David Purley set fourth fastest time in the first session but an engine failure early in the second meant the Ensign driver lined up only fourteenth, also in difficulties was McCully who had gearbox problems in the first session and couldn’t get a clear lap in the second, to further add to his woes his team timed him a lot faster then the official watches did. Maskell was another driver who would have expected to be higher up the grid but in the first session his Lotus was badly undergeared and in the second a shock absorber broke at Tabac and the suspension was ripped off on one side. Vermilio was very disappointed not to qualify his Lotus 73 but a rocker cover gasket failed in the first session and was then incorrectly replaced causing oil to spray over the rear brakes of the 73 during the second session. Other surprise non-qualifiers were Peter Hull as both handling and engine problems stopped him setting anything like a competitive time and Vittorio Brambilla who was also in handling problems with his rather tatty Alpine-like Birel.
It was Roger Williamson who took pole position for the second heat, despite suffering the universal GRD brake problem he was only 0.1 seconds slower the Depailler. Jacques Coulon was also going very quickly in the latest Martini and lined up next to the GRD, the second row consisted of Claudio Francisci in his Lotus 69 and the second Martini of José Dolhem. Tony Trimmer got his Lotus 73 on the fourth row despite engine problems and handling difficulties which were alleviated by fitting an odd shaped nose. Equalling Trimmer’s time was an interesting new car, the French Narval, being driven by former Tecno driver Christian Ethuin.
An unfortunate incident befell Peter Lamplough and Tom Pryce and it was only pure luck that there weren’t tragic consequences, Pryce’s Royale stopped just before Casino and the Welshman was looking at the engine for a possible faulty wire when Lamplough lost the Merlyn which cannoned into the Royale knocking Pryce over. Both drivers suffered broken legs and were expected to be out of racing for several months. Jochen Mass was disappointed to be on row fifteen, he was overdriving the March and bouncing off the kerbs far too much, he suggested things would be better if the kerbs were made of rubber!
James Hunt’s run of bad luck continued when he found his car wasn’t ready at the start of practice despite the factory having had two weeks since his Silverstone accident. The car was eventually ready 20 minutes late but as he went out on the track the throttle cable broke at the Gasworks hairpin, Hunt ran back to the pits and returned a few minutes later with Brendan McInerney’s mechanic to find that in the interim Tecno driver Pesce had hit the March removing a rear wheel, Hunt had several words with the Italian who wasn’t seen again at the meeting. Despite an all nighter by the March team the car wasn’t ready for the morning session on Friday so Hunt spoke to former team manager Chris Marshal about using the spare La Vie Clare March 713M which was a bitsa made out of spares. The normal driver Jean-Claude Alzerat had lost his license after a disagreement with the French Police, Hunt took over his entry in the first heat and qualified sensibly despite his lack of familiarity with the car.
Barrie Maskell’s Lotus was deemed beyond immediate safe repair so team-mate Roger Keele very sportingly stood down to allow Maskell to use his car. This meant with only 19 starters in heat one, Jorge Pinhol as first reserve should have been allowed to start but for some incomprehensible reason the organisers refused to let the GRD onto the grid.
Patrick Depailler’s Alpine made the best start and at the end of lap 1 he led from Andy Sutcliffe, following closely behind were Palm, Walker, Albera, Leclere, von Opel, Svensson, Serpaggi, Thompson, Guitteny, Purley, Vandervell, Wood, Hunt, Bond , Maskell, McCully and Bianchi. Hunt’s bad luck continued at the chicane on lap 2 when Wood was far too late on the brakes and spun pushing Hunt off into the barriers. Depailler, Sutcliffe and Palm were starting to pull out a small lead on the rest of the pack as Walker began to drop away with a flat engine. Bev Bond had to pit with a sticking throttle, not the best thing to have at Monaco and Maskell joined Hunt and Wood at the chicane when the engine in his Lotus blew its water out onto the rear wheels of the car. Lap 5 and it was still Depailler with Sutcliife in close attendance, Palm was dropping away a little whilst there was a big battle for fourth between Albera, von Opel and Leclere. There were seven cars squabbling over seventh consisting of Serpaggi from Vandervell (missing first gear), Svensson, Thompson (no second gear), Purley, Guitteny and McCully, and they were beginning to pull back up again to the three cars ahead. By half distance Depailler had eked out a one second lead over Sutcliffe with Palm a similar distance back in third but there was trouble further back when von Opel passed Albera but as the two cars turned onto the waterfront the Martini gave the Ensign a chop, the two cars collided and were both out, Albera suffering a broken arm. Depailler passed through the carnage on the next lap with no flags being evident but when Sutcliffe arrived yellow and oil flags were waved causing the GRD man to slow and loose ground to the Alpine. Sutcliffe then put the hammer down for the next few laps and began to reel the Alpine in again but mysteriously on the last three laps yellow flags were furiously waved at Sutcliffe and Palm despite the lack of any apparent reason whilst the flag marshalls seemed to miss Depailler every time he went past them. So it was that Depailler took the flag 7 seconds ahead of Sutcliffe who in turn had three seconds in hand over Palm. Purley should have been fourth after really flying over the last few laps and setting the fastest lap but his engine blew on the last lap dropping him to tenth which at least meant he qualified for the final, he was able to borrow a spare engine from Williamson for the race. Leclere moved up to fourth ahead of Guitteny after Serpaggi made a late pit stop and McCully took Vandervell for sixth on the last corner of the last lap.
It was another 19 car field for heat two after Stan Matthews was unlucky enough to suffer a CV joint failure on the warm up lap. Coulon took the lead at the start and was in front at the end of the first lap from Williamson but the GRD driver took the lead at St Devote on lap 2 and immediately began to leave the rest behind. Coulon held second under pressure from Dolhem and Francisci, next up were Pica, Brise, Ethuin, Rousselot, Jones, Trimmer, Evans, McInerney, Möhr, Giorgio, Mass, Rabbione, Lombardi and Compain who had a bad misfire, pit stopping was Pessenti Rossi with a broken throttle cable. There were problems for Brise on lap 3 at the Station hairpin when the top of his header tank blew off covering his rear tyres with coolant, the Brabham spun and whilst Brise was backing up Alan Jones had to stop to avoid contact, stalling his engine and needed a push start after everyone else had gone.
Williamson had pulled out a three second lead over Coulon by lap 3 who in turn led Francisci and Pica, Dolhem had been next but he spun and hit the barrier at St Devote allowing the impressive Ethuin to move up to fifth. Trimmer was in seventh but unhappy as his tyres had rolled on their rims causing all sorts of handling problems. Williamson further extended his lead until it stood at six seconds on lap 10, Tom Wheatcroft held out a “Slow” sign to him and the Englishman eased off a little until Francisci who had passed Coulon on lap 11 closed within two seconds, Williamson immediately eased away again and took the chequered flag some four seconds ahead of the Italian. Coulon took third only about a second down on Francisci, Ethuin should have taken fourth but he missed the chicane on lap 13 and fell to seventh. Pica was next ahead of Rousselot who had been dicing with Trimmer but as the tyre problems on the 73 got worse the Brabham was able to pull away and take fifth.
The first ten in each heat made it through to the final although one or two might not have been too pleased when the heavens opened in the afternoon and the track was soon soaking. The drivers were given two warm up laps and were told that under no circumstances would any last minute adjustments be allowed on the grid under penalty of disqualification, these rules were rigidly enforced on all drivers whose names weren’t Depailler or Coulon!
It was Depailler who scrabbled away in the lead as everyone was suffering from wheelspin, Sutcliffe slotted into second with Palm third and Williamson fourth until the Station hairpin when Williamson tried to take the inside line, it was wetter than he expected, his brakes locked and he went wide, Roger gathered it together, found reverse and rejoined the track but he was down to ninth. At the end of the lap it was Depailler from Sutcliffe, Coulon, Leclere, Pica, Rousselot, Francisci, Williamson, Ethuin, Mass (good progress from the back), Guitteny, Vandervell, Purley, McCully, Evans, Thompson, Bianchi and Möhr.
Back at the front Depailler still led but he wasn’t dropping Sutcliffe and Williamson was really moving (both up and down), lap 2 saw him fifth, lap 3 back to eighth after missing the chicane, fourth on lap 4 and third on lap 6. Although Depailler had by now pulled out a gap to Sutcliffe the arrival of Williamson on his tail spurred Andy on and the two GRDs began to catch the Alpine at a second a lap. Palm was in fourth leading a battling group consisting of Rousselot, Coulon, Vandervell, Trimmer, Francisci and Mass. Retirements at this point were Ethuin who hit the rail at St Devote and a few laps later he was joined by Pica.
Williamson’s challenge lasted until lap 12 when he was descending the hill towards Mirabeau, his brakes locked on and the car hit the barrier and he had to retire accompanied by loud applause from the stands. Sutcliffe continued to close in on the Alpine until the gap was down to a second and then, just as in his heat, the marshalls began to wave yellow and oil flags at him despite there being no apparent reason, it worked and by lap 16 the Alpine was well clear again.
The rain had now stopped and the track had begun to dry and Tony Trimmer and Colin Vandervell who were wearing a new low profile Firestone front found the tyres working really well. Vandervell who had been fourteenth on the first lap and Trimmer who had been tenth were now carving their way through the field, by lap 16 Vandervell was on Sutcliffe’s tail having set fastest lap on the way. Trimmer was with them two laps later after having had a stroke of good luck, earlier he had locked up at Mirabeau and ended up interlocked with an Alpine facing the barrier. Using the red light in the rain had flattened his battery so Trimmer couldn’t restart, suddenly another car spun hitting Trimmer up the rear, he banged the Lotus into gear and bumped started it.
The positions were now Depailler, Sutcliffe, Vandervell, Trimmer, Francisci, Palm, McCully, Leclere, Mass and Coulon. David Purley had been next but like Williamson he went off at Mirabeau. By lap 18 Trimmer and Vandervell were attacking the GRD for second, Sutcliffe tried to hold on but the Firestones were working too well and the Lotus and the Ensign were ahead. They then began to catch the Alpine at a tremendous rate but there just wasn’t enough time left and Depailler took the win by 1.9 seconds from Trimmer with Vandervell very close behind. Sutcliffe was a disappointed fourth with McCully fifth (another Firestone user), Francisci had been sixth but he retired on lap 20 with waterlogged electrics so Leclere took the place.
There was a certain amount of discord after the race when the winning Alpine appeared to have a very cursory and private eligibility check whilst the Lotus and the Ensign were given a very thorough public check with repeated vacuum tests but despite the scrutineers best efforts both cars were found fully legal. Mo Nunn then asked that the Alpine be vacuum tested in front of everyone, but unfortunately the scrutineers managed to break the tester. Vegantune offered their tester but then the French police were called and told to stop anyone touching the Alpine unless a £90 fee was paid, the AIRO team agreed to pay. The race officials then insisted that the car be checked in front of the Alpine team only so nobody was sure that the engine was legal, coupled with the flag marshalling problems it cast a shadow over Depailler’s victory.