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The most memorable moment last year was when Pedro Diniz’ Ligier erupted in flames on his outlap after a sloppy refueling stop, prompting one English newspaper’s now famous headline: ‘Diniz in the oven!’.

Race Day : April 13th 1997

Williams will lead the procession in a date with the ghost of Peron

It was the Dictator President Juan Peron who pushed Argentina onto the international stage in the late 1940’s and early 50’s by lending his name and the name of his wife, Eva to the winners’ cups. The so called Peron Cup races were dominated by one Argentinean by the name of Gigi Villoresi and it was due to his consistency for winning races that the first International racing circuit was built at Buenos Aires.

Originally built on swampland on the outskirts of the city in 1952, the Autodromo 17 Octobre as it was then called, has now been engulfed by the sprawling mass of Buenos Aires. The first Argentinean Grand Prix in 1953 was won by Albert Ascari and dominated in the following 4 years by Juan Manuel Fangio. It was also the first time a World Championship had been held outside Europe. Argentina, has since become synonymous with the greatest racing legends of all time. Past winners have included, Stirling Moss (in the first rear/mid-engined car, the Cooper Climax) in 1958, Bruce McLaren in 1960 and, Emerson Fittipaldi in 1973, after a 10 year absence of Grand Prix activities. Nelson Piquet, then Brazils’ most favourite home boy, won in 1981 on a badly deteriorating track and the Grand Prix was shelved until three years ago.

The Grand Prix returned in 1995 to a drastically modified circuit, shortened to just 4.259 kms (2.646 miles) and consisting of most of the Southern ‘infield’ end. The two extremely long fast straights, joined by a sweeping horseshoe at its most Northerly point, having been excluded from the rather more ‘intimate’ recent configuration. Given a new name after the great Argentinean driver, the Autodromo de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Oscar Alfredo Galvez, basks amid a thriving and attractive city with wide Parisian style boulevards and Grand Napoleonic parks.

The most memorable moment last year was when Pedro DinizLigier erupted in flames on his outlap after a sloppy refueling stop, prompting one English newspaper’s now famous headline: ‘Diniz in the oven!’.

Current World Champion Damon Hill and top British qualifier at Interlagos, has dominated the race since its return, in the Williams, but the chance of a hat trick is but a distant fantasy for the now Arrows-bound driver. However, with the prospect of sudden rain storms as in Brazil, and the proneness of the track to retain isolated pockets of standing water even as the track dries, the much vaunted Bridgestone tyres may make a difference in capturing a point or two. He has shown true determination and style in putting his wayward car on the grid, mere hundreds of a second slower than the driver that replaced him at Williams, Heinz Harald Frentzen, who, by all accounts is having a miserable time of it with his new bosses. (See latest News update).

Prost Driver Olivier Panis who did so brilliantly at Interlagos in the dry, to finish third, may score some major points again and possibly a win if the weather proves foul.

Goodyear in retaliation, are taking over 2300 tyres to the race of which slightly over half are choices of dry compounds. The 1997 Argentine Grand Prix will also mark the 100th appearance of the Jordan Team who debuted in Phoenix USA in March 1991. Team Manager, Eddie Jordan has fond memories of the team's first Grand Prix. "Our first Formula One race nearly took place on St Patrick's Day, and I had fantastic visions of our green car driving through the streets in America." He added, " For me, our 100th Grand Prix marks the beginning of this new era where we will see the Grand Prix victories we have craved for so long."

Benetton are back on form having finally learned how to set up their new car. Gerhard Berger especially could be in line for another podium finish. Technical Director Pat Symonds said after a successful practice session with Jean Alesi at Silverstone last week, "Following better results in Brazil, we have progressed through planned a development programme and are very satisfied with the results." PR-speak of course, but not without credence it would appear.

Driver Michael Schumacher has been putting his Ferrari through its paces and creating fresh lap records at their home circuit at Mugello, but he doesn’t realistically expect to get to the podium. There could however, be a remote possibility that Eddie Irvine in the second Ferrari might, just might get through the first lap without hitting something. This would indeed be a small victory for the team in itself.

One should expect great things from the recently rejuvenated West McLaren Mercedes team. Yet after winning the race in Melbourne David Coulthard has been backward in coming forward, whilst team mate Mika Hakkinen has been forward in standing still maintaining an even 3rd and 4th to date.

With some good performances now expected from a fast up and coming Jarno Trulli in the Minardi and Brazilian Rubens Barichello desperate to finish a race for Stewart, the chequered flag will surely fall on the Williams of Jacques Villeneuve, pipped at the post by a little over 12 seconds last year, partly due to his lack of track experience. "It was only my third Grand Prix," Villeneuve said, "I’m looking forward to returning with prior knowledge and experience of the circuit. The car is very strong, the team is working really well, the tyres and engine are fine, so I’m pretty confident." That’s enough to make most drivers head straight for the ‘parc ferme’ without passing go and it’s a statement that even the most ardent pessimist could not dispute.

A creative gambling man however, may like to weigh up the odds, add some rain, a change of rubber, check out ‘between race’ testing times and the determination of several drivers to do well, to see that Villeneuve in different circumstances, would not necessarily be the odds on favourite. It could also depend on where Irvine qualifies.

The Argentinean Grand Prix takes place over 72 laps on a slippery and narrow track which has scarcely any overtaking opportunities. As in Monaco a good grid position and the ability to capitalise on it is vitally important.

In the long Grandstand, amid the vociferous and animated Latin aficionados sits the ghost of Eva Peron and her Dictator Husband, once guarded by heavily armed soldiers who’s proliferation at strategic parts of the circuit always cast a shadow over the events. The last great Argentinean Carlos Reutemann never won his home Grand Prix and there is little to look forward to in the near future. But Argentina will not cry for the fans this weekend. No one has won more times than their God, Fangio and as Peron presides, Fangio’s spirit will be down on the track somewhere urging on the gallant and bravehearted to taste the spoils of victory.

Chris Richardson

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