From the archives with... Doug Nye

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Ducking and driving
Monaco’s presence on the F1 calendar seems to defy logic, but some of its potential hazards have been tamed

The Monaco Grand Prix survives on the Formula 1 calendar as an extraordinary anachronism, a money-rich throwback to a bygone era. The race result each year is pretty much assured by ‘Q3’ final qualifying the previous day.

If it wasn’t for Monte Carlo’s glitzy glamour, and still very real aesthetic, the race would surely have been dumped years ago. Competing for its calendar slot would be some better-paying Grand Prix run on a brand-new playmat circuit in some upwardly mobile nation that most Formula 1 fans couldn’t find unaided in an atlas.

Truth is, of course, that the sponsors – and more critically their corporate guests – just love Monaco at Grand Prix time. Some years ago when Mr E tried to play hardball with the seemingly effete but in fact sinewy Monaco club, they brandished an alternative to replace F1, the CART Indycar series. An accommodation was quickly reached – and the venue’s long premier-league history (dating back to 1929) survived.

The first really big fuss about Monaco’s suitability for continued F1 racing perhaps emerged in 1969. The preceding Spanish GP had been a nasty shambles. Its humpy, bumpy Montjuich Park venue in Barcelona had induced massive load reversals in tall, strutted wings that were little understood. The broadest, biggest and best of those new-fangled aerodynamic aids were Team Lotus’s, force-fed by Colin Chapman’s daring – and his star driver’s trusting acquiescence. When the sister Lotus 49Bs of Jochen Rindt and Graham Hill both slammed against the Armco in two massive shunts due to wing collapses, the fuss focused upon banning such aerodynamic aids. Sure enough, after Monaco’s first practice day, the governing CSI summarily slashed permissible wing height and width. Less publicly, many complained that if the Spanish course was borderline “for modern F1”, then surely Monte Carlo must be unacceptable? But the sponsors and spectators loved it, and for once that view prevailed. Again in 1975 – after five bystanders had been killed at Montjuich by another F1 wing collapse (on Rolf Stommelen’s Hill GH1) – Monte Carlo’s uniquely glitzy charms kept it insulated from safety concerns, while Barcelona’s track was finished.

This year marks two particularly soggy Monaco anniversaries. It’s 60 years since Alberto Ascari’s leading Lancia tumbled into Monte Carlo harbour. And it’s 50 years since Paul Hawkins’s Dickie Stoop-owned Lotus 33 filed a matching flight plan.

There was no guardrail against the harbour’s edge then. Instead the Monégasques relied upon its massive metal mooring bollards, straw bales and – in 1955 – on timber telegraph poles or stripped pine trunks, laid horizontally.

In 1955, the twin Mercedes-Benz W196s of Fangio and Moss were barking around first and second and, after Jean Behra’s Maserati had faltered in third place, Ascari’s Lancia took up the chase. One report then read: “Suddenly the entire picture altered. Moss came through on his 50th lap on his own. Fangio’s transmission had packed up at the station. A rev-counter tell-tale needle stuck at more than 10,000rpm told its own story…

“With 70 laps covered, Stirling was 1min 38.6sec ahead of Ascari and could see the Lancia going into the Gasometer turn as the Mercedes swerved out of the Quai des États-Unis.” Meanwhile, “On two separate occasions Villoresi’s Lancia had revolved, at the Square Massenet and a few laps later near the Mirabeau. As he passed the pits he made signs that his brakes were troublesome. Castellotti (in the third Lancia) was also having difficulty… so it should have been a warning to Lancia that the much faster Ascari might also be suffering from disappearing anchors…”

But just after the 80-lap mark there was “…real drama. The Mercedes came out of the tunnel with smoke pouring from the cockpit. Moss toured slowly towards his pit. The car was pushed to the side of the road, and with it went the hopes of Unterturkheim.

“Ascari, of course, had no knowledge of this. He was still hurtling round trying to keep the Mercedes from lapping him. He came through the tunnel faster than ever, placed the car for the chicane as he had done on 80 occasions, and to the horror of onlookers suddenly swerved sideways into the hay bales, bounced off a bollard and the Lancia toppled into the water, narrowly missing an anchored yacht.

“The car disappeared in a cloud of spray and steam, and with it went Ascari. To the relief of spectators, a blue helmet popped above the water and the Italian was seen to be tearing it off, and striking out with a strong overarm stroke. Frogmen rushed to his rescue, and the dazed driver was pulled aboard a boat. He was taken to hospital with shock and a nose injury – fortunate to be alive at all.”

Monte Carlo’s hot ticket post-race was then to watch oil bubbles wobbling up to the surface from the submerged D50, clearly visible on the harbour bed, until that night a mobile crane heaved it from the petrol-rainbowed briny. Sadly, of course, Ascari had only four days to enjoy his lucky escape – crashing fatally in a sports Ferrari at Monza while testing (perhaps prematurely) a possible balance problem.

Ten years later, 1965 Monaco GP. Paul Hawkins was hardly a major contender in former RAF pilot and long-time Frazer Nash exponent Dickie Stoop’s ex-works Lotus. It was chassis ‘8’, the first Type 33, in which Jimmy Clark had led that year’s Aintree 200 before being put off-line at Melling Crossing by a wandering back-marker. The car crashed brutally into trackside bales, and its tub was badly creased. After rebuild and a brief return to team duties, it was deemed “unsatisfactory” and Dickie – from Hartley Wintney in Hampshire – took it on.

A loose partnership was formed with fellow privateer Bob Anderson, and the Lotus and Bob’s Brabham were run in matching white-striped bright green livery under the DW Racing Enterprises banner.

At Monaco ’65 dear old ‘Hawkeye’ lasted as long as had Ascari 10 years before. After 80 laps “There was a bit of a furore at the chicane for Hawkins struck the wooden barrier at the entry and spun through the straw bales and over the edge of the quay and into the harbour. The Lotus sank to the bottom and the rugged Australian bobbed to the surface and struck out for the shore, while boats went to his rescue.”

One report claimed that. “Paul then remarked laconically; ‘That’s one way of cooling one’s ardour’.” I doubt that. Far too few expletives…

Neither accident was a movie-style, rocketship high-fly, far out into open water. Each was more a thumping flurry of dust and straw, a toppling car and a 10-foot flop straight down into the oggin. Today one would have to be really creative to clear the steel guardrails flanking the slightly resited modern chicane, ever to reach the harbour. But in other respects Monte Carlo – as a barrier-lined pinball chute – remains the Formula 1 circuit that health and safety forgot.

The tube network
A peep beneath the skin of Alfa’s svelte T33

Landmarks, byways and CUL-DE- sacs plainly punctuate any kind of history. In 1966-67 Ing Carlo Chiti’s celebrated Autodelta disorganisation in Italy handled quasi-works racing development for Alfa Romeo. The venture was well financed, presumably profitable for its principals – Chiti and his business partner Ludovico Chizzola – and from it in 1967 emerged the 2-litre Tipo 33 series of Alfa Romeo sports-prototypes.

Mechanically the design owed much to Chiti’s previous four-cam small-V8 engine experience with ATS in 1962-64, and prior to that with Ferrari’s early development of what became the 1962 Dino 268SP. But it was the new Tipo 33’s original chassis structure that was most startling and ingenious – although fated to become more a design cul-de-sac than a highway to racing heaven.

Chiti and his Alfa design colleagues produced neither a conventional multi-tubular spaceframe chassis, nor an aluminium-panelled stressed-skin monocoque, nor a pressed and welded sheet platform chassis. Instead they combined just three very large-diameter light-alloy tubes into a U-shape (in planform) closed by a complex cast-magnesium ‘eggbox’ up front. At the rear, two equally large-diameter – but tapering – magnesium legs projected to pick up a steel hoop supporting the engine/gearbox assembly and providing rear suspension mounts. The whole affair, clothed in quite a voluptuous and shapely sports-prototype body, was topped in early form by a periscopio airbox. The cars would show great promise, but it was largely unfulfilled. Preparation was often tatty, and the scruffy Autodelta cars rarely defeated Porsche in their 2-litre class. Of course the operation grew and diversified through 2.5- and then 3-litre V8 T33 variants. By 1969 the cars were bright and smart and shiny, sometimes carrying astronomical star names in homage to Chiti’s hobby (when he wasn’t collecting stray dogs). A more conventional aluminium-skinned monocoque chassis finally replaced the disarmingly simple-looking, yet expensive to produce and almost impossible to repair original big-tube-cum-casting affair. Eventually the T33TT – telaio tubolare – emerged into the 1970s, and despite a 3-litre flat-12 engine also replacing the V8 in some frames it was back to ‘primitive’ after all.

But Chiti’s basic T33 three-big-tube chassis in 1967 weighed only 22.7kg – 50lbs – and it was not quite a blind alley. When Gordon Murray penned the 2003-2010 McLaren Mercedes-Benz SLR the front end of its chassis structure featured two big cast magnesium tubes reminiscent of his sometime friend Chiti’s T33 rear bay. What goes around, comes around.

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