TeamsAlberto Uria: 1956 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
At the end of the 1954 season Jorge Daponte would decide to sell his Maserati A6GCM Interim chassis to a man from just across the Rio de la Plata in South America. Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, Alberto Uria would get his opportunity to take part in the Formula One World Championship at the Argentine Grand Prix in 1955.
Alberto Uria would purchase a Maserati A6GCM from Jorge Daponte during the summer months (in the southern hemisphere) between the 1954 and 1955 seasons. Though it was an A6GCM it was an Interim chassis meaning it had been updated with the same 2.5-liter inline 6-cylinder engine that was used in the 250F. So while the car was not an all out 250F it still had the same kind of power at its disposal.
Unfortunately, this would matter little as Uria's first World Championship experience would end with a retirement after 22 laps because of fuel issues. Problems were abound throughout the 1955 edition of the Argentine Grand Prix. The incredible heat would cause many fuel and mechanical problems and Uria just happened to be one of those that suffered.
More difficulties would come Uria's way at a Formula Libre race also held in Buenos Aires only a couple of weeks later. Partnering with fellow Uruguayan Oscar Gonzalez, Uria would only manage an aggregate time good enough for 11th place in the final classification.
This would be the final time Uria would be heard from, at least in major motor racing. Undoubtedly in his native Uruguay and around South America he would continue to keep racing, but, he would not take part in another round of the World Championship throughout the rest of the 1955 season.
The end of the 1955 season would see a great deal of shake-up within the World Championship. Mercedes-Benz would be no longer in Formula One, or motor racing for that matter. Juan Manuel Fangio would move on to Ferrari. Lancia would no longer be in the picture and Ferrari would come to own the Lancia D50.
In Uria's case, not much would change. As the short offseason approached, he still had possession of the A6GCM Inter and would be looking forward to his next opportunity to take part in a World Championship event when it arrived back in Argentina in very early 1956.
There would be a bit of a question mark surrounding the race and other things following the events in Argentina in the early fall of 1955. President Peron would be deposed in late-September of 1955 and a period of unrest and uncertainty would fall upon the country. This threatened the first round of the World Championship as a number of projects in which the Peron's supported would be brought to a halt as a result of the removal of the president from power. This would be troubling to many throughout the region and would be bothersome to Juan Manuel Fangio who had made his way to Europe as a result of the support given by the Peron government.
Interestingly, Uria would have to be concerned with events in Argentina, one of the nations in which Uruguay fought against to gain its independence during the early 19th century. But while Argentina was embroiled in its difficulties, Uruguayans were facing problems of their own with the standard of living taking a severe decline and the guerilla movement known as the Tupamaros on the rise. Still, even with all of the tenseness going on in the background all around that particular region of South America, Uria and Formula One would look toward the first round of the 1956 Formula One World Championship.
In spite of all the problems around the region, the first round of the Formula One World Championship would remain scheduled for the 22nd of January. The 10th Gran Premio de la Republica Argentina would continue to take place at the renamed Buenos Aires, 2.42 mile circuit. And, instead of a certain number of laps or distance to be covered, the first round would be a timed event. Timed at 3 hours, a total distance of more than 235 miles was expected to be covered.
Alberto Uria would enter his aged Maserati A6GCM in the Argentine Grand Prix and would list Oscar Gonzalez as the car's other possible driver. The two Uruguayans were obviously going to share the drive and the experience of taking part in a World Championship grand prix.
Although the country was going through quite a bit of change with Peron being deposed, the circuit, which had been named after the date of his candidacy for his first term, Autodromo 17 de Octubre remained unchanged. The circuit remained 2.42 miles in length and still featured the fast sweeping left-hander that led onto the start/finish straight. Now called Autodromo Juan y Oscar Galvez, the circuit welcomed no less than six factory Maserati entries and five for Scuderia Ferrari. With only a handful of other privateer teams in the entry list, Uria and Gonzalez would find themselves up against some mighty teams.
Juan Manuel Fangio had made the switch to Scuderia Ferrari for the 1956 season and would have the opportunity to take to the wheel of the Lancia D50. Updated and revised by Ferrari, the Lancia-Ferraris were certainly powerful and fast. As a result, Fangio would easily set the fastest lap time in practice. His time of 1:42.5 would be over two seconds faster than fellow teammate Eugenio Castellotti. Luigi Musso would be mere hundredths of a second off of Castellotti's pace and would take 3rd place in yet another Lanica-Ferrari. Jean Behra would lead a string of five-straight Maseratis and would garner the 4th, and final, front row starting position.
In practice, Uria would have little notion as to his pace compared to his fellow competitors as he would fail to set a time. As a result, Uria would start the race form the fourth row of the grid in 13th spot overall. Having posted no time, Uria would start dead-last.
The day of the race would see the temperatures a little more sensible than the previous year. The skies would be rather dark but the circuit would remain dry. This meant the pace of the race could be expected to be quite quick even with the three-hour timed race distance. The cars would be rolled out onto the grid and the drivers would assume their positions in the cockpit of their cars.
At the start of the race, Fangio would get away terribly from the grid. Jose Froilan Gonzalez, who was now a mere part time driver, would take advantage of his drive with the factory Maserati team and would shoot up toward the front of the field with Castellotti and Musso right there. Despite starting from dead-last on the grid Uria would make a great start and would actually move up a few places over the course of the first lap.
At the end of the first lap it would be Argentinean Gonzalez leading the way with Musso running in 2nd place and Carlos Menditeguy running a surprising 3rd. Fangio was all the way down in 5th.
Gonzalez's early glory would quickly begin to fade while Menditeguy would be just beginning to warm up. Carlos would take the lead of the race on the 4th lap and would hold station at the front of the field for more than 30 laps. Meanwhile, at the back of the field, Uria's good start would be nullified by Gendebien and Piotti. Still, Uria wouldn't give up easily and he and Piotti would be involved in a battle for the tail-end of the field throughout the first dozen laps of the race.
Surprisingly, Uria would be joined by Fangio who had problems with his Ferrari. Menditeguy remained in the lead of the race with Stirling Moss running solidly in 2nd place. Gonzalez would continue to slip down the running order and it would be Castellotti that would take over 3rd place.
The order would remain relatively unchanged at the front and tail of the field by the 23rd lap of the race. However, Fangio would be out of the race with fuel pump issues. A couple of laps later, Gonzalez would be out of the running as well with valve-related issues.
Castellotti, Menditeguy and Piotti would all fall out of the running by the around the halfway mark of the race. Fangio would be given Musso's Ferrari and would set off in pursuit of the lead. Therefore, by the 60th lap of the race it would be Moss leading the way with Fangio gaining ground in 2nd place. Jean Behra's steady performance in his Maserati would have him running in 3rd place. Uria had come in and handed the Maserati over to Oscar Gonzalez on the 45th lap. At the time, because of Piotti's troubles and those of a number of competitors, Uria had been running in 8th place. Taking to the wheel of the Maserati, Gonzalez would find himself rather locked into position. Gendebien was ahead of him in the order but well ahead of him on the circuit. Piotti finally fell out of the race by the 57th lap, so there was nobody behind. And so, by the 60th lap of the race Gonzalez had used attrition to help move up the running order to 7th place overall.
Fangio would be pushing hard in the Lancia-Ferrari. In front of his home crowd, he would turn in what would be the fastest lap of the race with a time of 1:45.3 and would put tremendous pressure on his former Mercedes teammate Moss. Moss wouldn't need any pressure as his Maserati was running into trouble just fine on its own. Then, with just 17 laps remaining in the race, Moss would be out of the running with a failed engine. This handed the lead of the race over to Fangio while Behra was promoted to 2nd overall. Gonzalez would also be promoted to 6th place as a result of Moss' ailments.
Both Uria and Gonzalez had a clear view of who the lead of the race was as both would be lapped a number of times before the end of the race. In fact, as the final couple of laps neared, the two Uruguayans were running the risk of not being classified due to being so far behind. Still, their car was running and a race finish in a difficult race would still be something of victory, especially against such mighty teams as Scuderia Ferrari and the factory Maserati team.
Fangio would be a blessed man on this day as he would take Musso's Ferrari and would work his way all the way up to the lead of the race when Moss fell foul of engine trouble. Coming around the final left-hander toward the start/finish line, Fangio would raise his hand to the crowd victorious. Crossing the line after three hours and almost 4 seconds, Fangio would come home to a clear victory beating Jean Behra by some 25 seconds after averaging nearly 80 mph. No less than two laps would be the difference from Behra back to Mike Hawthorn finishing in 3rd place in another Maserati 250F.
Alberto Uria and Oscar Gonzalez would have been blessed to have only been two laps behind by the end of the race. Instead, the compatriots would finish the race in a fabulous 6th place, but would end up not being classified as a result of being 10 laps, or some 24 miles, behind.
Although the pair from Uruguay would end the three hours of tough racing not classified, the 6th place in a much older Maserati would still be quite an achievement and would show the steady hand each one had behind the wheel of the car. But while this would be encouraging, the simple fact of the matter remained and that was the car simply did not have the ability to keep up with the factory teams. This would not be all that encouraging going into the next race.
Considering the first round of the Formula One World Championship took place across the South Atlantic from Europe it would be nice for the teams and drivers that there was a rather long break before the grand prix season kicked off in Europe. This enabled the teams to stay in the southern hemisphere a little while longer to take part in some of the non-championship events around at the time. The second Formula One race of the season would actually come up on the 5th of February. This non-championship race would be the Buenos Aires City Grand Prix. But while it would be called the Buenos Aires City Grand Prix the actual race would take place in Mendoza, some 740 miles away toward the west and the Andes Mountains.
Mendoza is a very dramatic city with flat plains dominating the views to the east, while to the west, nothing but the tall Andes Mountains can be seen. Known for its olive oil and wine industry, the city remains a popular destination for travelers and those seeking adventure. Through the use of advanced irrigation techniques, Mendoza would become an important agricultural center by the end of the 18th century. However, by the 20th century, tourism would become the most important industry in Mendoza and seemed like a great opportunity for grand prix racing.
Located on the site of the present-day General San Martin Park, the 2.60 mile Mendoza circuit offered drivers, teams and spectators some incredible views with the Andes dominating the background.
Unfortunately, the nature of the circuit played into the hands of the top factory teams that had come to be a part of the 60 lap race. In fact, the entry list for the race would be nearly identical to that of the Argentine Grand Prix. About the only difference is that Uria would take part in the race by himself and Jose Froilan Gonzalez would not be present at all.
As with in Buenos Aires, Fangio would set the pace around the Mendoza circuit. Though times are unknown, it is known Fangio had the pole with Eugenio Castellotti again starting 2nd. Luigi Musso would again find himself in 3rd place. However, there would be just three cars on the front row. Therefore, Ferrari would have the front locked. Uria would have the back-end locked as well. Though he would end up faster than Luigi Piotti in a factory Maserati 250F, Uria would still find himself starting from the fifth row of the grid in 12th spot—second-to-last.
Although he would not start the race from last place, Uria would realize his possibilities rather quickly. Unfortunately, other issues would also force his hand. Therefore, prior to the start of the 156 mile race it would be realized that Uria would not start the event. And, as the race played out, he would have quickly realized he didn't miss much.
Attrition for the race would actually be surprisingly low with just two cars retiring from the race, and one them, Luigi Musso, being the result of a crash. Fangio would take the lead early on and would show it didn't matter who else was in the race with him. He would set the fastest lap of the race and would pull out a very comfortable margin over Stirling Moss in 2nd.
Two of the Lancia-Ferraris, in Musso and Castellotti, would be out of the race. Still, even with Fangio being chased by a fleet of 250Fs, the Argentinean would be in control from the very beginning and would look every bit his dominant self,
By the end of the 60 lap race there would be just two others on the lead lap with Fangio. Everyone else was at least a lap down to Fangio, who was the absolute class of the field. After one hour and nearly 53 minutes, Fangio would come through to take his second-straight victory of the 1956 season. His former Mercedes-Benz teammate, Stirling Moss, would end up more than 35 seconds behind in 2nd place. Jean Behra would end up nearly a lap down but would cross the line in 3rd.
Uria's non start in the Buenos Aires City Grand Prix would be far more reaching than what it seemed. Not only would he not take part in any other championship or non-championship race on the Formula One calendar throughout the 1956 season, but, he would not take part in another Formula One World Championship round for the rest of his career. Although he had the Maserati A6GCM Inter at his disposal he would not take part in another major grand prix, either championship or non, following the 1956 season.
Uria, following the 1956, would disappear into the unknown following his 6th place finish in the Argentine Grand Prix. Still, Uria would provide Uruguay an opportunity to have one of its first in the World Championship.