The Argentine Grand Prix used to be the season opener on many occasions. Around this time in the '50's and '70's the gladiators took to the track to decide who was crowned prince of the early bird special. The Argentine GP was held between 1953-1960 (1959 being the exception), 1971-1975, 1977-1981 and 1995-1998. From those 21 GP's, here are the top five in chronological order.
The 1955 GP wasn't necessarily the most spectacular race ever to be held in Argentina, but it was definitely one of the biggest challenges in F1's history with temperatures hitting a record high (40'C), only to be equaled in the 1984 US GP in Dallas and Bahrain 2005. It also made the top five because of some manly behavior from Juan Manuel Fangio. Sure, we all like to say how F1 drivers were real men back in the day, dangling some pretty big plums on their racing seat while doing over 100mph without seat-belts in aluminium bathtubs filled with petrol. However, to be driving in record breaking temperatures for three hours straight, while all your competitors stop halfway trough the race to switch with other drivers out of sheer fatigue, while your leg is scratching against a chassis tube of your Mercedes-Benz W196 heated up by the exhaust, causing severe burns and still be able to smile when finishing the race almost a lap ahead of the number two? Big balls, I tell you. Fangio was out for three months to recover, but was back in time for the second Grand Prix of the season in Monaco.
Stirling Moss entered the Argentinian Grand Prix in a rear-engined Cooper Climax T33. Rear-enigined Formula One cars were at that time still in an experimental fase, and was - especially by Ferrari - still frowned upon by traditional constructors. The race was driven over 400 kilometres. Due to the immense heat once again, the drivers had to stop for new tires halfway through the race. This was in Moss' disadvantage as his Cooper-Climax had a wheel-nut system that would give his competitors a two lap advantage when stopping. However, the race was shortened to 313 kilometres and Moss devised a plan to not stop at all. Giving his competitors the impression that he was going to stop anyway, Moss easily got to the lead of the race after everyone stopped. But as the race proceeded, the Italian teams of Ferrari and Maserati began to frown their eyebrows more and more when they realized Moss was not going to stop. The Ferrari's running in place two and three suddenly started to pick up the pace to overtake Moss. Meanwhile, Moss was driving the last few laps on the canvas of his tires, cooling them down by running over the grass. You don't see that anymore these days. Moss crossed the finish-line 2,7 seconds in front of chasing Ferrari driver Luigi Musso. It was the first victory for a rear-engined Formula One car
The 1974 GP was a very very exciting one indeed and the first one in which home boy Carlos Reutemann got so very near to victory. A new track lay-out with a huge loop around a lake was introduced. The cars were flat out on this part of the track for a whole 45 seconds and with it came a lot of overtakes. Ronnie Peterson took pole and lead the race through its first chaotic moments, including a shunt between Revson and Regazzoni. Reutemann was running solidly in second position when Peterson brakes went to shreds. Reutemann moved up and controlled the race quite well from there. However, Brabham forgot to put enough fuel in the BT44 and the Cosworth started to caugh. Danny Hulme managed to get past in the penultimate lap as Reutemann grinded to a halt in the last lap of the race. It was not meant to be. Lauda finished second, with teammate Regazzoni completing the podium.
Hulme on his way to victory in his McLaren-Cosworth M23. ©McLaren Racing Ltd. Source: F1-History, DeviantArt.
In the 1979 season opener, there wasn't really much stopping Jacques Laffite and his Ligier JS11. Pole, victory, fastest lap. So, on paper it doesn't really sound like anything close to an exciting race. However, there was a crash. A big one. Jody Scheckter and John Watson collided and took out six other drivers. Two of them could still continue towards the restart, but the other four could start packing their bags. After the restart, Laffite led his Ligier to victory with Reutemann taking another second place and John Watson completing the podium. Below, the images of the crash.
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Never a dull moment. The 1980 Argentine GP is best known for its large amount of retirements due to appalling track conditions. The intense heat of the summer (they must have learned this by now, right?) made the track very brittle. Unleashing the ground-effect cars with their big wide tires on it made things bad, really bad. Allan Jones took pole in his Williams FW07, with Jacques Laffite closing the first row in his Ligier. Jones dominated the race, but it wasn't easy. An epic battle between him, Villeneuve, Laffite and Piquet made for one of the most exciting Grands Prix while all around them cars were retiring. Fifteen cars retired while only seven finished. Jones took his first win in what was going to be a championship winning season for him. Piquet got the better of Laffite who had to retire and Villeneuve, who crashed on lap 47. Alain Prost, in his debut race, took home a point.