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That rainy day in Monaco



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Jean-Pierre Beltoise




Monte Carlo


1972 Monaco GP (May 14, 1972)


This win wasn't business as usual. In fact, this Monaco victory was a freak win in freak circumstances, made famous by the fact that it meant the long-awaited return to the top rostrum by a pioneering British Grand Prix marque. Also, the trick was done a by Frenchman on francophone soil, heroically fighting the atrocious conditions, in the same way Olivier Panis took the 1996 event by (and coming through a) storm.

The more we are able to look at it with hindsight, the more famous the win has become: after both constructor and driver had retired from the sport, it transpired that Monaco 1972 had been BRM's last and JPB's only Grand Prix victory.

After struggling in its first decade of existence, the BRM outfit saw their chances turn dramatically during the rear-engined 1.5-litre era, the "Old Faithful" P57 giving Graham Hill his first of two titles. But with Lotus and Clark taking a leading edge with monocoque design, BRM had but a short moment of glory before a slow but certain decline set in. Still, they managed to attract quality drivers well into the seventies. This had all to do with the pretty decent P153 and initial P160 designs, penned by talented young Tony Southgate. These cars brought BRM back into the winning circle, but for all their worth BRM remained outside contenders instead of actual title challengers before fading for good after team manager Big Lou Stanley took over the ownership from the Owen Organisation to create Stanley-BRM. There's that golden rule again: never trust your in-laws…

One of the biggest brain fades (actually, the one that started it off its definitive downfall) in the marque's mostly irrelevant last five years of existence - better named the Stanley era - was coming up with the silly idea of running a huge multi-car team during 1972 (see Helmut Marko's story). Stanley's thought must have been: more cars, thus more points! Well, he figured that one out right. With the crew unable to adequately service the car park full of machinery, the slow decline suddenly became much steeper.

But then came the Monaco Grand Prix. Before this fourth round of the championship, all six BRM cars had unbelievably contrived to fail scoring a single point. However, at the Principality the weather decided to play a part, as it poured and poured on race day as we had never seen before. The only one to really come to terms with circumstance was Jean-Pierre Beltoise, the Frenchman who was in a deadlock in his career, having failed to convert his late-sixties F3 and F2 stardom into a significant role in F1. This time, however, he starred, shooting ahead into the lead from fourth and slowly pulling away through the mist and the rain. Setting fastest lap on his way, and blowing away acknowledged rain master Jacky Ickx in the process, the Monaco win was as much a well-earned win as a freak win.

Another thing in deadlock for most of his career, was Beltoise's left arm. It was the worst effect of a monumental sportscar crash at Reims in 1964 that almost took his life. Like his contemporaries John Surtees and Mike Hailwood, he had just made a switch from bikes to cars, after having worked as a mechanic for René Bonnet's crack F3 outfit. Between 1961 and 1964 he took no less than 11 national two-wheel titles before taking the wheel of a René Bonnet car himself. In 1963 he made his four-wheel debut, at Le Mans no less, immediately impressing by winning the Index of Performance, before he suffered his huge smash at Reims a year later, breaking his limbs in 16 places. His arm was so badly broken that the doctors could do nothing else but permanently restrict its movement. In car, the effect went unnoticed as he avenged himself by scorching to a great F3 win at the same track one year on.

Now with Matra, which had taken over the René Bonnet concern, Beltoise became an instant F3 star, taking the 1965 French F3 title, the 1966 Monaco F3 event and the 1967 Argentine Temporada, winning all four rounds in the process. Promoted to F2, the Matra success continued unabatedly and greatly responsible was Jean-Pierre Beltoise. Making his Grand Prix debut, he won the F2 class in the 1966 German GP and made another three GP appearances in 1967, driving a Cosworth FVA-powered F2 Matra. With Jacky Ickx taking a full-time drive at Ferrari, Jean-Pierre now was the undisputed F2 king, as he went on to take the 1968 European crown for non-graded drivers, while doing his first full season of F1. With Matra splitting its efforts between the works Matra Sports outfit and Ken Tyrrell's Matra International organization, JPB saw himself start the season for the works team, driving the previous year's F2 machine with 1600cc Cosworth power, the car now ballasted to conform to the F1 weight limit. Still Beltoise took 18th on the grid, ahead of Jo Bonnier, Brian Redman and three local drivers and finished a creditable 6th. At Jarama, Jean-Pierre momentarily took Stewart's seat at the Tyrrell team, qualifying the DFV-powered MS10 a marvelous 4th, taking fastest lap and finishing 5th after two pitstops, before being put in the works MS11 for the rest of the season. This car had Matra's own V12 in the back, one of the most glorious sounding F1 engines ever built. It got a baptism of fire, as the car was beset with all sorts of problems, mostly engine-related, while Ken Tyrrell, Jackie Stewart and Johnny Servoz-Gavin (who stepped in for Beltoise in the second Tyrrell car from Monaco on) enjoyed an extremely successful debut season. When the Matra V12 lasted, JPB made it work to the full, though. He had one extraordinary result to show for, taking fastest lap and second place at the Dutch GP (behind Stewart), even allowing for a pit stop to remove the superfluous Zandvoort sand which had got stuck in the throttle slides!

For 1969, Beltoise was paired with Stewart at Matra International, while Matra worked on their V12. This was a make-or-break season for the promising Frenchman, since JYS had been one of the stars of the 1968 season, taking the Dutch GP and hugely impressing with his Rosemeyer-like victory at the drenched Nürburgring. In a reliable and competitive car, JPB, the former F2 star, had the opportunity to make a name for himself in F1. As it was, Jackie Stewart stormed to an undisputed first world crown while Jean-Pierre was left picking bread crumbs.

Put back in the works car for 1970, Beltoise came up with another single miracle performance, which became a theme throughout his career: the occasional sensational result, surrounded by fairly uninspired drives. This time, it was his work of art at Matra's home race which managed to attract everyone's attention. Leading by a country mile in the Matra V12-powered MS120, another one of Clermont-Ferrand's infamous loose stones did damage to the rubber, Jean-Pierre losing out on his first win when in sight of the finish he was hit by a puncture.

Deposed to a number-two position by the signing of Chris Amon, 1971 became a part season of misery, Beltoise now having lost his career momentum. To make matters even worse, he was banned from the tracks for six weeks after he was blamed to have caused Ignazio Giunti's fatal accident at the Buenos Aires 1000kms, Giunti's Ferrari ramming Beltoise's standstill Matra mid-ship before bursting into flames. Matra decided not to replace him and didn't even show up with a single car in Austria.

While Jean-Pierre remained part of Matra's sportscar squad, he found a new future at BRM, now proudly sporting Marlboro livery - the first time the famous Philip Morris brand was seen on a race car. There he put in another two blinding efforts amidst a large blur of mediocre results. The Monaco win was of course the highlight of a career already partly on the rocks. Strangely, it didn't create a sense of urgency with the winners, neither with Beltoise, nor with BRM, which continued the season in the same miserable form it showed before the Monaco GP. In 1973, Jean-Pierre now teamed with Lauda and Regazzoni, the fourth and fifth evolution of the ageing P160 concept didn't help in promoting the team back to the front, but Niki and Clay did manage to upset the establishment on occasion, earning themselves drives with a Ferrari team about to reinvent itself. Then in 1974, now with French Motul backing, there was a glimmer of hope as Beltoise brought the long-awaited P201 home second on its debut in South Africa but it was another one of those sudden explosions of true skill Jean-Pierre showed all too little.

With the Matra sportscar squad (on which Beltoise was kept on as a regular) pulling out at the end of 1974 - as did the Owen Organisation at BRM - and with Jean-Pierre suffering a horrendous accident at the season-closing GP at Watkins Glen, JPB suddenly lost both his drives in the top two championships of the world. There was talk of a comeback with the Ligier-Matra team in 1976 but Guy Ligier gave up-and-coming Jacques Laffite the nod instead. Jean-Pierre then consigned himself to working with Jean Rondeau on the Inaltera Le Mans project before embarking on a long and prosperous afterlife in French touring cars.

Still, no-one can take away that startling performance on May 14, 1972, when Jean-Pierre blew everyone away. The Monaco GP was celebrating its 30th anniversary, but there were several factors raining on the Principality's parade through town - and they weren't all water drops. In common practice with various other 'dangerous' tracks around the world, such as Zandvoort, several alternations were made before the 1972 edition could go underway. The major change was the relocation of the pit area to the exit of the tunnel, just where the old chicane had been. A new one was introduced just ahead of the entry to Tabac, just about where the pit lane exit had been constructed. A hand-operated gate was installed to keep traffic from blasting onto the track. The island area between Gasometer and St Devote was relieved of its pit/paddock function, as the paddock was now situated in an underground garage near the Gasworks hairpin. That will have made everybody happy…

Another point of debate was the number of starters allowed. The end result was that 25 cars would be allowed to start, which made the usual rush for last place on the grid rather pointless, as 25 entries fought over 25 places. The thing is, the result only came known with just one hour of Thursday practice left, which still left everybody in a rush to put in a time. Suppose it rained on Saturday…

It did, so the 90 minutes on Friday were of a deciding factor. In the end, Emerson Fittipaldi came out on top, just edging out Thursday's Ferrari stars Ickx and Regazzoni (Andretti was in the States taking part in the Indy 500). Next up were the surprising BRMs of Beltoise and Gethin, Jean-Pierre probably extremely pleased to have outpaced Amon in the Matra. Hulme and the surprisingly underwhelming Stewart followed, while Brian Redman - replacing the Indy-bound Peter Revson - did well to complete the top ten.

With the rain coming down hard on Saturday, it seemed impossible that it could become worse on Sunday. But while it remained dry in the morning, all hell broke loose around lunchtime. In a few moments the track was flooded. This prompted an extra 30-minute acclimatisation session during which the royals arrived, joining the track at the Gasometer hairpin! Fortunately, the royal family's subscription to horrible car accidents wasn't taken up that day.

Been allowed a few more warm-up laps, the field lined up for a start that would decide the race. From the second row Beltoise produced a blinder, Jean-Pierre blasting past Ickx to get ahead at St Devote. Regazzoni also went through, while Fittipaldi moved up to third, leaving the Belgian to drop three places in the space of one lap. Without the spray to contend with, Beltoise pulled away leaps and bounds, opening up a six-second gap in five laps. This suddenly became twelve when Regazzoni got it all wrong at the chicane and dragged Fittipaldi's Lotus along on the escape road. Now Ickx was into second place, with Clay and Emmo following, rejoining the track before Amon arrived.

Meanwhile, Beltoise continued to stretch his lead, his BRM looking hairy at moments, but the Frenchman still managed to pull it together at the last moment. The attacking style proved to be the right way. Rain king Ickx could do nothing about it. At mid-distance - with Wisell the only retirement with engine failure - cars were finally falling off the track. First Gethin lost it at the chicane, then Schenken thumped his car into the Mirabeau guardrail. During all of this, Beltoise kept on beating the opposition, dealing with the traffic better than Ickx.

Now Jackie Stewart was on the move. After hanging about a bit after the start he got the bit between his teeth and started rattling in Regazzoni, passing the Italo-Swiss on lap 33. Ten laps on he was under Ickx's gearbox but spun while trying to overtake the other Ferrari. The second Maranello car even went past again, but then expired some eight laps later, having broken its suspension due to hitting the Armco on Hailwood's oil. The Surtees driver had had a coming-together with Ganley at the Gasworks, after which both cars retired.

With Stewart back in third, his engine started developing hiccups due to wet electrics, so the Scot set out to conserve his position. The only drama left in the race was provided on lap 59 by Henri Pescarolo who managed to draw yet more attention to the Gasometer hairpin by skidding his March along the guardrail for yard after yard. After that, remarkably, all remaining 18 cars ran out to the flag. There was one significant change in the order left, as Stewart's ailing Tyrrell was caught and passed by Fittipaldi, the Brazilian claiming the last spot on the podium.

At the end of a very long and very wet two and a half hours Beltoise got his reward for a tremendously skilled and courageous drive. Finally, a Grand Prix victory was his. On the evidence of this, he could - and should - have earned more during his long career.

More recently, his son Anthony formed part of the ORECA Chrysler GT team while his younger son Julien starred in French F3 in 1999. Anthony also finished second in the Nürburgring 24hrs that year, but it is doubtful whether the Beltoise boys have the talent to emulate their famous father.

Reader's Why by Matej Muraus

A good motorcycle racer usually quickly adopts to car racing, and in 1963 Ren Bonnet of DB-Panhard team decided to try fast motorcyclist Jean-Pierre Beltoise. He had developed a new car, a Djet, which was powered by an 1100 cc Renault-Gordini engine, located behind the cockpit. In 1963 and 1964, Beltoise ultimated successes on bikes, and frustrations on under- developed Djet. The arch-rivals were the Alpine-Renaults, and the Reims 12 hrs race was a good occasion for Ren Bonnet's Djets, to show their newly found reliability and pace. Soon after the midnight start, Beltoise's Djet was hurrying on Bianchi's Alpine, when he hit a large batch of oil, which was spilt by a car, which was just burst its engine, and which he couldn't see in the darkness. The accident was inevidable. Jean-Pierre was thrown out of a closed car, and taken to hospital by a helicopter with multiple fractures, including a broken finger, and 16 (!) fractures on the left arm and elbow level. The arm has remained weak and almost stiff to the day. One year after the accident, Jean-Pierre was only just able to walk with a stick, and could hardly use his left arm. Meanwhile, the Ren Bonnet company has been bought up by Matra, the state arm company, producing missiles and various high-tech equipment, and with Jean-Luc le Gardere, a dynamic young manager, at its head. He decided to start racing in Formula 3 1000 cc's, using Renault engines. He was most doubious that Beltoise could resume racing, but to prove, Jean-Pierre took part in the motorcycle hill-climb event at Montlhry, and won two classes. Though still not convinced, le Gardere took him, and it was Beltoise, who gave Matra its first racing victory against stiff international competition in a Formula 3 race, run as a back-up race in a 1965 French GP in Clermont-Ferrand. Matra has more ambitious plans, however, and with the financial help from Elf, the Formula 1 car was soon under development. Matra wanted to power it with its own V12 engine, designed by George Martin, but Elf was more in favour of using the successful, off-the-shelve Ford-Cosworth DFV V8 engine. Both models were entrusted to Ken Tyrrell to run. Beltoise, who had proved to be as fast on four as on two wheels, was chosen to drive the V12, together with Henri Pescarolo, who had also proved himself on the Formula 3 and 2, while Jackie Stewart and Johnny Servoz-Gavin were to run the Ford engined cars. In it's first year in Formula 1, Matra was very succesful, as Stewart won three GPs, and finished second in the drivers' chamiponships, in which Beltoise was sixth. The V12 was fast, but probably too heavy. It was also less reliable than the Ford, and in four years, in which he remained in Matra, Beltoise could not win a single Grand Prix, though he twice finished second, and four times third. 1971 had been a very unhappy year for Beltoise. In his years with Matra, he also drove for sports cars endurance races, which, at the time, was just as popular as the Formula 1, and in which the V12 Matra engines were very competitive. They were to win Le Mans three times in succession, from 1972 to 1974. Matra has sent Beltoise to the Buenos Aires 1000 km race, where he was driving as sixth, when his car ran ou of fuel and stopped at the exit of the slow bend. The pits were mearly 500 meters away, and he decided to push his car to the pits to get refuelled, which would not be allowed today. Unfortunately, the pits were on the other side of the road, which he had to cross, still pushing the car. The marshalls were out with yellow flags, and he felt safe to do so. Unfortunately, at that moment Ignazio Giunti, who was leading the race in a Ferrari 312P, was about to lap another car, both of which had already lapped the Matra twice, as it strungled pushing the car to the edge of the road, so they didn't have much noticed the flags, and were driving quite hard. Mike Parkes, who was in front, swerved to get around Matra without a problem, but because of the car proceeding him, Guinti had not seen it, and hit it with high speed. He was killed instantly, but Beltoise, who was pushing the car, escaped miraclously unhurt, and the media immediately pinned him down as the confront. Likely or not, following this tragedy his license was suspended for 3 months by the French federation, following wich the intenational authority suspended him for two additional months. By end of 1971, the V12 engine had become a bit long in the teeth, which created a bad atmosphere within a team, and Beltoise had signed with BRM for 1972. The British V12 engine was also under-powered, but the car handled superbly, enablin Beltoise to secure the 4th best practice time at the Monaco Grand Prix, which he won in torrential rain. This was to be his only victory in Formula 1, but he probably had scored many others, as he would not remained faitful to Matra for such a long time. Beltoise drove for BRM in Formula 1 until - and including - 1974, but he was already ready to seat in the Matra team, whenever his former employee neede him, such as in Le Mans 1972 and 1974, though he never drove a winning car. After that, he became an occasional guest driver, and then switched to production car racing. Heavy rain, 200.000 spectators, 25 racers, of which 17 finished, Beltoise ledaing from flag to flag and the certain victory for the French driver were characteristics of the 30th Grand Prix of Monaco, or 4th in the 1972 season. Hero of the Race was Jean-Pierre Beltoise, born on April 21 st 1937 in Paris, height 170 cm, weight 63 kg, who was married with Jacqueline Cevert (sister of other French driver Francois Cevert). Even though he was suspended and punished because of the Buenos Aires tragedy, he practiced normally, but he was present on races only as a spectator, for he was also suspended by other drivers, though they weren't completely sure about his guilt. On the first few races, Beltoise had little luck, since he joined the BRM team, where he was accepted with open hands, both (Beltoise and BRM) wishing for rehabilitation. After the tragedies of their drivers Rodriguez and Siffert (who both died at unimportant races), the team was depressed. They were looking for new technical solutions and improvements for their race models, and they also constructed the P180, which was tested at Silverstone and Jarama, but they temporarily abandoned it and continued racing with older model P160. After the races at Buenos Aires, Kyalami and Jarama, the experts agreed: it's a shame! The Monaco race was not to be expected any other, also because of Beltoise, who was absent for quite a long time. During the practice, Beltoise drove quite hipocratilly. He was aiming for a good starting spot, but that was it.

After the start (in heavy rain) Beltoise immediately took the lead after the first lap, behind him were Regazzoni, E. Fittipaldi, Ickx, Amon, Stewart, Gethin, Hulme, Redman, Cevert, Hailwood, Walker, Schenken, Wisell, Pescarolo, Peterson, Marko, W. Fittipaldi, de Adamich, Ganley, Lauda, Hill, Pace, Beuttler and Stommelen. After ten laps, positions were almost unchanged: Beltoise led, followers were Ickx, Regazzoni, E. Fittipaldi, Amon, Stewart, Gethin, etc. After 20 laps there were some changes, since some of the drivers had already gave up. Beltoise was leading with average speed of 114.2 km/h, Ickx was 12.7 seconds behind, Regazzoni 30.5, Stewart 57, Gethin 59 s, E. Fittipaldi 1:01 min, Hailwood 1:31, Amon 1:32, Cevert 2:04, all other were a full lap behind. Beltoise completed 50 laps in a time of 1.32:46.3 (101.7 km/h). Because of even stronger rain, the average speed dropped significantly, since the visibility was very bad, and the circuit was more appropriate for swimming or rowing, than a Formula 1 race. Beltoise held position, but the strong wave of water, which he was making, made his followers disappear in distance, Ickx was now 22 seconds behind, Regazzoni 39, Stewart 42, all other were behind more than one lap. After 60 laps the group of drivers, which were to receive points, was formed. Beltoise completed the distance in 1.51:33.3 (101.5 km/h), Ickx reduced his residue to 17 secs, others were gaining it: Stewart 1:12 min, every other driver was a lap or more behind. For the other 20 laps, nearly every driver held his position. First driver, who had to retire, was Reine Wisell (BRM), his engine gave up in 15th lap. The same fate received other BRM driver Peter Gethin in 28th lap. Australian Tim Schenken (surtees) flew out of the Mirabeau corner in 32nd lap. In 47th lap colided Hailwood (surtees) and Ganley (BRM), both had to retire. The Swiss Ferrari dirver Clay Regazzoni, who passed world champion Jackie Stewart by lap 50 and held 3rd position, made a mistake in 52nd lap and collided in an Armco barrier, right after the Gasometre hairpin. The same fate in the same corner also had Pescarolo 6 laps later. This was to be the last ever GP victory for BRM.