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F1 History 10

Roebuck’s legends: Monaco 1972

Taken from the May 1997 issue of Motor Sport

The first thing to say about the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix is that it came close to being called off. Not because the weather was abominable, although it was, but because of a row between the race organisers and the teams. And if the dispute had remained unresolved, one of history’s fabled drives would have been lost.
To begin at the beginning. Traditionally, the number of starters had been restricted to 16, a number thought ample for a track as sinewy as Monte Carlo. In 1971 it was upped to 18, and for ’72 the organisers said they would allow 20 cars on the grid.

history  Roebucks legends: Monaco 1972

The Marches of Mike Beuttler (721G) and, in the background, Niki Lauda

Enter the Formula One Constructors Association, FOCA or F1CA, as it then was (the abbreviation later amended, ‘fica’ having unfortunate connotations in certain Latin countries). At this time the association was new, formed by team owners after years of being taken for a financial ride by organisers. For 1972, it insisted, the fastest 25 cars must start in all GPs. Initially, the organisers acceded to the demand, but the teams arrived in the Principality to find they had gone back on their word: it would be 20, and no more. Unless or until 25 starters were permitted, the team owners said, their cars would not be going out. The autocratic organisers – at that time still largely unfamiliar with the words ‘Bernie’ and ‘Ecclestone’ – took this insubordination ill, and sent in the police to impound the cars, then housed them in an underground car park which constituted the paddock. Not surprisingly, the mechanics were unimpressed, and there ensued what may be termed ‘angry scenes’. Temporary deadlock ensued, but eventually the matter was resolved by the French delegate of the CSI (then the sporting arm of the FIA), who insisted that the Monegasques stick by their original promise of 25 starters.

history  Roebucks legends: Monaco 1972

By this time much of Thursday’s opening practice session had been lost, so the drivers had barely an hour on the circuit which had undergone alterations. Although the significant changes, involving the loop around the swimming pool and so on, were still a year away, the area approaching Tabac was revised, because of a resiting of the pits.

There had long been fears of a major accident in the pits, which were at the trackside, completely unprotected. The organisers undertook to move them, but a month before the race they attempted to slide out of their commitment, relenting only when the team owners threatened not to turn up. All told, the ambience at Monaco was frosty in 1972.

For that year alone, the pits were moved to the harbourside, on what had been part of the circuit. To enter pitlane the drivers went through what had previously been the chicane, while the track now followed what had been the escape road, then went through another chicane further down, immediately before Tabac. Rejoining from the pits was therefore nightmarish, for you came out into the middle of the chicane, and it needed a man with his wits about him to decide if was safe for you to do so. Fortunately, Vic Elford was appointed to the task.

In those days, there was also a session on Friday morning, run before breakfast, and this was to settle the grid, for the weather was dry. Emerson Fittipaldi’s Lotus 72 took pole position, from the Ferraris of Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni, the BRMs of Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Peter Gethin, and the Matra of Chris Amon.

history  Roebucks legends: Monaco 1972

Chris Amon in the Matra MS120C

Amon was not feeling great that weekend, taking antibiotics after recent minor surgery; and out of sorts, too, was Jackie Stewart, who qualified only eighth in his Tyrrell. “Usually I loved Monte Carlo,” JYS said, “but that year I was short of energy, and just not really with it.” Following the race, he would have a check-up, which revealed a bleeding duodenal ulcer, and caused him to miss the next Grand Prix, in Belgium.

It rained on Saturday, and in these conditions, Ickx – always sublime in the wet – was fastest, and Beltoise, four seconds slower, gave no indication of what was to come. Conditions on Sunday were even worse. Rain was one thing; more unexpected was the frigid wind lashing in from the ocean.

Before the start there was a fine piece of Monegasque theatre, which could have had unfortunate consequences. It was decided that the drivers should be allowed an extra ‘acclimatisation’ session, and the pity was that no one thought to mention this to the palace, for when the Rainiers arrived for their pre-race lap of honour, their car joined the circuit at Portiers, and found itself competing for track space with a selection of Formula 1 cars, one of which was the Surtees of SMB Hailwood. I wish, I really wish, I could tell you what Mike had to say on the subject later…

At 3.29 they moved off from the dummy grid, opposite the new pits, to the grid proper, still in its original location. There a ’10 second’ board was displayed – presumably to confuse the drivers, for the flag was then immediately dropped.

history  Roebucks legends: Monaco 1972

Jean-Pierre Beltoise leads in the BRM P160B

Beltoise and Regazzoni may have been on the second row, but both got past Fittipaldi and Ickx before Ste Devote, and up the hill to Casino Square the red and white Marlboro BRM was in the lead. J-PB was off and running: “It was vital to get in front at the start,” he said, “because only the leader could see anything.”

After three laps, Beltoise had five seconds over Regazzoni, who was holding up Fittipaldi and Ickx, but on lap five Clay went down the escape road at the chicane, and Emerson, who could see little but the Ferrari’s red rear light, followed. Now Ickx was into second, and all anticipated that he would swiftly move in on Beltoise.

The gap, though, barely changed. Initially, Ickx pared a second or two from it, but then Beltoise began to go away again. And where one might have expected the Ferrari driver – normally far more assertive than Beltoise – to close up, getting through back markers, on this day he lost ground.

Drenched through, teeth chattering, I kept a shaky lap chart, routinely checking on the BRM’s lead, and assuming that Ickx was saving his attack for the late stages; back then, there was no question of halting the race early – indeed there was not even the ‘two-hour’ rule, at which point races are now automatically ended. No, it was 80 laps, and it would take as long as it took.

history  Roebucks legends: Monaco 1972

There were many notable performances that afternoon – indeed, you could make that claim for anyone who finished, for there is no more unforgiving circuit, and conditions were as bad as I have ever seen. Astonishingly, 18 of the 25 starters were still there at the end, six of the retirements coming through accidents, among them Regazzoni’s Ferrari.

Upon alighting from his damaged car, Gianclaudio, not in the best of humour, sought to return to the pits on foot, and when discouraged from this plan by the flics, took a swing at one of them, which led to his arrest!

Finally, after almost two and a half hours, at an average of just 63.85mph, &hoist, took the flag, 38 seconds ahead of Ickx, the only driver not to be lapped by the BRM. Fittipaldi was third, followed by a twice-lapped Stewart, the underrated Brian Redman (subbing for Peter Revson at McLaren), and Amon, who finished sixth despite, astonishingly, making four pitstops for attention to a misting visor.

That one day in his seven-year Fl career, journeyman Beltoise produced a drive of majesty, one comparable with any of the great wet weather victories. There was a half-spin at Portiers, but otherwise he kept it all together, and what made his performance the more remarkable was that Jean-Pierre emphatically did not go gentle into the race. Throughout he passed left and right, over the kerbs, on the pavement, spearing through the dead reckoning as if guided by radar. It was a knife-edge drive, and if he never produced anything like it again, still he had known a Grand Prix driver’s day of days.

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history  Roebucks legends: Monaco 1972


Add your comments

10 comments on Roebuck’s legends: Monaco 1972

  1. Andrew, 30 August 2013 11:02

    I’ve been reading your words for over 30 years now Nigel and continue to enjoy these retrospective pieces. Classic stuff, long may they continue, thanks.

  2. Paal Hanson, 30 August 2013 13:39

    Ohh I remember that race so well!! I was 12, and it was the only televised race on Danish TV in 1972.

    But what a race it was! Being brought up to be an Anglofile I had two favorite teams, Team Lotus and BRM, and having had a drought of victories since Spa 70 I cheered on Beltois and BRM all afternoon.

    Miracles do happen it seemed for both car and driver kept it going as you so aptly describe!

    Thank you for reminding me of that rainy may day 41 years ago!

  3. CC, 30 August 2013 14:36

    ‘Before the start there was a fine piece of Monegasque theatre, which could have had unfortunate consequences. It was decided that the drivers should be allowed an extra ‘acclimatisation’ session, and the pity was that no one thought to mention this to the palace, for when the Rainiers arrived for their pre-race lap of honour, their car joined the circuit at Portiers, and found itself competing for track space with a selection of Formula 1 cars, one of which was the Surtees of SMB Hailwood. I wish, I really wish, I could tell you what Mike had to say on the subject later…Funniest thing I’ve read for ages!!

  4. Simon Lord, 30 August 2013 22:01

    Thanks for another great memory, Mr Roebuck. A question, though: is the delightful second photograph an illustration of the unusual word ‘pem-titted’ in the preceding paragraph? (‘Unless or until 25 starters were pem-titted’). It seems to have no other connection to the story, so perhaps a Freudian slip on behalf of a picture editor faced with an unexpected typo?

    Given that SMBH, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace are sadly no longer with us, perhaps you could share something of Mike Hailwood’s comments, even if it might deplete MotorSport’s ration of asterisks for the year.

  5. John, 30 August 2013 23:11

    Simon, there are a few small errors in the text, I think they look like predictive text mistakes. Nothing more.
    Great read, the pictures of that race give an idea of the conditions they all drove in, but the two and a half hour driving time in those conditions was something I want aware of. They don’t make them like that anymore.

  6. IM, 31 August 2013 06:17

    And thanks to Simon Lord for a splendid contribution!!!!!

  7. Dick Richards, 31 August 2013 17:18

    I can attest to the appalling weather, having sat through steady rain waiting for the royals to finish a leisurely lunch.Race time was 3:00 PM then, probably changed now to a TV imposed standard time.
    I had forgotten the parade lap mixture of vehicles, just remembering the royals in a closed (Bentley?) limo, circulating to some jeers from the sodden crowd.
    A lot of money could have been made betting against Ickx and Fittipaldi winning, but Beltoise was full measure for the victory on this particular day. Hard to understand the rest of the season as BRM scored only 5 points in all the other races in 72.

  8. Frank, 2 September 2013 03:36

    I’m with you Simon Lord, I’m sure Mike the bike wouldn’t mind the betrayal of a confidence 30 years after his passing.

  9. Rich Ambroson, 3 September 2013 16:08

    I’ve seen a bit of footage from this race, with Beltoise working it big time in the wet. Very impressive.

    Too bad races are called after time these days, instead of at actual distance.

    Thanks to all at MotorSport for these reminiscences!

  10. Jack Hoey, 23 September 2013 14:22

    Watched that race on BBC television. BRMs often did well in the early stages at Monaco ( think Behra or Bonnier) so I didn’t get too excited, but the laps mounted up and Beltoise was still leading, so I was on the edge of my seat from then on. I am told I was even shouting advice to Jean-Pierre Beltoise……he may even have heard me, so high was the decibel rate. During the final laps I was also talking to the BRM. Your article brought it all back and it’s hard to accept that it all happened over 41 years ago.

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