Buenos Aires: when ‘fair winds’ blew
In 1953, the fourth year of the F1 world championship, grand prix teams were blown south in January for the first time as the Argentinean Grand Prix kicked off the new season, on the 18th day of the new year. But given what happened, it seems amazing now it wasn’t also the last grand prix at a new circuit constructed in capital city Buenos Aires.
There was plenty of local enthusiasm for the race – too much, in fact. It’s said somewhere between 300-400,000 people pitched up, and there was no hope of trackside stands and fences containing them. President Juan Domingo Peron, the infamous dictator responsible for luring F1 to Argentina, even told the police to give up trying to stop the swarm that pushed through to find a vantage point, some on the very edge of the track itself. “My children, let them in,” he is reported to have commanded his officers.
The scene that met the drivers beggars belief. Demented in their excitement, some of the crowd took to the track, goading the cars as if they were matadors playing with bulls in a ring. Was the race stopped? Of course not. This was the 1950s.
Inevitably, tragedy followed when Giuseppe Farina, running third, pitched his Ferrari into a spin to avoid a figure darting out in front of him. The car then ploughed into the trackside crowd, killing 15 and injuring more. There were other incidents. Alan Brown’s Cooper-Bristol cut down and killed a boy that ran into its path, and yet still the nightmare rolled on. After three hours of mayhem and horror, Alberto Ascari claimed an inglorious victory. This is how F1, and the world at large, has changed in seven decades.
Somehow, Argentina put this grizzly affair behind it and the grand prix became established as the regular season-opener, hosting the first round each year until 1960 (apart from ’59). Among the notable victories was that of Stirling Moss in ’58 when he beat the Ferraris in Rob Walker’s privately entered Cooper T43, the first F1 victory for a rear-engined car.