in the rough and tumble of Monte-Carlo. While everyone is lining up to leave the pits Villeneuve’s Ferrari is strewn all over the place. A leak has developed in the bottom of the fuel tank, requiring the Ferrari mechanics to work blind with arms stretched down through the top inspection panel. The little French-Canadian sits quietly in the pits while everyone else begins to aim for good grid positions. There is the spare Ferrari (038) available but he prefers to wait until his own car is finished. The work is tedious and slow and the first half hour soon ticks by. Scheckter is really trying hard and soon improves on Villeneuve’s Thursday time, to take pole-position, and a couple of Ferrari mechanics are despatched across the pit lane to get the T car ready for Villeneuve, just in case. While Scheckter is holding pole position and Villeneuve is in second place all is well, and for some time none of the others looked like approaching the 1'27"0 barrier, let alone getting below it. However, when Depailler got his Ligier round in 1'27"11 the warning bell is ringing and Villeneuve joined in the practice with the spare Ferrari T4. It is nearly halfway through the session before his proper car is finished and he then comes in and transfers to it, soon getting below 1'27"0 and approaching Scheckter’s FTD of 1'26"45.

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Next door to the Ferrari pit is the Renault team and they are in terrible trouble once again, for Jabouille is stranded out on the circuit with a broken transmission. He walks back to the pits and Arnoux is brought in, and after a bit of a squeeze Jabouille is fitted into Arnoux’s car and goes off to try for a grid position. Meanwhile this spare Renault, the single turbo RS01/03 is made ready for Arnoux to drive. Before he does so Jabouille is back to report that he can’t get comfortable enough in his little team-mate’s car to drive it properly so he has to give up. Arnoux gets back into his own car and the RS01 is abandoned for in no way could it go as fast as the car Jabouille has abandoned out on the circuit. The Brabham team are not much better off for Piquet’s car breaks its Alfa Romeo engine, a brand new unit only installed the day before, and Lauda is sitting waiting for an opportunity to try and get a clear run. The spare Brabham is made ready for Piquet, but somehow Monaco is not being a good event for the rising star from Brazil. His compatriot is also in trouble for the F5A Fittipaldi breaks a drive-shaft joint as it is leaving the pits, which is fortunate in a way because it means the mechanics can wheel the car back up the pit lane and attend to it. Another car that comes to rest at the pit exit is Tambay’s McLaren M28B, but this is only a stalled engine and not enough air in the on-board starter system to restart; the McLaren mechanics are soon to the rescue. As this all important timed session progresses the pace becomes almost frantic, but the overall scene is making more sense than Thursday’s practice. The two Ferraris are still in a class of their own, both drivers being in the 1'26"0 bracket, due to a combination of all things being right. The right tyres, the right engine characteristics, the right handling, the right brakes, the right gearbox and both are driving brilliantly. However, all the other hard drivers are well down in the 1'27"0 bracket, though none looks like knocking the two Ferraris from their position at the front.

 

The Monaco grid is arranged in staggered form, to such an extent that it is virtually a one-by-one grid, so Scheckter is in row one, Villeneuve in row two, Depailler in row three, Lauda in row four, Lafitte in row five and so on. There is so much excitement up at the front of the grid that the back gets hardly any attention at all, even though there are six or seven drivers trying desperately to avoid being left out. The Renault team’s troubles are not over, for Arnoux now stops at the pits with a split in an exhaust manifold, which of course means a loss of pressure for driving the turbine on that side, and a loss of boost from the compressor. As Jabouille and Arnoux are now in nineteenth and twentieth places in the times, it is a precarious situation for the French team, with de Angelis, Tambay, Lammers and Daly all trying to get on to the grid. Shortly before the chequered flag puts a stop to everyone’s efforts Lauda stops at the pits and gets out with a sheepish look on his face and explains to Gordon Murray that he has banged a guard rail with the left-rear wheel, and he isn’t joking; he has been trying very hard. As the whole thing reaches its climax, Villeneuve gets very close to Scheckter’s time as he does his last flying lap, recording 1'26"52 to the South African’s 1'26"45. While Scheckter’s time is heroic you can’t see him driving at that pace for 76 laps, or the Ferrari standing up to the hammering over the kerbs and the fierce opposite-lock slides for that distance, whereas Villeneuve’s performance looks more likely to go the distance, nonetheless, Scheckter is securely on pole-position and in great fighting form. Almost overlooked in mid-field is the performance of Jochen Mass, who is a bit peeved at being made to pre-qualify, and this needle really gets him going in the Arrows. He is eighth fastest overall, ahead of Jones, Hunt, Reutemann, Stuck, Andretti, Watson and his own team-mate Patrese. Truly an effort deserving an A. As practice ends and everyone’s fate is sealed, especially the last four drivers, Derek Daly hits the barriers and the Ensign ends practice dangling from a breakdown lorry with a bent left-rear suspension.

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After all that the Renault 5 saloon racing and the BMW Pro-Car M1 racing are all a bit of an anti-climax and almost light relief. With the Grand Prix not due to start until half past three o’clock on Sunday afternoon there is adequate time for race preparation of the twenty cars that have qualified, while the two Shadows and Tambay’s McLaren are prepared in case anyone runs into trouble in the Sunday morning warm-up period. In fact, there is trouble on Sunday morning, but it does not allow any of the reserves to start. First of all the day is wet and grey and some people are recalling the time when Beltoise won in the pouring rain with the B.R.M., but by breakfast time things are improving rapidly and the roads dry quickly. During the half-hour warm-up session at 11:30 a.m. everyone is going fine when suddenly there is a big cloud of smoke along the pit straight and Villeneuve’s Ferrari can be seen ahead of it. The Ferrari has broken an oil pipe and unbeknown to the driver, until the oil warning light comes on, the precious lubricant is spraying all over the back of the engine instead of circulating inside. It gets back to the pits but the damage is done, so without more ado the car is rushed to the paddock to have the engine changed, his supply of flat-12 engines seemingly inexhaustible. As there is three and a half hours before the start there is no desperate panic. Eventually there are signs of the Grand Prix beginning to happen, for Prince Rainier and his Princess arrive and officially open the circuit and the twenty starters are all warmed up and queueing up at the pit lane exit ready to go. They go round the circuit more or less in grid order and then line up opposite the Royal box, with Alan Jones nipping into the pits for a quick adjustment and then going round for another lap before taking up his position. Scheckter leads them all round on the pace lap in orderly fashion, they pause on the long grid, the red light comes on, then the green and Scheckter makes the most superb start and rockets away towards the Ste. Devote chicane.
 
Lauda is equally quick away from fourth position and passes both Depailler and Villeneuve before the corner and leads the pack up the hill in pursuit of Scheckter. The South African isn’t waiting for anyone and drives that first lap as if it is going to be his last, sliding out of corners on opposite lock and really giving the throttle a boot-full. The result is that he opens up a sizeable gap before some of his rivals are really under way. Remarkably, in view of some of the recent races, everyone survives the opening lap and are all still there on lap two, the order being Scheckter (Ferrari), Lauda (Brabham), Villeneuve (Ferrari), Depailler (Ligier), Lafitte (Ligier), Pironi (Tyrrell), Jones (Williams), Mass (Arrows), Jarier (Tyrrell), Reutemann (Lotus 79), Andretti (Lotus 80), Hunt (Wolf), Patrese (Arrows), Stuck (ATS), Regazzoni (Williams), Watson (McLaren), Fittipaldi (Fittipaldi), Piquet (Brabham), Arnoux (Renault) and Jabouille (Renault). Starting the third lap Villeneuve decides he has been behind Lauda long enough, and desperate situations call for desperate action. In an audacious bit of out-braking he bounces over the kerbs and past the Brabham-Alfa as they start the lap, and get away with it more by reason of Lauda’s co-operation than anything else. By this time Scheckter is almost out of sight, but the French-Canadian soon begins to close up on him, leaving Lauda far behind. Following Lauda in a very close nose-to-tail crocodile are Depailler, Lafitte, Pironi, Jones, Mass, Jarier, Reutemann, Andretti and Hunt, the rest already being left behind. In quick succession Patrese and Hunt disappear, the Arrows coming into the pits with its right-hand wheel leaning drunkenly and the Wolf stopping up the hill to the Casino with a broken drive-shaft joint. None of this affect the main issue, which is the way Villeneuve is closing up on Scheckter and the obvious way Lauda is not going fast enough for the eight cars that are queuing up behind him.
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At the back of the field Piquet and Arnoux have a slight coming together, which results eventually in the front end of the Renault bodywork collapsing, and there being no spares available for the RS10, Arnoux has to retire. By lap 13 Villeneuve is right up behind Scheckter, though not looking for a way by, and they are ten seconds ahead of Lauda and the streaming mob that are following him. Pironi is in the middle of this lot and being swept along by the tide, possibly a bit out of his depth, and on lap 16 he collides with Laffite, which sends the Ligier into the pits for a new wheel and tyre and drops it to the back of the field because the engine is reluctant to restart. Laffite storms back into the race just ahead of the two Ferraris, so that he is virtually two whole laps behind, and he then drives really hard, pulling away from the Ferraris in the same manner that Villeneuve had done after his pit stop in the recent Zolder race. Anyone who has gone into a bar for a drink could be excused for thinking Laffite is leading the race when they came out! Fittipaldi retires with a broken Cosworth engine. Not content with elbowing Laffite out of the way, Pironi now nudges Depailler into a spin, which puts him almost to the back of the field, and then starts to pressure Lauda. All the time he is being hard pressed by Jones, Mass, Jarier and the two Lotus drivers, though Reutemann begins to lose ground when a split exhaust manifold pipe loses him a few hundred revs. As Lauda and Pironi start lap 22 the Tyrrell nose is right under the Brabham gearbox, and that is the last we see of them. Down the hill from Casino Square to Mirabeau corner Pironi gets the Tyrrell down the right-hand side of the Brabham and as Lauda turns into the corner the Tyrrell launches itself off the rear wheel and almost bounces on Lauda’s head as it sails over the top, taking off the Brabham rear aerofoil. The Tyrrell crashes down and destroysitself while the crumpled Brabham limps back to the pits to retire.
 
All this leaves Alan Jones in third place, followed by Mass, Jarier and Reutemann, for while the dust is settling from the Pironi-Lauda incident the Lotus 80 is feeling very odd, with a rear wheel steering as well as the front ones. Andretti pulls into the pits to find part of the rear suspension broken. We now have a completely new scene. The two Ferraris are still nose-to-tail with Jones ten seconds behind, but with Lauda and Pironi out of the way the Australian can really give the Williams its head and he storms up on the cars from Maranello in a splendid fashion, at a second or more per lap. Mass and Jarier are left behind, and Reutemann is dropping back with the harsh-sounding Lotus 79. Then comes Regazzoni on his own, followed by Stuck leading Piquet, Watson and Depailler. Jabouille is all on his own at the back and Laffite is still storming along making up lost ground. It has taken Jones ten laps to catch the Ferraris, but now he is with them there isn’t much he can do, for they are not going to let him go by. For eleven laps Jones sits tight behind the two red cars, and Villeneuve is wishing Scheckter would go a bit faster. A stalemate is developed when suddenly the two Ferraris are on their own, with an air of relief about them. The Williams is heading for the pits for Jones has thumped a barrier with his right front wheel and the steering arm is bent. After a magnificent effort the Williams is out due to driver error, but the team’s Saudi Arabian sponsors who are watching are not too depressed for it has been a great moment for them as the Williams car challenged the Ferraris. This now leaves a big gap to Jochen Mass who is still driving hard and has inherited third place for the Arrows team, because Jarier has disappeared with a pretty spectacular boom and a cloud of smoke. While bouncing over the kerbs at the exit of the Rascasse corner the right rear upright of the Tyrrell has burst asunder, letting the wheel lean inwards and the drive-shaft run at a steep angle.
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As Jarier gives it full power and changes up a gear the universal joint breaks and the grease hits the exhaust pipe and the car stops, so Regazzoni moves up to fourth place when his Williams’ team leader retires. One of the front brake cooling ducts on the Arrows is coming adrift and the brake is overheating, causing Mass a lot of anguish, so that Regazzoni is closing on him and on lap 50 goes by into third place, while Mass visits the pits to see what can be done for him. Behind him Reutemann is now fourth but is being hard pressed by Piquet, while close behind Watson has Depailler trying to scrabble by. At the end of lap 54 Scheckter goes by on his own! The transmission on Villeneuve’s Ferrari has broken and he coasts into the pit lane and out of the race. Once again the scene has changed and Regazzoni is now in second place and is starting to put all he has into this driving, handling the Williams neatly and tidily, while Scheckter still looks a bit rough and unruly. Watson is being so pressed by Depailler that the two of them are closing up on Piquet and Reutemann and this quartet are really having a go. Regazzoni is down to eight and a half seconds from the Ferrari by lap 58 and everyone is urging him on with terrific enthusiasm, for everyone loves Regazzoni. He suddenly loses four seconds on lap 59 as the Williams gearbox selectors play up and he can’t get second gear. Undeterred the swarthy Swiss makes do without it and starts to close the gap once again. From thirteen and a half seconds the gap comes down to ten, then eight, then five, but the end of the race is not far off, there are but five laps to go and Scheckter has it all well in hand. Behind the Williams the Lotus 79 is still ahead of the Brabham-Alfa, but Depailler has at last got his Ligier past Watson’s McLaren, the Ulsterman then almost giving up with exhaustion.
 
Laffite’s brave drive all on his own ends when the gearbox in his Ligier breaks, and then the Brabham pit urges Piquet to go faster, which means try and overtake Reutemann. In his anxiety to please, young Piquet nudges the back of the Lotus 79, without damage, but it puts him off his stroke and he nearly stops. Banging in bottom gear he makes a storming restart and promptly breaks a drive-shaft! This leaves only five healthy runners in the race, but they are all on the same lap and within seconds of each other. Mass and Jabouille are still circulating, but many laps behind after pit stops and with three laps to go Regazzoni is only three seconds behind Scheckter. With two to go he is right behind the Ferraris, losing ground on power up the hill, but gaining it back on handling through the wiggly bits. With one lap to go Depailler’s Cosworth engine breaks and relieves Reutemann cruised on to third place. There is nothing Regazzoni can do unless Scheckter makes a mistake, which is unlikely after 75 laps in the lead, and though the Swiss dodges about a bit behind the Ferrari and makes feints as it to try and pass, Scheckter has it all nicely sewn up and they finish lap 76 mere feet apart. The thousands of Italians are confused, not knowing whether to cheer for Ferrari or for Regazzoni; most of them cheer for Regazzoni. The stolid Reutemann notches up another good place for last year’s Lotus, and a grateful Watson finishes fourth to give the McLaren team some encouragement, but only thanks to Depailler’s last minute engine failure. It has been a remarkable race, with never a dull moment, and Scheckter nearly achieves the perfect result. He is pole position in practice, leads from start to finish, but loses fastest lap to Depailler on lap 69. Monaco has lived up to its reputation of being too narrow for modern wide Formula 1 cars, but nevertheless has provided the scene from a very good motor race and some really hard and skilful driving.
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