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.
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.
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.