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GP Week : Issue 23
>>F1 INSIGHT the track on that outing. Its pedigree was assured, but the only change that Moss’old ally and engineer Alf Francis had been able to make to the car to prepare it for aviation fuel was the fitting of new jets. Otherwise it ran in identical trim to the car which had been parked after Brabham’s win on December 26, 1957. Moss’observations of the car onal driven by Jack Brabham to victory at the BRSCC Boxing Day race at Brands Hatch, setting a new fastest lap for Walker and his 2-litre Cooper Climax T43 took on the might of the Formula 1 fraternity of 1958 for the opening round of the season. In total 10 cars took to the grid for the race: Stirling Moss in the privately entered Cooper would take on three brand new Ferrari Dino 246 cars driven by Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins and Luigi Musso, and six Maseratis driven by Carlos Menditeguy, Jean Behra, Franciso Godia, Harry Schell, Horace Gould and Moss’great rival and friend Juan Manuel Fangio. The Cooper itself had been would be instrumental for the weekend’s strategic game: “It felt fast although the road holding was no better than fair, particularly on the slow corners,”he said of practice. “However, it handled far better with a full load of fuel of which it used fifteen and a half gallons on my fifteen laps of practice.” Come Friday, the team put 4.50s on the front, which improved the handling hugely for Moss. The simple problem with these new tyres was their duration… 30 laps: 40 at best. The Argentine Grand Prix was due to be an 80 lap Grand Prix. With the Cooper’s wheels being fixed by studs compared to the Ferraris and Maseratis relying on knock-off hubs, any advantage the little Cooper could build up would be completely demolished by the length of time a tyre stop would take. The race was simply unwinnable. Saturday’s final practice effort was well below Stirling’s expectations. He was left in seventh place on the grid, partly out of a need to conserve his tyres for the race, partly due to concerns over the stability of the gearbox, and partly due to the immense pain being dealt out by his left eye. “A few days before the race I’d been play-fighting with my wife,”he told me back in 2004, “We were just messing around, and she accidentally scratched four millimetres off my cornea! I had to wear a patch because it was seeping so much, and for most of practice I couldn’t see. Come race day, it was still painful and blurred.” But Moss, ever the racer, pushed on through the pain and clear disadvantage of using just one eye, and took to the grid on the afternoon of Sunday January 19, at the 2.4 mile Buenos Aires Autodrome. The conditions that day were sweltering, and it was clear that a tyre stop would be essential for every driver on the grid. “It was a late start, 4:30pm, and I got away well,”Moss wrote. “Collins broke a halfshaft on the line, which lessened the opposition. First time round I was fourth behind Behra, Hawthorn and Fangio, and then I moved up a place, but on the fourth lap the gearbox jammed in second and I did almost a complete lap like that. “I was just going to pull into the pits and get Alf Francis onto it, when suddenly it freed. It was, in fact, one of the luckiest breaks I have ever experienced.” The clutch on the Cooper had broken, and a locking device on the gearbox to prevent it jumping out of gear had left the car stuck in second. Quite incredibly, a stone was thrown up under the car and released the device, freeing Moss to change gear without the clutch and race on. In total Moss had lost about 15 seconds and had been passed by Musso, but with his stroke of luck and a renewed vigour, Moss charged on and re-passed Musso to take fourth, all the while being sure to conserve his tyres. On lap 18 he took third from Behra, eventually catching and taking Hawthorn for second. On lap 35, race-leader Fangio came in for fresh tyres, leaving Moss out in front all alone. At 40 laps Moss held a 22 second lead over Behra, and when he pitted on lap 54 Moss held over a minute on Fangio, whose car started to slow considerably, falling behind his rivals. This left Musso second and Hawthorn third. Meanwhile in the pits, Alf Francis and the Rob Walker team were playing out a charade. “Alf stood out in the pits with a churn of petrol and new tyres so everyone thought I’d be pitting soon,”Moss explained. “Nobody was concerned that I was leading because they knew how long it would take for me to stop.” By now, the breaker strip had started to appear on Moss’ rear tyres, first as a white dot, and then as a long white line. It began to broaden, lap after lap. Moss kept to the oily parts of the track to try and cool his tyres. By now Musso and the Ferraris had realised Moss wasn’t going to pit, and they chased after him. “I won by just a few seconds,” he grinned, “and my tyres were literally fluffy. I just made it. I even had to drive on the grass to keep the tyres cool.” Stirling Moss had run his tyres twice as far as they should have gone. In a privately entered Cooper, he had taken on and beaten the might of Ferrari and Maserati and taken his first points in a championship he should, but for the virtue of being a true gentleman, have won. Stirling Moss never did win the championship, but that Argentine Grand Prix and the incredible skill against all odds of the driver in the little Cooper is still revered as one of the greatest drives ever witnessed in the history of this sport. The victory was also of great historical importance, for it marked the first F1 win for a mid-engined Grand Prix car, and paved the way for the future of the sport. “Was I brave that day or stupid?”Moss reflected. “To this day I don’t know, as the two were very closely related. I did everything you shouldn’t normally do to win that race.” 23