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#302 1978 Monaco Grand Prix

2022-08-10 01:00

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#1978, Fulvio Conti, Giulia Noto,

#302 1978 Monaco Grand Prix

Racing round-the-houses at Monte Carlo may have a lot wrong with it but it is never short on support or enthusiasm and this year 31 drivers are entere

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Racing round-the-houses at Monte-Carlo may have a lot wrong with it but it is never short on support or enthusiasm and this year 31 drivers are entered. As the CSI rules only allow 20 cars to take part in the Monaco GP, due to the restricted width and length of the circuit, there has to be a process of elimination. This begins long before the sound of Armco barriers being assembled begin, or the tubular scaffolding grand-stands begin to rise up from every available space. The Formula One Constructors’ Association naturally books 20 places for their members, which on the face of things prevent anyone else taking part, but the regulations allow for 24 drivers to take part in practice, the slowest four irrespective of who they are, would be out of the race. There are still 11 lined up for the four practice places, so the Automobile Club of Monaco thins this down by applying the CSI invitation rule, which allows the Club to nominate two entries. These are the factory Renault and Frank Williams’ Saudia Airlines sponsored car for Alan Jones. The Renault is an obvious invitation, but some teams, both in the Ecclestone Club and out of it, are muttering about the Williams entry. On performance alone Alan Jones deserves to be invited, after his showing in South Africa and California, but you can hardly hold a race in the Principality of Monaco without inviting the entry sponsored by Saudi Arabia, not in this day and age. This weeding-out process still leaves nine entries outside, so before official practice begins on Thursday morning, they are allowed two half hour sessions to themselves, and the fastest two would make up the total of 24 for the official practice. As the circuit is built up around the town there is no possibility of any pre-practice testing, so the rabbits have to get stuck into it the moment the circuit is open for practice.

 

The non-arrival of Danny Ongais with the American Interscope team Shadow DN9 reduces the numbers to eight, and during the first half-hour Derek Daly crashes the Hesketh 308E/4 and Hector Rebaque crashes his newly acquired Lotus 78/4, thus reducing the figure to six. However, such is the affluence of rabbits trying to break into the big time that both of them have spare cars, and are soon back on the circuit, Daly in 308E/5 and Rebaque in Lotus 78/1, but it does them little good as the two works Arrows are flying. Patrese is putting all, and more than he has got into his driving, to make the best time, and Stommelen is using experience rather than bravado to make second best time. Rosberg (Theodore TR1-2) is trying too hard, and though spectacular and fearless, is not fast enough; Lunger with his brand new McLaren M26/6 has a hopeless task, as he has to learn a new car and a new circuit, not having driven at Monaco before, and Arnoux (Martini MK23) and Merzario (Merzario A1/01) are not in the running. When the official practice begins at around 11:30 a.m., to run for an hour and a half; Bernie’s Boys and the two honoured guests are joined by Patrese and Stommelen with the works Arrows, while the rest counts the cost of failure and wonders how long they can go on wasting money and effort. Patrese makes his best qualifying lap in 1'31"31, which is very good under the circumstances, but it paled into insignificance once the big boys get under way. 1'30"0 is soon reached and then the aces begin the battle of the under 30 sec. In this select band are Lauda (Brabham-Alfa Romeo), Andretti and Peterson (Lotus 78), and Reutemann (Ferrari), with Watson, (Brabham-Alfa Romeo), Depailler (Tyrrell), Hunt (McLaren) and Villeneuve (Ferrari), not far behind.

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There are two major problems arising during practice, one being the loads on gearboxes and the other being the unforgiving guard-rails that lined the streets. With better traction being obtained from better tyres, and better rear suspension, the gearboxes are taking a hammering, especially first and second gears, while the gear-change never has a moment’s respite round the short wiggly circuit. The Ferrari gearboxes appear to be adequately strong, but the Hewland gearboxes are failing with depressing rapidity, not necessarily the fault of the gearbox, quite often due to a lack of mechanical sympathy in the driver’s right hand, or a team trying some crafty internal trickery to try and obviate trouble. After driving a brand new Arrows (FA1/3) so well in the qualifying hour, Patrese has a moment’s lapse during the official session and dings the left front corner badly, which creases the monocoque, so he changes over to the spare car (FM/2). Meanwhile poor Stommelen has pulled in with a searing pain in his ribs, having cracked one during a particularly violent manoeuvre. Team Surtees have started off with two brand new TS20 cars, but before the morning is over both cars are in trouble. Brambilla (TS20/01) has the mechanical fuel pump fail, and Keegan (TS20/02) has the clutch tail. The team spare (TS19/02) is in constant use. Another team with a new car and a load of trouble is Wolf, the new WR5 does a mere 12 laps before the teeth strip off 2nd gear, and then Scheckter does 14 laps in WR1 and the same thing happens. The Ferrari camp with their Michelin tyres are looking pretty calm and confident, Reutemann using the car with which he has won at Long Beach (312 T3/032), but trying out the spare car before the end of the morning, this being 035, a brand new one. Villeneuve is using 034, with which he has led and crashed at Long Beach.
 
By the end of this first practice session Reutemann is easily fastest, with 1'29"51, followed by Andrew (Lotus 78/3), Lauda (Brabham BT 46/4), Peterson (Lotus 78/2), Villeneuve (Ferrari 034), Hunt (McLaren M26/4), Depailler (Tyrrell 008/3) and Watson (Brabham BT 46/5), all familiar faces up at the front, with the chirpy visage of Gilles Villeneuve amongst them once again, on his first visit to Monaco. After a lunch-break, during which most of the mechanics do more work than some people do in a whole day, it all starts up again for a further hour. The Lotus mechanics have been finishing off a new car, a Mark 3 version of the Lotus 79, actually the car that made a brief appearance in the International Trophy at Silverstone. It is now completely redesigned at the back end and is fitted with a Hewland gearbox (see Notes on the Cars), and Andretti is down to drive it. Team-mate Peterson is forced to miss this practice, as he has crashed his car at the end of the morning session and the repair is no simple job. The works spare Lotus 78/4 have been sold to Rebarque, and Andretti is holding on to 78/3, just in case the new car is not right. While broken second gears and bent cars are the order of the morning, the afternoon seems to be one of steam. Tambay comes into the pits with his McLaren (M26/5) boiling merrily, and Depailler brings the spare Tyrrell (008/1) in with water and steam gushing from a punctured left-side radiator; the puncture being caused by a broken radius rod going through the matrix. The right-hand top rear radius rod has an ominous bend in it, so Depailler goes off in 008/3, only to return pretty soon with steam and water gushing from its right-hand radiator, due to more rear radius rods trouble. There is an air of gloom amidst the steam, and Maurice Phillippe goes off to telephone Ripley in Surrey and starts the design of larger diameter radius rods! Andretti soon gives up with the new Lotus and returned to 78/3, while Laffite changes from the new Ligier JS9 to the old JS7, Scheckter is getting to grips with the new Wolf, with new gearbox internals, and Jabouille tries both turbo-charged Renault cars, and gets well into the mid-field.
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It is still the old firm up at the front wit Reutemann setting a new standard in 1'28"34, while Lauda joins him in his new ace class, with 1'28"84. Behind these two come Andretti, Villeneuve, Hunt, Depailler, Peterson (on his morning time), and Watson, with Scheckter and Jones joining the top class. At the end of the day Jarier (ATS), Keegan (Surtees), Brambilla (Surtees) and Stommelen (Arrows) are the ones who look like being eliminated in this latest move in the game of find the winner. However, the final hour of timed practice on Saturday afternoon would finally settle things, providing the circuit stays dry and clear. Friday is a rest day for Formula One, though Formula Three cars and Renault 5 saloons disport themselves around the circuit. For those with nothing to do there are eating and drinking parties laid on by Gitanes, Marlboro, Saudi Airlines, First National City Bank, and Olympus Cameras, but in the Formula One paddock there is a lot of work going on repairing cars, redesigning bits and pieces, analysing faults that have appeared, trying to obviate repetition of breakages, searching for reasons for poor lap times, trying to think up ways of getting higher up the grid, or staying on it, or trying to work out how not to be in the last four cars. There is plenty of activity. Maurice Phillippe has flown back to England to get new parts for the Tyrrells, the Goodyear runners in mid-field are trying to get on the short-list for special qualifying tyres, and while Goodyear are resigned to Reutemann and Ferrari being at the front they are looking for ways of keeping Villeneuve from joining him, like making sure that anyone who can go as fast as the little French-Canadian has the best tyres. Over all this activity the wind blows, the clouds obscure the mountains and it rains, while the boats in the harbour rock alarmingly at their moorings, making many people wish they are staying in a nice solid stone hotel.
 
Saturday morning all is well with the world, it is dry and the sun is shining, the boats have stopped bobbing about in the harbour and everyone is ready for one and a half hours of untimed testing and general messing about. Team Lotus are back to three cars, Peterson’s 78/2 having been repaired, while Andretti is about to try the new Lotus 79 as well as his old car. The new Surtees TS20 cars have been fitted with a new front suspension in which the rising-rate geometry for the coil springs is more advantageous at the ends of the movement. Stommelen is still in pain with his ribs, so is sitting out, and Watson is trying the spare Brabham (BT 46/3) as his new one has an odd feeling about the front end. Gearboxes are still a headache and Scheckter strips the teeth of second gear yet again, this time on the new car WR5, and Andretti does the same thing on the Lotus 78/3. There is never a dull moment in the pits! The Tyrrells now has new rear uprights and larger diameter radius rods for the rear suspension. The lunch break is another scene of feverish activity as cars are prepared for the final hour of qualifying. Those in gearbox trouble are fitting new parts, others are putting new bits in anyway, Stuck’s Shadow is having its drive-shafts worked on, Brambilla’s Surtees TS20 is all apart to rectify a faulty clutch, Watson’s Brabham BT46/5 is abandoned and he is using the spare car (BT46/3), the spare Ferrari is not being used, Jabouille is using the earlier of the two Renaults, Scheckter is in the repaired WR5 Wolf, and everything is boiling up merrily. The Ensign, Williams and Fittipaldi teams have not needed to use their spare cars, and Jones has been put on the Goodyear short-list to try and keep Villeneuve in the second Ferrari as far back as possible. Reutemann is firmly and serenely on pole position as this final hour gets under way, with 1'28"34 and only Lauda looks capable of challenging this time. He is in second place with 1'28"84, a whole half a second away, and that is a long way at Monaco.
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This practice is barely under way before Scheckter is going down the pit lane pointing at the spare Wolf and the mechanics rush about changing wheels, for WR5 has broken its gearbox again. Patrese arrives at the top of the hill before the Casino Square far too fast and all on the wrong line and takes the long left-hander leading to the Square in a series of cannons off the guard-rail, tearing off bits as he goes. Somewhat chastened and shaken he returns to the pits to take over Stommelen’s car; the German driver has taken a deep breath, braced himself against the pain, and gone out and done a good lap which assures him a place on the grid, and then hands the car over to his young Italian team-mate. Jones is making good use of his good tyres and is well below 1'30"0 and would have gone faster had he not clouts a kerb and upset the handling slightly. Lauda makes the fastest time of the afternoon with 1'28"88 and decides he can not go any quicker so sits in the pits to watch the progress of the others. Reutemann’s best is 1'28"95, but he still holds pole position with his Thursday time and Lauda is in second place with his Thursday time, so this final hour is of no value to either of them. While this half of the Brabham-Alfa Romeo team is sitting it out complacently, the other half is hard at work. Watson has clouted the rear end of BT 46/3, so BT46/5 is being robbed of the left-rear upright and suspension parts and the Ulsterman stands around anxiously as the minutes tick away. Laffite changes from the new Ligier to the old one, Scheckter is back in WR5 after his men brake all records for repairing a very hot Hewland gearbox, Andretti is concentrating on his Lotus 78 and Peterson is in good for. With only a few minutes left Watson’s car is finished and he roars off, obviously wound up pretty tight. While Lauda is watching the times of the Ferraris, the Lotuses, the Tyrrells and the McLarens, he is suddenly shaken rigid to find that Watson has put in a lap at 1'28"83, to snatch fastest time of the afternoon and take second place on the grid. 
 
Lauda and Ecclestone can hardly protest that the time is a mistake. In the final reckoning the order is Reutemann, Watson, Lauda, all with 12-cylinder engines, then Andretti, Depailler, Hunt and Peterson all ahead of Villeneuve with Scheckter and Jones right behind the second Michelin-shod Ferrari. Once again 12-cylinder engines and Michelin tyres have dominated practice and a lot of people are wondering who is going to finish second in the race. The elimination process has now got the numbers down to 20, the four unfortunates being Mass (ATS), Regazzoni (Shadow DN9/4A), Jarier (ATS) and Brambilla (Surtees TS20/01). Although practice is at long last finished, paddock work is just beginning for the Arrows mechanics; Patrese’s car has not damaged its monocoque so a major rebuild is started, and everyone else begins final preparation, checking everything for damage or wear, for Monaco practice is very hard on cars. Sunday morning is grey and gloomy, but dry, and the temperature is far from the normal Cote d’Azur. A final test-session of 30 minutes is allowed at mid-morning, in which Mass and Regazzoni are allowed to take part, just in case any of the selected 20 run into trouble. Fortunately none of them do, for Regazzoni prangs his Shadow! Watson has settled to use the spare Brabham, Andretti is to race the Lotus 78, Scheckter is to use the old WR1, as the new car is still destroying its gearbox, Jabouille is settled to use the spare Renault and Keegan to use the spare Surtees though Laffite is happy to race the new Ligier. Depailler and Hunt are using Cosworth development engines, Andretti and Tambay are using Nicholson-prepared Cosworth engines, and Scheckter, Peterson and Pironi are using standard Cosworth engines. After the Prince and Princess of Monaco have made a tour of the circuit in a drophead Mercedes-Benz all is ready for the race, due to start at 3:30 p.m. and run for 75 laps, one less than last year. 
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From the pits the 20 starters drive round the circuit to line up at the start in virtual single-file, the two rows being staggered, Reutemann’s Ferrari on the right, Watson’s Brabham on the left, Lauda’s Brabham on the right and so on, down to Fittipaldi all alone at the back. Another warm-up lap is permitted, going off in grid order, followed by the strange looking Porsche Safari Rally car being used as course-car, and then the serious business is ready to start. All those involved have been in Monte Carlo at least since Wednesday, waiting for this moment. As the starting signal is given the noise is fantastic as the sound of 20 engines averaging 485 b.h.p. each shatter the peace of the Principality. From his lone position at the front Reutemann muffles his start and is swamped as the jostling mob accelerate towards the Ste. Devote chicane. Depailler makes a terrific start from fifth place and as Lauda, Reutemann and Hunt indulges in some pushing and shoving, banging wheels and the Armco barriers, the Frenchman is away in behind Watson. The Ulsterman leads away from the melee, with the Tyrrell behind him, then come Reutemann and Lauda, but the Ferrari is already slowing with a damaged left rear tyre losing pressure. Hunt is in similar trouble with a right font tyre and a crumpled nose as well, and before the race is really under way two of the top runners are limping round to the pits for help. On the opening lap the order becomes Watson, Depailler, Lauda, Andretti, Scheckter, Jones, Peterson, Villeneuve, Tambay, Pironi, Ickx, Patrese and the rest. Reutemann has a new wheel and tyre fitted and screams out of the pits just as Watson is finishing his second lap, and the Ferrari roars away ahead of the Brabham, but virtually a whole lap behind. Anyone who misses the start, or is not paying attention during the opening lap, can be excused for thinking that Reutemann’s Ferrari is leading the race, and actually pulling away from Watson’s Brabham.

 

The situation soon levels out, with Watson and Depailler going for all they are worth, sliding within an inch of the Armco, and glue nose-to-tail. Behind them, looking completely calm and unhurried, is Lauda, content to sit a few lengths back and let the two natural non-winners slog it out while he surveys the situation. Within four laps these three have broken away from the rest, who are being led by Andretti though he has Scheckter, Jones, Peterson and Villeneuve in close line astern behind him. Tambay is already on his own and then come Pironi, Ickx and Patrese in a tight duelling trio, followed by the yellow Renault and the yellow Fittipaldi, while the suffering Stommelen brings up the rear bravely. Stuck and Keegan have fallen over each other at the back of the field and Laffite has lost contact due to gearbox failure. Depailler is pushing Watson hard, with little hope of getting by, but determined to make the Brabham driver make a mistake or over-stress his brakes, engine or gearbox, but even so he is keeping a wary eye on his mirrors to see what Lauda is up to. The wily Austrian sits back just out of harm’s way, not straining himself or putting undue stress on his car, but in complete control of the situation. Behind this fascinating situation the nose-to-tail quintet are still hard at it, though the Williams FW06/001 is beginning to blow out oil from a leak in the cast-alloy oil tank that joins the engine to the gearbox. This is getting onto the rear brakes, making smoke and giving Alan Jones a bad time under braking. On lap 13 he overshoots the Ste. Devote chicane, running wide and letting Peterson and Villeneuve by before he can gather it all up. Ickx is also in brake trouble with the Ensign MN06, and disappears into the pits after 15 laps, leaving the two new-boys, Pironi and Patrese, to play together. In spite of the oil on his rear brakes Jones is gaining on the quartet he has left, and they are still hammering away hard. All this while Reutemann is staying ahead of the leaders, looking for all the world as if he is leading the race comfortably.

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As one-third distance approaches there is no let-up between Watson and Depailler and no signs of failing or mistakes, so Lauda thinks it about time he has a closer look at the situation. With absurd ease he zooms up behind the battling duo, virtually looking over Depailler’s shoulder to see how his team-mate is getting on at the front. As they are beginning to lap the tail of the field Lauda is keen to be close to the leaders, to avoid being bulked by a slower car. If Watson and Depailler are going to nip through a gap he is making sure he has go through with them. Before half distance the Williams FW06 runs out of oil and as the pressure sags Jones switches of and parks in the Casino Square before too much damage is done. Although at the back of the field, Reutemann is leading on the road and is well ahead of Watson, so he comes up behind the tail of the field first. Stommelen has moved neatly out of the way, as has Fittipaldi, but then Reutemann gets stuck behind Jabouille in the Renault, and just can not get by. This means that Watson, Depailler and Lauda move closer, roaring past Fittipaldi up the hill from Ste. Devote as though the Brazilian has stopped. This is just before half distance, and they are now behind Reutemann who is still being held up by the Renault. Watson’s brakes are beginning to fade, on lap 38 he goes straight-on at the chicane into the harbour front, allowing Depailler and Lauda to go by, re-joining the circuit by the link road down in third place. On the next lap Reutemann finally gets by the obstructive Renault, and Depailler and Lauda are then quickly by, and on lap 43 the Argentinean lifts off and lets the Tyrrell and Brabham through. On Lap 45 the unexpected happens, Lauda feels a rear tyre begin to lose its pressure and instantly shoots into the pits, without wasting time to think about it. The air-jacks lift the car, both rear wheels are changed, and leaving enormous black lines Lauda goes down the pit lane like a drag-racer.

 

On the same lap Andretti comes into the pits for the pipe to the fuel pressure gauge has broken and petrol is spraying around the cockpit. The leak is stopped and there is another impressive pair of black tyre marks down the pit lane and Andretti is back in the race. All this changes the situation completely. Depailler now has a comfortable lead, with no pressure in front or behind him, Watson is in a chastened second place, Scheckter is third, with Peterson and Villeneuve still pressing him hard. Lauda is sixth, just ahead of Pironi and Patrese, who are followed at some distance by Tambay. The young McLaren driver has executed an impressive spin in the middle of the Casino Square, which has made his eyeballs press on his vizor and lost him a lot of time. Reutemann is a lap behind, as is Andretti. The Ensign brakes have been bled and Ickx tries again, but to no avail, and then a drive-shaft brakes; this is replaced and he tries once more, but still the brakes are playing up so reluctantly the car is withdrawn. Stommelen has to give up through sheer pain and fatigue, and Hunt’s unhappy drive at the back of the field ends when the rear roll-bar brakes. After the leaders have gone by Fittipaldi resumes his race with the Renault, but it is not long before Lauda is coming up to lap them again. On lap 56 Peterson’s gearbox brakes and he is out, leaving Scheckter safely in third place, for Villeneuve is no longer close enough to cause any trouble. However, once past the two yellow cars, and with his new tyres warm up nicely, Lauda begins to pile on the steam. In no time at all he as up behind Villeneuve’s Ferrari, and as they go up the hill to the Casino on lap 63 the nose of the Brabham is right under the rear aerofoil of the Ferrari. Down the hill to the Mirabeau hairpin Lauda dodges from side to side, but Villeneuve refuses to be ruffled. Round the old station hairpin they are almost touching, and down onto the seafront the Brabham is really pressing hard. Into the tunnel they go and out the other end the Ferrari comes clanging along the guard-rail, its left-front wheel and suspension fold up over the nose, and the left- rear wheel torn of.

 

As the battered Ferrari slithers to a stop Lauda goes by, now in fourth place. What has happened in the tunnel is not too clear, but Villeneuve thinks his left-front tyre is punctured, which has made him run out wide and hit the barrier. As Lauda has poured on the steam the Wolf pit has warned Scheckter, who also puts on a spurt and closes on Watson. Depailler is safely away in the lead, hoping and praying that nothing would go wrong, for his first victory is definitely in sight. Poor Watson, who is safely in second place, except that Scheckter is gaining, overshoots the Ste. Devote corner, and while the marshals push him back the Wolf goes by, starting lap 65 with ten to go. As Watson rejoins the race he has his team-leader in his mirrors, and the Austrian is well wound up. At the end of that lap Lauda slices by Watson with his steely eyes on the tail of the Wolf. With only five laps to go Reutemann has moved out of Scheckter’s way, and then moves out of Lauda’s way, and the Wolf driver is sweating. With three laps to go Lauda records a fantastic new lap record in 1'28"65, faster than he has gone in practice, and then second gear strips on the Wolf as Scheckter storms out of the Rascasse hairpin and past the pits. Lauda is by into second place, but with no hope of seeing Depailler. The Tyrrell 008 runs perfectly to the finish and a joyous Depailler wins his first Grand Prix, after coming so close so many times, and Elf Team Tyrrell have something to celebrate with their new car. The brilliant Lauda storms home into second place, with a lucky Scheckter third, for the broken bits drop clear of the gear-cluster and he is able to keep going. A rather unhappy Watson finishes fourth, followed by Pironi and Patrese nose-to-tail, as they have been for most of the race. A gloomy Reutemann finishes knowing that he can have walked the race if only he has not muffed his start and allowed himself to be nudged by the unruly Lauda. The obstructive Renault finishes a long way back after trouble with its brakes, and Andretti is even further back after two more pit stops to repair the fuel injection metering unit.

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