Juan Manuel Fangio (FANGE-ee-oh; born June 24, 1911 in Balcarce, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina – died July 17, 1995 in Buenos Aires, Argentina), nicknamed El Chueco ("knock-kneed") or El Maestro ("The Master"), was a racing car driver from Argentina, who dominated the first decade of Formula One racing. He won five Formula One World Driver's Championships — a record which stood for 46 years until eventually beaten by Michael Schumacher — with four different teams (Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Maserati), a feat that has not been repeated since. Many still consider him to be the greatest driver of all time.
He is the only Argentine driver to have won the Argentine Grand Prix, having won it four times in his career.
Early life and racing
Fangio was born on San Juan's day in 1911 in Balcarce, to Italian immigrants. He began his racing career in Argentina in 1934, driving a 1929 Ford Model A which he had rebuilt. During his time racing in Argentina, he drove Chevrolet cars and was Argentine National Champion in 1940 and 1941. He first came to Europe to race in 1948, funded by the Argentine Automobile Club and the Argentine government.
Formula One racing
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 with no protective equipment. Fangio had no compunction about leaving a team, even after a successful year or even during a season, if he thought he would have a better chance with a better car. As was then common, several of his race results were shared with team mates after he took over their car during races when his own had technical problems. His rivals included Alberto Ascari, Giuseppe Farina and Stirling Moss.
Fangio's first entry into Formula One came in the 1948 French Grand Prix at Reims, where he started his Simca-Gordini from 11th on the grid but retired. He did not drive in F1 again until the following year at Sanremo, but having upgraded to a Maserati 4CLT/48 sponsored by the Automobile Club of Argentina he dominated the event, winning both heats to take the aggregate win by almost a minute over Prince Bira. Fangio entered a further six F1 races in 1949, winning four of them against top-level opposition.
For the first Formula One World Drivers' Championship in 1950 Fangio was taken on by the Alfa Romeo team alongside Nino Farina and Luigi Fagioli. With competitive racing machinery following the Second World War still in short supply, the pre-war Alfettas proved dominant.
Fangio retired from the first round of the championship at Silverstone whilst running third whilst championship rival and teammate Nino Farina won but he would win in Monaco when whilst Farina retired.
In Monaco Fangio got a better start than Farina and when they approached the Tabac corner for the first time they found that it was drenched, due to heavy wave action. Fangio negotiated the corner whilst Farina spun causing a 10 multi-car pile-up.
Joint leaders of the championship, Farina and Fangio were the class of the field again in Bremgarten for the Swiss GP but Fangio would retire from second and it was status quo at the front of the Belgian GP but this time it was Farina who struck problems and crawled the car home 4th ensuring he kept the championship lead.
The championship moved onto France and Farina looked in impressive form, tearing away in the lead from Fangio. But this pace damaged his car and he retired from the lead, giving Fangio the win and top of the championship.
As Farina bolted off at the start line at the Italian GP with Alberto Ascari in the improved Ferrari in pursuit, Fangio knew all he had to do was collect good points. He drove cautiously but on lap 22 disaster struck for the Argentine driver suffered gearbox problems. Fangio took over the car of Piero Taruffi and set about charging back through the field but the pace was too much and he retired again on lap 35 leaving Farina to cruise to the title, with Fangio second in the points and Fagioli third.
Fangio won each of the three races he finished, but Farina's three wins and a fourth place allowed him to take the title. In 1950's non-championship races Fangio took a further four wins and two seconds from eight starts.
In 1951, Fangio remained with Alfa Romeo, partnering Nino Farina throughout the season, although the team often raced with two other cars driven by guest drivers. He won the opening round in Switzerland from pole, ahead of teammate Farina in an Alfa Romeo 1-2. However a 14 minute full stop caused by a faulty new suspension concept stopped him from capitalizing on a second consecutive pole in the next round in Belgium.
Another pole and win in France followed, shared with Luigi Fagioli, whose car Fangio drove from lap 20 due to problems in his first car. Fangio shared the 8 points for the win and also took the extra point for fastest lap. A pair of second places at the next two races behind the Ferraris of José Froilán González in Britain and Alberto Ascari in Germany, came before a retirement in Italy from pole.
Fangio went into the final round, the Spanish Grand Prix at the Pedrables Circuit in Barcelona with a two point lead over closest rival Ascari, and six ahead of Gonzalez, the Ferrari duo in contention to snatch the title from Fangio. Tyre troubles affected the whole Ferrari team, as Fangio cruised to victory and his first World Championship win.
With the 1952 World Championship being run to Formula Two specifications, Alfa Romeo were unable to use their supercharged Alfettas and withdrew. As a result the defending champion found himself without a car for the first race of the championship and remained absent from F1 until June, when he drove the British BRM V16 in non-championship F1 races at Albi and Dundrod. Fangio had agreed to drive for Maserati in a race at Monza the day after the Dundrod race, but having missed a connecting flight he decided to drive through the night from Paris, arriving half an hour before the start. Badly fatigued, Fangio started the race from the back of the grid but lost control on the second lap, crashed into a grass bank, and was thrown out of the car as it flipped end over end. He was taken to hospital with multiple injuries, the most serious being a broken neck, and spent the rest of 1952 recovering in Argentina.
Fangio returned to full fitness in 1953, racing for the Maserati team. However a disastrous start to the season saw three retirements in the first three races, putting him 25 points behind championship leader Ascari. However his luck got better and he finished second in the next three races, starting with a race long slipstreaming battle with Mike Hawthorne at Reims, backed up by further strong finishes in Great Britain and Germany. He finished a shared fourth at the Swiss Grand Prix with Felice Bonetto after car trouble.
The final round was the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. After qualifying on pole, he was close third behind the Ferrari pair of Ascari and former teammate Farina, going into the final corners of the race. Leading driver Ascari spun out to retirement, and as Farina took to the grass to avoid him, Fangio pounced, taking his first race victory since the final round of the 1951 season.
At the end of 1953, Fangio signed to drive for Mercedes. However, their cars would not be ready until the fourth round in France, so Fangio began the season with his team from last season, Maserati. He won his home race in Argentina from pole, a feat he would repeat in Belgium, giving him a strong championship lead of eight points over Maurice Trintignant.
Next up was Reims, and the Fangio-led Mercedes team destroyed the opposition, Fangio taking his third win of the year. An off colour British Grand Prix followed, only finishing fourth from pole position due to the Mercedes car "streamliner" bodywork making cornering difficult.
Fangio secured the championship with a hat trick of wins in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, starting on pole in two of those occasions. At the final race of the year, Fangio could only manage third, his seventh podium from eight races. By the end of the year, he had taken five poles, six wins, seven podiums, eight points finishes in his most dominant year in Formula 1, taking his second title.
After his dominant 1954 campaign, Fangio stayed with Mercedes, primarily partnered by Stirling Moss, a young British driver starting his first season with a competitive team. He won the opening round, in Argentina from third, his second consecutive home victory. Round 2 around the streets of Monte Carlo, however, was a different story as he retired due to transmission trouble. Wins in Belgium and Holland, the next two rounds, helped him to an almost unassailable championship lead in a now truncated season due to the Le Mans disaster, which killed over 80 spectators.
Fangio finished second at the British Grand Prix, behind teammate Stirling Moss, which some say was a result fixed by the Argentine. However, subsequent to the race, several Grand Prix were cancelled, leaving Fangio a unbeatable championship lead and a third title. He finished his season with a win at Monza from pole, in what would turn out to be his last race for Mercedes. After their car was involved in the aforementioned Le Mans disaster, Mercedes pulled out of all motorsport with immediate effect, leaving Fangio without a drive for the 1956 season.
After Mercedes' withdrawal, Fangio moved to the Ferrari team, alongside Brits Mike Hawthorne and Peter Collins. He won his third home race in a row at the first round, with a shared drive with Italian Luigi Musso, and followed up with a shared second place with Collins in Monaco. A DNF in Belgium and only a fourth place in France, Fangio was having his most inconsistent season, and trailed in the championship battle.
He turned this around, and with a brace of wins at the British and German Grands Prix, he had a strong lead over Collins, going into the final round at Monza. After starting from pole, disaster struck, as mechanical problems in his car put him out of championship contention, with Peter Collins poised to snatch championship glory. However in an act of sportsmanship, Collins handed his car over to Fangio, who drove it to second place, taking his fourth Championship.
In 1957 Fangio returned to Maserati, who were still using the same iconic 250F which Fangio had driven at the start of 1954. Fangio started the season with a hat-trick of wins in Argentina, Monaco and France, before retiring with engine problems in Britain.
At the next race, the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring circuit, Fangio needed to extend his lead by six points to claim the title with two races to spare. From pole position Fangio dropped to third behind the Ferraris of Hawthorn and Collins but managed to get past both by the end of the third lap. Fangio had started with half-full tanks since he expected that he would need new tyres half-way through the race. In the event Fangio pitted on lap 13 with a 30-second lead, but a disastrous stop left him back in third place and 50 seconds behind Collins and Hawthorn. Fangio came into his own, setting one fastest lap after another, culminating in a record-breaking time on lap 20 a full eleven seconds faster than the best the Ferraris could do. On the penultimate lap Fangio got back past both Collins and Hawthorn, and held on to take the win by just over three seconds. With Musso finishing down in fourth place, Fangio claimed his fifth title. This performance is often regarded as the greatest drive in Formula One history, but it was to be Fangio's last win.
Fangio had decided to run a reduced schedule in 1958. He finished fourth in Argentina, failed to qualify at Indianapolis (his only DNQ of his career!) and scored another fourth place at the French Grand Prix. After his series of back-to-back championships he decided to retire following the French race. Such was the respect for Fangio, that during that final race, race leader Mike Hawthorn had lapped Fangio and as Hawthorn was about to cross the line, he braked and allowed Fangio through so he could complete the 50-lap distance. He would cross the line over two minutes down on Hawthorn. He won 24 World Championship Grands Prix from 51 starts - a winning percentage of 47.06%, the best winning percentage in the sport's history.
Later life and death
During the rest of his life after retiring from racing Fangio sold Mercedes-Benz cars, often driving his former race cars in demonstration laps. Even before he joined the Mercedes Formula One team, in the early 1950s, Fangio had acquired the Argentine Mercedes concession. He was appointed President of Mercedes-Benz Argentina in 1974, and its Honorary President for Life in 1987.
Cuban rebels kidnapped him on February 23, 1958, but he was later released, and remained a good friend of his captors afterwards. The incident was dramatized in a 1999 Argentine film directed by Alberto Lecchi, Operación Fangio.
Following his retirement, Fangio was active in assembling automotive memorabilia associated with his racing career. This led to the creation of the Museo Juan Manuel Fangio, which opened in Balcarce in 1986.
Fangio was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990. He returned to the spotlight in 1994, when he publicly opposed a new Province of Buenos Aires law denying driver's licences to those over 80 (which included Fangio). Denied a renewal of his card, Fangio reportedly challenged Traffic Bureau personnel to a race between Buenos Aires and seaside Mar del Plata, a 400 km (250 mi) distance, in two hours or less, following which an exception was made for the five-time Grand Prix winner.
Juan Manuel Fangio died in Buenos Aires in 1995, at the age of 84. He was buried in his home town of Balcarce in Argentina.
Formula One Statistical Overview
F1 Career Record
Note: Italics indicates non-championship events only.
|Year||Entrant||Team||WDC Points||WDC Pos.||Report|
|1949||Automovil Club Argentina||Maserati||Pre-championship||Report|
|Scuderia Achille Varzi||Simca-Gordini|
|1950||Alfa Romeo SpA||Alfa Romeo||27||2nd||Report|
|Scuderia Achille Varzi||Maserati|
|1951||Alfa Romeo SpA||Alfa Romeo||31 (37)||1st||Report|
|1952||Officine Alfieri Maserati||Maserati||0||NC||Report|
|Juan Manuel Fangio|
|1953||Officine Alfieri Maserati||Maserati||28 (29 1⁄2)||2nd||Report|
|1954||Officine Alfieri Maserati||Maserati||42 (57 1⁄7)||1st||Report|
|Diamler Benz AG||Mercedes|
|1955||Diamler Benz AG||Mercedes||40 (41)||1st||Report|
|1956||Scuderia Ferrari||Ferrari||30 (33)||1st||Report|
|1957||Officine Alfieri Maserati||Maserati||40 (46)||1st||Report|
|1958||Scuderia Sud Americana||Maserati||7||14th||Report|
|Juan Manuel Fangio|
|Novi Auto Air Condition||Kurtis Kraft-Novi|
|Front Row Starts||48|
|Distance Raced||20486 km (12729 mi)|
|Distance Led||9316 km (5789 mi)|
|Win Number||Grand Prix|
|1||1949 San Remo Grand Prix|
|2||1949 Pau Grand Prix|
|3||1949 Rousilllon Grand Prix|
|4||1949 Marseille Grand Prix|
|5||1949 Albigeois Grand Prix|
|6||1950 Pau Grand Prix|
|7||1950 San Remo Grand Prix|
|8||1950 Nations Grand Prix|
|9||1950 Coppa Acerbo|
|10||1951 Bari Grand Prix|
|11||1953 Modena Grand Prix|
|12||1955 Buenos Aires Grand Prix|
|13||1956 Buenos Aires Grand Prix|
|14||1956 Syracuse Grand Prix|
|15||1957 Buenos Aires Grand Prix|
|Complete Formula One results|
|3rd||DNQ||Did not qualify|
|5th||Points finish||DNPQ||Did not pre-qualify|
|14th||Non-points finish||TD||Test driver|
|NC||Non-classified finish (<90% race distance)||DNS||Did not start|
|Italics||Scored point(s) for Fastest Lap||[+] More Symbols|
- * Indicates a shared drive
- The Official Formula 1 Website
- F1 Fanatics: Juan Manuel Fangio
- Rendall, Ivan (1995) . The Chequered Flag: 100 years of motor racing. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. pp. 166. ISBN 0-297-83550-5.
- "MASERATI AND FANGIO F1 WORLD CHAMPIONS IN 1957". www.greatcarstv.com. http://www.greatcarstv.com/history/maserati-and-fangio-f1-world-champions-in-1957.html. Retrieved 2009-01-23.
- Although technically beaten by Lee Wallard, who competed in only two Indianapolis events counting towards the World Championship
- Cine Nacional: Operación Fangio Template:Es
- "Op bezoek bij Juan Manuel Fangio: de mythe". Autovisie 1991 nr 1: Page 44–51. date 5 January 1991.
- La Nación: Cuándo los mayores no deben manejar
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