An excellent field of 45 runners arrived for this race, the F3 jewel in the crown, with just about every top car/driver combination in attendance, the only notable British non-runners being Bev Bond, James Hunt and Colin Vandervell. As was to be expected there were a significant number of French entries with Martini MW7s being a popular choice, drivers were José Dolhem (BRM), Lucien Guitteny (BRM), François Migault (Novamotor) and Patrice Compain (Novamotor), Renault powered MW7s were driven by Jacques Coulon and François Lacarrau . Renault units were also in the works Alpine A360s of Patrick Depailler and Jean-Pierre Jabouille and the Tecno of Christian Ethuin. Interestingly all the Renault power plants were still using Webers although they were expecting to switch to Lucas fuel injection shortly. Also from France were the Brabham-Holbay BT35s for Jean-Louis Lafosse, Pierre-François Rousselot and Bernard Lagier.
Nine cars came from Italy, a 1969 Tecno-Novamotor for Giancarlo Naddeo, an elderly Brabham (listed as a F2 type BT23) for Marcello Gallo also with a Novamotor. Giuseppe Bianchi and Fabrizio Noe had their Lotus-Novamotor 69s while older Novamotor powered cars were the Tecno of Giorgio Carlo and the Chevron B17 of Carlo Scarambone. Also in a Chevron B17 but with Alfa Romeo power was Sandro Cinotto. Luigi Fontanesi also arrived with his Tecno but it sat on its trailer all weekend.
A large contingent of British based runners made the trip south headed by the works Lotus-Novamotor 69 of Dave Walker. Similarly mounted was Andy Sutcliffe in his newly painted “American Express Team Lotus” Holbay car. The sole Ensign to arrive, in the absence of Bev Bond, was Steve Thompson (Holbay) whilst Roger Williamson, Tim Goss and John Bisignano had their usual March-Holbay 713s. American Cliff Haworth had his older 703 with Alfa Romeo power that he raced in European rounds, the car was entered by Team Pschitt (apparently a brand of soft drink). Barrie Maskell had the Sports Motors Chevron-Holbay B18 with Chris Skeaping in his older B17 Rowland. Two of the rarer cars were Bob Evans with the Puma BRM and newcomer Cyd Williams with the Ehrlich EMC. Brabham-Holbay BT35s arrived for usual pilote Brendan McInerney and American debutante Randy Lewis. In Holbay powered BT28s were David Purley, Ronald Rossi and Sandy Shepard.
Liechtenstein was represented by Rikki von Opel’s Lotus Holbay 69, whilst for Switzerland there were the Martini-Novamotor MW7s of François Rabbione and Phillip Albera. Sweden had the two Brabham BT35s of Ulf Svensson (Holbay) and Jonas Qvarnstrom (Swedish Sportscars). Surprisingly Germany only had two representatives, both Novamotor powered, the Lotus 69 of Manfred Möhr and the March 713M of Dietmar Floer who was having his first outing in the car. Last but not least was the Lotus-Holbay 69 of Belgium’s Claude Bourgoignie.
Friday’s practice session was cancelled due to heavy rain meaning that all qualifying would have to be done on Saturday morning’s extended session. The cars were split into two groups and the first bunch of 20 cars had to contend with a drying track and overcast conditions. José Dolhem in his Martini proved best suited to the changing conditions and set the fastest time ahead of Jabouille, Lafosse, Rousselot, Svensson and Guitteny. Lafosse managed to spin and damage his car in the tunnel but it was repaired in time for the race. Next up were a group of the British runners with Goss showing good form to lead Purley, Maskell, Shepard, Williamson and Rossi. Maskell was suffering from a bad cold and Rossi had severe engine problems necessitating a new unit be installed for the race. Surprise non-qualifier was François Migault whose engine failed after a lap time of 7:42.2, some six minutes off pole! Less surprising was the non-qualification of Chris Haworth whose Alfa engine broke an oil pipe, destroying itself and liberally soaking the circuit with lubricant.
By the time the second group of drivers joined the circuit conditions were much improved and so lap times were 2 or 3 seconds faster. Dave Walker proceeded to destroy the rest of the opposition with a 1:37.8 lap, a full 1.2 seconds quicker than next man Jacques Coulon. Close behind Coulon were Bourgoignie and Thompson with Naddeo surprising many with his sixth fastest time, next up was Depailler suffering engine problems, Lacarrau and Ethuin. Two of the British drivers in trouble were Skeaping whose throttle jammed open on his first lap at Mirabeau and he hit the sea wall wrecking his Chevron and Sutcliffe who had broken engine and gearbox mounts giving him very odd handling. Floer, who had been ready and waiting for the wet Friday session, did not appear in the dry Saturday practice for some unknown reason.
Rather unfairly the grids for the two heats were made up by putting the times from both sessions together and then selecting alternating times for each heat, this meant that the drivers from the slower first session were put at an immediate disadvantage, fastest driver from session one, Dolhem, found himself on row 2 of the first heat.
As the cars came out for the heat the the track was wet but beginning to dry, making the tyre choice difficult especially with the surprising omission any warm up lap to allow the drivers to check out the track conditions. Walker took an immediate lead from pole position with Bourgoignie and Depailler close behind but second row starter Dolhem had an immediate off at Tobacconists and retired immediately, Rousselot and Fossati came past minus their nose cones and Ethuin, showing signs of accident damage, pulled into the pits to retire . Rousselot’s damage must have been more than just the missing nosecone as he retired just before the Gasometer on lap four. Walker was pulling away at the front of the field whilst Bourgoignie tried desperately to hold Depailler at bay but on the fifth lap the Alpine was through although Bourgoignie wasn’t beaten and for the next six laps there was a tremendous battle between the two until Bourgoignie clipped the kerb at Gasometer breaking a rod end on the Lotus causing the Belgian to pull off to retire.
Depailler was now in an untroubled second place ahead of Sutcliffe who had been behind the similar Lotus of von Opel until the unfortunate Liechtenstein driver lost a wheel on his way up Ste Devote. There was a huge fight going on for what was now fourth place with Shepard, Rossi, Compain, Lewis and Qvarnstrom all determined to be on top, they were swopping positions all round the track and judging by some of the hairy manoeuvres it was only a matter of time before someone came to grief. With one lap to go it was Shepard leading the bunch only to swipe the Armco at Ste Devote and remove a wheel, thus fourth place fell to Compain followed by Rossi, Lewis and Qvarnstrom. Fossati’s noseless Brabham was next followed by Lagier and final qualifier Goss who was hampered first by his gear lever snapping and then by the March getting stuck in 4th gear. Scarambone helped the carnage at Ste Devote by spinning his Chevron and being collected by the similar car of Cinotti. Walker took the chequered flag a relatively comfortable 3.3 seconds ahead of Depailler, the two drivers had been swopping fastest laps during most of the race, Walker finally setting a 1:37.0 to settle the argument.
Once again conditions were tricky for this heat, like the first heat the track began wet and dried throughout the course of the race.
The second heat turned into a battle between Jabouille and the unfancied Naddeo in his Tecno, the Italian leading the opening four laps until the Alpine got past. Naddeo then sat on Jabouille’s tail until the run to the flag on the last lap when he pulled out of the slipstream, dived inside the Frenchman and took the heat victory. Steve Thompson’s Ensign kept a close eye on the battle ahead never being more than a second away in third place. Quickest man on the track was Manfred Möhr who got faster and faster as the track dried, setting a best lap of 1:35.6 as he caught up with Thompson but the Briton made the Ensign a little too wide to pass, the first four finishers were separated by 2.2 seconds at the flag. Lacarrau fell back to a distant fifth after being passed by Möhr and was chased home by Guitteny, Svensson, Williamson and Coulon who had a spin at the chicane. Final qualifier was Gallo who led home a sickly Maskell (whose cold was worse). Evans abandoned the Puma in the pits on lap 11 deciding it was uncompetitive, Lafosse was in trouble with an overheating engine, Albera had to pit a couple of times with clutch problems and Giorgio hit the barrier at Casino and retired.
Yet again the drivers were faced with a wet but drying track and there was a last minute panic for Dave Walker who was suffering from oil on his rear brakes from a cracked oil cooler, the car was jacked up and run with the brakes on to burn the oil away. Paul Frère dropped the flag and the two Alpines made a demon getaway from the second row with Depailler leading Jabouille at the end of the lap. Behind these two a long train followed consisting of Walker, Naddeo, Sutcliffe, Möhr, Compain, Rossi, Thompson, Lacarrau, Svensson, Guitteny, Lagier, Lewis, Qvarnstrom, Fossati, Coulon, Williamson, Goss and Gallo. Gallo had been as high as eighth but spun at the Gasometer delaying himself and several other runners, he then hit the wall at Beau Rivage ending his race for good. Also in trouble was Bernard Lagier who had to pit with a sticking throttle. Back at the front Walker wasn’t to be denied, he passed Jabouille on lap 2 and Depailler on lap 3 taking Naddeo with him. Depailler fought back and retook Naddeo for a lap until the Tecno driver got ahead again and this time made it stick. Jabouille fell further back when both Sutcliife and Möhr caught and passed him and he now found himself fighting off the attentions of Steve Thompson. Möhr fell to the back of the field when he had to make a pit stop with a flat front tyre and Compain retired his Martini with a broken rear wishbone as did team mate Coulon only his damage was to the front suspension.
Thompson now made his move and passed Jabouille and Sutcliffe whose motor was beginning to sound rough. Sutcliffe still held sixth but Roger Williamson was storming up through the field, eighteenth at the end of lap 1 he was now seventh on lap 19 and closing on Sutcliffe fast. Svensson when passed by Williamson had sat on his tail and was now up to seventh ahead of Rossi.
At the finish it was Walker who took a comfortable victory from surprise man of the meeting Giancarlo Naddeo with Depailler in third. Thompson took fourth from Jabouille, Sutcliffe who held off the charging Williamson and Svensson whilst Guitteny made it ahead of Rossi on the last lap.