• Argentinean Grand Prix

Ascari dominates a day tinged with tragedy

Martin Williamson January 18, 1953
Spectators crowd around Nino Farina's damaged car after he had swerved into the crowd © Unknown

Alberto Ascari, so dominant in 1952, opened the 1953 season with another win, but the day was marred by the death of ten spectators - that was the official tally although it was widely believed the real number was far higher.

The fourth year of the World Championship saw the series take some major strides forward. Although the Formula 2 rules were retained, Ferrari now had major opposition from Maserati, who had strengthened their driving squad by signing Mike Hawthorn.

The season started in the heat of Argentina, and while Ascari and Ferrari had dominated in 1952, there was expectation that the returning Juan Manuel Fangio, who had not raced for seven months after a bad crash, and the resurgence of the Maseratis would make for a more competitive year.

With six Argentine drivers amongst the 16 starters, including Jose Froilan Gonzalez in the now more reliable Maserati and Fangio in a similar car, it was no surprise that a big crowd, swollen by the decision not to charge any admission, packed into the Autodrome in the Parc Almirante Brown. By the time the start came up to 400,000 were believed to be inside the Buenos Aires Autodrome, and such was the crush that in many places the security fences were broken and spectators poured onto the perimeter of the circuit itself.

Attempts to control the masses proved fruitless and so a decision was made to start. Before long spectators had spilled onto the track itself - angry drivers gesticulated at them as they strayed onto the racing line and, in turn, the more foolhardy in the crowd removed their shirts and matador-like waved them in front of the oncoming cars.

On the 32nd lap someone decided to cross the track in front of Nino Farina who swerved to avoid them but skidded into the crowd on the edge of the tarmac. Aside from the ten who died - many thought the actual number was much higher - more than three dozen more were injured. Farina escaped with leg injuries and the race continued throughout, although in the mayhem which followed the Cooper-Bristol of Alan Brown struck a child.

In the race itself, as a trial, Ferrari was allowed to run in 2.5 litre Formula Libre specification and Ascari started from pole position and dominated throughout. After almost three hours in the heat around the custom built track, he beat team-mate Luigi Villoresi by over a lap. Gonzales earned the plaudits of the local crowd by bringing the less powerful 2-litre Maserati home third although he benefitted from Fangio's retirement with transmission problems.

Hawthorn, in a 2-litre 500i, made a good start to his Ferrari career by finishing fourth ahead of Argentine Oscar Galvez with Jean Behra sixth in the Gordini.