Reflections in the Monte Carlo harbour
Once the social party that surrounds the Monaco Grand Prix had dispersed and all the hired yachts had left it was possible to look into the waters of the harbour with a cool clear eye. For a moment I thought I saw a red Lancia D50 lying on the bottom, alongside a green Lotus-Climax, but I soon realised it was only my memory playing me tricks, for with the iron guard rails along the edge of the harbour it is no longer possible for a car to plunge into the water if the driver makes a mistake at the “chicane” which turns the circuit off the sea-front road onto the harbour road. When Ascari misjudged the “chicane” and sailed over the edge in his Lancia V8, in 1955, and Paul Hawkins did the same thing in a Lotus-Climax V8 in 1965, they both surfaced very quickly and swam to the rescue boat that was hovering nearby. It is probably a good thing that there is an iron wall preventing cars going into the harbour these days, for once a driver is belted into a modern Grand Prix car, with all his life-saving apparatus plugged in it takes him longer to get free and there could be the added problem of his space-helmet filling up with water as he went to the bottom. Although a lot of well-meaning people think that progress makes things safer I sometimes wonder whether all it is doing is making the dangers different. As Bandini unfortunately illustrated, a mistake at the “chicane” can now mean an inversion when bouncing off the iron guard rails and a subsequent fire. One thing that Ascari and Hawkins did not have to worry about was fire when they plunged over the edge. Don’t think for a moment that I want to see cars going into the harbour if the driver makes a mistake, it is Just that I ant not prepared to accept that things are any safer today than they were then; Monaco is just as dangerous, only the dangers are different.
Another instance was the spectacular accident that Hans-Joachim Stuck had all the way down the hill from the Casino square to the Mirabeau hairpin. He ended op with a bang against the iron guard rail on the outside of the hairpin, and was very lucky to escape with only a broken thumb. Before the advent of “safety barriers” there used to be an escape road at the Mirabeau hairpin and a car could disappear quite a long way down the small street that goes straight on where the circuit hairpins right. Blanking off escape routes with an iron wall is something I never did understand in the “make it all safe” programme that the GPDA instigated a few years ago. If my brakes fail I like to be able to sail on as far as possible, with the hope of rubbing off speed, not to have to go head-on into an iron wall. Sometimes I think that the “safety barriers” have been put up to make it safe for Press Gentlemen, Photographers, flag marshals, and officials. I know that these days I can stand in places on the Monte Carlo circuit without much risk of getting run over, that I would not have dreamed of standing in back in the fifties or early sixties, even at the low speeds that racing cars were going then, let alone at the rocket-like speeds they are doing today.
At the Mirabeau hairpin where Stuck ended up after his wayward flight down the right-hand pavement after he clipped the back of Hunt’s Flesketh car, there was an enormous mobile crane, parked behind the barrier. When the dust had subsided the operator swung the jib round, picked up the wrecked March and lifted it over the barrier and out of harm’s way. It was in tcrcsting to see that the March 741 was perfectly balanced when hanging from its cockpit-crash bar, without the driver on board and with nearly full petrol tanks. It was a pity that Robin Herd was not there to see this illustration of the weight distribution of his latest design. It was fortunate that the March did not bounce over the guard rail, as has happened too often recently, for it would have hit this big mobile crane fair and square. There was another of these mobile cranes just after the Saint Devote corner, parked behind the guard rail, ready to pick up any wreckage resulting from an accident on that very fast uphill right-hand bend. With guard rails along both kerbs there is nowhere to put a derelict car, and this caused a problem halfway up the hill to the Casino where the multiple crash happened on the opening lap, for Hulme’s bent McLaren was sit ting in the road for the whole race, fortunately not on the “racing-line” through the swerves up the hill. When you drive up that hill on a normal day you are not conscious of there being any curves in it, but to see a racing car go up there when you are standing at the bottom makes you realize that at their speed there is quite an cssbend up the hill.
The more you think about the Monte Carlo circuit, the more unreal it becomes, and yet when it was first used in 1929 it was typical of many circuits. If there was an Automobile Club in a town and they wanted to organise a motor race they merely closed some of the streets and made a circuit. This way you not only had your circuit right alongside the Club Headquarters but you had a captive audience, and if you chose the height of holiday time, you could guarantee a big audience. Such races abounded at places like Nice, Monte Carlo, San Remo, Genoa, Marseilles, Nimes, Perpignan, Avignon and Pau. If anyone was to build an artificial Autodrome on the lines of the Monte Carlo circuit, with adverse cambers, humps in the middle of corners, hairpins at the end of downhill stretches, a tunnel, blind corners and kerbstones, everyone would say they had gone out of their mind, and the whole professional scene would refuse to race there, yet each year they go to Monte Carlo without the slightest complaint.
Personally, I am very glad they do, and hope they always will, for races like the Monaco Grand Prix help to keep a sense of proportion. I would not want every race to be on such circuits, and equally I would not want all the races to be on circuits like Nurburgring. What I am worried about is that if we don’t watch out all Grand Prix races will be on circuits like Nivelles. It is the wide variety between Monte Carlo, Nurburgring and Monza that makes Grand Prix racing the ultimate motor racing activity. After watching the race at Jarama, followed by the one at Nivelles, I expressed the opinion that this season was never going to get going properly, for the next race was due at Monte Carlo, continuing the line of “Mickey Mouse” circuits. While Monaco does come in the category of “Mickey Mouse”, the mice have got to be pretty brave and very skilful if they want to do well. After the Nivelles race the Ferrari team went off to the Nurburgring to do some private testing and Niki (I nearly said Mickey) Lauda put in a lap at 6 min. 58.2 sec., the first time anyone has gone round the 14 mile mountain circuit in under 7 min., a truly shattering performance with an average speed of over 122 m.p.h. The news kept ones sense of proportion and it also kept the faith that Grand Prix drivers have got to be the best, though that does not refer to all drivers who take part in a Grand Prix. There is a subtle difference between a Grand Prix driver and a driver who drives in Grand Prix races, just as there is a subtle difference between someone who wins a race and someone who finishes first. With this year’s French Grand Prix being held on the funny little Dijon circuit, the British Grand Prix being held on the funny little Brands Hatch circuit and Monza fouled up with “chicanes”, there is not much of a standard by which to judge Grand Prix drivers, but as long as Monte Carlo and Nurburgring are the two extremes of the season we can endure the “grey porridge” in between.
To return to this year’s race, if any deserved a win it was Peterson, for he has striven hard to keep the end up in the Lotus camp in spite of all manner of trouble. The new Lotus 76 still has a long way to go before it becomes a race winner, and some of the things that have been happening in the past few races are enough to disenchant anyone. Ickx does not have to tell us he is dis enchanted, it stands out like a disease, but for tunately it is not catching and Peterson has gone on hammering away with unbounded enthusiasm. He may not have been on the front row of the grid, but throughout practice he drove his guts out to beat the Ferraris and was the only driver with Cosworth power to get in the ex clusive tmin. 26 sec. bracket, along with Regazzoni and Lauda in the cars from Maranello. In the race he was in the same terrific form, having a spin early on and making up for it in a very short space of time. It does the heart good to watch the Swede in action for while he has his foot hard on the accelerator, as he always did, it now has much more effect than it did in his early days with the March team. It is called maturing. The way he went over the blind brow in the Casino square with the Cosworth throttle slides fully open and the rear tyres trying hard to break away, made the adrcnalin flow, and I refer to mine, not his; and he does it all with that placid baby-face look with the glaze over the eyes.
When the grid was drawn up it provided a lot of interesting speculation with the two Ferraris on the front row. If there was any team control then all they had to do was let Lauda take the lead into Saint Devote, with Regazzoni right on his tail, and on the opening lap Lauda could have pulled out live seconds lead while Regazzoni held the screaming mob at bay. After that the race would be all over and a Ferrari 1-2 would be in the bag. Although the Ferraris were first and second fastest in practice it was not by a big enough margin to be certain of being able to and on the second row with his chisel nose already between the two Ferraris’ rear wheels was Peterson in the Lotus 72. Now Peterson is noted for starts that would do credit to a Drag Meeting, so clearly the two Ferraris had got to stay close enough together to stop the Lotus rocketing between them, but alongside Peterson was another small problem in the shape of Patrick Depailler in a Tyrrell. While the little Frenchman has not got a lot of Grand Prix experience he has got a lot of enthusiasm and “get up-and-go”, so we could see him nipping through on the right if the two Ferraris concentrated too much on stopping Peterson getting through. Then again, it is a brave man who would try to stop Peterson going through a gap, so we could see Regazzoni being elbowed over and probably collecting Depailler just as he was nipping through.
There were immense possibilities for a really exciting start, but unfortunately it all fell apart when Depailler’s Tyrrell sprung a leak in the metering unit of its Cosworth engine on the warm-up lap. By the time he had switched to the sparc Tyrrell he could only join the back of the grid, so Regazzoni’s problems were eased. However, as it turned out the swarthy Swiss got on with his own job, heedless of others and led everyone into the first corner and away up the hill. The gap on the grid caused by Depailler’s trouble gave Jean-Pierre Jarier the opportunity to shoot up the inside and elbow his way in behind the two Ferraris, ahead of Peterson, something no-one had thought about.
It is interesting that the two most popular races about which no-one seems to complain loudly are the two at which there is no opportunity for any pre-race testing. These are Monte Carlo and Barcelona, both held on public roads, so that the only chance to practice is during the official sessions on the days immediately prior to the race. At all the other races it is possible to run test days well before the event, and indeed it is becoming something of second series. After Madrid a lot of teams took advantage of test-days organised at Nivelles; after that race sonic went to Nurburgring, others went to Anderstorp, and after Monaco there was a test-day at Dijon. Much of this testing is paid for by Firestone and Goodyear, and if you were to follow all the testing closely you could have just as active a season as you would if you followed the actual racing. It is surprising how much damage is done at these test days, for at nearly every one someone manages to crash or break the suspension or a drive-shaft or have brake failure. Although Grand Prix races are being run virtually every alternate weekend at the height of the season, most teams are in action somewhere or other between times, so that you can say that a team is running its cars every week. I sometiimes wonder if it would not be a bad idea to call a truce and settle for just the Grand Prix races with a minimum of practice, and let them all spend the rest of the time designing something new or making what they have got a bit stronger, or even spending a few hours in the Inspection Department, always assuming they have one.
After each practice session at Monaco there was an interesting “parade” that could have provided spectators with a lot of enjoyment had it a good running commentary. The Monaco pad-dock is on the sea-front at the opposite end of the circuit to the pits, which are by the harbour, so that when practice was over nearly everyone had to make the journey round the circuit from the start, up the hill, through the Casino square, down through the hairpins of Mirabeau and the old Station, to the Portier corner, where they peeled off left into the paddock. Some drivers drove their racing cars, without their crash-hats on, so that you could actually see their smiling or scowling faces, depending on how practice had gone, while others went in saloon cars, vans or on the official transport pick-up trucks. With the present shape of Grand Prix cars being wide and flat there is room to take a passenger lying alongside the cockpit, so some drivers took their chief mechanic, others took the team-manager or the designer, some even had one on each side.
Some mechanics rode on the back, sitting on the aerofoil astride the engine, while some lucky mechanics actually drove their racing cars. Anyone who aspires to breaking the record for the number of people you can get in a telephone box should have seen some of the saloon cars travelling between the pits and paddock, it would have given them ideas on scientific packing, especially as wheels and tyres, tool boxes and signalling boards were packed in as well as the streaming mass of humanity. Colin Chapman went by on a Honda mini-bike, with Geoffrey Kent the boss-man of John Player on the pillion, and the way he negotiated the Casino square indicated that Chapman is not a born two-wheeled man. When I mentioned this to him later he said, “You should have seen me at the Station hairpin, I nearly dropped the lot.”
Motorcycles, or two-wheeled mini-bikes were all the rage this year for getting about the Principality for there are never any traffic or parking problems when you are on two wheels, though in Monte Carlo two feet are even better, for there are a lot of short cuts involving flights of steps. Crossing one of the small squares to go and have a look at a real motorcycle, a sports version of the Guzzi V7, I saw a familiar figure in the process of starting up a small Japanese fizzer. It was the retired World Champion Jackie Stewart, who was about to ride off to some urgent appointment in his funny hat and dark glasses. I went over to him and said “Mind how you go” and then added “but I wouldn’t let the clutch in just yet if I were you.” Giving me a quizzical look Stewart said “Why not?” So I pointed down at his back wheel, which still had a padlock and chain laced through the spokes and round the frame. There are still people who maintain I don’t like Jackie Stewart! I must admit that as I went on my way I thought “Hmrn, . . . .”