Wednesday, 14 December 2011

CELEBRITY RULES? Four F1 wins by Fangio, Moss and Stewart that were not due entirely to driving talent

In the history of Formula One racing the ‘stars’, the top drivers have usually benefitted from their status. The playing field has not always been level. On four notable occasions three of the best drivers scored wins that were not entirely due to their talent.

Fangio in 1956 Lancia-Ferrari
Despite his dignified demeanour and well-mannered politeness, Fangio was very competitive and exploited his status whenever he could. Not overtly ruthless in the Senna-Schumacher mould, ‘The Old Man’ was no less competitive.

For the opening race of the new 2.5 litre Formula at the Buenos Aires Autodromo in January 1954, the 44-year-old was debuting the beautiful, new, six-cylinder Maserati 250F. Young protegé Onofre Marimon was in the other works car. Surprisingly the four-cylinder Ferrari 625s were considerably faster. They were inn effect upgraded versions of the Formula Two Tipo 500, the works machines driven by Farina and Gonzalez practised a whole 0.8 sec better than Fangio’s 250F. Hawthorn’s 625 was next, ahead of Trintignant’s 625 and Marimon’s 250F. Not promising for the Trident.

And so it proved in the race, as the Ferraris dominated. Farina led from flag-fall for 15 laps of the 87, then Gonzalez for 18, Farina again until pitting, when Hawthorn in the third car took the lead. With the Ferraris running an impressive 1,2,3, Fangio could do nothing about them. Until it started raining at lap 35. JMF’s class now shone through, just as Stewart’s, Senna’s or Schumacher’s did in wet conditions. He forged past the Maranello cars to a sizable lead during the next 10 laps. Then the rain stopped, and Gonzalez caught and passed his compatriot. Within four laps the clouds opened and Fangio’s wet-weather superiority ensured he re-took the lead for the next eight laps, before pitting for new tyres. Five excited Maserati mechanics worked on their leading car. Ferrari team manager Ugolini noted this and filed a protest, citing the rule book’s maximum of three crew members permitted. Meanwhile Farina took the lead, with Gonzalez running second, and Ferraris looked set for victory. Neither was threatened by Fangio on the dry track...

So sure was Nello Ugolini of the strength of his protest, for he had witnesses, that he soon signalled his two drivers to slow and not to race Fangio’s Maserati. This they did to such an extent that JMF soon caught them and went on to take the flag. There was no word from the officials, as the partisan crowd cheered their local hero. Ferrari’s subsequent appeal to the FIA was turned down. The record books show the finishing order as Fangio, Farina and Gonzalez. So much for “the phenomenal debut win” for the Maserati 250F ?

Stirling Moss
Two years later at the same Buenos Aires venue, Fangio was again the beneficiary of official partisanship. For the 1956 season-opening Argentinian Grand Prix the roles were reversed: JMF headed the Ferrari team and Ugolini was manager for Maserati! This time the Ferraris, actually Lancia-Ferrari Tipo D50 V8s, were faster than the Maseratis. Fangio was on pole, over two seconds better and alongside front-row team-mates Castellotti and Musso. Behind were the 250F Maseratis of Behra, Gonzalez, Menditeguy and Moss. As the flag fell Musso surged ahead, Fangio following. But by lap end Gonzalez’ 250F roared past both of them to lead the next three laps. Then amazingly, the little-known local, Carlos Menditeguy in a works 250F, passed Gonzalez and led convincingly for almost half the race! On lap 44 of 98 he mis-changed a gear, spun off and stalled. Unable to restart without assistance which would have meant disqualification, he retired. This let Moss’250F through to lead.

Fangio meanwhile, had suffered car trouble and retired on lap 23. Musso was called in from his fifth place and JMF took over. Chasing Moss, he began gaining as Stirling’s car developed engine trouble and slowed. Fangio’s ex-Musso Lancia-Ferrari went through to lead on lap 65. About ten laps later, however, he spun off. Several eager spectators jumped the fences and push-started their hero. Ugolini filed a protest, this time claiming photographic evidence of the rule infringement. No action was taken by the officials! The Old Man again added to his win tally.

After Fangio retired in 1958 Moss reigned supreme. Unfortunately for his career, Stirling elected not to join one of the works teams, but drove for Rob Walker’s private stable. He thus did not have the latest car models, Cooper and Lotus understandably being unwilling to let Moss have their latest machinery. As a driver he had enough of an advantage!

Consequently on his favourite circuit, the original 22-kilometre Nurburgring, and driving a year-old, four cylinder Lotus-Climax 18 with some newer, Type 21 bits, Stirling managed a creditable third grid spot. Ahead by a whopping 1.2% was pole-sitter Phil Hill in the sharknose Ferrari 156, and two-time World Champion Driver Jack Brabham in the latest Cooper Type 58, debuting the first Climax V8 engine. What helped Moss qualify ahead of the rest of the Ferraris and the Porsches, BRM and Lotus teams, was the fact that practice took place in very wet, rainy conditions; his sheer driving superiority made up for his car’s performance deficiency.

On race morning a shower drenched the circuit in parts, and most started on wet-weather tyres. Brabham used his V8’s power to lead from flag-fall, around the North Curve and out into the countryside. Within two kilometres however he went off the wet road into a hedge. Moss took the lead but had Phil Hill’s Ferrari right behind. About halfway round the long lap the American went past, but Stirling retook him before the Karussel. From then on Moss drove a masterly race, conserving his tyres, keeping to the wet patches for cooling, to eventually cross the line just over 20 seconds ahead of the von Trips and Hill Ferraris, with Clark’s works Lotus fourth and Surtees’ year-old Cooper fifth. This has gone down as one of THE great wins of all time, ranked with Nuvolari’s famous Alfa Romeo defeat of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union here in 1935.

Without detracting from Moss’ superiority, he did have an ‘unfair’ technical advantage. Dunlop had just produced their latest wet-weather tyre, but had only had time to make two front pairs and one rear. They provided Moss with a full set, and gave Brabham the other new fronts. The Australian was furious; as twice World Drivers Champion and number one of the twice-in-a-row Manufacturers Championship-winning works Cooper Team, he reckoned he should have got the latest tyres. He blamed the imbalance of having two sticky fronts for the un-driveability of his car and consequent crash.

The next driver to benefit from his star status was seven years later, coincidentally also at the Nurburgring. Jackie Stewart had assumed Clark’s mantle after the Scot’s tragic, fatal crash early in 1968. Driving the Ken Tyrrell-run Matra-Cosworth MS10 Stewart became a title-contender. The strong opposition was clear when the circus practised at the Nurburgring, for Stewart only managed sixth on the grid. Ahead were the phenomenal young Jackie Ickx and Chris Amon in their be-winged Ferraris, Rindt’s Brabham-Cosworth BT26, Graham Hill’s superb Lotus-Cosworth 49B and surprisingly, Vic Elford’s Cooper-BRM Type 86B! Elford knew the circuit so well, having just won the 1000 Kilometre sports car race in a Porsche. Stewart was almost 10% down on pole! The explanation was that the weather for practice and the race was a repeat of the renowned 1936 Eifel event, when Rosemeyer’s Auto Union won: rain, mist and fog!

Jackie Stewart
Rindt took an immediate lead in his Brabham, until Graham Hill’s Lotus went by within two kilometres. Stewart’s flying Matra-Cosworth then took over. Clear of others’ rooster-tails of spray, Jackie continued to extend his advantage and, in heavier rain than Rosemeyer experienced, won by over 4 minutes!

Passed into grand prix folklore as one of the greatest drives of all time, one has to heed Rob Walker’s explanation in his November 1968 race report for Road and Track magazine. Stewart’s car alone was equipped with Dunlop’s latest Extra Wet compound tyre, their phenomenal grip further enhanced by hundreds of hand-cut grooves. “I doubt if Rosemeyer had such overwhelming superiority of tyres, as Jackie did with his Dunlops.”

Three great drivers, but four wins that would probably not have been achieved on their undoubted driving skills alone. Fangio, Moss and Stewart benefitted from their celebrity status.

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.



  1. Firstly, great post, and blog in general. I will bookmark this and catch up over the course of the next few weeks.

    I can't help wondering whether the celebrity status of these drivers contributes to these type of races being remembered several decades later, whilst other such incidents have been long forgotten.

    I suggest that instead of celebrity rules being overwhelmingly prevalent, the celebrity drivers were the only ones who could take advantage of a favourable situation in such a spectacular manner.

    All other drivers that had situational advantages in certain races couldn't deliver, and the fact that they had an advantage in that particular race has long been forgotten.

    Although, I must concede, driver favouritism definitely still played a major part in these bygone years, and especially it seems in these particular races. I ask though, which other drivers of the era would have been capable of turning in such memorable performances? Let Fangio, Moss and Stewart have their place in the sun :D.

  2. Appreciate your response and positive comments.
    Of course you are right about the best drivers being best able to exploit any advantages.

    In relating these 'stories' I do not take anything away from Fangio, Moss and Stewart who remain among the greatest of all.

    Who else could have exploited these situations? Fangio was fortunate that Ascari was absent for most of 1954 and 1955. Moss's greatest challenge in 1961 would have come from Surtees, assuming same-cars and tyres, and at the Nurburgring, where ex-motorcyclists always did well. STewwart's best rivals were both good in the rain: Rindt and Ickx; either could have done well on those special tyres, and in the right car at the Nurburgring. Ickx was aNurburg specialist, witness his fine one-off drive to 3rd place for Mclaren in 1973, relased by Ferrari. And his 1968 rainy win at Rouen.

    You are right that the title I used was probably not quite appropriate; but we are really talking "Vettel getting Webbers front wing at Silverstone 2010" here!