1972 Monaco Grand Prix race report

Jean-Pierre Beltoise driving at the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix for BRM.

Jean-Pierre Beltoise emerged victorious at the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix for BRM

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A wet race Monte Carlo, May 14th

With the race at Monaco taking place only two weekends after the Spanish Grand Prix there was not much time for any startling new changes to take place, so that the scene when practice started at Monaco on Thursday afternoon was very similar to that which we saw at Jarama. Those teams that had returned en bloc to their factories were back again, renewed and fresh, while those who stayed at Jarama for preparation and then trekked direct to Monaco all arrived in good time, thought not all in good order for the John Player/Lotus team transporter had been badly damaged when a Spanish driver had crashed head-on into it north of Barcelona. Hastily-hired vans had to be acquired and everything unloaded and taken to Monaco in a bit of a shambles. With the Indianapolis 500-Mile race qualifications starting on the same weekend as the Monte Carlo race, there were some small, but significant changes in the overall scene. Ferrari entered only two cars, for Ickx and Regazzoni as Andrctti was committed to Indianapolis, and the McLaren team had got themselves well organised, dividing their forces to allow Revson to concentrate on Indianapolis and Hulme to concentrate on Monaco, so that neither of them had to get involved in tiring transatlantic flights. For this race Revson’s place was taken by Redman, straight from his victorious drive at Spa. The BRM team did a minor shuffle with their motley collection of drivers, substituting Marko for Soler-Roig but keeping their strength up to five. Otherwise, everything was as it was in Spain, even to the non-appearance of the Tecno flat-12, though this time both Galli and Bell had been tentatively entered.

The most important happening was a complete reconstruction of the chicane onto the harbour quayside and of the pit and paddock layout. Previously the temporary paddock was set up in a large garage just behind the starting-line area, but now it was moved to a large underground garage on the sea front far beyond the circuit at the opposite end to the starting line, and the pits were moved from the central island on the up-and-down leg to the Gasometer hairpin, to the harbour quayside and the old chicane at the foot of the hill after the tunnel now became the entrance to the pit road. The circuit itself continued straight on from the foot of the tunnel hill along past the pits and joined the harbour quayside by way of a very tight single-car chicane very close to the Tabac corner. Exit from the separated pit lane was by a gate at the new chicane and this was controlled by a red and green light signal which was operated by Vic Elford suitably placed on the apex of the chicane so that he could see into the pit lane and right back up the course almost to the exit from the tunnel. This new layout was first-class but for one thing, and that was that none of the paying spectators could see what was happening at the pits, and a lot of people had spent a lot of money for seats in the grandstands by the starting line for the express purpose of watching the pits activity especially during practice.

After a certain amount of argy-bargy and manoeuvring by vested interests and buck-passing by officialdom it was agreed that 25 cars would be allowed on the starting grid and hence no qualification other than to decide the order of the two-by-two grid. Fortunately, with Tecno withdrawing, there were only twenty-five drivers assembled for practice so the whole affair was settled and practice began on Thursday afternoon, albeit a bit late due to the wrangling, but it ended exactly as scheduled so the wranglers were the losers. There were 30 cars in the pits eventually so the new arrangements with more counter space and more road space was much appreciated by everyone (except the poor spectators). The BRM team, not quite so deep in the red and white publicity machine of Marlboro cigarettes as previously, had shuffled their cars and drivers so that team leader Beltoise stayed with P160/01, but Gethin forsook the P180 and took P160/03, which have been driven by Soler-Roig in Spain; it was Ganley’s turn to have a race in the 1972 model so he took P180/02, which had been the spare car for Beltoise in Spain and which had done the testing the day after the race. Wisell had a change of car, having bent the one he drove in Spain, and had P160/04, which Ganley had driven in Spain, and Marko had a bit of a special, comprising the front half of P153/03 with P160 components forming the rear half, so it was called P153/03. The ELF Team Tyrrell had the usual three Tyrrell cars, 002, 003 and 004, the only change being that Stewart had opted to race the latest one and use his usual one as a training car. Lotus had no problems, their drivers sticking to their usual cars, Fittipaldi in 72D/R7 and Walker in 72D/R5, and the Ecclestone team likewise were uncomplicated with Hill in the 1972 Brabham BT37/1 and Wilson Fittipaldi in Brabham BT33/3. Ferrari prepared the three cars they had used in Madrid, except that there was something odd about the handling of the latest one, No. 8, that Regazzoni had driven in Madrid, so he took over No. 5 again, that Andretti had used in Madrid, the latest car being brought as a spare, Ickx being in No. 6 as usual. The works March drivers were still prepared to struggle with the X-versions of the 721, trying another type of limited-slip mechanism in the differential, and Peterson had 721/1 with the conventional Hewland gearbox layout as a training car. The Matra team had the same two cars for Amon, MS120C/06 being intended as the car for the race, but after practice they decided to use MS120C/04, with a lot of the parts off 06 built on to it. The McLaren team did a rather similar thing for Hulme, M19C/1 being intended for the race, with M19A/1 as a training car, but after Hulme had made identical times in both of them they amalgamated parts of M19A/1, such as the gearbox and aerofoil, onto the new car. Redman drove M19A/2 which is Revson’s normal car. The Williams team and the Eifelland team had no problems, Pescarolo and Pace having the dark blue Marches, 712/3 and 711/3, respectively, and Stommelen had the Eifelland modified March 721/4, now with special alloy wheels of their own design. Finally the Surtees team were as in Spain, except that John Surtees was back from Japan to listen to any complaints, and to complete the list Beuttler was trying again with the neat little March 721G, this time being guaranteed a position on the starting grid.

Qualifying

Francois Cevert in his Tyrrell at the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix.

Frenchman Cevert qualified his Tyrrell a disappointing 12th on the grid

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There was quite a lot to learn in practice because unlike permanent Autodromes the Monte Carlo circuit is only used once a year and there is no chance for unofficial practice. Apart from accelerating along the road from the old Gasometer hairpin without having to try and read pit signals and pass very close to a milling mob of mechanics, officials, photographers and stationary cars, now when they arrived at Saint Devote corner the road was about 6 ft. narrower because the Armco wall on the inside of the corner had been moved towards the centre of the road, to comply with distance recommendations regarding Armco and solid objects like kerbs or grandstands. This did not affect the approach very much except that the apex of the uphill fast right-hand sweep was now obscured. At the top of the hill before the approach to the Casino square the Armco wall on the left of the road had been moved in towards the centre of the road, thus keeping the width between the Armco walls constant instead of widening. The real problem to solve was the new chicane for now when you left the tunnel you could keep the accelerator hard down to the foot of the hill and along past the back of the new pits, which meant you really had to use the brakes for the new chicane, for not only did you arrive much faster but the left-right-left kink was very tight and slow, and immediately on leaving the kink you had to swoop from the left of the road to the right in order to be placed properly for the Tabac corner. If you overcooked the braking for the chicane there was an ample escape road, with an exit out onto the track again controlled by a hinged bar operated by a marshal. In case of complete brake failure there was a row of effective-looking spring wire-mesh fences to catch you.

Surprisingly, even in the first short practice, in dull but dry conditions, the lap times were not so far different from those of last year, the faster approach to the slower chicane about equalling out. There were some bothers already in the first practice, Hill’s Brabham set itself alight instead of starting up, and then would not start at all, and Hulme set off in the new McLaren and only did one lap as the clutch would not work, whereas Hill had to kick his heels, Hulme went off in the spare car. Stommelen never arrived with the blue and white Eifelland and Ickx did not use his spare car, but Amon and Stewart both used theirs. An embarrassment to a lot of would-be Grand Prix aces was Redman, who got in Revson’s McLaren, never having driven it before, nor driven at Monaco before, and promptly recorded ninth fastest time, his only comment being that the McLaren was “a lovely car to drive”. Hulme corroborated this remark by being second fastest, but his main joy was a psychological one due to having rid himself of the burden of USAC racing and the constant air travel involved. He was bubbling over with happiness for a pleasant change. Ickx was fastest, with Regazzoni only half-a-second behind him, but in that half-second were Hulme and Stewart, both in their training cars. Oddly enough Amon was next fastest, also in his training car. In the last mad rush before practice ended Chapman sent Fittipaldi out on some different Firestone tyres but they didn’t work too well, otherwise he would have been higher than sixth fastest.

The next practice was on Friday morning from 8.40 a.m. to 10.10 a.m. (approximately) and things began to get really serious. The two Ferraris were first away, determined to set the pace, and both drivers were trying very hard indeed, Regazzoni looking smooth on the downhill part after the Casino square, and Ickx going through the square in a most impressive fashion. Hulme and Redman ran in close company for a while, picking up points from each other, and Emerson Fittipaldi ran behind his brother for a time, presumably to see how he was getting on. Having gone by, Emerson showed tremendous smoothness and consistency, his judgement of distances from some of the unprotected kerbs being nice to watch. Hailwood was flopping his Surtees over into the sharp corners as if it was a heavy ungainly motorcycle and when asked about the action enquired as to how he ought to be doing it! Lap times were soon well below the existing record, which Stewart set last year at 1 min. 22.2 sec. and the Ferraris and Fittipaldi were setting the pace while Stewart was getting left behind, his supporters muttering about him having the wrong tyres, but Hulme who was also on Goodyears spent a lot of time tailing the number one Tyrrell and leaning heavily on it on the corners until Stewart began to get rather ragged in his cornering. Hulme was in a very happy mood, Stewart wasn’t; probably because he had other things on his mind and Hulme hadn’t. If Ford were grateful to Stewart last year for keeping a Cosworth V8 engine ahead of the opposition, this year they had to thank Fittipaldi E. for he had his Lotus 72 well ahead of a solid row of 12-cylinder machines led by the two Ferraris, the others being Beltoise and Gethin with BRMs and Amon with the Matra, Stewart being behind Hulme in eighth place. Fittipaldi and the two Ferrari drivers were well below the old lap record and the rest tailed along behind, some like Pescarolo and Redman showing good form, some like Cevert and Schenken being uninspiring, some having troubles and others being completely out of their depth, but all doing their best to justify their existence in this merry-go-round of Grand Prix.

The third and final practice session was on Saturday afternoon and it looked like being a really super thrash round, for all the quick drivers had got the measure of the new layout and honour was at stake, to say nothing of the necessity to be in the first two or three rows of the start, with the grid being formed up in staggered pairs. It would have been a marvellous practice session had it not rained. It rained all afternoon in the manner that European people associate with Manchester, the Romans associate with Rome, the English associate with the Spanish plains and the French associate with Bordeaux, but nobody associates with Monte Carlo and the Cote d’Azur, except those people who have been there and experienced Monte Carlo in the rain. It’s awful. In spite of this all but Hulme and Marko went out on big knobbly rain tyres and most of them took an excursion up the escape road at the chicane, while Stommelen had a slight bump with a barrier. About the only ones who didn’t overshoot the braking past the pits were Stewart and Fittipaldi. Both Ickx and Regazzoni went out in the spare Ferrari and Wilson Fittipaldi only just managed one lap, with no time, as his fuel pumps were playing up. It was significant that Ickx, Regazzoni and Fittipaldi E. were still the three fastest, with Hailwood fourth fastest.

Race

Emerson Fittipaldi uses an umbrella for cover whilst sitting in his car waiting for the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix to start.

Pole-sitter Emerson Fittipaldi uses a team umbrella to keep dry whilst waiting for the start

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With so much rain on Saturday the following day just had to be fine, but that was where we were wrong. Even as preparations were made two hours before the start was due, the rain began again, and as it seems to be doing rather persistently this season, it just went on and on and got worse. A thirty-minute session of extra practice was allowed and in the midst of it Prince Rainier and his family arrived accompanied by a police escort and various other ministerial cars, and as the royal procession joined the circuit at the Gasometer hairpin and drove along to the start line and the royal box they were overtaken by the Grand Prix cars, the drivers wondering who the hell had let all the traffic onto the circuit. Fortunately no one was unruly enough to shake a fist at the royal cars, though there were some very funny sideways glances. And the rain poured down on everyone.

The cars eventually returned to the pits, further consultations were held and then some official “warm-up” laps were done and the cars assembled in pairs, Stommelen being the odd man at the back. Only a few minutes late the 25 cars left the pit area, led by Fittipaldi and Ickx and toured round to the starting grid which was in its usual position on the land side of the up-and-down leg of the circuit. An orange clad marshal with a pole carrying the car’s number was allotted to each of the 25 runners and he stood opposite his car’s starting position so that the driver could see where to stop and the result was very orderly. When all the marshals with their poles had moved back, all was ready and with the rain still teeming down the start was given. The sight was really indescribable as all 25 cars roared away in a dense cloud of spray and as the leaders headed for Saint Devote corner Beltoise screamed through on the inside of Ickx in a do-or-die effort that came off and the little Frenchman in the red and white BRM was away up the hill in the lead. Whether the twenty-five drivers were being paid to be in a Grand Prix car, or were paying for the privilege, the whole thing was justified on that opening lap, and even the most hardened and cynical spectator must have been very glad he was a spectator and not a driver. With a clear road ahead Beltoise made the most of his opportunities, like a rally driver ahead of the dust-clouds, and he pulled out a huge lead with Regazzoni, Fittipaldi and Ickx charging after him, followed by Amon, Stewart, Gethin and the two McLarens and then the spray was so thick and constant that the rest of the field were just shadows in the mist. The first four soon began to pull away and then on lap 5 Regazzoni went up the escape road at the chicane and Fittipaldi, seeing only a cloud of spray with a red light in the middle, followed him, which let Ickx into second place.

Ferrari's Jacky Ickx blasts through the tunnel in wet conditions at the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix.

Jacky Ickx negotiates the tunnel in tricky conditions

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As a race for the lead it was all over, the whole question was whether Jean-Pierre Beltoise could keep the BRM “on the island” for the Whole 80 laps, always assuming the Stewards were going to let the race run its full distance. The little Frenchman was inspired and driving with almost a touch of desperation giving the feeling that he’d rather die than give up the lead of the Monaco Grand Prix. For about 20 laps he drove on the very edge of disaster, the steering of the BRM being worked overtime in his endeavours to keep the car pointing more or less in the right direction. After that he found a rhythm and settled down looking more and more confident as time went on. Behind him there was nothing Ickx could do, the Ferrari looking a lot more secure that the BRM, but never close enough to be a danger, unless of course, Beltoise made a mistake. Fittipaldi hung on to the two Ferraris for a time, but gradually dropped back, not looking very happy on the streaming wet roads and neither did the other South Americans. Gethin was enjoying himself in seventh place, pushing up close behind Stewart and eventually overtaking the World Champion for a few laps and then there was a long gap before Hailwood arrived leading the rest of the field. Hulme and Redman had been in this gap, but on lap 7 they had both gone straight on at the chicane losing a lot of places before they could rejoin the race. The rain still poured down and Walker stopped at the pits to have a chat about the funny handling of his Lotus, but if you could keep a car on the road at all the handling must have been marvellous. There were not many drivers who did not go up an escape road or have a spin at some time during the afternoon and of those that hit things and put themselves out of the race it was amazing that no one was hurt, but as the race average was barely 60 m.p.h. and most drivers were :averaging under 60 m.p.h. the whole thing looked far more dicey and dangerous than it actually was.

The only concession the weather made was to occasionally ease off so that the rain did not actually bounce up off the road, but such light spells did not last long. Just after half-distance the rain was really terrific and still Beltoise led, skating from side to side of the road in places, but never actually hitting anything. Ickx kept on behind him and Regazzoni lost a bit of ground. After Gethin’s little effort Stewart seemed to wake up, throw all excuses to one side and put on a superb display of wet weather driving, catching and passing Gethin’s BRM then hauling in Regazzoni’s Ferrari, and then began gaining on Ickx. While this was going on Gethin hit the chicane fair and square, and while the wreckage was being picked off the centre island, those following were diverted up the escape read and through the emergency exit. Most surprisingly there were still 22 cars running, not all of them enjoying it, but at least they were keeping going. By lap 43 Stewart was within sight of Ickx’s Ferrari, or to be more precise the spray in which the Ferrari was enveloped, but then the Scot had an enormous spin, which put him right back to square one behind Regazzoni, but undaunted he started all over again to catch the Ferraris. As he got the first Ferrari in sight again Hailwood slowed his Surtees a bit earlier than usual for the Gasometer hairpin and Ganley’s P180 BRM hit the Surtees fair and square in the back. The chisel nose went under the gearbox protection bar, bent it all upwards and tore the main pipe out of the oil tank. With its front crumpled the BRM was out and Hailwood rounded the hairpin and came to rest by Saint Devote having unknowingly laid a long trail of Duckhams 20/50 along the ground. The oil floated about on top of the water on the road and made pretty patterns, but also made the whole area really perilous for quite a long time. In his haste to fend off Stewart, Regazzoni lost control on the oil and hit the harriers, letting Stewart back into third place and putting himself out of the race.

The Tyrrell now began to get water-logged and the ignition began to suffer, the engine sounding rough and losing power so that Stewart’s efforts were forced to ease off. Cevert in the second Tyrrell was in similar trouble and had stopped at the pits for quite a time to try and get things dried out, but with no great success. Sounding rougher and rougher Stewart’s car went slower and slower, but he struggled on, being caught and passed by Fittipaldi in the closing laps and being lapped by Beltoise and Ickx. Both the leading BRM and the Ferrari had anxious moments when water got into the electrics or the injection system, but things dried out and they went hack onto their full 12-cylinders again. The last five laps were really painful for Stewart and the leading pair lapped him again, but he was able to maintain fourth place to the finish. Quite early on Hulme gave up and just toured round, it not being his idea of motor racing, but Redman continued to try hard and do his best and he was rewarded with fifth place, ahead of Amon, who was for from being 100% fit, and the Matra V12 had gone in fits and starts.

Jean-Pierre Beltoise celebrates his victory on the podium at the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix.

Beltoise celebrates his win

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In such appalling conditions it was impossible to use the full potential of any of the cars and the result was a remarkable degree of reliability, eighteen of the starters still running at the end. Had it been warm and dry it is doubtful if we would have had half that number running at the finish. There was in fact only one mechanical failure, the other being eliminated by accidents, Pescarolo having a spectacular one all along the guard-rail down to the Gasometer hairpin and Schenken crashing on the downhill part of the circuit while Petersen kept up his score by having a mild one two laps from the end and flattening the full-width nose of the March 712X. The victory was well deserved, Beltoise giving a marvellous display of courage, tenacity and skill and the win for BRM could not have happened at a better time, for their record this season so far has been appalling. This victory must restore the balance, for it was a well-won victory, from flag to flag, and not a victory by the default or misfortune of others. As team-leader of the motley Marlboro crew, Jean-Pierre Beltoise really asserted himself in a moment of truth and glory. — D. S. J.

Results: 30th Monaco Grand Prix – Formula One – 80 laps – Monte Carlo – 251.6 kilometres – Very wet 1st: J-P. Beltoise (BRM P160/01) 2 hr. 25 min. 54.7 sec.–102.754 k.p.h. 2nd: J. Ickx (Ferrari 312B No. 6) 2 hr. 27 min. 32.9 sec. 3rd: E. Fittipaldi (Lotus 72D/R7) 1 lap behind 4th: J. Stewart (Tyrrell 004) 2 laps behind 5th: B. Redman (McLaren M19A/2) 3 laps behind 6th: C. Amon (Matra-Simca MS120C/04) 3 laps behind Fastest lap: J-P. Beltoise (BRM P160/01) on lap 9, in 1 min. 40.0 sec.–113.220 k.p.h.

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