#65 1958 Argentine Grand Prix

2021-04-23 14:11

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#1958, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero, Simone Pietro Zazza,

#65 1958 Argentine Grand Prix

On Thursday, 16th January 1958, in London, the Daily Express newspaper publishes a photo of a Soviet racing car, with a very straight shape. It is a c


On Thursday, 16th January 1958, in London, the Daily Express newspaper publishes a photo of a Soviet racing car, with a very straight shape. It is a car, activated by an engine of 2500 cubic centimetres and six cylinders, which is as powerful as a Ferrari, Maserati, B.R.M. or Vanwall. At the wheel of the Russian car, which is called Kharkov 6, there is the driver Vassili Nikitin. On the mile course – generically affirms the Daily Express – this Soviet racing car would have kept the average speed of 283 km/h. This suggests that the maximum speed of the car can be 320 km/h. The Russian has never competed in a race but judging by the photo he is now ready to challenge the best teams of the world. Russia has recently joined the international federation of Automobile, and the president of the Automobile Club of Moscow, Mr Vinogiad, has declared that the Soviet Union is ready to join lots of international races in 1958. The Russian racing cars, as published by the English newspaper, are going to join races in Europe or in Great Britain. Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, the European cars are ready to compete at the Gran Prix of Argentina. Of the British drivers, only Moss, with a very humble Cooper, will try to oppose to the Italian cars. For the twelfth consecutive year, it is Argentina’s turn to open the Championship. It started in 1947, when for the first time after World War II, the European drivers crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the series of trials called the Temporada. That year won Luigi Villoresi on Maserati, Varzi was second on an old Alfa Romeo, and Fangio, who had to be the greatest Fangio, started to draw the attention of the experts racing on a small Simca-Gordini.


And, since that day, Varzi became the famous expert in chueco. But, in 1947, it was not already a World Championship, which started its definitive cycle three years after. Today, the Temporada is necessary, and with its two most important trials launches every year the World Championships of Formula 1 and sport cars. This time, however, nothing seemed to be right. It is remembered that the Argentinian races were in doubt until a month before since the economic difficulties that the organizers could not overcome. It may also be added that Maserati announced the will to retire form racing. But the Argentinian Automobile Club found the right amount of money, Ferrari guaranteed the sending of the official crew, and between Fangio and his manager Giambertone, they created a South American team with the materials disposed by Maserati. One way or another, the duel between the two Italian teams was guaranteed. Except that Formula 1 (that is the regulations that control the mechanical means that join the Grands Prix) underwent from the 1st January 1958 an apparently not so relevant change, but crucial: the requirement of use of fuel that can be found in commerce, instead of the usual blends of methanol and benzol. This innovation implies huge technical difficulties, since it entails the complete review of the volumetric and thermic regime of engines built for special fuels. The problem, solved by Ferrari and Maserati, put instead Vanwall in trouble, whose direct injection engine seems to have lost even forty horsepower. So, the English constructor (like the compatriot B.R.M.) had to postpone the debut on spring.


But the British Royal Automobile Club had in the meantime stuck to an incredible quibble, asking the international federation of Automobile not to consider valid for the championship neither the Argentinian Gran Prix nor the 1000 Kilometres, since, being the race in doubt until the end, the British teams did not find it appropriate to speed up the preparation times. But more astonishing is the fact that the FIA agreed to discuss the question on 20th January 1958, in Monte Carlo. So, the precious points gained by Ferrari and Maserati for the world title, if the common sense and a minimum of sporting honesty do not triumph, could result useless. This is the political picture of the Temporada, which consists of the Argentinian Gran Prix for Formula 1 cars, the 1000 Kilometres on 19th January 1958 for sportscars, and the Buenos Aires Gran Prix on 2nd February 1958, for Formula 1 cars, but not valid for the world championship. As it was said, at the opening race Ferrari – that after the decision of FIA threatened to retire the team – participates with three cars equipped with six-cylinder engines and the drivers Musso, Collins and Hawthorn. Fangio, Menditeguy, Behra and Schell will drive the Maserati of the south American team or privately. Moss will drive a humble Cooper. So, the interest is practically only technical, due to two novelties: the entry into force of a change in the Formula 1 cars and the debut of the six-cylinder Ferrari. Ferrari introduces the ancestor of the Dino family, the 246, developed starting from the 156 F2 from the previous year. The new Dino 246, however, seems to struggle a lot especially adapting to the various circuits. As it is known, the current Formula 1, which is due on 31st December 1960, calls for the adoption of engine sizes of a maximum of 2500 centimetres without the supercharger, or 750 cubic centimetres with the supercharger. This last solution was not chosen by any team. Until 1957 the fuel was free, and it consisted of a blend of methanol and benzol, if not explosive components. 


Now the same fuel for everyone is required, that is common fuel. The transformation of the engines operating with special blends in engine operating with common fuel entails the overcoming of difficulties, and the main consequence, at least in these first years, consists of less power for the engine. It seems, against the satisfying results obtained by the Italian teams during the change of the engines, that both Vanwall and B.R.M. failed in finding a solution. And this, by the way, is the real reason why the British teams appeal to the aforementioned quibble. The retirement from racing of Maserati did not modify the situation, since the material from the Modena team has been bought by an Italian-Argentinian group that created the South American Scuderia, led by the World Champion Fangio, to whom Maserati directly gives the technical support. So, the traditional comparison between the two Modena brands is guaranteed, just like the possible balance of the values gives the race a lot of interest. An unknown element is then represented by the presence of Stirling Moss at the wheel of the English Cooper. This car could not disturb the Italian cars on high-speed circuits, but thanks to its lightness and manoeuvrability, and to the class of Moss, on Buenos Aires circuit, short, rough, not so quick, can represent a danger. The drivers must race for eighty laps around the 3,912-metre long circuit, equal to 313 kilometres. Other than the Ferrari drivers already mentioned, and the reigning World champion, Behra, Schell, Scarlatti, Godia, Gould, Menditeguy are joining the race, everybody on Maserati. Another relevant novelty is the decrease of the duration of the Gran Prix: now the drivers will race for three hundred kilometres and not five hundred, with a resulting decrease of the total time, that is now of two hours and not like before, when the races lasted also more than three hours; the cars with smaller tanks, obviously, gain an important advantage from this change. 


At the end of the qualification round, unrolled as usual during the days before the Gran Prix, Fangio takes pole position, followed by Hawthorn, Collins, Behra and Musso: the first five drivers are within less than a second. Menditeguy, Moss, Schell, Godia and Gould complete the grid of only ten drivers. At the start, given at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, 19th January 1958, Behra leads and on his wake pursue Fangio and Hawthorn, while Collins’ Ferrari does not even start the race due to the break of an axle shaft. Moss takes advantage of the chaos at the start, and he is incredibly in third place with his Cooper. Supported by his compatriots on the stands, Fangio performs a furious comeback and only after ten laps is leading again. Meanwhile, Hawthorn gets past Behra and he is in second place, but the great surprise of the day is Moss, who, even though with a potentially inferior car, overtakes Behra and then Hawthorn, who is losing oil pressure, so he is going to the pits to check up the situation, becoming the first follower of Fangio after twenty-one laps. The game seems done for Fangio, who is leading alone the race with an advantage of sixteen seconds. Vice versa, during the thirty-fourth lap, the Argentinian champion must pit to change the rear tyres after losing a tread. This is the right opportunity for Stirling Moss who, meanwhile, saving his lightness car, just tailgated the first ones. Back on track, the Argentinian starts to set record laps, but the gap with the leadership is too big to be filled. Moreover, the engine of his Maserati will start soon to show signs of weariness, like Behra’s car, because, although they seem to be very quick, they start suffering from overheating, which is not surprising remembering the fact that these engines were originally built to use alcohol, which is refreshing, while the Ferrari engine and the Climax one are specifically built for the 130 octane fuel. Against all odds, Moss is leading with his Cooper-Climax, showing in addition a remarkable race pace. Meanwhile, after a not brilliant start, Musso goes back to second place, also passing Hawthorn. After fifty-five laps, Moss leads with an advantage of thirty seconds on Musso, so the mechanics in the pits advise him to save the tyres, and Moss must slow down. 


The advantage of Moss seems enough to prevent Musso from recovering, but the pace of the Italian driver is excellent and the gap between the drivers reduces considerably and constantly. Even Musso can close the gap and attack Moss, but from the pits he is not informed immediately, so the Roman driver understands too late to have a wonderful chance of triumph. Musso takes his Ferrari to the limit, but Moss crosses the finishing line in first place, with an advantage of only 2.7 seconds. Hawthorn completes the podium, followed by Juan Manuel Fangio, disappointed but worthy of an incredible comeback, ended ahead of Behra, Schell, Menditeguy, Godia e Gould. Against every logical prediction, Stirling Moss wins on the British car Cooper. The challenge is since Moss’s Cooper is the only car to have defeated Ferrari - officially entered the competition with its new 2500 - and the thick lot of drivers on Maserati. This Cooper consists of an absolute new feature. It has an 2200-cc engine, 300 less than Ferrari and Maserati, and a weight of only 590 kg. Despite knowing the value of Moss, who on the same circuit the year before already set the lap record, it was unlikely to think that he could dominate in this circumstance. It must also be noted that the unexpected victory of Moss now creates a paradoxical fact: the British Royal Automobile Club before the race complained asking that the Gran Prix of Argentina was not considered valid for the Formula 1 World Championship. Speaking of the unexpected success of the British driver, it is interesting to report a controversy that would have been born at the end of the competition between the Ferrari driver, Musso and the directors and the technician of Ferrari. Musso would have complained because they did not report to him in a logical way the gaps from Moss. Gaps that were going to decrease considerably in the last laps, due to the reduced efficiency of the Cooper of the British driver and the degradation of the tyres. Musso has indeed declared to have pushed down only when he saw in front of him - a few kilometres before the finishing line - the rear of the British car.


"If I had been notified by the pits in time of the decrease of my disadvantage, I would have thrown myself to the chase of Moss with a different decision".


Ferrari managers, instead, criticized their driver for being distracted during the key moment of the race, adding that, if he awoke before, he would have caught up and overtook Moss. It remains the consideration that Musso had, ten laps before the end, thirty seconds of delay from Moss and that he recovered ten, making him actor of the comeback only five laps before the end of the race. There was a mistake obviously, from one side or another, and it cost a lot. Almost confirming the above, it has to be remembered that, in Buenos Aires, the winner, Moss, declares at the end of the race:


"I have never been so surprised in my life. I was worried not to even finish the race. During the sixtieth lap, I slowed down the pace for fear of finishing the race with the tyres in uncertain condition. I had a good advantage, and from the pits I was informed of how many seconds I was ahead of the chaser. I did the last ten laps at a further reduced pace. It was then that I realised that Musso could take from me five seconds per lap".


The win of Moss in the Argentinian Gran Prix, apart from surprising the winner, goes on creating rumours in the whole world. Desire of revenge from the Italians, praises, naturally from the British who have their driver’s ability detected, recognising although sportingly how Musso was defeated for less than three seconds, interest in Buenos Aires, where it is underlined the importance of the first race of the Formula 1 World Championship. Stirling Moss himself will tell some years after:


"We knew it was going to be a difficult race. Due to the warm and the conditions, we also knew that everyone had to stop to change the tyres. So, I said to Alf Francis, that I did not want to do it. It was our only chance to win the race".


Moss also tells how he was able to play guile with his rivals since the night before:


"I do not remember if the Cooper had four or five bolts, but anyway Ferrari had quick release hubs and they would have been able to change all the tyres quicker than us. At that time, I would have lost two or three seconds with the change of the tyres. The night before the race, I made a big fuss about this, telling the others how lucky they were because their tyre change was quicker than mine".


Hence, tells the British driver, no one worried about his solitary break, after Fangio entered the pits:


"I don’t think the others were too worried for this, because they knew that at the end I had to stop".


Apart from convincing them of this, Alf Francis from time to time dangled a wheel over the pit wall, to remember his driver that he had to change his tyres, and Moss sent him a sign of gratitude. The problems of fuel pressure delayed Hawthorn in the pits and the Maserati were forced to slow down the pace, because it started to be too hot, but Musso raced hardly in second place and a Ferrari win still seemed a formality.


"I did all the possible to protect the car. The kerbs were low in some parts of the circuit and, where possible, I was deliberately racing on the grass attempting to cool down the tyres. I could see that the front tyres consumed until the canvas, so the thins were almost frightening".


When the chequered flag waved on the winner, Moss crossed the finishing line with only 2.7 seconds of advantage on Musso. But this, most of all, is the first success in the Formula 1 World Championship for a racing car with rear engine.


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