And they talk about F1 being boring today. Fifty years ago, the Monaco Grand Prix marked the beginning of the 3-litre formula. Following on the heels of 1.5-litre machines with cigar-shaped chassis and skinny wheels, this was grandly hailed as 'The Return to Power'.
There were 16 cars on the grid with a spread of 7.4 seconds from front to back. At the end of a race lasting two hours and 33 minutes, there were just six runners remaining. Two of them were more than 50 miles behind and not classified. Only two -- the winning BRM of Jackie Stewart and Lorenzo Bandini's Ferrari -- completed the prescribed 100 laps. And the much-vaunted 3-litre engines powered none of the top four.
It was, you might think, hardly worth the seven-month wait since the previous year's final grand prix to see this opening round of the 1966 championship. Had the expectation generated by today's social media been in existence, the indignation frothing from bedroom laptops can easily be imagined.
And yet, perversely, the absence of action and the stumbling start merely served to crank up anticipation of what was to come. Even allowing for a couple of non-championship races beforehand, this reaction to the late kick-off and subsequent nine-race season arguably proved that you can have too much of a good thing when 21 grands prix come at you as frequently as daft statements from the people supposedly running them.
Certainly, the state of the players at Monaco in 1966 also supported the oft-quoted adage that even if you give any race team a year to prepare, they will manage to spend the final week working 24/7.
The 3-litre formula had been announced in the summer of 1965. There had been no fanfare or fuss; no debate or argument -- probably because, had a F1 Strategy Group existed at that time, it would have been focussed on the important business of investigating the best bars and restaurants at each GP venue rather than arguing about who should pay the bill.
And yet, several months later, the arrival of the first race seemed to catch the teams by surprise. The first practice session on the afternoon of Thursday 19 May not only started 20 minutes late but it also ran without either Brabham or Ferrari. No reason given: simply a 'no show' by these fancied runners. They turned up in time for second practice at 07.50 a.m. the following day.
Ferrari, the pre-season favourite, was dithering over whether to use a 2.4 V6 or a 3.0 V12. John Surtees, the alleged number 1, was told to race the unreliable V12 even though the V6 was the obvious choice for Monaco, as Bandini would prove while the 1964 world champion was parked with a broken engine.
Freedom of choice -- for the teams if not the drivers - was also highlighted by Graham Hill running Dunlop tyres on his BRM in one practice session and appearing on Firestones in the next. You can just see it, can't you: Honda, feeling Pirelli might not best serve their package this weekend, insist McLaren try Yokohamas during FP1.
Speaking of McLaren, not to mention engine choice, Monaco in 1966 marked the team's first grand prix. Bruce turned up with M2B, the chassis made of two thin sheets of alumiunium separated by a layer of balsa wood. The car was painted white with a blue stripe in deference to the producers of Grand Prix, the filmmakers doubtless paying more than the organisers to have the McLaren on track. In the back was a de-stroked version of Ford's 4.2-litre V8. The raucous sound bouncing of the buildings accounted for what power there was exiting the twin exhausts rather than at the wheels. By the following race, the Indy Ford had been ditched in favour of an Italian Serenissima V8, giving all of 265 bhp. McLaren might have quietly wished for such a direct solution 12 months ago.
These were indeed simpler times. Bruce arrived, having forgotten to pack his driving shoes. The solution was to wear his Hush Puppies, de rigueur among the dashing young men of the day. Mrs McLaren, by all accounts, was not impressed by Bruce cutting the toes off his brown suede shoes in order to fit the cockpit. There would be more serious concerns when McLaren's debut lasted 10 laps before an oil leak intervened. Hill half-spun at Mirabeau, stalled as he mounted the pavement, jumped out, pushed the car backwards, pointed it down the slope, hopped back on board, bump-started the BRM -- and went on to finish third. As you do.
Once Surtees had retired from the lead, Stewart was untroubled for the next couple of hours, Bandini setting the fastest lap in an ultimately futile attempt to close the 40-second gap. Ferrari said they expected to do better. At least that bit sounds familiar.
This article first appeared on ESPN here
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