One off Grand Prix winners: Jean Pierre Beltoise, Monaco 1972
Some say that winning your first Grand Prix is one of the most difficult aspects of being a successful GP driver, but over the next few weeks we will showcase seven drivers from the 1970′s who might argue that getting your second win is the really hard part…….
In the late 1960s ex motorcycle racer, Jean Pierre Beltoise was seen as the next great hope of French motorsport. With Matra winning titles due to its links with Ken Tyrrell’s F1 team, there was a huge push to give France it’s first world champion driver. But by 1972 JPB’s star had started to wfade. Other French drivers were coming to the fore thanks to a huge sponsorship programme from Elf Petroleum, Beltoise’s results had been disappointing during his three seasons at Matra, he had had his racing license suspended following Ignazio Giunti’s fatal accident in the 71 Buenos Aires 1000kms sportscar race and some were even questioning his fitness to drive an F1 car due to a “withered arm”, the result of a near fatal sportscar accident in 1963. To cap it all, Beltoise was now driving a Marlboro BRM with fuel supplied by British Petroleum.
The only thing that seemed different when the GP circus arrived in town for the 72 Monaco GP was the circuit layout. For this year only the pits were sited by the side of the harbour just after the site of the chicane, a new chicane being installed further down the road, just before Tabac (a new section of track would appear the following year to incorporate the Swimming Pool section and La Rascasse hairpin). Then Saturday’s practice was halted by rain and at lunchtime on race day the rain returned. Incessant rain. Pouring rain. Rivers of water running down the hill toward Ste Devote.At the start of the race Beltoise made an incredible start to take the lead from 4th on the grid. As the only driver with a clear (ish) view, JPB started to pull away, but wait, who was behind him? Only the rain master himself, Jacky Ickx. Surely it was only a matter of time before the Ferrari overtook the BRM? It never happened. This was Jean Pierre’s day of days, the day he was firmly in the zone, the day that his BRM engine (less stressed by the wet race pace) didn’t blow up, the day that his withered arm didn’t have to fight against the heavy steering as the front tyres skimmed over the puddles, the day that Beltoise made everyone behind him (Ickx, Fittipaldi, Stewart) look decidedly average. On May 14th 1972 (my 15th birthday), Jean Pierre Beltoise was easily the best driver in the world. It would never happen again.
Beltoise continued with BRM for two more seasons through to (almost) the bitter end for the once great team, but neither would win another GP. Prior to the 1976 season he undertook much of the testing for the new Ligier team, but Jacques Lafitte was chosen to race the car. JPB turned his attention to touring cars and ice racing, enjoying considerable success, but nothing would ever compare to those two and a half hours in the Principality when he was simply the best.