Juan Manuel Fangio

Juan Manuel Fangio

24/6/1911 - 17/7/1995

Considered by many to be the greatest driver of all time. In seven full Formula One seasons, he was World Champion five times with four different teams and runner-up twice. In his 51 championship Grands Prix he started from the front row 48 times, 29 were pole positions, and set 23 fastest race laps en route to 35 podium finishes, 24 of them victories.

Juan Manuel Fangio was born in Balcarce, Argentina the son of an Italian immigrant in 1911. He was a legendary Argentine race car driver, considered by many to be the greatest driver of all time. In seven full Formula One seasons, he was World Champion five times with four different teams and runner-up twice. In his 51 championship Grands Prix he started from the front row 48 times, 29 were pole positions, and set 23 fastest race laps en route to 35 podium finishes, 24 of them victories.

He began his racing career in South America in 1934, mostly in long distance road races and he was Argentine National Champion in 1940 and 1941. He wanted to race in Europe but the outbreak of World War II delayed this and it was not until 1947 that he finally made the trip.

Unlike later Formula one drivers, Fangio started his racing career at a mature age and was the oldest driver in many of his races. In addition to this during his career drivers raced virtually without an protective attire, and the rivals he had to face were some of the best drivers ever, names like Alberto Ascari, Giuseppe Farina and Stirling Moss.

His skillful driving combined with nature of the competition and risks involved have led many people to call him the best driver in racing history, an honor that has endured for more than 5 decades. Although many consider Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Jim Clark to be at the same level as Fangio was, a comparison is difficult given the changes in motor racing since Fangio's time.

Initially Fangio was not particularly successful until racing an Alfa Romeo in 1950.

In the lead after the opening lap of the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix, Fangio was approaching a particularly dangerous bend for the second time when he suddenly became aware that something was wrong. The faces of the spectators, which he usually saw as a whitish blur as he drove down the straight, were all turned away from him. Fangio instantly realised that they had to be looking at something interesting around the corner. He braked hard and carefully rounding the bend, he saw that his split-second assessment had been correct. The road was blocked by a multiple pile up.

He came second in the championship in 1950 and won his first title in 1951. He was competing well in 1952 in a Maserati until a serious accident at Monza, Italy ended his season with a neck injury. In 1954 he was back, racing with a Maserati until Mercedes-Benz entered in mid-season. Winning eight out of twelve races (six out of eight in the championship) in that year, he continued to race again with Mercedes—driving the superb W196 Monoposto—in 1955 in a team that included Stirling Moss. At the end of the second successful season which was overshadowed by the Le Mans 1955 disaster in which 81 spectators were killed, Mercedes had won all titles and withdrew from racing as there was nothing left to prove.

For 1956, Fangio moved to Ferrari, replacing Alberto Ascari who had been killed in an accident, winning his fourth title, finishing first in three races and second in all the other championship races. In 1957 he returned to Maserati and won his fifth title, notable for an extraordinary performance to secure his final win at the Nürburgring in Germany. After his series of back-to-back championships he retired in 1958, after the French Grand Prix, having won 24 Grand Prix in 51 starts (the best winning percentage in the sport's history).

On February 23, 1958 Fidelistas seized Fangio in the lobby of a downtown hotel, spirited him off, and held him for several days, finally releasing him unharmed. No demands were made; the kidnapping in itself served the rebels’ purpose by bringing them worldwide publicity and demonstrating their capability for action within a city that was thought of as a government stronghold.

During the rest of his life, he was a representative of Mercedes-Benz, often driving his former race cars in demonstration laps. In 1990, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Juan Manuel Fangio died in Buenos Aires in 1995, at the age of 84. In 2005, the Zonda 2005 C12 F was named after him due to the engineering done by Fangio for Pagani.

He was interred at Ciudad de Balcarce Cemetery, Balcarce, Argentina. His nephew, Juan Manuel II, was also a successful auto racing competitor.

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