THE MONACO GRAND PRIX
Reutemann a good back-up for Jones
WHEN we left England in a heatwave it was almost inevitable that the other end of Europe would be grey and gloomy, and sure enough it was. By the time the Thursday afternoon timed practice period began the rain was beginning to fall and everyone was slipping and sliding around the streets of Monte Carlo as if on the dodgems at the fair. Even so there was some pretty inspired racing car handling to be seen as drivers gave little squirts of 500 b.h.p. between the corners and up and down the hills. Pironi had got out on the track as soon as possible and set a time of 1 min. 45.053 sec. before conditions deteriorated, and this was never beaten for the fast pace was over two seconds slower before long. The Ligier team were very confident that they had got their car suited to the street circuit, and Pironi was still on air after his good win in the Belgian GP. A lot of the drivers had harmless spins, some keeping going, others stalling their engines and most of them would have been happier with half the horsepower. The Ferrari team were using short wheelbase versions of the T5 with “clipped” aerofoils and while Scheckter was going quite well, Villeneuve was shining and obviously enjoying himself. When he overcooked his braking for Ste. Devote corner and slithered to a stop with the engine stalled he pushed the fire extinguisher button instead of the starter button! He jumped out and ran back to the pits saying to himself “Idiot” and took the spare Ferrari, which was to standard T5 specification. In no time at all the French-Canadian was setting the pace on the wet track and ended up second fastest. The Williams drivers were well to the fore even though they had suffered a lot of “skirt” damage in the morning test session, due to their habit of bouncing over the bevelled kerbs, and Piquet and Daly were well up, though both ended with bent cars. The Brazilian went straight on at a downhill hairpin and crumpled the front of his Brabham which his team-mate emulated and the Irishman clipped a barrier with his right-rear wheel and bent the suspension members. The Brabham was not instantly repairable and Piquet took over the spare car for the rest of the meeting, but the Tyrrell was put back into shape.
There had been twenty-seven drivers in the practice and the size of the circuit only allows twenty on the starting grid. One section of drivers, led by the GPDA leaders, were “ticking” about refusing to go out with so many cars on the track, not because it was dangerous, but because it was “unfair”, though unfair to whom or what did not seem very clear. Others thought it was the same for everyone so they might as well get stuck into it and one team-manager suggested he was off to the Formula Three paddock to look for a likely replacement driver! Inevitably they all got on with the job and some of them, like Depailler, Daly, Piquet, Pironi, Villeneuve, Jones and Reutemann, put their heart and soul into it.
On Friday there was no Formula One practice and the rains came down nearly all day, while the clouds hung around the mountain tops, but on Saturday when practice restarted the rain held off, though it was grey and gloomy for Monte Carlo. There was the usual testing session in the morning and then at 1 p.m. the “do-or-die” flat-out hour on which everyone’s immediate and distant future could hang. Now that it was dry, Thursday’s times were of no importance and the moment the “go” signal was given Pironi was off like a lone-dog in the Ligier with tenacious Patrick Depailler hard after him with a Ferrari up there as well. One need hardly add “driven by Villeneuve”. Some drivers use practice to practise racing, others use practice for testing and the former “have at each other” at every opportunity. There was a “coming together” between Villeneuve and Depailler which resulted in them both limping into the pits with a flat tyre, but they were soon at it again. Reutemann was driving at his brilliant best and was right up at the front on times, alongside Pironi, and was having a typical “Reutemann on-day” and when that happens he’s hard to beat. Wet or dry the Monaco scene was Ligier versus Williams, with a Brabham and Ferrari in there with them, driven by Piquet and Villeneuve, but hard behind were the two Alfa Romeos. The Renaults could not get to grips with the street circuit and Arnoux only just scraped onto the grid, while others never got within sight of the back of the grid. Left out of the race when the dust had settled were Watson (McLaren), Cheever (Osella), Lees (Shadow), Rosberg (Fittipaldi), Zunino (Brabham), Needell (Ensign) and Kennedy (Shadow).
The 76-lap race did not start until 3.30 p.m. on Sunday so there was a lot of time to gaze anxiously at the sky and wonder if the rain was going to return, for the weather was anything but sunny. Though cloudy and overcast the rain held off and all twenty cars that had qualified assembled on the 1×1 grid after the parade lap. As they shot off towards the Ste. Devote comer Arnoux’s Renault was still spluttering on the back of the grid and Villeneuve had not made his usual electrifying getaway. As the mid-field runners crowded into the corner Daly seemed to have total brain-fade and ran up the back of Giacomelli’s Alfa Romeo, which launched the Tyrrell into the air and it bounced off Jarier’s Tyrrell as it landed. While Pironi led Jones, Reutemann, Laffite. Depailler and Piquet through Casino Square the shambles at the foot of the hill was being sorted out. Villeneuve had taken to the escape road, flicked the Ferrari round on the throttle and powered off up the hill. while Patrese had stopped, reversed out of the melee and promptly rammed the ATS. Daly (Tyrrell), Jarier (Tyrrell), Giacomelli (Alfa Romeo) and Prost (McLaren) were all out of the race and Lammers was soon in the pits having his front end repaired, while Pironi was in the lead with Jones hard on his heels. Reutemann in third place was acting as a nice buffer to keep Laffite. Depailler and Piquet at bay and Scheckter was closing up on them.
Although Pironi was leading from Jones the Ligier was not running away from the Williams, as it had done in Zolder two weeks before, Jones was really pressuring the Frenchman, with the nose of his car right under the Ligier’s gearbox, and it was a question of how long Pironi could withstand this sort of pressure. For a time they would pull away from the four cars following and then they would drop back and the first six would be nose-to-tail. The order was Pironi, Jones, Reutemann, Laffite, Depailler and Piquet, a hard bunch of “chargers” who were giving nothing away. The Ferraris were in trouble with their Michelin tyres and first Scheckter stopped for a new set and then Villeneuve did the same, and while Scheckter eventually gave up the unequal struggle, considering the handling to be impossible, Villeneuve thrashed on and refused to give in. Before a third of the distance the leaders were beginning to lap such tail-enders as were left, and on lap 25 the differential broke up in Jones’ transmission and the Williams was out of the race. This didn’t mean that Pironi had it all his own way for Reutemann in the number two Williams began to close up. with Laffite and Depailler hanging on tenaciously. Piquet was it lonely fifth and a long way back came de Angelis, Mass, Andretti, Fittipaldi, Patrese. Arnoux and Villeneuve, while Jabouile was some laps behind after a pit stop to change tyres and Lammers was even further back after repairs.
At half distance any pressure that Reutemann might have brought to bear on the Ligier had disappeared and Pironi looked set for his second Grand Prix victory. A lap down Villeneuve was battling away after his pit stop and Lammers had tucked in behind him with the ATS, doing a very spirited job of keeping up even though he was some laps behind. Pironi was in trouble as his gearbox was lumping out of third gear so he tried to use it as little as possible, and when he did have to use it he held it in with one hand and did his steering with the other. The other Ligier was using up its brakes, or rather its driver was, and Depailler was pressing hard in fourth place. By lap 45 rain spots were falling near the Casino and though they developed into light rain and dampened the track surface they did not justify anyone stopping to change over to wet-weather tyres, but the surface became very slippery all round the course as the light rain spread. Depailler’s fighting drive came to an end when his Alfa Romeo engine blew up, which was a great relief to Laffite, and then on lap 55 as Pironi crossed Casino Square, being forced to use both hands on the steering wheel due to the slippery surface, his gearbox jumped out of gear and he slid out and hit the guard-rail, deflating the left front tyre and breaking the steering arm on that side. His race was over and Reutemann inherited the lead for Frank Williams, with no threats behind him, as Laffite was slowing and Piquet was too far back to cause trouble. All Reutemann had to do was to pussy-foot home on the slippery surface to win with ease. At the back of the field Patrese had been battling with Arnoux until the rain started when the Arrows driver got all crossed up out of Casino Square and as he gathered it up Arnoux was going by and got clobbered by the Arrows. The Renault was left by the road-side with a deflated left-front tyre and bent steering, while the Arrows went on its way. Mass plodded with violent understeer on the downhill hairpins, wearing out his front tyres, but inherited fourth place as others had worse trouble and Villeneuve’s “never-say-die” spirit got him fifth place. while the prudent Fittipaldi had a non-stop and careful run into sixth place. — D.S.J.