Tales of the unexpected

1996 Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo

A cliche, proved less often than you’d think, is that at Monaco, the man who leads at the first corner will win. The 1996 result blew away all preconceptions.

Qualifying hardly hinted at it, Michael Schumacher somehow wrestling the Ferrari F310 onto pole, half a second up on Damon Hill’s Williams-Renault, which had won four of the opening five rounds. The Benetton-Renaults of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger filled the second row. Olivier Panis was down in 14th in the Ligier-Mugen.

“We had an engine failure in practice,” says Paulo Cantone, Panis’ race engineer at Ligier, “but we showed our pace in the warm-up, and Olivier was in a special mood, very confident.”

Panis ended the first lap in 12th, but up at the front, Schumacher, having been beaten to the first corner by Hill, was one of many drivers to crash out. Now Damon led the two Benettons, Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari and the Sauber of Heinz-Harald Frentzen. A gearbox problem accounted for Berger on lap nine, while his team-mate was losing a second a lap to Hill. Panis, though, was gathering momentum, passing Martin Brunclle’s Jordan and the McLaren of Mika Haldcinen to lie ninth.

On lap 18, Frentzen tried down the inside of Irvine at Ste Devote and got his nosecone swiped off; pitting for repairs, he asked for slicks, but had his request turned down — a decision that cost Sauber a win. Six laps later, both Heinz-Harald and Panis stopped for slicks, and they immediately knocked three seconds off their lap times. “It was a decision between all of us,” says Cantone, “and Olivier agreed over the radio. I was certain that he would keep it off the barriers, even with slicks.”

As the other teams hastily responded by calling their drivers in, Olivier vaulted up to fourth, behind Irvine; like Frentzen had before him, he found Eddie was in particularly unco-operative mood but, anxious not to lose his rhythm, he barged past the Ferrari on lap 36, and then charged after Alesi.

Just five laps later, however, Panis spun on oil — Hill’s Renault unit had let go comprehensively, leaving Alesi in the lead and Panis facing the wrong way, and 30sec down. It looked all over, but immediately after setting fastest lap on his 59th circuit, Jean was into the pits with a broken torsion bar in the Benetton’s rear suspension.

Cantone recalls it wasn’t now just a case of Panis keeping it pointed the right way for the last 16 laps. “As the track dried, all the cars were going faster, and using more fuel, and we were right on the limit. And when David Coulthard’s McLaren closed in, Olivier had to respond.” At the end, DC was five seconds down, ruing McLaren’s conservative call when slicks were required. Johnny Herbert and Frentzen brought their Saubers home third and fourth.

“Straight after the race, we were just very very happy,” says Paulo. “It took a day for Olivier and I to appreciate that he had scored Ligier’s first win for 15 years.”

Jean Behra, 1952 Marne Grand Prix, Reims

Alberto Ascari arrived in France that June for the non-championship Marne GP full of confidence. He had the best car for F2 regulations: a Ferrari 500. He had dominated the non-championship grands prix at Syracuse, Pau and Marseilles, and a week

g earlier had done the same in the Belgian GP. France’s underfunded Gordini outfit provided a stark contrast, and seemed likely to struggle. In Paujean Behra had been thrashed by Ferrari, and success in the GP du Lac at Aix-les-Bains had come against minimal opposition. At Spa, Robert Manzon’s

Gordini finished almost a full eight-mile lap behind Ascari. At ultra-fast Reims, Manzon and Behra beat Luigi Villoresi’s Ferrari in qualifying, to grid third and fourth under a scorching sun. Ascari and Farina, predictably, took the first two slots.

Three hours in heat that caused members of the pre-race marching band to collapse was going to test the drivers’ mettle, but if there was one man who never knew how to take it easy, it was Behra. Passing Manzon at the start, he immediately harried the scarlet cars, and by the time the screaming pack reached Thillois hairpin at the end of lap one he had the lead. The crowd went wild, and now they were expectant.

Cynics assumed Jean’s efforts would prove futile — the long start-finish straight would allow the four-cylinder Ferrari to overhaul the Gordini six. Not so. Behra and Ascari were side by side as they screamed past the pits, but the Frenchman had no intention of dropping back into line. Alberto had a fight on his hands. Indeed, on lap four, they swapped places three times between Thillois and the village of Gueux.

Their mesmeric duel pulled them 19sec clear of Farina by lap 10, but it couldn’t go on. Remarkably, it was the Ferrari that wilted. Ascari pitted on lap 14 to change plugs, lost over three minutes in the process, and handed his car over to mentor Villoresi, whose own car had retired on lap four. Bill Boddy suspects this was because Ascari did not want to be seen being beaten by a Gordini. And with no championship points at stake, Alberto was not likely to crucify himself in this heat to race a rival with an apparent advantage.

Having lost his scarlet shadow, Behra eased back — a bit. He had Farina covered and Ascari was effectively out of the running. And that was it The Gordini rasped on for the next 2hr 20min; Farina was 1.2 miles behind at the flag. Ascari charged to third having retrieved his car from Villoresi, but the Ferraris had been beaten on sheer pace. How? Legendary motorsport journalist Jabby Crombac was there: “There were strong suspicions Behra’s car had a 2.3-litre (instead of 2-litre) engine, but because the race was non-championship, no-one cared, not even Ferrari.

“A strong Gordini challenge created tremendous interest with the public whose enthusiasm had been a bit dormant because of the Ferrari supremacy If it had been a world championship event, the scrutineers would have acted, but…”

But it wasn’t, and the crowd got the result they wanted.

James Hunt, 1974 International Trophy, Silverstone

Jackie Stewart’s retirement at the end of 1973 had left a void in Formula One. Ronnie Peterson, the fastest driver of the time, would obviously remain a major force at Lotus, as would Emerson Fittipaldi, now at McLaren. But British patriots, who had enjoyed a glut of driving talent in the 1950s and ’60s, braced themselves for a drought.

Though Hesketh had attained fine results in ’73 with a March, there was a feeling that Lord Hesketh had bitten off too much by building his own car for his second full season in Fl. The team did not agree. As team manager ‘Bubbles’ Horsley recounts, “We tested the Hesketh the day after the Brazilian GP, and in four runs round Interiagosjames lapped half a second quicker than Emerson Fittipaldi’s pole position time. And then we discovered that the Firestones were very good at Silverstone.”

So the sceptics got a rude wake-up call in qualifying: the white Hesketh 308 was on pole, 1.7sec ahead of SuperSwede in Chapman’s latest, the Lotus 76, which Ronnie elected to run without its electronic clutch. On the outside of the front row was the Surtees TS 16 ofJochen Mass, and behind them sat the McLarens of Mike Hailwood and Denny Hulme. When the flag dropped, Hunt rocketed off the line, only for his overheated clutch to slip almost immediately. He was engulfed by the pack, dropping behind even the F5000 cars that were bolstering the grid. The 32,000-strong crowd groaned; little did they know that a real treat was in store. Mass led for one lap before ceding to Peterson and then Hailwood. But all eyes were on the Hesketh.

Hunt made mincemeat of the backmarkers, then set to work on the midfield the BRM P160s of Francois Migault and Henri Pescarolo, and Graham Hill’s Embassy Lola. Hailwood lost a potential podium finish when his clutch gave out on lap five, so Hunt was third, and closing on Mass, who he passed easily on lap 12. Peterson, now 75sec ahead, would be a different matter, but James got to it, hunting him down at the rate of a second a lap. Ronnie was in trouble the Lotus 76 was not to his liking, and his left-rear Goodyear : was blistering. Hunt, setting fastest laps, drift ing elegantly through Woodcote, was on his tail by lap 20, and being hit by chunks of Ronnie’s rubber. Eight laps on, into Woodcote, James grabbed his chance, dived for the inside and took the lead to cheers from the crowd, before reeling off the remaining nine laps. On lap 31 Peterson’s DFV seized, so a distant second place went to Mass, with Shadow third with Jean-Pierre Jarier’s Shadow third.

“I think that day Hesketh captured the patriotic spirit of the crowd,” remarks Horsley. “We got a lot of column inches in the Daily Express, and went on to lead several other races until James would have one of his habitual brainstorms.” The Hunt-Hesketh combo would have to wait another year for a grand prix win, but it became clear on that bright spring day that Britain had found Stewares successor.

Jo Siffert, 1965 Mediterranean GP, Enna

Before Jo Siffert became an established star in F1 and an ace in sportscars, he sprung to prominence by beating demi-god Jim Clark in Enna — twice! The first time, in 1964, was reasonably straightforward for a scrapper like Jo. He took pole in his Brabham BT11, and the Climax engine in Clark’s Lotus 25 was no match for Siffert’s BRM unit over Enna’s full-throttle layout — no chicanes then.

“I think the power of the Climax and the BRM was about the same,” recalls Rob Walker, who ran Siffert’s car in ’65, “but the BRM attained its peak power higher up. Enna being the shape it was, the BRM therefore was the engine to have.”

Solid defence is one thing, matching Clark lap for lap in the same event in 1965 was even more admirable. The Lotus 33s of Clark and Mike Spence took first and second on the grid, Siffert alongside them in his Brabham, now run by Walker, while Chris Amon (Lotus-BRM) and Denny Hulme (Brabham-Climax) made up the second row. Clark made a rare bad start and was back in seventh at the end of lap one.

Enna had very few braking zones, so the Scot’s sheer driving talent was not going to be the deciding factor; hooking up to his quarry’s slipstream was. But drafting was hazardous on this stone-peppered track. As Clark moved into fifth at the end of lap three, Masten Gregory was pulling his BRM into the pits, his goggles and a spectacle lens smashed by a stone.

Spence was leading, with Siffert closing, but Clark was relentless. He passed Hulme and Gardner on lap nine to take third, just as Siffert made his move on Spence.

The top two should perhaps have settled down to tow each other away from the scrap behind, but Jo was never going to settle for that. Clark, closing inch by inch-perfect inch, had a grandstand seat for Spence’s almighty accident. The Lotus shot off the track, its driver having been struck in the face by a stone, and flipped when its wheels dug into the turf. Clark feared for his friend, but when he got the signal from his pits that Spence was okay, Jimmy picked up his pace.

Soon after the halfway point of this 60-lap race, the Lotus passed Siffert, but perhaps psychologically boosted by his victory here the year before, Jo regained his advantage a lap later, and the pair pressed on at undiminished speed. By lap 43, they had lapped everyone else in an outrageous display of dominance; but there was nothing between them. Clark was the smoother, Siffert the more inspired.

Rob Walker remembers, “I was standing in the pits and one time `Seppi’ got absolutely broadside, facing straight at us [at 150mph]. Jim afterwards said he didn’t know which way Jo was going to go next, so he couldn’t pass him! I don’t know what got into Jo in Sicily, but he was always unbeatable there.” This time the gap was 0.3sec in Siffert’s favour. An amazing double.

Alan Jones​, 1977 Austrian GP, Osterreichring

Alan Jones, by his third season of Fl, was thought of as a trier, a tough racer who lacked the flair to become an ace. By the time the circus reached Austria, he had yet to start from the first five rows of the grid. Tony Southgate, chief designer for Shadow at the time, explains why. lonesy used to say spending a whole practice session tying to go half a second quicker just for qualifying didn’t make any sense. Instead, he’d have a big go on the first lap.”

Al’s sterling efforts at Monaco and Zolder had yielded points, but to those outside the team, neither Jones nor the Shadow DN8 appeared podium material. Qualifying here changed nothing; Alan was 14th, while Nild Lauda delighted his home crowd by beating James Hunt’s McLaren and the Lotus 78 of Mario Andretti to put his Ferrari on pole. Hans-Joachim Stuck, always quick here, had got the Brabham-Alfa onto the second row.

It poured down on Sunday morning, but as race time anived, the rain stopped, and most drivers chose slicks, preferring to risk it in the opening laps to avoid a pitstop later on.

Andretti shot into the lead and, by the end of the first lap, Hunt was past Lauda, too. Next time round, Schedder’s Wolf (a brilliant start from eighth) had also passed Nild’s Ferrari.

Those drivers on wets made startling progress initially, Gunnar Nilsson (Lotus) and Jones’ team-mate Arturo Merzario slicing through the field. But by lap 11, slicks were the things to have, and Jones was up to fifth, having passed Mass (McLaren), Lauda and Tambay (Ensign). This became fourth the following lap when Andretti’s Cosworth blew, leaving Hunt with a comfortable lead over Scheckter and Stuck.

Hans-Joachim, however, had his mirrors full of white Shadow. Though he had not yet acquired the intimidatory image he would cultivate at Williams, A J’s tenacity was remarkable. On lap 15, he passed the Brabham, quickly reeled in Scheckter, and overtook him on the very next circuit. That looked to be as far as he would go; bit between his teeth or not, the Jones/Shadow force was no match for the reigning world champion and his McLaren M26. But then, drama — Hunt’s Cosworth burst on lap 44. A 23-second lead lost in a cloud of smoke. Southgate was confident the same thing wouldn’t happen to the Shadow. lonesy looked rough’n’ready but he had mechanical feel, real sympathy for the equipment”

And so, sensationally, Jones ran out the victor, having benefited from the ill luck of just two cars. In a straight fight, he had beaten both Ferraris (second-placed Lauda by 20sec), a Brabham and a Wolf that already had two wins to its credit in its first season.

“He didn’t look shocked that he had won,” recalls Southgate, “because he had always been confident But the win increased the confidence of the whole team, and that was reflected in our results after Austria.”

Jones and Shadow went on to record a third and two fourths in the remaining five rounds of ’77 and, significantly for Jones, one Frank Williams had taken notice.

Keke Rosberg 1978 International Trophy, Silverstone

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, then you can win — even at the wheel of a Theodore, as Keke Rosberg proved at Silverstone in 1978. He qualified 1 1 th in the TR1 (simplistically, an F2 Ralt with a DFV in the back), three seconds behind poleman Ronnie Peterson in the Lotus 78, and over two seconds 24 behind Niki Lauda’s Brabham, the new Lotus 79 of Mario Andretti, and the McLaren of James Hunt.

But the rain was pelting down, and Keke’s car control was sensational and the conditions had already caused problems in the warmup. Peterson spun into the Woodcote catchfencing, and his repaired Lotus would have to start from the pitlane, while Lauda was in the spare having stuffed his race chassis. The Austrian’s new mount would suffer a throttle linkage problem, and retire at the end of lap one.

Even so, the first corner leader was a surprise: Derek Daly, from the fifth mw, slotted his Hesketh 308E in front of Hunt and Andretti, before spinning, along with Hunt, at Abbey. But while the ’76 champion went off the track and into retirement, Daly was able to resume just ahead of Rosberg in fourth. Both men then benefited when Emerson Fittipaldi rotated his Copersucar at Abbey second time around, and the same corner accounted for Andretti on lap three. This was crazy: from an original field of 17 cars, just 10 were left after four of 40 laps. Studes Shadow DN9 now led Daly, Rosberg, Patrick Depailler (Tyrrell 008), Fittipaldi, and the old McLaren M23s of Tony Trimmer and Brett Lunger. And then Depailler spun at Woodcote.

Stuck, a fine wet-weather driver, might have excelled had his car been up to it, but the conditions were playing havoc with his engine; at the end of lap seven, Daly and Rosberg came duough at the head of the field; H-J was dropping back. The excitement was too much for Derek and Keke who spun at Abbey on lap eight, somehow avoiding each other and the scenery. On resuming, Keke elected to temper his pace. Derek didn’t. Pulling away at the rate of 5sec per lap, despite losing his visor, he crashed out on lap 12.

The crowd, soaked to the core, were going to need a very good reason to stay and watch five healthy cars circulating for the remaining 26 laps. They got it, as the rain eased. Rosberg’s caution had dropped him back into the clutches of Fittipaldi, so now the Finn unleashed his talent Fishtailing over standing water on straights, catching slides on the exit of corners, driving like a man possessed, he dragged the Theodore 10 sec ahead of the twice world champion temporarily. But as a dry line emerged, Emerson in the space of just five laps, cut the gap back to just one second. “It was incredible pressure,” recalls Keke, “to be leading an F1 race and to have a chance to win, but knowing that if you put a wheel wrong, Emerson’s gonna go straight by.

The thing was to stay on the dry line because there was no way he was going to go onto the wet to try and pass. The wet tyres were completely finished by then, so on the wet or dry, you were going to be on opposite lock. People might say, ‘Well, you always were’, but that day it was more frequent than usual.” A loosening nose section and a misfiring engine further hampered Emerson’s car, so pressuring Rosberg was his only hope. But the greatest pressure on Keke came from within. The Theodore had failed to qualify for the first three rounds of the GP season, so this was Keke’s F1 race debut. Yet he held off the past master to the flag, to win by a little over a second; Trimmer was three laps down in third.

Despite this debut win, Rosberg’s obvious talents were wasted for four more seasons two, ironically, at Fittipaldi. Then he joined Williams.