The small, slightly stooped, white-haired Frenchman has a distant look in his eyes, almost three decades later, but smiles at the memory.
“I remember that although that was one of the longest grands prix, to me it felt like quarter of an hour, because I was concentrating to hard. It was quite difficult for me to be in front, and two or three times I risked my car overtaking people.”
Parnell: “I remember Ronnie Peterson walking up to me after the race and saying, ‘When Jean-Pierre came up to lap me, the first time I knew about it was when he stuck his car’s nose under my back wheel and jacked me up!”
So what made Jean-Pierre so special that day at Monaco?
Parnell: “At Silverstone’s International Trophy, three weeks earlier, when he was second to Fittipaldi’s Lotus, the first thing he said to me when he got out of the car was, ‘If I’d had two good arms today, I would have won that.’ But in the rain, his talent was able to shine because he didn’t need so much arm strength.”
Challis: “Jean-Pierre wasn’t as good as Pedro and Jo in all truthfulness, but if he had had two operational arms, he would have been exceptional. I would think that, had he not had his permanent injury, he was a potential world champion.”
Southgate: “I remember there were comments that it was easy for him, he was in the lead, problems with spray etc., but we calculated that he actually overtook an incredible number of cars. Obviously there is a difference between lapping people and racing them, but even so, I thought he did an ace job.”
And the car held together. “Well, quite. Those V12s were not the world’s most reliable lumps. We only had 12 engines, I think, and I don’t think we had one with an unrepaired block. We had an oil system problem, too. The rain would have helped; the engine ran cooler, which gave the bearings an easier time. The g-forces would have been less also, reducing the surge in the engine.”
Beltoise himself? “Taking out the rear anti-roll bar was a success. Also, we had Firestones, and they were the best tyres that day.”
He’s too modest. Jean-Pierre went on to win the John Player Victory Race at Brands Hatch that October, in the P180. It was an inspired drive using slicks on a damp-but-ever-drying surface.
Another example of his ability to adapt to changing grip levels was his soft-tyred second at Kyalami in 1974 with the P201.
But it is, of course, his drive of 14 May 1972 that has passed into legend.