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.
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.
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.