Motorsport

Balls Remembers: When An Irishman Nearly Won The 1982 Monaco Grand Prix

Balls Remembers: When An Irishman Nearly Won The 1982 Monaco Grand Prix

You'd think that, of all of the Formula 1 races you would want to win, Monaco would surely be pretty high up on that list. At the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix, it appeared that the opposite was true - and an Irishman came within a lap of scoring an unlikely win at F1's most famous race.

Derek Daly came from Stillorgan in Dublin, and attended the same school that would later see Paul Mannion, David Gillick, and Richie Sadlier pass through its doors. He saw great success in national racing championships, before moving abroad to compete in Formula Two in the late 70s.

By 1980 he had made it to his first full Formula One season, and he took two impressive 4th-placed finishes that year, in Argentina and Brazil. That year, though, it was in Monaco that he had his most memorable moment, with a spectacular first-corner crash that stopped the field in their tracks.

Monaco has always been a notoriously difficult track to drive on, with its narrow, winding streets, and even the world's greatest drivers have gotten it wrong there. Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, and Lewis Hamilton have all crashed out of the lead in Monte-Carlo - so you could forgive a youngster like Daly losing it on the narrow streets.

Fast forward two years, and Daly arrived in the Principality with the Williams team that had won the 1980 World Championship. It had been a contentious and tragic season, with a mass boycott of April's San Marino Grand Prix followed by the tragic death of Ferrari driver Gilles Villeneuve at the Belgian Grand Prix. Just two weeks after Villeneuve's death, the teams arrived in Monaco - Ferrari deciding only to run one car in memory of the late Canadian.

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It was a stacked field, with world champions Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet, as well as future champions Nigel Mansell, Keke Rosberg, and Alain Prost. Dubliner Daly showed well in qualifying, putting his car eighth on the grid, ahead of Lauda, Piquet, and Mansell.

Prost's Renault teammate led early on, before spinning at the swimming pool section and handing the lead to Prost. The Frenchman would stay there for nearly sixty laps, and on lap 74 of 76 the finish line was in sight when disaster struck. Rain had started to fall and he spun at the chicane, ploughing into the wall and ending his race.

Italian Riccardo Patrese took over in the lead of the race, with Daly now running in a very handy fourth place. Astonishingly, Patrese would hold the lead for less than a lap, as he spun on oil coming towards the iconic Station Hairpin, handing P1 to the sole Ferrari of Didier Pironi.

It was utter chaos in the closing stages of what had been a quiet Grand Prix - but there was more in store on the final lap. With Ferrari having experienced engine issues all weekend, their mechanics faced a nervous watch on the 76th and final tour, and their worst fears were realised when Pironi's car came juddering to a halt in the tunnel.

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The circumstances were outrageous. Pironi was the fourth different driver to give up the lead, and the third in the space of under two laps. The TV directors quickly shot to second-placed man Andrea de Cesaris, who's car had amazingly also broken down, meaning all eyes were now on Daly.

Having run a steady race for the previous 73 laps, Daly - a lap down on the other leaders - made a mistake at the worst possible time. With a first ever Formula One win in sight, the cameras picked up the Irishman limping around the final few corners with half of his front wing and all of his rear wing missing, and he was forced to pull into the pits and retire.

It later transpired that, away from the chaos, Daly had in fact crashed moments before Prost and had simply attempted to limp around the track with his front wing hanging off and oil leaking from his gearbox - perhaps the oil that led to Patrese's spin at the hairpin. Just as he was about to inherit the lead, the car gave up the ghost and he could go no further.

The unbelievable scenes unfolding on track led to the now immortal line from 1976 World Champion James Hunt, who was on commentary duty for the BBC:

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We've got this ridiculous situation - we're all sitting here by the start-finish line waiting for a winner to come past, and we don't seem to be getting one!

All of the shenanigans, spins, and mechanical failures meant that by the time Pironi stopped in the tunnel Patrese - who had spun from the lead on the penultimate lap - had managed to get his car going again, and took the lead. He was the odd one out, as he managed to hold the lead right until the end and took the chequered flag to win the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix.

It was a farcical and hilarious end to an otherwise bland race, but a timely reminder to never leave a sporting event early. For Daly, that was as close as he would ever come to winning a Formula 1 Grand Prix, though he went on to take a 4th place finish at the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans - and he had one of the best ever F1 car liveries in the 1981 March car.

The 1982 Monaco Grand Prix was sandwiched by race wins for Northern Ireland's John Watson, and there was a chance for a once-in-a-lifetime three-in-a-row for Irish drivers, but sadly it was not to be in Monte Carlo. Though a very talented driver, it just wasn't to be for Derek Daly in Monaco in 1982.

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Eoin Harrington

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