The 12th edition of the Monaco Historic Grand Prix was not only mega-eye-candy for motorsport fans, it also provided some enthralling battles, the highlight being the duel between Jean Alesi and Marco Werner that ended in tears.
Race F, for Formula 1 cars that raced between 1973 and 1976, held its promises with Alesi, in a Ferrari 312B3 once driven by Niki Lauda, and Werner, in a two-year younger Lotus 77, who started from pole position.
But a fired-up Alesi took the lead at the first turn, Sainte Dévote, and lead during the 15 subsequent laps (out of 18) with Werner, a treble winner at Le Mans 24 Hours but never a Grand Prix driver, bobbing and weaving in his mirrors throughout.
It was a masterclass of defensive driving from Alesi, as the pair dug into their deep reservoirs of experience to slug it out in two iconic F1 race cars. This was far from a procession of shiny cars, these two like the front-runners in all the classes were there to race.
But with a couple of laps remaining, at Anthony-Noghès heading up the start/finish straight Alesi hugged the right wall as he shifted up the gears, Werner decided to go for it but the Lotus tagged the back of the Ferrari which sent it into the wall.
Alesi alighted the beautiful, but now bent, Red #27 car that served Lauda so well, and said: “When there is no space, you cannot pass! […Valtteri Bottas might have said to George Russell…]
“I am disappointed because I could do nothing to avoid hitting the wall. Also because we were having a great race, but I will be back next year,” added Alesi.
Afterwards, Werner was penalised and dropped to third place and refused to join in on the podium celebration. Michael Lyons ended up the winner, ahead of young Frenchman Julien Andlauer in a March 761 carrying Arturo Merzario’s name.
ACM Media reported: “Jean Alesi deserved to drink champagne on the podium, he lost it all at the end of a superb race but it was not his fault. He was disappointed but he will be back next year.
“He was cheered and applauded by drivers in the pits and fans in the grandstands when he made his way back to the paddock. He had led most of the race in an amazing manner, he had resisted all the assaults of a very excited Marco Werner who was perhaps too optimistic at the end.
“After the incident, Jean spoke to fellow driver Toni Seiler, who had just finished the same Race F, and recalled the Monaco GP in 1992, in which Ayrton Senna won for the fifth time on the streets of the Principality after defending until the finish line and closing all the doors to Nigel Mansell, who could never pass him.”
There were shades of that epic duel almost thirty years ago on the streets of Monaco this year, the only difference is the hunted ran out of patience and cost the two stars of the day a sure podium, and victory for either one of them.
Alesi first encountered the Ferrari 312B3 when contacted by the German owner of two out of six 312B3 built by Ferrari. Jean then tested the car in Fiorano and had a revelation… which led to the idea of driving it at the 12th Grand Prix de Monaco Historique.
The Ferrari 312B3 was of course the car that Lauda drove to pole position at Monaco, in 1974, and to his first two F1 wins in Spain and Holland that year. It also marked the revival of Ferrari under a young Luca di Montezemolo, after boss Enzo nearly pulled the plug on F1 to focus on sportscar racing at the time.
Lauda won the title with Ferrari in 1975 and 1977 having come desperately close in that remarkable 1976 season in which he nearly lost his life.
Alesi’s presence at Monaco in that glorious-sounding and looking Ferrari 312B3 was a tribute to one of F1’s greatest sons and knowing Niki he would have probably scolded him for breaking his car but would have tipped his hat to the feisty performance on the day by the Frenchman.