Juan Manuel Fangio (June 24, 1911 – July 17, 1995) was a race-car driver from Argentina, who dominated the first decade of Formula One racing. He won five World Championship titles—a record which stood for 46 years—with four different teams (Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Maserati), a feat that has not been repeated since.
Fangio's racing career began in 1934, primarily in long-distance, stock-car events, which lead to his being crowned Argentine National Champion. Following World War II, Fangio, then 36, started driving in Europe, where he placed second in the world championship in 1950, and won the following year in an Alfa Romeo. By then, he had become an Argentinean national hero.
Despite a serious injury at the Monza, Italy track in 1952, Fangio went on to win a 2,000-mile, Mexican race the following year. From that point on, Fangio went on to win four more world championships, in 1954 and 1955 (Mercedes-Benz), 1956 (Ferarri), and 1957 (Maserati).
Following the French Grand Prix, Fangio retired from racing in 1958. His record of 24 Grand Prix wins in 51 starts is the highest winning percentage in the history of the sport.
Juan Manuel Fangio was born on June 24, 1911 near Balcarce, Argentina to Italian parents from the small, central Italian village of Castiglione Messer Marino, near Chieti. He started out as a mechanic, but by age 23, he had driven in his first race in a converted Ford taxi that disintegrated during the event. He began his racing career in Argentina in 1934, mostly in long-distance road races and he was Argentine National Champion in 1940 and 1941.
Just before World War II, he moved into stock-car racing in a Chevrolet and won the Gran Premio International del Norte, a race from Buenos Aires to Peru and back—a distance of 6,000 miles. He and his Chevrolet became famous overnight. The outbreak of World War II halted his rise, and he did not begin racing in Europe until 1947. Fangio was 36 and considered "over the hill" by many when he began his assault on Europe. In 1949, he won six times in ten races and became an international hero.
Fangio, unlike later Formula One drivers, started his racing career at a mature age and was the oldest driver in many of his races. During his career, drivers raced almost without protective equipment. The notable rivals he had to face were Alberto Ascari, Giuseppe Farina, and Stirling Moss.
Initially Fangio was not particularly successful until racing an Alfa Romeo in 1950. He finished second in the world 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. Fangio soon returned to win La Carrera Panamericana, the 2000-mile Mexican road race the following year in a Lancia D24.
In 1954, he raced with Maserati until Mercedes-Benz entered competition 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 dream team that included Stirling Moss). At the end of the second successful season (which was overshadowed by the 1955 Le Mans disaster in which 81 spectators were killed), Mercedes withdrew from racing.
In 1956, Fangio moved to Ferrari, replacing Alberto Ascari, who had been killed in an accident, to win his fourth title. He finished 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. In this memorable race, Fangio drove his ponderous Maserati against the more aerodynamic Ferraris on the dangerous Nurburgring track. Because of his vehicle's weak rear suspension, Fangio decided to take on only a partial load of fuel, in a strategy designed to build up a big lead over the gas-laden Ferraris, then make a pit stop, and still retain his lead even though his opponents could run the race without refueling. However, Fangio's pit stop left him 28 seconds behind when he pulled back out on the track. Relentlessly, in a brilliant display of his legendary driving skill, Fangio finally passed Mike Hawthorn on the final circuit and won by four seconds.
"With most drivers, you figure 25 percent driver, 75 percent car," said American Phil Hill, the 1961 Formula One champion. "With the old man, you know it's 40 percent driver, 60 percent car, so he's already got us beat with that something extra that's inside him." The short, stocky Fangio didn't look the part of a race driver, but with 24 Grands Prix wins and because of the time they were accomplished, he is considered by many as the "greatest driver of all time."
After his series of back-to-back championships he retired in 1958, following the French Grand Prix. He won 24 Grand Prix in 51 starts, the best winning percentage in the sport's history.
During the rest of his life, Fangio represented Mercedes-Benz, often driving his former race cars in demonstration laps. In 1974, he was appointed President of Mercedes-Benz Argentina, and in 1987 he was made Honorary President for Life of that corporation.
Cuban rebels kidnapped him on February 23, 1958, but he was later freed.
In 1990, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
According to the official Formula One website, "Many consider him to be the greatest driver of all time.". His record of five World Championship titles stood for 45 years until German driver Michael Schumacher took his sixth title in 2003. Schumacher said, "Fangio is on a level much higher than I see myself... There is not even the slightest comparison." 
In his home country, Argentina, Fangio is revered as one of the greatest sportsmen the nation has ever produced. Argentinians often referred to as The Maestro, and a poll of sport journalists and commentators placed him as the second best Argentine sportsman of the twentieth century, second only to soccer great Diego Maradona.
Fangio's nephew, Juan Manuel Fangio II, was also a successful racing driver.
Five statues of Fangio, sculpted by catalan artist Joaquim Ros Sabaté, are erected around the world: at Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Montmeló, Spain; Nürburgring, Germany; and Monza, Italy.
All links retrieved October 16, 2013.
|Formula One World Champion
|Formula One World Champion
1954, 1955, 1956, 1957
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