The battle for the 1973 world championship moved to Monaco 40 years ago today. Reigning champion Emerson Fittipaldi and two-time title winner Jackie Stewart had won the five preceding races, and the contest on the streets of the principality was all about those two drivers.
Stewart took pole position in his Tyrrell 006. This was Monaco’s first race after the harbor front swimming pool had been built, which the cars dodged their way around via four new corners. That plus further changes elsewhere around the track added six seconds to the lap times.
It was the world champions’ team mates who led at the start. Stewart got away slowly when the lights changed and Francois Cevert in the other Tyrrell rocketed ahead from fourth, leading the field through Sainte Devote.
But Cevert picked up a puncture on the second lap, handing the lead to Fittipaldi’s team mate Ronnie Peterson. Nor did Peterson stay ahead for long: Stewart passed Regazzoni to take up second and by lap eight he had demoted Peterson to claim the lead.
Fittipaldi moved up to second and over the rest of the 78 laps he cut Stewart’s lead to just 1.3 seconds. The rest were lapped.
It was at the most glamorous event on the Formula One calendar that the Hesketh team chose to make its appearance with a March chassis entered for James Hunt. But the team headed by eccentric owner Lord Hesketh and driver with a reputation for being crash-prone was regarded as something of a punchline.
Hunt qualified the March in 18th place. Vomiting with nerves and suffering severe headaches, few would have suspected they were watching the Grand Prix debut of the man who would win the world championship just three years later, in a story which is the subject of a new movie by Ron Howard.
But Hunt mastered his Monaco jitters and had the car running inside the top six points scoring places until the engine died five laps from home. Monaco was the track where his F1 adventure began and, six years later, was also where it came to an end when he climbed from the cockpit for the last time.