Don't drivers mind racing on the 13th?" a reporter asked Britain's Stirling Moss last week.
"Here's one that does," answered Moss.
Jan. 13 was indeed a shattering day for the Briton despite his Maserati team's crushing victory over rival Ferrari. For Argentina's Juan Manuel Fangio, though, the day marked an easy triumph and eight points toward his fifth world's championship.
Quiet Fangio and the roaring Maseratis, naturally enough, were pre-race favorites this year in the fifth annual Argentine Grand Prix. "To me," said Moss, "he's the greatest driver there has ever been."
"Fangio has everything," said Italy's Cesare Perdisa.
Snapped another driver: "Rules here are always interpreted so that Fangio will win if possible."
Argentine officials do seem hesitant to annoy the champ, and there is usually an understanding among his teammates that they won't try too hard to beat the old master on his home ground even if they could. Fangio ensured the understanding this time by promising to drive for Maserati in Europe this year if he won the race.
Wealthy Fangio, who shrewdly pyramided his racing winnings during the Perón era into a lucrative garage and sales agency (Mercedes Benz and General Motors), didn't really need the money, but he needed the victory. His business, like many which thrived under Perón, is under government control. So far the government has continued to let him run things, build a new garage and showroom and acquire the Vespa motor scooter agency. But he is still awaiting a decision on the possible confiscation of his assets and needs favorable publicity.
Victory might also help him toward Indianapolis which he has called "the only race I want to win.... If I don't race in Indianapolis in 1957 I never will, because after that I will be too old," says Fangio who will be 46 on June 24.
In addition to victory-hungry Fangio, Maserati had France's reliable Jean Behra and Argentine Polo Ace Carlos Menditeguy—a tough team to beat even though Ferrari's roster was longer and almost as brilliant. Ferrari had, among others, Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn of Britain, Luigi Musso, Eugenio Castellotti and Perdisa of Italy.
Both stables were racing the same Formula I cars as last year—V-8 Ferraris and straight-6 Maseratis—with only minor changes.
After days of broiling weather, Saturday turned cold and rainy, forcing drivers to rush through time trials. Moss won the pole with a sparkling lap of one minute 42.6 seconds, just one-tenth of a second behind Fangio's 1956 record. Fangio, Behra and Castellotti completed the front row.
Sunday was cool and bright with a brisk breeze herding fluffy clouds past the concrete grandstands of the municipal autodrome where some 70,000 people had flocked to see the beautiful banshees, all painted fire-engine red this year, chase each other clockwise for three hours around the dipping, twisting 2.43-mile track.
Most of the former track officials have been fired for political reasons, and the new ones were willing but inept. Moss's first thrust on the throttle in the ragged start snapped part of the linkage. He rolled into the pits after one lap, bent double in the cockpit and accelerating by hand. Mechanics worked frantically for over 12 minutes to replace the linkage while Moss glumly watched the field lap him eight times. Then he resumed the race without enthusiasm.
Behra, the indomitable little Frenchman with the artificial ear, led for three laps. Then Castellotti took the lead briefly, to be succeeded by Collins while Hawthorn and Musso moved up. On the 26th lap Collins dropped out with a burned-out clutch, an old Ferrari failing. Fangio, who had been letting Ferraris set the pace, grabbed the lead and held it until the 79th lap, skimming around alert and impassive in his usual cream-smooth style, not extending himself.
On the 31st lap Musso dropped out, followed four laps later by Hawthorn, both with burned-out clutches.
The effervescent Perdisa was losing ground with an oil leak but had to be flagged down three times before he would stop. Perdisa reluctantly handed over to Collins, who bored steadily ahead for 36 laps and then voluntarily passed to young Graf von Trips. "He needed experience," said Collins, who is a good team driver. "It was terribly kind of him," said von Trips.
José Froilan Gonzales, the formerly successful, but of late inactive, Argentine, stopped his Ferrari shortly before the 40th lap complaining of clutch trouble and a nervous reaction from a shot of novacaine taken just before the race to ease a painful shoulder muscle. The poker-faced Marquis De Portago finished for him.
Everybody watched the faltering Ferraris expectantly, and halfway through the 76th lap Castellotti provided the day's only spectacular accident. His left rear-wheel spindle snapped, the wheel sailed up and fell among the railbirds, and the car plowed off into the grass. Shaken but unhurt, the handsome, aloof Castellotti went gloomily to the pits.
With Moss so far behind, Fangio started a lighthearted game of tag with Behra, slowing and gunning unobtrusively, so that these two traded the lead position eight times between the 79th and 88th laps. On the 89th lap Fangio made his only pit stop—five seconds for cleaning his goggles and rinsing his mouth—and then he was off again, leading all the way to an undisputed 100-lap victory.
Fangio's average speed of 80.632 mph broke the record of 79.399 mph he set last year, and Maserati scored a stunning sweep as Behra finished right behind Fangio with Menditeguy third and the American Harry Schell fourth. Ferrari limped home fifth (De Portago) and sixth (von Trips). Moss, despite his bad luck, was eighth.
"Toward the end I tried as hard as I could," said Moss, who turned the fastest lap (1:44.7).
"Everything went on rails," said Fangio. "My most serious rival was Moss, and when I saw he had to stop, my outlook cleared up notably."
So it is Maserati for The Master this year. And what about retirement? "Yes, of course, I'll retire," said Fangio. "When? Who knows?"
BUENOS AIRES MUNICIPAL AUTODROME
RESULTS AT BUENOS AIRES
1) Fangio (Arg.)
2) Behra (Fr.)
3) Menditeguy (Arg.)
4) Schell (U.S.)
5) De Portago (Sp.)
Fastest lap: Moss, Maserati, 1:44.7