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#49 1956 Argentine Grand Prix

2021-04-23 12:55

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#1956, Fulvio Conti, Simone Pietro Zazza, Translated by Matteo Liotta,

#49 1956 Argentine Grand Prix

In the first days of January, Modenese automotive manufacturers establish their complete schedule in view of the official participation to the Argenti

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In the first days of January, Modenese automotive manufacturers establish their complete schedule in view of the official participation to the Argentinian temporada, first race of the International automotive calendar. After having already sent in the previous days the cars to Buenos Aires by sea, on January 16th, 1956, Musso, Castellotti, Gendebien and Collins for Ferrari will take off from Ciampino airport, accompanied by Sports Manager Sculati and the mechanics, together with Behra from Maserati, with Sports Manager Nello Ugolini and engineer Alfieri, while Fangio, González and Menditeguy already are in Argentina and Maserati’s brand-new driver Stirling Moss, who is now in Australia, will join his teammates on his own. Despite the recent political events, which were seeming to postpone the automotive activity in Argentina, the (by now) traditional Temporada will be regularly held this year as well, starting the 1956 World Championship. On Sunday January 22nd, 1956, the Argentinian Republic Grand Prix will be raced on the Buenos Aires municipal racetrack, on a 3916,36-metre-long circuit with the formula of greater covered distance in three hours of racing. Then, on January 29th, with the 1000 Kilometres will begin the series of races valid for the Sports Car Championship, partly on the track and partly on the boulevards adjacent to the autodrome, on a 9476.32-metre-long racetrack to repeat one hundred and six times for a total of 1004.489 KMs, and eventually the Mendoza race for Open formula cars, which will be held on the distance of approximately 290 kilometres on Sunday, February 5th, 1956.

 

The fight for the two major World titles, Formula and Sport, this year begins with the confrontation between the only Ferrari and Maserati, while the usual Gordini is called to give a brushstroke of blue on the Italian cars’ flame red background. The overflowing Mercedes are now in the quiet of the Daimler-Benz museum in Stuttgart, and will probably not get out of it ever again (if the German manufacturer will come back to racing one day, it will do it with brand-new cars, since the current international racing formula will expire on December 31st, 1957); on their side, the English B.R.M., Vanwall and Connaught, as well as the French Bugatti will join the competition later. So, for the moment, the cars from the two Modenese manufacturers will be the only ones to compete against each other. But this doesn’t mean at all that the interest for the beginning of the agonistic season is low. First of all, the rivalry that divides Maserati from Ferrari, and the plausible balance of the respective vehicles, undoubtedly improved and enhanced in the autumnal stasis, should result in important results (and, about that, the comparison between the times set in last year’s Argentinian Grand Prix by Fangio’s Mercedes and the ones of the upcoming race is curiously anticipated, since both the racetrack and the distance are identical). In the meantime, Ferrari has substituted engineer Lampredi with a young engineer named Alberto Fraschetti, the first technician of the new generation that made it to Maranello. Fraschetti is flanked by Lampredi’s two main collaborators, Franco Rocchi for the engines, Walter Salvarani for the chassis.

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Then there is the big leitmotif of the duel between Fangio-Ferrari and Moss-Maserati, that is between the reconfirmed World Champion and he who is not vague about his intention of replacing him at the top of the ladder of drivers of international value. Until two months ago, Fangio and Moss were teammates: the first as leader by right, the Englishman in the role of impatient wingman, forced by the iron teamplay to chomp at the bit. Then, once the German formation had been dismissed, Stirling Moss stated that he wouldn’t have been a wingman to the World Champion anymore. So, one on one side, one on the other. All the 1956 season will likely be based on this spark of fierce agonistic rivalry. The continuation will depend on the efficiency of the cars that Ferrari and Maserati have prepared or will prepare. In Argentina the Maserati team, to support Moss, will count on Behra (the Frenchman healed after his dreadful crash in Belfast, but it is not possible yet to say whether he has regained possession of his wonderful skills or not), the coming-back Froilán González, and on the young Argentinian Menditeguy; whereas Perdisa’s presence in Buenos Aires is not certain, even though he has just renewed his contract with the Trident house.  A team, therefore, that on paper appears extremely strong, except for the implied reservations about Behra and González. On its behalf Ferrari lines up Fangio, Castellotti, Musso, Collins and the Belgian Gendebien. The latest is considered a wonderkid by many people, but before speaking out definitively, it would be good to observe his behaviour behind the wheel of a single seater.

 

This year some famous champions, who in the past had been faithful to the Temporada, won’t be present, such as Giuseppe Farina (the Turin man in these days is in England, to test a couple of Formula 1 cars of different brands, possible prelude to an agreement for racing on a British car the following Grand Prix in spring and summer), Villoresi, Trintignant, Mieres and Maglioli, all of which are still free from commitments. As far as manufacturers are concerned, Maserati has simply improved the chassis and the engines of its beautiful six cylinders, while Ferrari has sent to Buenos Aires six cars of three different types: the former Lancia, modified in the car body and - it looks like - with new cylinder heads; the super shark with an eight-cylinder engine, always from via Monginevro; and eventually a normal super shark. A wide range of cars, which could provide the indomitable manufacturer from Maranello with very useful indications for the most appropriate use of the cars in the upcoming fights. The trainings start on Thursday, 19 January 1956, during which Fangio gets sensibly close to the unofficial lap time record, held by González in 1’43"2. In fact, the World Champion, with his Ferrari, sets a great 1’43"7, equal to an average speed of 137.819 km/h. The Argentinian’s feat obtains the value of a serious lien on the absolute victory in Sunday’s demanding race. We don’t have any news about the arrival of the Gordinis, which wouldn’t have been able to offer any interesting prompt anyway. Therefore, except for variations, the starting list is composed by Fangio, Castellotti, Musso, Collins and Gendebien on the factory Ferrari, Moss, Behra, González and Menditeguy with the Maserati and, as independent drivers, Hawthorn, Landi, Piotti and Uria on Maserati. Thirteen in total.

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It is not one of the most complete frames, but the agonistic tone should be ensured anyway, thanks to the presence of a dozen of world class drivers. At the end of qualifications, it is evident that the most intense rivals of World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio are, as said before, English driver Stirling Moss and José Froilán González, with the latest that can’t erase his intolerance towards his fellow countryman, as many years before the two Argentinian racers shared the liking of their public, but the Chueco’s irresistible ascent has tipped the scale of popularity; even though years have passed, the ruddy Froilán has never resigned to his compatriot’s superiority. In the meantime, Moss, in his juvenile rashness, believes - and he doesn’t make a mystery about it – to be the most qualified driver to dethrone Fangio from the highest rung of celebrity. Getting closer to the first race of the 1956 World Championship, the Argentinian GP that will be held in Buenos Aires, said rivalry has revived, but while Moss’s hopes of giving a first pickaxe blow to Fangio’s worldwide prestige are as high as always, González seems forced to put off, because - after an exact year of inactivity and the never disappeared consequences of old wounds – still doesn’t feel able to hold up the pace for a three-hour-long Grand Prix, especially if the terrible humid heat of these days continued in the Bonaerense region. As far as the Ferrari-Maserati duel, the results of the first two days of testing show a fair amount of balance of possibility for both manufacturers. 

 

The anticipation in Buenos Aires’s sporting environments is very high anyway: after the limited calm of the first day of testing, the circuit gets crowded by many enthusiast aficionados, and for Sunday is foreseen a sold out, already seen in the previous years. The organization seems very efficient, and from Sunday morning, the public force will be mobilized to regulate the traffic from the capital to the lower part of the city, where the circuit is located, and to contain the public and avoid dangers. At the start of the first seasonal Grand Prix will line up in the first three positions just as many Ferraris, driven by the poleman Fangio, author of a sensational lap and the new track record, set in 1’42”5, followed by Castellotti and Musso, authors of the exact identical time but with over two seconds slower than the reigning champion. From the fourth to the eighth place are qualified the Maserati of Behra, González, Menditeguy, Moss and Hawthorn. In the back we find Collins and Gendebien, followed by Landi and the two pilots that drive a Maserati privately, Piotti and Uria. However, Hawthorn will not take part in the race. The start is given at 4.00 pm and González immediately goes in the lead, followed by Menditeguy, Musso, Fangio and Castellotti. Then, starting from the third lap, Menditeguy takes the lead, while Fangio loses ground as, during the night, on his Ferrari the engine had been replaced, damaged in a slight crash during the last day of practice, but the petrol pump doesn’t work regularly. On lap 5 Menditeguy has a two-second lead over González and a five-second one on Castellotti. On lap 14 the World Champion stops at the boxes, losing over a minute and a half. He gets back, but his car keeps on struggling.

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So, on the twenty-third lap, the Ferrari box stops both Fangio and Musso in order to switch the cars. But in the meantime, Menditeguy has an advantage of almost a lap. At this point Manuel’s fantastic chase begins: eighth on lap 20, sixth on lap 30 (and on the thirty-fourth passage he sets the best race lap in 1’46”2), fourth on lap 35. Meanwhile, González retires due to an engine break on his car, which had already been afflicted by fuelling issues and later Castellotti’s gearbox gives up on lap 42. Then, the plot twist: Menditeguy damages his transmission and abandons. This way, shortly after the first half of the race, Moss takes the lead followed by Fangio, Behra, Hawthorn, Collins and Gendebien. But on the eighty-first lap, Moss slows down, leaving behind him black smoke, caused by the break of his engine. It’s a matter of seconds: Fangio shows up at his back and goes towards the victory, which he probably stopped hoping for. With Moss retired, is the Frenchman Jean Behra to take second place, in front of Mike Hawthorn, while the couple Chico Landi - Gerino Gerini take fourth place, with Gendebien fifth. Juan Manuel Fangio wins the Argentinian GP, ahead of his enthusiast crowd, for the third time. The World Champion has raced a superb race, conveniently different from those monologues to which the clear superiority of his vehicle had accustomed the crowd in the last two years: this time he’s had to fight with all of his energies and resources of his class to come back from an initial disadvantage that looked unbridgeable to everyone.

 

One who needs to be remembered as well is the good Musso, who after a quarter of the race was stopped to leave the wheel of his Ferrari to Fangio, since his car was in imperfect mechanical conditions, and who therefore shares with the Argentinian ace the quote in the standings and the points for the World Championship. A particular quote is bound to be addressed to this race’s revelation, the young Argentinian (former polo champion) Carlos Menditeguy, of the Maserati factory team, who drove with astonishing authority for an hour and a half, until a run off the road, in which the car was irremediably damaged, put an end to his victory dreams. At the end of the Argentinian GP, Maserati’s sport director Nello Ugolini filed a complaint to the Race Direction against Fangio’s behaviour, who in a skid on lap 78 is said to having made use of the help of the crowd to get his car back on the road, since his engine had stopped. The complaint asked to remove Fangio from the order of arrival, but the Commission will only meet in the late afternoon of Monday, 23 January 1956 to decide that the Argentinian driver is officially the winner of the first seasonal Grand Prix.


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