TeamsScuderia Sud Americana: 1958 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
By the end of the 1957 season Juan Manuel Fangio had earned his fifth World Championship, but he was also 46 years of age. It was clear Fangio could still deliver behind the wheel, but, it was becoming more and more difficult. It would be made all the more difficult when Maserati withdrew from Formula One at the end of the season. Heading into the 1958 season, Fangio, perhaps for the first time, seemed without direction, but he wouldn't retire, not just yet.
The 1957 season had seen Fangio at his absolute best. In years prior, the Argentinean had built a reputation for being a fine driver, always on the edge but never out of control. His ability to get the best out of an underperforming car and his touch to make an unreliable mount a race winner would earn him the nickname El Maestro ('The Master'). But at the German Grand Prix in 1957, Fangio would surprise even himself.
It would be one of the greatest performances in Formula One history. After losing the lead and trailing behind the two Ferraris of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins by some 45 seconds, Fangio would put together a string of laps around the famed Nordschleife to not only erase the deficit, but to take a famous win. This victory assured the Argentinean of his fifth World Championship and fourth-in-a-row. It would be a remarkable performance in which Fangio would say he would never be able to repeat it. Throughout his mighty charge to the front, the 46 year old would reset the lap record nearly every time passed and would knock-off an incredible 11 seconds from the two Ferraris on the 20th lap. Hawthorn and Collins were responding to frantic messages from the pits to speed up, but there wasn't anything the two Brits could go against the Argentinean in the aged Maserati.
The performance at the German Grand Prix demoralized any other challenger and would enable Fangio to earn his fifth World Championship quicker than perhaps any of his others. What was truly remarkable about the performance was the fact he had achieved such success in the old Maserati 250F.
The Maserati 250F, for many, provided the first hope of Formula One glory. Stirling Moss would be without a hope until he made the move to the 250F. It was not only beautiful in its lines, it was successful. However, by 1957, it was also pretty old.
Vandervell would build a couple of examples of his Vanwalls. Ferrari would go from its 625 to the evolved Lancia. Then there was Mercedes-Benz and their W196. All would come and go during the lifetime of the 250F. Certainly the Maserati would be evolved from year to year, but its foundation remained mostly unchanged. Even with factory support, many drivers demonstrated the 250F still had life within its members, but none would be able to demonstrate the life still coursing through its tubes better than Fangio.
At the end of the '57 season, Maserati withdrew from Formula One as a factory entity. The company still had a lot of customers. Therefore, the factory mechanics still planned to make trips to serve as support and crews for the privateers. Heading into the 1958 season, there would be yet another privateer team running Maserati 250Fs.
Though he was staring down being 47 years old come the end of June, Fangio wasn't ready to call it quits just yet. However, the departure of Maserati seemed to leave Fangio without a place to go. He was without a factory drive and didn't appear to be too thoughtful of looking for another either. It seemed evident the man from Balcarce was slowing down and contemplating retiring. But he couldn't do so, at least not yet.
Closely following on the heels of the '57 season was the first round of the 1958 Formula One World Championship. Many of the best drivers and teams in the world made the trip from Europe to Central and South America during the winter months. The first round of the Formula One World Championship followed along just a couple of weeks into January. This left Fangio very little time to make a decision to step away from racing. What's more, the first round of the World Championship was the Argentine Grand Prix. He just had to take part in his home grand prix just one more time.
But Fangio wasn't the only one of his countrymen that was a regular on the racing scene that needed a drive. Carlos Menditeguy had taken part in his first World Championship race back in 1953 driving for Equipe Gordini in the Argentine Grand Prix. From that day on, the Argentine usually took part in his home grand prix and only a very few number of other rounds. A teammate to Fangio with the factory Maserati team, Menditeguy would go on to take part in four rounds of the World Championship earning a career best 3rd place in his home grand prix.
A scratch golfer and a very capable polo player, Menditeguy was a regular in the sportscar scene. Considered to be a playboy, Menditeguy was not short on talent and would prove that on many occasions. Then, after an accident in 1956, things seemed to change. Failures with nearly all of the Ferraris in the '57 Argentine Grand Prix would enable Menditeguy to run a rather conservative strategy to his best-ever finish.
Having driven Maseratis since 1954, Menditeguy would be another without a drive heading into the '58 season. Having strong connections to Fangio's manager and to the Maserati factory back in Italy, Carlos wouldn't be without a drive in his home grand prix in 1958.
Fangio would end up purchasing chassis 2529, the same chassis he had used throughout his incredible and dominant '57 season. It was the same car he had used in the German Grand Prix. Jean Behra would leave Maserati at the end of the '57 season when the factory withdrew its factory team from the series. Behra, though he would partake in the Argentine Grand Prix in a Maserati, would move on to drive a BRM for Owen Racing. This left chassis 2528, Behra's mount for most of '57 available. This car would be purchased and made a part of the same stable as 2529. The stable would be South America, or Scuderia Sud Americana.
The two cars would be entered in the Argentine Grand Prix to be held on the 19th of January in 1958. A good many changes in the regulations had been made between '57 and '58. One of the most notable changes would be the switch from alcohol-based fuels to regular aviation gasoline. The Vanwalls had used alcohol-based fuels and were concerned about overheating. The 250F was another that made use of alcohol-based fuels. Combined with its older age and potential for overheating, the Maserati entrants, of which there would be many, appeared to be at a serious disadvantage even before the cars took to the circuit for practice.
The political situation much more stable now, drivers would take to the circuit concerned with their minds much more focused on the task at hand. And what was at hand would be 80 laps of the 2.42 circuit right in the heart of Buenos Aires.
Using his size and strength, Fangio would demonstrate why it appeared the 250F had been built specifically for him. Despite being a heavy and aged car, Fangio would set the fastest lap time in all of the practice sessions and would take yet another pole with a time of 1:42.0. The World Champion showed no signs of slowing down, that was for sure. Mike Hawthorn would barely edge-out his Ferrari teammate, Peter Collins for 2nd place and Jean Behra would complete the front row by earning the 4th spot on the grid. Menditeguy would be impressive in his own right. His best effort would be just a little more than a second and a half slower than Fangio and would result in a 6th place starting spot, which meant the middle of the second row.
As a result of the costs and the changes in the regulations, only a total of 10 cars would line up on the grid for the start of the first round of the '58 Formula One World Championship. Thankfully, the weather would be much more agreeable than in years past. The cooler temperatures would be most welcome for the Maserati pilots as it meant the potential for overheating went down, but only slightly.
A total of six Maseratis lined up on the grid next to three Ferraris and one Cooper. Despite the size of the fleet, it was the Maseratis that were at the disadvantage. But then there was the one occupying the pole. And it was being driven by an absolute master. If ever there was one that could turn back the hands of time it was that one.
When the flag dropped to start the race, attrition would see to it to help Fangio's cause. Peter Collins' Ferrari would break right then and there and the Briton would roll to a stop after just a few feet. His race was over before it even began. But it would not be the Maserati piloted by Fangio that would lead the way. That honor would go to Behra. Behra, however, would have Hawthorn all over him in the new Ferrari. Fangio would be relatively slow at the start and would complete the first lap back in 4th place behind Moss in the Rob Walker Cooper. Menditeguy would enjoy a good start to the race and would be in 5th place right behind Fangio at the completion of the first circuit.
Behra would be unable to hold off Hawthorn and the Brit would go into the lead, which he would hold onto for the next seven or eight laps. Moss' fast start would soon come undone and Fangio would finally find his form. While Menditeguy held steady right around the points, Fangio would be on the march. Just ten laps into the race, Fangio would delight his countrymen by moving past Hawthorn for the lead. Hawthorn would fall back into the clutches of Behra and would end up drifting backward through the first half of the race.
Fangio would lead lap after lap. Many of the competitors would begin making pitstops for new tires. The terrible heat in previous years had meant new tires were a must. Unfortunately, the temperatures were just hot enough that the Maseratis did begin to struggle with overheating problems. Fangio would keep an eye on things and remained up at the front of the field until he stopped for new tires. Behra's Maserati really began to struggle in the conditions and the Frenchman would soon fall into the clutches of Menditeguy. Carlos would end up getting the better of Behra, but would have to watch out for him over the course of the race.
Fangio's stop would drop him down the order. Moss would be in the lead, but he had not made a pitstop like the rest of those that were chasing him. Hawthorn had run into oil pressure problems and had come into the pits to have the issue checked. This allowed Fangio to run in 3rd place, but for a very short time. Overheating concerns and the sheer pace of the Ferrari meant Hawthorn made his way by into 3rd pushing Fangio back to forth. Menditeguy continued to run on the verge of a points-paying position. However, he would soon lose out to Behra and Harry Schell. Carlos had reason to be worried, but had enough in hand to stay ahead of the two remaining Maseratis in the field. Looking toward the end, Carlos would settle in and try his best not to make a mistake in the remaining moments.
All of the Argentineans believed Fangio would at least finish 3rd. Moss had not stopped, but it seemed just a matter of time. Luigi Musso kept his distance in the Ferrari believing the race to be coming to him. However, with about 10 laps remaining it would become obvious to the Italian that Moss was not going to pit. He was going to try and make it the whole of the race on the same tires he had started. Musso, in response, would pick up the pace in an attempt to close the distance and take what he believed was a sure victory.
Moss would have other ideas. Pushing his Cooper as hard as he dared, Moss would continue to pass by the pits. Fangio's race had run its course. He was still out on the circuit but his Maserati could not mount another famous challenge. Concerns over temperatures meant the two Ferraris ahead of him would not suffer the same fate as those that had been swallowed up in Germany only about half a year earlier.
Musso would try and try, but would be bettered by strategy. Though the threads were showing when he crossed the line, Moss would manage to hold his Cooper, and its tires, together long enough to take the victory by a little less than three seconds over Musso. Hawthorn would have 40 seconds in hand over Fangio in 4th place, and so, would make it two Ferraris finishing on the podium. Carlos Menditeguy's fade in performance would hinder his result. Just when points seemed to be in the offing, he would end up crossing the line more than four laps behind in 7th place.
The performance by Fangio made it seem as though the living legend was, in fact, human. Though just six months removed from that famous victory, the 250F's short-comings were now readily apparent and made Fangio appear entirely mortal. The concerns and worries over temperatures had also compromised Carlos' race. The days of the 250F were rapidly drawing to a close; if the doors weren't already shut.
It appeared as though Fangio was set for yet one more moment of Formula One World Championship glory after qualifying on pole for the Argentine Grand Prix. However, the aged 250F would not have the legs to truly compete against the new cars and would be left huffing and puffing as it crossed the line. The glory days appeared gone. However, if there was one that could push the sun back up into the sky for just one more moment before the sunset it would be Fangio.
It was abundantly clear the opportunities to push that sun back up into the sky were becoming fewer and farther between. If he was going to be able to do it, it would have to happen soon. There was no better opportunity than that presented on the 2nd of February.
Fangio, and the other drivers and teams, were still on his home turf of Argentina. And, on the 2nd of February there would be held the 14th Gran Premio Ciudad de Buenos Aires. It was a Formula Libre race and would consist of Ferrari Dino 246s going up against Ford and Chevrolet Specials.
Fangio would enter his Maserati in the double heat race. The second car would not be driven by Menditeguy. Instead, it would be made available for another Argentine Roberto Mieres.
Compared to the first round of the Formula One season, the Buenos Aires Grand Prix would be quite different. For one thing, the format of the race would be different. Instead of one race consisting of 80 laps, the non-championship Formula Libre event would consist of two heat races lasting a total of 30 laps each. Final scoring would be in the aggregate meaning each car and driver took part in both heat races.
Another difference would be the circuit itself. The race would still make use of the Autodromo Municipal Ciudad de Buenos Aires. However, the circuit layout would be different. When completed in 1952, the circuit just to the south of Argentina's capital, and largest, city would consist of a number of different layout options. The Formula One World Championship would make use of the 2.42 mile number 2 layout. The formula libre event would make use of circuit number four. This particular layout still made use of the infield section just before the start/finish line. However, it would also include the infield section just after as well. As a result, the length of the lap increased to 2.92 miles and increased the lap time some 30 seconds.
Mieres would not show for the race. This meant just one car would be entered in the race for Scuderia Sud Americana. Taking to the circuit for practice, Fangio would find himself bested, once again, by Moss in the Rob Walker Cooper. However, when the race got underway, a crash would ruin Moss' chances of taking two victories in a row in Buenos Aires. Moss' departure also opened the door wide open to the other competitors in the race.
Fangio would be impressive despite the overheating concerns. Having to complete just 30 laps at a time, he would be able to push a little harder right from the very beginning. Hawthorn would still go on to take the victory, but, Fangio would manage to apply the pressure and would finish just a little more than 30 seconds behind. Luigi Musso would be able to bring another of the Ferraris through to finish in 3rd.
Fangio would manage to start the second heat from the pole. This would be important as it would help him to control the pace, and Hawthorn. Everything would change right from the moment the flag dropped.
Hawthorn's Ferrari would break right at the beginning of the race. The transmission would go out in the Ferrari giving Fangio a clear advantage heading into the final 30 lap heat race.
Proving he wasn't about to win without earning, Fangio would turn in the fastest lap of the race and would go on to finish the event with a time just a tenth slower than what Hawthorn had achieved in the first heat. Knowing he needed to beat Fangio by more than 20 seconds, Musso would appear uninspired and would end up being up-ended by Menditeguy for 2nd place in the final heat.
Not having Hawthorn to contend with, Fangio was able to cruise to an easy victory in the second heat, and when the aggregate results were compiled. When all said and done, the Argentinean would win one more time on home soil. He would end up defeating Musso by a margin of more than minute over Luigi Musso. Francisco Godia and Carlos Menditeguy would partner together to finish 3rd in the very same 250F Menditeguy had driven to a 7th place finish in the Argentine Grand Prix.
Fangio still had it within him. It would have been a fantastic duel with Hawthorn, but instead, the Briton would be there beside him as the great champion accepted the praise and adulation of an adoring public. The scene around him would be crowded and electric. It appeared everyone just wanted to get close to this passionate, but respectful racer from Balcarce. It had been a processional, thirty victory laps.
Prior to the race, Francisco Godia-Sales had purchased chassis 2528 and used it, along with Menditeguy, to finish in 2nd place in the race. The other chassis, Fangio's famed 2529, would come to the end of its useful life, as far as Fangio was concerned. One last victory in Buenos Aires would serve as the car's send-off. Not long afterward, the car would be sold to Giorgio Scarlatti. The car would take part in a number of grand prix throughout the '58 season. Being the very car that took Fangio to glory the season before, it was not going to be retired and sent out to pasture that quickly. However, as far as 2529 and Fangio were concerned, the partnership had come to an end.
Scuderia Sud Americana's time in the Formula One World Championship would come to a quick and simple end. Nonetheless, having a World Champion like Fangio behind the wheel meant the little-known team would become one of the most capable in Formula One history. While Fangio began to fade away from the Formula One scene, Scuderia Sud Americana would already be gone; a very distant memory.