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 long, called Autodromo de 17 de October (17th October circuit), is the scenery of a race, which is a timed race scheduled for three hours. Few days earlier, on the 14th January 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, not allowing to have enough time available for the official tests, valid as qualification for the Sunday race. Technicians and mechanics are in 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 trainings, 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 mechanics there’s 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 doesn’t 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 attendance.
In terms of driving, the drivers don’t 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, which some of them, like the new Maseratis, could finish the race after some laps, due to banal disadvantages 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 didn’t seem to be impatient for this event.
It should be considered that, 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 go 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 doesn’t 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. It’s 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. Rumors say that another race car is arriving from Russia: a project that is on an advanced and satisfying construction.
On friday 15th January 1954, the free practice takes place. In the morning, Giuseppe Farina records the best time in 1’48’’2, followed by Fangio and Hawthorn, recording the time 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 records the time 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 entered 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, 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 the qualifying day.
However, on the 16th January 1954, with 31° C, Farina breaks the lap record, setting the time 1’44’’8, followed by González (1’44’’9) and Fangio (1’45’’6). The others in order are Hawthorn with 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, resulting not a threat for the Ferraris and Maseratis.
Sunday 17th January 1954, against the initial expectations, 150,000 spectators watch the Argentinian Grand Prix, among which, in the official grandstand, there is the Republic President 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 of the previous year, asked and obtained the number 10 for good luck.
At 4:00 pm, with a hot temperature due to the Argentinian summer and despite of the cloudy weather and the rain incoming, it’s light out and the sixteen cars start racing, since Luigi Musso and Menditeguy, the Argentinian polo ace, who had to alternate in the guide of a Maserati, don’t start the race. One of the newest Maserati 250F, precisely the Marimon one, failed during the practices, consequently 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 meters 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 be obliged 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, recording 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.
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 the track and retakes his fourth place; but, this time, the Ferrari driver is helped by some of his spectators to put back the car on track, which is not allowed by rule. Hawthorn, on the incident moment, 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. On the pit, the change of tyres is operated by five Maserati mechanics, not three as the rules impose, letting the Argentinian driver save some precious seconds. Farina, chasing desperately Fangio, manages to overtake him and takes the lead, benefitting from González drifter on the wet track and making over a minute of gap 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 Maserati driver, because of the dangerousness of a wet road surface, which forced some drivers into a mistake. In the meantime, Nello Ugolini, Ferrari’s sporting director, went to the race chief, who has been pointed out about Fangio infringement and made him write it down. He’s Argentinian, with German origins, and dedicated, immovable, unwavering on his statement:
"Argentinians go crazy for Fangio and also that chief is Varzi’s pupil, but the sport enthusiasm is one thing and the law is another thing, even in sport. Our Fangio has committed 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 evident that rain hasn’t 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 received 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:
"But if the rule says that the driver could be disqualified, it does not make it a obligation".
The jury rejects the complaint, pointing out that the article 20 (on the Argentinian document) says that could be disqualified a driver who has been helped by more than three mechanics. 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 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 chief is called again and he repeats, emotionless and quiet, his statement. There is no way that the jury changes its mind.
Ugolini doesn’t agree. On Monday 18th January 1954 Ferrari makes a complaint against Fangio appealing to the Sports Committee, especially given the fact that Mike Hawthorn has been disqualified because, going off on the thirty-eighth lap, he has been helped by some spectators to put the car back on track, something not allowed by rule. Ferrari’s complaint was discussed by the Automobile Club Sports Committee in the meeting of 11th February 1954. In this meeting, the race director and three A.C.A. marshalls, 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 rules talk straight 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 20th January 1954, Ascari and Villoresi complete the agreements with Lancia. The Racing Club 19, 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 scuderia, 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, the 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 24th and 31st January he participates in two races with Maserati cars. The program is the following: participation in the most important races of the 1954 World Sportscar Championship, as the 1,000 miles, the 24h of Le Mans and Maxican 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 the 7th March in the 12h, second race of the championship already mentioned (the first takes place on Sunday in Buenos Aires and participate Ferrari, Maserati, Jaguar and Aston Martin drivers). Lancia cars, intended for Sebring, start the 18th February from Cherbourg port accompanied by mechanics and technicians, while the drivers follow on the plane. The engineer Gianni Lancia announces that he borrows 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 centimeters 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 Villoresti 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.
Simone Pietro Zazza