Strategic Error at the 1954 Argentine Grand Prix

Finally, Resolving the Doldrums Left by Alfa Romeo’s Departure.

So, finally, the devastation left in the wake of Alfa Romeo’s departure is finally resolving.  As a recap, when Alfa Romeo left in 1951, the FIA was forced to run Formula 1 according to Formula 2 regulations.  1952 and 1953 both proved to be weak seasons.  Until the end of 1953, the races–over these two seasons–were rarely contested.  I believe that I now squarely subscribe to the following thesis: Early Formula 1 put form and fashion over function and speed.  Early F1 was a product of its circumstances.

To be more clear, I came into this project expecting a linear evolution of the sport; however, I am discovering something much different.  “Formula One” does not exist as an immutable concept, defined once for forever.  Rather, the concept of Formula One has evolved in a much more organic sense.  Coming into this, I understood the FIA would largely control the structure of the sport.  That is true, but only to some extent.  What I underestimated was the extent to which the particular players of early Formula 1 have been able to alter the direction of the sport.  It is in this capacity that I see the grandness of project: GP Evolved.

More than anything, I believe the exodus of the only major team in Formula 1 probably shook the racing community to the core.  Major manufactures have appeared hesitant to throw big money at the development of a proper fifties racing car.  A vacuum was left, and Ferrari rose to the challenge; however, other contenders hesitated to throw their hats in the ring.

Looking Forward to the 1954 F1 Championship Season.

Things changed with the return of proper F1 rules in 1954.  Not only that, but Mercedes releases some releases a truly futuristic game-changing, and unfortunately fatally flawed, new chassis.  To their credit, they single-handedly turned the F1 world on it’s head.  But, new teams are not always able to get their teams ready in time, even when they have the luxury of deep pockets.  This was the case for Mercedes-Benz, who were not ready until the French GP.  Until then, the initial two, well three–if you were to count the unfortunate Indy 500–Grands Prix are a Maserati and Ferrari battle.

As for the rules, engines were set to 2.5 liter un-supercharged.  The formula, as it were, appears to remain quite open to interpretation.

Strategic Error Nets Maserati Victory.

The 1954  Argentine Grand Prix took place on January 17, at the oddly named Autodromo 17 de Octobre.  Fangio was in a Maserati which proved a smart to be a good choice–to start the season with a different team; knowing he would be going to Mercedes Benz when the new chassis was ready.  Farina took pole.  It was a wet race.  Neither Stirling Moss, nor Hans Stuck Sr., nor Alberto Ascari were present for the race.

Maserati 250F, picture taken at Silverstone 2006.

Maserati 250F, picture taken at Silverstone 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reports differ, but I believe Ferrari rolled out their new Ferrari Type 625.  Maserati, on the other hand, gambled on their forward momentum from last season and reworked the A6SSG into the Maserati 250F (this link is to a relevant Top Gear video).  Gordini truly phoned it in by simply wedging a new, bigger engine into last year’s F2 regulation car.  Farina stretched his legs early and got out in front of Fangio and Gonzalez.  By lap 15, Gonzalez took the lead.  Then, on lap 32, the heaven’s cracked open and it began to pour.  Gonzo spun in the rain.  Farina pulled off for a visor for his helmet.  Fangio ‘Chuck Norris’d’ it and kept going.  Like an ace up his sleeve, on Lap 61, Fangio pulled off for special hand cut tires.  Although, this does beg the question, why did not everyone have “special, hand-cut” tires?  In any event, they helped.  For what it’s worth, although I am not clear on the legality, this practice continues in AMA Flat Track racing; however, they did catch on to the use of water in tires (I remain unclear as to why this proved beneficial; but, I am assured that it was).

In any event, Ferrari protested that too many mechanics were involved in the pit stop.  Consequently, the Ferrari drivers were signaled to drive as conservatively as possible.  This, in and of itself, was interesting to me.  It took me a moment to realize they didn’t have radio’s in those days.  To be honest, I have no idea when driver-pit radio was introduced.  Assuming the signal was done on the fly, this is pretty impressive communication for what little one can read off a few letters placed on a pit board that they fly by at 140 plus miles an hour.  So, the conservativism of the Ferrari’s permitted Fangio and his fancy-pants tires to catch up and pass Guiseppe Emilio “Nino” Farina and Jose Froilan Gonzalez.  Ferrari, over-confidently, protested.  Their protest was denied by the stewards and later by the FIA Appeals Tribunal.