Saturday 17th January 1953
The deadliest Grand Prix that ever took place, the Grand Prix of Argentina, was held on the Buenos Aires circuit. Estimates of the number of people who turned up at the track vary from 300,000 to 400,000 – some even suggest as many as half a million people were packed into the circuit. Hours before the race the stands were full, the crowd baking in 37C heat. And still more were trying to get in. Wire-cutters appeared and thousands poured through holes in the fences. With the stands full, they sat by the edge of the track.The police were unable to contain the growing numbers surrounding the circuit, who stood on the grass verges along the edge of the tarmac. As the 4pm start time drew near the drivers became edgy. Some wanted to postpone or abandon the start. The circuit now represented a rally stage, thick with people on either side of the track. The realisation dawned on the drivers that the alternative – not putting on a race – might provoke a riot. So they raced. Alberto Ascari led the cars away, pursued by Juan Manuel Fangio. But as the race began the crowd pressed forward, encroaching onto the track.“Time after time I waved at them to get out of the way, but this only made them worse,” said Mike Hawthorn afterwards. “They began standing in the roadway holding shirts and pullovers, which they snatched away at the last moment like a toreador playing a bull”.The situation grew ever more tense. On lap 21 a stub axle broke on Adolfo Schwelm-Cruz’s Cooper and the wheel bounced into the crowd. Eleven laps later disaster struck. Farina, who had been running third, pitched his car into a spin as a figure darted out in front of him at the Curva Nor Este. The Ferrari spun off the road, toppling bodies as it cut into the crowd. News of the fatalities spread swiftly, inciting mass panic. Another boy ran in front of Alan Brown’s Cooper and was struck down and killed. Ambulances heading to the dead and injured were involved in further crashes.The race continued, with Ascari and his pursuers passing the accident scenes every two minutes for the next two hours. Fangio retired with a transmission problem shortly after Farina’s crash. The chequered flag finally brought an end to the race after three hours. Ascari finished a lap ahead of everyone else. Gonzalez was the first Argentinian driver home in third place behind Luigi Villoresi. Hawthorn was fourth ahead of Oscar Galvez. Brown pressed on until the end in his Cooper, its nose bent and the car requiring three pit stops to refill its radiator. It’s hard to imagine the horror of what went on at this race about which many details are sketchy and little video footage apparently exists. Officials claimed that ten people were killed and 30 more injured. Accounts vary and some put the number of those who lost their lives as high as 30.