on Saturday, returning over-night for the Monaco race on Sunday afternoon. Eventually the rain came down so hard that even the bravest of them gave up and practice was quietly washed away, leaving the morning times counting for the grid positions until the final hour on Saturday afternoon.
While the mechanics prepared the cars for the Saturday onslaught the team-managers managed, the driver’s did whatever drivers do when they are not driving and the rest of the world junketed in the best “freemans” tradition. All the big-wigs from Cosworth Engineering arrived, on a sort of firm’s-outing, carrying three special DIN 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 was that these three engines had been very carefully assembled, rather than “production-assembled” like the normal run-of-the-mill Cosworth DFV engines, and they had 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 have chalked up the last three Cosworth DFV victories. These Cosworth development engines, which rev a bit higher and weigh a bit less, were 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 were not free, but were 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 have been self supporting.
Lotus put their special engine into Andretti’s spare car, McLaren put theirs into Hunt’s car 23/8, and Tyrrell gave his to the fastest of his pair of ELF drivers, which was Peterson. Come Saturday morning and everyone was ready, though the weather was still grey and nasty, with soggy-looking clouds enveloping the mountains behind the town, and occasional showers of rain. Almost unnoticed was the complete absence of the works March team; they had been about on Thursday, but Max Mosley was wishing they had not been there. Alex Ribiero crashed his car beyond immediate repair, and wasn’t very fast anyway, while Ian Scheckter crumpled his car on a barrier. While the car was hammered straight, poor Scheckter found he had damaged his ribs and had to withdraw, so March were two down, with two to go (Merzario and Hayje). Regazzoni took one look at the weather and disappeared off to Indianapolis (where he was to qualify comfortably) and Morris Nunn co-opted Jacky Ickx back into the Ensign team; the Belgian driver being at Monaco “in passing”.
During the morning the weather improved noticeably, the boats in the harbour stopped rocking about and the sun came out and the twenty-three potential starters went at it as though the time-keepers were actually recording their lap times. The Brabham boys were first out again and showing that Thursday had not been a fluke, while Jody Scheckter was looking really impressive with the Wolf. The Lotus team sent Andretti out for a few laps in the spare car to try the special engine, but were applying their fine-tuning of the suspension, tyres and aerodynamic devices to 78/3. Keegan was in trouble with his engine blowing its oil out, instead of using it, and he eventually spun due to his oily back tyres, but escaped damage.
The hectic tempo that worked up during the morning continued with even greater ferocity during the final hour. While the Brabhams were quickly away, Stuck did not last long as his engine, newly fitted the day before, broke its valve gear and though the lanky German tried the spare car it did not suit him and he had to sit in the pits and watch everyone trying to beat his Thursday time of 1 min. 30.73 sec. In fact, not many did, only Scheckter, Reutemann and Peterson surpassing him to begin with, but right near the end of practice Watson got everything right and beat the lot of them with 1 min. 29.86 sec., the only driver to get under the 1 min. 30 sec. barrier, which put him in a class of his own. A remarkable amount of incident packed itself into the final hour, for Keegan was still losing oil and Andretti lost control on it and clanged into the barriers, which bent the ends of his lotus 78/3, while Scheckter had a private accident, overdoing things and hitting the barriers with the rear of the Wolf, crumpling the aerofoil mounting and damaging the gearbox.
When the noise and confusion subsided it was found that Watson was on pole position, followed by Scheckter, Reutemann, Peterson, Stuck, Lauda, Hunt and Depailler, and somebody had to telephone Enzo Ferrari and explain that “the other flat-12 engine” was fastest! A lot of people were telling Keith Duckworth that the fastest Cosworth powered car was the Wolf, using a bog-standard “production” DFV! Those who said it was all a matter of luck were not doing justice to Watson and Scheckter, who were on terrific form and a joy to watch. There were no new faces up at the front of the grid, indeed there seldom are, for the way from mid-field to the front is a long hard slog. Commendable was the driving of Riccardo Patrese in the Shadow, and Jacky ickx in the Ensign, the first for qualifying fifteenth at his first attempt at Formula One and the second for qualifying the Ensign in seventeenth position with little or no warning. Those left out of the Top Twenty were Merzario (March), Hayje (March), Ertl (Hesketh), Ribiero (March) and Ian Scheckter (March) and, of course, Regazzoni who did not intend to return. The March performance was worthy of BRM in their declining years, four in the entry and none in the race.
Sunday morning was anything but Cote d’Azur, though with a bit of luck the rain was going to hold off, and at 11.30 a.m. there was a 30-minute free-practice session to make sure everything was all right. Once again the Brabham pair were ready and waiting at the head of the queue, and in case anyone had trouble Merzario, as first reserve, was also out on the circuit. Lotus had taken the special Cosworth V8 and gearbox assembly off the spare car and installed it in 78/3 for Andretti, and the Wolf team had swapped the rear end of WR3 onto WR1 for Scheckter, while both Hunt and Peterson were still using their special Cosworth engines. After a Renault-sponsored race and a lunch break things were ready for the great occasion we had all come for, the 76-lap race round the streets of Monte Carlo. While the racing cars were warming up there were 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 came to an end when Prince Rainier himself drove his Princess round the circuit in an open Rolls-Royce and then 21 Formula One cars roared round on their way to the starting grid, with Merzario hopefully in twenty-first place. The 928 followed, going a bit quicker this time, and they all formed up on the 1 x 1 grid while poor Merzario returned 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 were 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 of Monaco, in the interests of safety. The Red Light went out, the Green Light came on and Scheckter was gone, overtaking Watson’s Brabham as it hesitated with spinning wheels. Flagrantly breaking the law, Scheckter led into the Saint Devote chicane and away up the hill. (If you make a stupid law you can expect it to be broken – like the 1976 absurdities over more millimetres!). By all the rules the whole field should have ascended the hill to the Casino in grid order, but it wasn’t a bit like that and while the rule-makers opened their mouths in shock the twenty cars were 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 was a pretty orderly opening lap which all twenty cars negotiated safely and the order was Scheckter, Watson, Reutemann, Stuck, Peterson, Lauda, Hunt, Depailler, Mass, Jones, Jarier, Nilsson and the rest with Binder bringing up the rear. Watson was very close behind Scheckter, trying hard to make up for his hesitant start, and though there was little hope of getting by in the tight confines of the street circuit, unless Scheckter made a mistake, which wasn’t likely by the look of it, the Ulsterman was not going to relax and settle for second place. Among the rest Stuck’s Brabham was grounding over the bumps throwing out showers of sparks, Patrese had the right front canard fin on his Shadow crumpled by someone’s rear wheel, and Nilsson was in trouble with his gear linkage and stopped at the pits after seven laps. By 10 laps Peterson had gone into the pits with defective brakes and it began to look like “twenty little n****r boys”. Although Scheckter was leading all the time he was having to work hard, for Watson had the nose of his red Brabharn right under the Wolf’s tail, pushing hard all the time. Depailler had dropped a couple of places when his brakes played up, and Mass had got past Andretti. On the twentieth lap Stuck’s Brabham went coasting through the Casino Square, suffering a major electrical failure and stopped in a small cloud of smoke as a short-circuit manifested itself. This let Lauda take over fourth plate, behind his teammate Reutemann but the Ferraris were barely in sight of the Wolf/Brabham duel at the front. Laffite was trying hard to get by Brambilla, but in vain, and Keegan was bracing himself to overtake the ex-World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi.
At the front of the race, although a “production” Cosworth DFV was leading it was 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 was no exception, though it wasn’t a dull procession for groups of the cars were running very close to each other. Finding he could not keep up with the leaders, Reutemann let his team-mate go by into third place and settled himself into a safe fourth position. Andretti was pressing hard on the tail of the number two McLaren as the number one McLaren expired in a cloud of smoke as its Special Costworth engine broke! Laffite was hounding Brambilla, for Jarier had acquired a flat front tyre and had stopped at the pits to change it, and Keegan had taken a deep breath and passed the ex-World Champion, which made Fittipaldi stop and try some different tyres!
At 30 laps Watson was still pressing hard, but Scheckter was completely unshakeable and looked to be well in control of the situation; Lauda was 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, was Patrese in the second Shadow leading lckx in the Ensign and then came Keegan about to be lapped by the leaders. Fittipaldi and Binder were bringing up the rear. A few spots of ram fell at 40 laps, but did not develop into anything and the roundy-round continued at unabated speed. Ickx and Patrese were lapped by the leading pair without any trouble and then the Brabham’s brakes played up and Watson went up the escape road at the chicane onto the harbour front, letting Lauda slip through into second place. Watson gathered himself up before Reutemann appeared and Scheckter could now relax for the first time in 45 laps. Four laps later and the Brabham locked up its gearbox as Watson entered the Saint Devote corner and he spun to a stop, his race finished, leaving the two Ferraris to chase the Wolf in a vain hope of retrieving honour for Italy. Depailler had disappeared when his gearbox broke just before this, and then Nilsson went out with the same trouble on his Lotus, after running many laps behind the race, following his pit stop.
While Scheckter could now run the race at his own pace, with Lauda comfortably behind him, and Reutemann even further back, Jochen Mass still had 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 was slowing down as his Hesketh was falling apart behind him, the rear anti-roll bar mounting breaking up, and Laffite was pressing Brambilla so hard that the two of them were closing up on Alan Jones. With ten laps to go Scheckter was in complete command of the situation, easing off as his pit kept him in touch with what was behind him. The Wolf was running perfectly and as the remaining laps ticked by the South African judged his position perfectly, allowing Lauda to close up to within sight of its tail as they covered the last lap, but while Lauda was pressing hard, Scheckter was “cruising”, So that if anyone was going to make a last minute mistake it was going to be the Ferrari driver, not the Wolf driver. The Mass/Andretti battle lasted right to the end, the Lotus driver making a desperate attempt toovertake but hiding, and Laffite finally took the Ligier past Brambilla’s Surtees as the Italian had to ease off when his fire-proof Balaclava inside his helmet slipped down over hp, eyes.
Scheckter scored his second win for the Wolf team this season after a superbly judged drive, even if he did infringe the law at the start, and the Ferrari team finished a solid second and third, which was better than some two-car teams who didn’t finish at all. The Mass/Andretti duel for fourth and fifth places lasted right to the chequered flag, with Alan Jones and Laffite close behind in sixth and seventh places, followed by Brambilla driving almost blind. Patrese covered himself in glory on his Formula One debut, with ninth place, only a lap behind the winner and lckx brought the Ensign home well in the Money, followed by Jarier and Keegan. – D.S.J.