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#33 1954 Argentine Grand Prix

2021-04-12 17:30

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#1954, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Monica Bessi, Simone Pietro Zazza,

#33 1954 Argentine Grand Prix

On 17th January 1954, on the Buenos Aires circuit, the first Grand Prix of the fifth Formula 1 season takes place. The Buenos Aires track, 3912 meters

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On January 17, 1954, at the Buenos Aires circuit, the first Grand Prix of the fifth Formula 1 season takes place. The Buenos Aires track, 3912 metres long, called Autodromo de 17 de October [17th October circuit, NdT], is the scenery of a race, which is a timed race scheduled for three hours. A few days before, on January 14, 1954, aboard the Italian transatlantic Giulio Cesare, the Ferraris, the Maseratis and the Giordinis arrive in Buenos Aires to take part in the Grand Prix, which will inaugurate the 1954 season. Local authorities bring on platforms many trucks that will carry the cars to the circuit, where mechanics will immediately work to allow drivers to use them. These preparations take all day long, leaving little time for the official practices, which are valid for qualifying for Sunday’s race. Technicians and mechanics are at the port waiting for the racecars, the first item to leave the cargo bay with priority, for direct involvement of the race organisers, since only few hours remain for practices, engine check, choice of ratios in proportions of the circuit characteristics and the determination of the fuel mixture suitable for the local atmospheric conditions. In the minds of the mechanics there is the desire to hurry and not to waste a minute. Drivers and mechanics fight over the cars: the ones to become familiar with them when they drive at 200 km/h, the others for scanning all the mechanisms in every particular detail, hear closely the sound of the engine (heartbeat of the engine) and operate skillfully and thoughtfully, if something does not work properly. However, two practice days are not enough, even though the circuit was the same as the previous year and drivers already know it, but that goes up to a certain point, since the track is now clockwise.

 

That choice results from an emergency measure, motivated by prudential reasons, to avoid the dangerousness of a tricky corner which, handling it as in 1953, could turn out to be concerning both for drivers and spectators. In terms of driving, the drivers do not fear the change: some laps will be sufficient for finding their way around and the right confidence. More serious and alarming will be the loss of time, essential for the development of the cars; some of them, like the new Maseratis, could finish the race after some laps, due to banal issues such as the long and late ocean crossing. This first round of the 1954 World Championship has a strange and confusing appearance of haste, hustle and improvisation, also because of the absence of Ascari and Villoresi, who remained in Italy to wait for the arrival of the new team to which they have moved. The Argentinian public did not seem to be impatient for this event. It should be considered that, in the previous years, the rivalry was between Italians and Argentinians, while this year the attendance is divided in two sides: one for the Maserati driver, Juan Manuel Fangio, and one for José Froilán González, who participates in the race with his own Ferrari, but assisted by the same Scuderia. People are also focused on the battle between the Ferraris, with Farina, Hawthorn and Maglioli, and the Maseratis of Fangio, Marimon, Musso and Bira, given that Ferrari goes on track with the car called 250F, powered by a De Dion rear axle and a 6C engine with three carburetors, capable of deliver a total power of 250 horsepowers on 7500 laps each minute. With a total weight of 650 kg, the Maserati aims to threaten Ferrari dominance. Ascari does not collaborate, following his unexpected and clamorous divorce from Ferrari and the now almost certain passage to the Lancia, for which he should race with sport cars at the start of the season.

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It is not a mystery that Lancia is preparing the most advanced and original Formula 1 car, which will start experimenting at the end of the winter. On the same level of preparation there is the Mercedes-Benz W196, which should debut in the late spring. Rumours say that another race car is arriving from Russia: a project that is on an advanced and satisfying construction. On Friday, January 15, 1954, free practices take place. In the morning, Giuseppe Farina sets the best time of 1'48"2, followed by Fangio and Hawthorn, who lap in 1’48’’8. An excellent result, because it is a first practice, since the cars have arrived in Buenos Aires only 21 hours before the event. Before the end of free practice, Luigi Musso sets a time of 1'49"4, confirming the fourth place and improving the time registered. The first practice on the track confirmed what was predictable and logical: González, Fangio and Farina immediately emerged among the fastest. In the afternoon, the Argentinean enters the scene with his own Ferrari, a new car he bought as soon as he left Maserati, because of a bitter rivalry with his compatriot Fangio. González puts everyone under pressure, forcing Farina and Fangio to go faster and at the end of the practices, but the Argentinian driver is the fastest on the grid. Umberto Maglioli decides not to go flat out on the first practice day, choosing to preserve the car for qualifying. However, on January 16, 1954, with 31° C, Farina breaks the lap record, setting a time of 1'44"8, followed by González (1'44"9) and Fangio (1'45"6). The others in order are Hawthorn with a Ferrari and Trintignant with a private car, while Marimon and Musso are on the sixth and seventh place, Bira is tenth, Maglioli sixteenth and Bayol, Loyer and Behra Giordinis are 6 seconds behind the leader, and are not a threat for the Ferraris and Maseratis.

 

Sunday, January 17, 1954, against the initial expectations, 150,000 spectators watch the Argentinian Grand Prix; among them, in the official grandstand, there is the President of the Republic of Argentina Juan Domingo Peron. An imposing and very strict security service is set up on the track, ready to avoid a repetition of the accidents that in 1953 had deprived a dozen spectators of their lives. For this reason, Giuseppe Farina, who had to race with the number 12, the same as the previous year, asked and obtained the number 10 for good luck. At 4:00 p.m., with a hot temperature due to the Argentinian summer and despite of the cloudy weather and the rain incoming, it is lights out and the sixteen cars start racing, since Luigi Musso and Menditeguy, the Argentinian polo ace, who had to alternate at the wheel of a Maserati, do not start the race. One of the newest Maserati 250F, precisely the Marimon one, failed during practices, thus Musso and Menditeguy had to give their car to him. At the start, Giuseppe Farina maintains the lead, followed by Fangio, Hawthorn and González, while a hundred metres away there are Marimon, Behra, Trintignant, Rosier and Maglioli. Luis Rosier is the protagonist of a scary U-turn with his Ferrari during the first lap: the French driver will have to retire, while the Ferrari drivers start to dictate the pace and, one by one, overtake the Maseratis. On the following laps, González takes the lead, then Farina regains his place, but the Argentinian attacks Farina and overtakes him again, meanwhile Hawthorn manages to overtake Fangio, without distancing himself from the Maserati driver. It seems to be the introduction of the Scuderia Ferrari success, but in the course of the thirteenth lap it begins to rain: consequently, González decides to pit for a while, to try protecting his face from the rain. On the following laps, the Argentinian driver takes the lead, setting also the best lap time. On this first phase of the race, the pace of the first four drivers (González, Farina, Hawthorn and Fangio) is so high that, on the twenty-fifth lap, the other racers are already lapped.

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On the thirty-fourth lap, Hawthorn overtakes Farina, taking the second position, behind González. After two laps, Farina loses a minute for changing the previous tyres with non-slip tyres. He restarts fourth, behind the leader Hawthorn, González and Fangio. Despite that, the excessive rush betrays Hawthorn, who, on the thirty-eighth lap spins with his Ferrari going out of the track, without destroying the car. After that, Hawthorn comes back on track and retakes his fourth place; but, this time, the Ferrari driver is helped by some of his spectators to put the car back on track, which is not allowed by regulations. Hawthorn, at the moment of the incident, had eighteen seconds of advantage on Fangio, who had just overtook González. On the fortieth lap, Fangio is leading, followed by his compatriot and by the Ferraris of Farina and Hawthorn. After the retirements of Daponte for his gearbox, Loyer for a drop in oil pressure, during the nineteenth lap, and Mieres for a oil leak on the thirty-seventh lap, on the forty-eighth Marimon is obliged to stop because of a Maserati engine failure. After two laps, González takes the first position, after Fangio has stopped for changing his tyres. In the pits, the change of tyres is operated by five Maserati mechanics, not three as the regulations impose, letting the Argentinian driver save some precious seconds. Farina, who is desperately chasing Fangio, manages to overtake him and takes the lead, benefitting from González’s drift on the wet track and creating a gap of over a minute from the Maserati driver. However, after the sixty-sixth lap, Fangio overtakes González and Farina, between the enthusiasm of the Argentinian public, since that the Ferrari sporting director informs Farina to slow down and not to worry about the Maserati driver, because of the dangerousness of a wet road surface, which forced some drivers into a mistake. In the meantime, Nello Ugolini, Ferrari sporting director, goes to the race director, who has been pointed out about Fangio infringement and makes him write it down. He is Argentinian, with German origins, and dedicated, immovable, unwavering on his statement:

 

"Argentinians go crazy for Fangio and also that director is Varzi’s pupil, but the sport enthusiasm is one thing and the law is another thing, even in sport. Our Fangio has made a mistake. I will repeat my statement also in front of President Peròn. The infringement is undoubted: article 20 of the international regulation".

 

Farina and Ferrari have the victory in hand, since the disqualification of the Maserati Argentinian driver appears certain because of regulation abuse. On the following laps, Fangio improves even more, winning in front of Farina and González, after covering a distance of eighty-seven laps. It is clear that rain has not permitted very high speeds, since in 1953 Alberto Ascari, with a Ferrari powered by a 500 cm3 engine, managed to achieve a greater distance, ninety-seven laps. As tradition, at the end of the race, the Argentinian driver receives the winner’s laurel, before being brought to the official gallery where he gets the prize from the President Peròn, while the national flag is raised on the flagpole of the track. After completing the run, Ugolini asks the jury President:

 

"Fangio is disqualified; Farina won the race, right?”

 

And the President replies:

 

"But if the regulations say that the driver could be disqualified, it does not make it an obligation".

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The jury rejects the complaint, pointing out that the article 20 (on the Argentinian document) says that a driver who has been helped by more than three mechanics could be disqualified. For this reason, code in hand, the jury let Fangio race, for the joy and enthusiasm of the tide of the public of Buenos Aires. Ugolini is desperate. The Ferrari sporting director shows the judge the French regulation, where there is written, according to article 20, that the driver has to be disqualified if he commits an infringement as the one made by Fangio’s team. The Argentinian-German director is called again and he repeats, emotionless and quiet, his statement. There is no way that the jury changes its mind. Ugolini does not agree. On Monday, January 18, 1954 Ferrari makes a complaint against Fangio appealing to the Sports Committee, especially given the fact that Mike Hawthorn was disqualified because, going off on the thirty-eighth lap, he was helped by some spectators to put the car back on track, something not allowed by regulations. Ferrari’s complaint is discussed by the Automobile Club Sports Committee in the meeting of February 11, 1954. In this meeting, the race director and three A.C.A. marshalls, the GP organiser, show a report. Ferrari sporting director, Nello Ugolini, commenting his complaint against Fangio’s win, declares:

 

"I’m sad for the action I made against the Maserati, but the international regulations are clear and, on a race counting for the world championship, we want to enforce them. The superiority demonstrated until that moment by our cars cannot doubt the reasons for our protest".

 

Meanwhile, in Turin, on Wednesday, January 20, 1954, Ascari and Villoresi complete the agreements with Lancia. The Racing Club 19, the Turinese association of sports cars, during an event, welcomes the two new drivers: world champion Alberto Ascari and his friend Luigi Villoresi. Here, Racing Club 19 directors look forward to one of Marzotto brothers who, at first, is supposed to join the Lancia team. The sports program gets announced the next day, at a press conference held in the headquarter of the team, in Corso Vittorio Emanuele 65. First of all, Attorney-General Attilio Pasquavelli makes clear that the contract of the reigning world champion Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi was signed that morning. They signed a commitment for the whole year, both for sports competitions and Formula 1 Grand Prix. In addition, engineer Piero Taruffi, the French driver Robert Manzon, the young and promising Milanese driver Eugenio Castellotti and the Turinese Gino Valenzano join Lancia, while Fangio’s contract has not already been signed. The Argentinian is in Buenos Aires, where Sunday, January 24 and 31, he participates in two races with Maserati cars. The program is the following: his participation in the most important races of the 1954 World Sportscar Championship, as the Mille Miglia, the 24h of Le Mans and the Mexican Carrera, without aiming for the world champion title in that category.

 

Such confidentiality is understandable, because programs and intentions depend on the evolution and development of things. In fact, Lancia soon engages in World Sportscar Championship, dealing with the long travel to US for racing in Sebring on March 7, in the 12 hours, the second race of the championship already mentioned (the first takes place on Sunday in Buenos Aires, where the Ferrari, Maserati, Jaguar and Aston Martin drivers takes part). Lancia cars, intended for Sebring, leave on February 18, from Cherbourg port accompanied by mechanics and technicians, while the drivers follow by plane. Engineer Gianni Lancia announces that he borrowed two touring cars and two Grand Touring cars. The technical details of the cars are secret. It is said, however, that Gianni Lancia has made a difference on the projects of the newest car. The first tests, in February, reveal something more. For this moment, they speak about a very large V-shaped 8 cylinders engine, with 2500 cubic centimetres engine capacity. But on this subject, the prosecutor Pasquarelli entrenches himself behind an absolute silence. There are also talks about a possible signing of Juan Manuel Fangio as teammate of Ascari and Villoresi in the future competitions; the Argentinian driver is expected in Turin twenty days later, after he finishes the Argentinian races’ series. Then it will be known whether this is only a rumour or whether this is true, but first of all there will be the response of the complaints made by the Ferrari sporting director.


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