Two weeks after the tragic Spanish Grand Prix in which Rolf Stommelen’s car flew over the barriers, seriously injuring him and killing five spectators after the rear wing of his Hill had snapped, the Formula 1 World Championship arrived in Monaco. As always after huge accidents, a mood of fear hung over the track. Some did not want to race in the Principality, another street circuit like Barcelona, but Michel Boeri, the president of the Monaco Automobile Club, reassured everyone: the circuit had been resurfaced in various areas, an extra layer of guard rail had been added, there was new catch fencing and the crane system for removing cars had been improved. In the end, only 18 cars, instead of the usual 25, would be allowed to start the race. These assurances, together with the fact that the average speeds at Monaco were much lower than those at Montjuic, ensured that all the big names lined up for the most glamorous weekend of the year.
Scuderia Ferrari arrived at Monaco with the new 312 T designed by Mauro Forghieri. The car had made its debut in South Africa, where Lauda had finished fourth, but it seemed destined to dominate the Spanish Grand Prix, until disaster struck at the first corner, when, after starting from the front row, the two cars from Maranello were shoved into one another by Mario Andretti and Vittorio Brambilla who had lost control of their cars in the fight for third place. After four races, Emerson Fittipaldi in the McLaren was leading the championship on 15 points, ahead of the two Brabhams of Carlos Pace and Carlos Reutemann who were both on 12. Regazzoni and Lauda were eighth and ninth with six and five points, while Ferrari was fourth in the Constructors’ on 8.
Free practice and qualifying took place on Thursday and Friday, while Saturday was reserved for the prestigious Formula 3 Grand Prix. Niki Lauda took pole position, being the only man capable of lapping in under 1 minute 27 seconds. The Austrian posted a 1.26.40, six tenths better than Englishman Tom Pryce, who was surprisingly second in the Shadow. Regazzoni lined up in sixth position with a time of 1.27.55. The grid of only 18 cars brought the curtain down on a legend. At the age of 46, Graham Hill, known as “Mr. Monaco” because of his five wins in the Principality, stood in the for the injured Stommelen in his own car, but failed to qualify. He went out on track one last time for a lap of honour before the British Grand Prix on July 19.
On the Sunday morning, the drivers didn’t even have to look out of the window to know that it was raining: at nine o’clock in the morning it poured down, more like winter weather than a spring storm. Just before three o’clock, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace entered the royal box and, as though out of respect, the skies cleared. The track however was still very wet and everyone started on wet tyres. In order to avoid any accidents, the cars on the first two rows lined up out of order, one behind the other, almost forming a line of four cars. The strategy worked because Lauda, Price, Jean-Pierre Jarier in the second Shadow, and the Swede Ronnie Peterson in the Lotus, dealt with the Ste. Devote corner without problems.
Jarier passed Pryce on the first lap and was attacking Lauda but then crashed at Tabac corner, while at the port chicane, Regazzoni crashed into Brambilla. On lap 14, the sun came out and the track started to dry. The first drivers to change to dry tyres were those at the back who were hoping to move up the order, while Lauda waited until the lap 24. The Scuderia mechanics did as usual a great job stop, especially in Monaco’s narrow and crowded pit lane. After all the pit stops, Lauda led by a big margin, albeit because Peterson had lost time after one of the wheelnuts had ended up under the car during the pit stop. The Austrian led Fittipaldi, Pace and Peterson, knowing that the race would end after the usual two hour time limit. Lauda did not take any risks and towards the end he slowed down so much that his Brazilian rival almost caught him up, but he crossed the finish line first, having dominated the race. The mechanics were celebrating in the pits and, caught up in the enthusiasm, sporting director Luca di Montezemolo jumped over the wall, accidentally punching Regazzoni who, worried the Italian might hurt himself, was trying to hold him back.
The celebrations were not unwarranted: the Scuderia had won again in the Principality 20 years after their only other victory, courtesy of Maurice Trintignant in 1955. Additionally, Lauda and Ferrari had got themselves back in the title fight and confirmed that the 312 T was a contender and that its engine, the flat 12 with pistons made by the German company Mahle, was able to excel at the faster tracks as well as the slower ones.