Reflections in the Builder's Dust

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For anyone interested in civil engineering a visit to Monaco must be fascinating for there is continuous building and development going on. Every year when you return and go to look up friends you find the hotel they normally stay in has gone, replaced either by a new block of apartments, a new hotel, or simply a huge hole in the ground. As the Principality is hemmed in by the mountains behind, the sea in front and France on both sides the only way it can expand is either up or down. Up means multi-storey buildings where two- and three-storey buildings used to be and down means enormous workings to bore down into solid rock, but for many years now there has always been a big building project under way somewhere in Monaco. The scale of digging down into the rock is very impressive.

The whole town is packed solid during race week and having a car with you is a waste of time; by the time you’ve found somewhere to park you could have walked to where you were going. Naturally boats in the harbour are still very popular, but it is noticeable that the size of boat is very much smaller than it used to be, there are no luxury cruisers these days, merely good practical sea-going craft. It would seem that just as the vast motor carriages such as Hispano-Suiza and Isotto-Fraschini have gone from the Monte Carlo scene, so has the equivalent in boats. The only impressive one this year was an American Naval craft bringing a marine band to a competition due to take place after the Grand Prix was over and done with. A growing scene in the harbour is the number of high-speed power boats. There are some really beautiful-looking craft, all engines and hull with a tiny three-man cockpit, and most of them seemed to head off towards Italy after the race was over. They are the Porsche Turbo, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Maserati equivalents in the boat world.

On the land the motor car has proliferated so much that the exotic car in Monte Carlo is now a bit of a rarity and the only interest outside the everyday cars is either a “funny” or a “sick joke”, really exciting things are hard to find. However, the collection of historic cars that were assembled to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Grand Prix more than redressed the balance and had everyone “oohing” and “aahing”. I always used to think an ERA, a Type 51 Bugatti, the 159 Alfa Romeo or a W125 Mercedes Benz had a shattering exhaust note, but alongside today’s Formula One engines from Cosworth, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, they are relatively quiet. They still make nice noises and are different, but they don’t hurt the eardrums, like today’s 500 b.h.p., 12,000 r.p.m., 3-litres. Watching the old cars go by you could say to your companion “What a lovely noise,” but when a Formula One car goes by the only reason for opening your mouth is to relieve the pressure on your eardrums from the sheer volume of noise, especially as it bounces off the buildings and the barriers.

A sign of changing times was seen when Prince Rainier and Princess Grace made their official lap of honour. They were in a Jeep-like vehicle of vast proportions, which is new product of Mercedes Benz. It was a sad sight and many people missed them, for they always used to tour the circuit in an exotic car or in an elegant one, but always something that exuded charm and good taste. A khaki-coloured military-looking vehicle had neither. Amongst the local populace and press, great play was being made of the fact that not only does Jody Scheckter and his family live in Monte Carlo, but his International competitor’s licence is issued by the Automobile Club of Monaco. In consequence, when he won, the Monogasque National Anthem was played!

There are always interesting little cameos in the pits during practice, which spectators in the grandstands seldom see. One of the Renaults came in to have all four wheels changed and the mechanics slid the long lever jacks under the front and the back. As they raised the car up off the ground, other mechanics started removing the wheels, but before the front jack was up and over-centre there was a loud crack as part of the mechanism broke and the front of the car flopped down on the ground. The problem now was to get the broken jack out from under the car and to get another one underneath, and of course, until that was done the front wheels could not be put on. Everyone grabbed a wishbone or suspension component and lifted the front while the broken jack was removed and another one put underneath. At the end of the first practice when Piquet’s Brabham was leaking oil from under its Alfa Romeo engine, the mechanics needed to get underneath. In the paddock they use a neat hydraulic ram and tripod to raise the back high enough to get a trestle underneath, but in the pit lane eight mechanics gathered round the back of the car, gave the old “heave-ho” and she was three feet up in the air and another mechanic had slid a tubular trestle underneath.

Once again the BMW publicity department was in full swing, with a large hospitality ship in the harbour and an M1 Pro-Car race on Saturday afternoon. As in Belgium the first five Formula One drivers after the first practice could not all take part, as Villeneuve and Scheckter are contracted to Michelin and the Pro-Car “circus-act” has been sold to Goodyear. However, the race went off a lot better than it did in Belgium and after Lauda had bumped his way by Regazzoni they staged a wheel-to-wheel finish. I could not help wondering whether they were rehearsing for the day when Ecclestone and Mosley get complete control of Formula One and turn it into a “circus-act” with special attention being paid to the wishes of certain sponsors, especially those that do not back winning teams in normal Formula One racing. Mosley already talks about television cameras on all the Formula One cars and you can see the commercial possibilities. They could charge a lot of money for a lap behind a Williams for example, for all you would see would be the back of the gearbox of the FW07 and the rear aerofoil with its Fly Saudia advertisement across the back. Or they could charge Renault and Elf for a lap with the screen filled with the rear of an RS10 proclaiming clearly Renault-Elf. There are unlimited possibilities for the commercially minded Ecclestone and Mosley duo.

One of the changing scenes on the Monaco street circuit are the boundaries. When cars were relatively slow and had 19 in. diameter wheels and small tyres a driver who made a mistake often bounced up the kerb and onto the footpath. When cars and wheels became smaller they would bang the kerbs and damage tyres or brush the kerbs lightly and rub the white paint put on the kerbs onto the tyres. A driver would start off with black tyres and come back with fashionable white-wall tyres. Then low-profile tyres on alloy wheels began to appear and a misjudgement on a corner meant that the alloy rim hit the kerb and a lot of wheels were written off. Cars got faster and cornering speeds went up and steel barriers appeared to stop the cars flying off the track. Now if you misjudge a corner you have a very good chance of transmitting the impact loads into the monocoque chassis and distorting the whole structure. The faster racing becomes the more expensive it becomes.

For a driver who goes out of his way to avoid the glare of publicity and the attention of the media-men and the PR world, Regazzoni has a very large following in all parts of the world, and the enthusiasm for his efforts in closing on Scheckter as the Monaco race drew to a close was most moving, as was the enthusiasm of everyone afterwards. Everywhere people were smiling happily and saying “Good old Regga” and most of them seemed to overlook the fact that Scheckter had won the race. Perhaps it is because we don’t get a surfeit of “razz-ma-tazz” about the swarthy Swiss that people like him, because he has an air of mystery about him which fascinates people. He doesn’t pontificate about safety, or bang-on about himself, or pose with his wife and family at every opportunity, or hob-nob with Royalty or film stars, he is just Gianclaudio Regazzoni, racing driver, from Lugano, and known as “Clay” to his friends. What a lot of people recalled James Hunt saying loud and clear that “Regazzoni was over the hill” some years ago. They got great delight in pointing out that even if he was “over the hill” he could still drive and finish second behind a Ferrari, which is something a lot of other drivers would have liked to have done. — D.S.J.