#286 1977 Monaco Grand Prix

2022-07-21 00:00

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#1977, Fulvio Conti,

#286 1977 Monaco Grand Prix

Monte-Carlo is one circuit that can only be used for official practice when the management of the Principality permit it, so there isn’t no pre-practi

Monte-Carlo is one circuit that can only be used for official practice when the management of the Principality permit it, so there isn’t no pre-practice-practice, or pre-practice-testing. Thursday morning from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. is the first contact that they all have with the circuit, apart from those like Peterson and Scheckter who live in the Monte Carlo and occasionally walk the streets. The Brabham team are fired with a very competitive spirit and Watson and Stuck are at the head of the queue waiting to leave the pit lane. With twenty-five cars using the circuit, in and out of the pits, the scene is the unusual confusion that the Formula One crows accept as a qualification period. Fast drivers are held up by slow ones through the wiggly section on the harbour front, or have a clear run into the chicane at Saint Devote completely spoilt by someone leaving the pits. Slow drivers trying to learn are hampered by blue flags and the chargers forcing their way by down the hill to the Mirabeau Hairpin, or filling both mirrors through the slow corners. What becomes obvious very early on is the way some drivers and teams get into a rhythm, in spite of all this confusion, while others are going in fits and starts. Among those who quickly settle into a rhythm are the two Brabham drivers and Reutemann with the second Ferrari. It is very clear that Lauda, Hunt and Andretti just cannot get things to flow, seldom doing more than a lap or two without stopping. Peterson works into a good rhythm with the six-wheeled Tyrrell and Scheckter shows signs with the Wolf (or rather, with the Wolves, as he tried WR1 and WR3). The two Brabham drivers are in a class of their own, very little wrong with their cars and the Alfa Romeo engines working well. While Watson is driving hard and neatly, his team-mate Stuck is on the verge of an accident the whole time, but by reason of superb reflexes he doesn’t actually have one. It is no surprise that the morning ends with the two Brabhams in the first two places, with Stuck fractionally faster, but while his hairy progress is fun to watch, it doesn’t look as though he can keep it up for a whole race, whereas Watson looks safe and secure and only 0.13 seconds.


Slower. Stuck is showing enthusiasm, bravado and lightning reflexes and by his own admission is well over ten-tenths in effort. Watson, on the other hand, is a fine example of how to be sure to get to the end of the 76-lap race, with every chance of being first. Lauda is feeling quite fit after his rib trouble in Spain, his Ferrari seat having been remoulded to give him better body support, but his morning is troubled by a broken drive-shaft on his regular Ferrari 030. He continues practice in the spare car, 027 and eventually pips his team-mate Reutemann by a mere one-hundredth of a second. However, they are both behind Peterson who has been throwing the six-wheeled Tyrell about with inspiring confidence. Low down the list is the Ligier, much to the consternation of Jacques Laffite, for nothing would go right with the car even though the engine is working well. It doesn’t handle, doesn’t accelerate, doesn’t stop, doesn’t steer and altogether is a bit of a pig, for no obvious reason. It is a case of getting all the various adjustments out of phase with one another and being unable to find a compromise. The other French driver, Jean-Pierre Jarier, is having a much better time with the German-owned 1976 Penske cars and is placed well up the field. Of the new young lads Rupert Keegan is impressing everyone with his command of the Hesketh, in complete contrast to his Formula Three efforts last year where he spent the whole time bouncing off the Armco. Another new-boy who is making people take notice was the Italian Riccardo Patrese, also from Formula Three, who is handling the works Shadow impeccably, having been thrown in at the deep end of Formula One. The fastest 20 of the 25 entries are going to start the race and a surprise is to see Regazzoni in twenty-first position with the Ensign. After lunch there is an hour of practice, and just as it is about to begin large spots of rain begin to fall, which soon turns into real rain. A lot of drivers leave the pit lane, tour round for a lap and return to the pits without recording an official lap time. The rain gets worse and while some drivers go out on wet-weather tyres and have a bit of a go, others make no attempt to practice. Some, like the McLaren team, practice wheel changes and some simply cover their cars over and withdrew.

Andretti tries the spare Lotus, which still has the original rear anti-roll bar layout, as well as the later car and is fastest of those who brave the rain. Hunt is working hard in the McLaren and Regazzoni is very gloomy as he calculates on ensuring his grid position on this first day so that he can fly off to Indianapolis and qualify for the 500-mile race on Saturday, returning over-night for the Monaco race on Sunday afternoon. Eventually the rain come down so hard that even the bravest of them gives up and practice is quietly washed away, leaving the morning times counting for the grid positions until the final hour on Saturday afternoon. While the mechanics prepare the cars for the Saturday onslaught the team-managers managed, the driver’s does whatever drivers do when they are not driving and the rest of the world junkets in the best freemans tradition. All the big-wigs from Cosworth Engineering arrive, on a sort of firm’s-outing, carrying three special DFV engines with parts made in magnesium instead of the normal aluminium and with numerous small but important changes internally around such areas as the valve gear. More important is that these three engines have been very carefully assembled, rather than production-assembled like the normal run-of-the-mill Cosworth DFV engines, and they have plates riveted to the cambox covers, saying Cosworth Engineering as a protest against those which bear a plate that says Nicholson-McLaren Engines Ltd, which chalk up the last three Cosworth DFV victories. These Cosworth development engines, which rev a bit higher and weigh a bit less, are destined one each for Lotus, McLaren and Tyrrell, with the Wolf team at the head of the queue should there be a fourth such special engine. They are not free, but are loaned to the teams in exchange for a large bag of gold to help pay for development costs, for since the original £100.000 given by Ford in 1966, Cosworth Engineering has been self supporting. Lotus put their special engine into Andretti’s spare car, McLaren put theirs into Hunt’s car 23/8, and Tyrrell gives his to the fastest of his pair of Elf drivers, which is Peterson.


Com Saturday morning and everyone is ready, though the weather is still grey and nasty, with soggy-looking clouds enveloping the mountains behind the town, and occasional showers of rain. Almost unnoticed is the complete absence of the works March team; they have been about on Thursday, but Max Mosely is wishing they have not been there. Alex Ribiero crashes his car beyond immediate repair, and isn’t very fast anyway, while Ian Scheckter crumples his car on a barrier. While the car is hammered straight, poor Scheckter found he has damaged his ribs and has to withdraw, so March are two down, with two to go (Merzario and Hayje). Regazzoni takes one look at the weather and disappears off to Indianapolis (where he is to qualify comfortably) and Morris Nunn co-opts Jacky Ickx back into the Ensign team; the Belgian driver being at Monaco in passing. During the morning the weather improves noticeably, the boats in the harbour stopp rocking about and the sun comes out and the twenty-three potential starters go at it as though the time-keepers are actually recording their lap times. The Brabham boys are first out again and showing that Thursday has not been a flue, while Jody Scheckter is looking really impressive with Wolf. The Lotus team sends Andretti out for a few laps in the spare car to try the special engine, but are applying their fine tuning of the suspension, tyres and aerodynamic devices to 78/3. Keegan is in trouble with his engine blowing its oil out, instead of using it, and he eventually spin due to his oily back tyres, but escapes damage. The hectic tempo that worked up during the morning continues with even greater ferocity during the final hour. While the Brabhams are quickly away, Stuck does not last long as his engine, newly fitted the day before, breaks  its valve gear and though the lanky German tries the spare car it does not suit him and he has to sit in the pits and watch everyone trying to beat his Thursday time of 1'30"73. In fact, not many did, only Scheckter, Reutemann and Peterson surpassing him to begin with, but right near the end of practice Watson gets everything right and beats the lot of them with 1'29"86, the only driver to get under the 1'30"0, which put him in a class of his own. 


A remarkable amount of incident pack itself into the final hour, for Keegan is still losing oil and Andretti loses control on it and clanges into the barriers, which bent the ends of the Lotus 78/3, while Scheckter has a private accident, overdoing things and hitting the barriers with the rear of the Wolf, crumpling the aerofoil mounting and damaging the gearbox. Brabham pair are ready and waiting at the head of the queue, and in case anyone has trouble Merzario, as first reserve, is also out on the circuit. Lotus has taken the special Cosworth V8 and gearbox assembly off the spare car and installs it in 78/3 for Andretti, and the Wolf team has swapped the rear end of WR3 onto WR1 for Scheckter, while both Hunt and Peterson are still using their special Cosworth engines. After a Renault-sponsored race and a lunch break things are ready for the great occasion we have all come for, the 76-lap race round the streets of Monte Carlo. While the racing cars are warming up there are parades round the circuit of Rolls-Royce cars, girls on Honda motorcycles, vintage sports cars sponsored by Gitanes cigarettes, all interspersed by Vic Elford going round in a 928 Porsche course-car loaned by the Stuttgart factory. Finally the parading comes to an end when Prince Rainier himself drove his Princess round the circuit in an open Rolls-Royce and then 21 Formula 1 cars roars round on their way to the starting grid, with Merzario hopefully in twenty-first place. The 928 follows, going a bit quicker this time and they all form up on the 1 x 1 grid while poor Merzario returns to the pits with no hope of joining in. Another warm-up lap, serious this time, in strict formation and another fast lap for Vic Elford and then they are all lined up under the cold stare of the regulation Red Light, having been informed that there will be no passing between the start line and the Saint Devote Corner. A rule announced by the Sporting Commission of the Automobile Club or Monaco, in the interests of safety. The Red Light goes out, the Green Light comes on, and Scheckter is gone, overtaking Watson’s Brabham as it hesitated with spinning wheels. 


Flagrantly breaking the law, Scheckter leads into the Saint Devote chicane and away up the hill. By all the rules the whole field should have ascended the hill to the Casino in grid order, but it isn’t a bit like that an while the rule-makers open their mouths in shock the twenty cars are gone in a roar that shook the town, with Vic Elford in the 928 really scratching to keep the tail enders in sight during his regulation opening lap follow-up with the course-car. It is a pretty orderly opening lap which all twenty cars negotiates safely and the order is Scheckter, Watson, Reutemann, Stuck, Peterson, Lauda, Hunt, Depailler, Mass, Jones, Jarier, Nilsson and the rest with Binder bringing up the rear. Watson is very close behind Scheckter, trying hard to make up for his hesitant start, and though there is little hope of getting by in the tight confines of the street circuit, unless Scheckter make a mistake, which isn’t likely by the look of it, the UIsterman is not going to relax and settle for second place. Among the rest Stuck’s Brabham is grounding over the bumps throwing out showers of sparks, Patrese has the right front canard fin on his Shadow crumpled by someone’s rear wheel, and Nilsson is in trouble with his gear linkage and stops at the pits after seven laps. By 10 laps Peterson goes in to the pits with defective brakes. Although Scheckter is leading all the time he is having to work hard, for Watson has the nose of his red Brabham right under the Wolf’s tail, pushing hard all the time. Depailler drops a couple of places when his brakes plays up, and Mass goes past Andretti. On the twentieth lap Stuck’s Brabham goes coasting through the Casino Square, suffering a major electrical failure and stops in a small cloud of smoke as a short-circuit manifested itself. This let Lauda take over fourth place, behind his team-mate Reutemann but the Ferraris are barely in sight of the Wolf/Brabham duel at the front. Laffite is trying hard to get Brambilla, but in vain, and Keegan is bracing himself to overtake the ex-World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi.


At the front of the race, although a production Cosworth DFV is leading it is hotly pursued by three Italian 12-cylinders, with Hunt and his Super-Cosworth trying to keep up. With wide cars on a narrow circuit and a remarkable equality among the drivers and cars a race must of necessity become a procession, with everyone waiting for the others to make a mistake or have trouble. The Monaco GP is no exception though it isn’t a dull procession for groups of the cars are running very close to each other. Finding he cannot keep up with the leaders, Reutemann let his team-mate go by into third place and settles himself into a safe fourth position. Andretti is pressing hard on the tail of the number two McLaren as the number one McLaren expires in a cloud of smoke as its special Cosworth engine breaks! Laffite is hounding Brambilla, for Jarier acquires a flat front tyre and stops at the pits to change it, and Keegan  takes a deep breath and passes the ex-World Champion, which made Fittipaldi stop and try some different tyres. At 30 laps Watson is still pressing hard, but Scheckter is completely unshakable and looks to be well in control of the situation; Lauda is third, Reutemann fourth, Mass fifth with Andretti still under his tail, and Depailler close behind them in seventh place. Alan Jones was holding a nice eighth place and then came Brambilla and Laffite. A long way back, but doing very well is Patrese in the second Shadow leading Ickx in the Ensign and then comes Keegan about to be lapped by the leaders. Fittipaldi and Binder are bringing up the rear. A few spots of rain are falling  at 40 laps, but do not develop into anything and the roundy-round continues at unabated speed. Ickx and Patrese are lapped by the leading pair without any trouble and then the Brabham’s brakes plays up and Watson goes up the escape road at the chicane onto the harbour front, letting Lauda slip through into second place. Watson gathers himself up before Reutemann appears and Scheckter cannot now relax for the first time in 45 laps. Four laps later and the Brabham locks up its gearbox as Watson enters the Saint Devote corner and he spin to a stop, his race finishes, leaving the two Ferraris to chase the Wolf in a vain hope of retrieving honour for Italy.


Depailler disappears when his gearbox breaks just before this, and then Nilsson goes out with the same trouble on his Lotus, after running many laps behind the race, following his pit stop. While Scheckter can now run the race at his own pace, with Lauda comfortably behind him, and Reutemann even further back, Jochen Mass still has Andretti right on his tail, the Italian (USA brand) studying all the nuts and bolts on the back of the McLaren, hoping one of them would fail. Keegan is slowing down as his Hesketh is falling apart behind him, the rear anti-roll bar mounting breaking up, and Laffite is pressing Brambilla so hard that two of them are closing up on Alan Jones. With ten laps to go Scheckter is in complete command of the situation, easing off as his pit keeps him in touch with what is behind him. The Wolf is running perfectly and as the remaining laps ticks by the South African judging his position perfectly, allowing Lauda to close up to within sight of its tail as they cover the last lap, but while Lauda is pressing hard, Scheckter is cruising, so that if anyone is going to make a last minute mistake it is going to be the Ferrari driver, not the Wolf driver. The Mass/Andretti battler lasts right to the end, the Lotus driver making a desperate attempt to overtake but failing, and Laffite finally takes the Ligier past Brambilla’s Surtees as the Italian has to ease off when his fire-proof Balaclava inside the helmet slipped down over his eyes. Scheckter scores his second win for the Wolf team this season after a superbly judged drive, even if he does infringe the law at the start, and the Ferrari team finishes a solid second and third, which is better than some two-car teams who do not finish at all. The Mass/Andretti duel for fourth and fifth places lasts right to the chequered flag, with Alan Jones and Laffite close behind in sixth and seventh places, followed by Brambilla driving almost blind. Patrese covers himself in glory on his Formula 1 debut, with eighth place, only a lap behind the winner and Ickx brings the Ensign home well in the money, followed by Jarier and Keegan. 



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