• Juan Manuel Fangio

    Juan Manuel Fangio ProfileJuan Manuel Fangio born on June 24th 1911 would become champion for Ferrari in 1956. Fangio 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. He is the only Argentine driver to have won the Argentine Grand Prix, having won it four times in his career.

    Juan Manuel Fangio, unlike most 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. 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 common at the time, several of his race results were shared with team-mates after he took over their cars 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 San Remo, 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 Farina and Luigi Fagioli. With competitive racing machinery following the Second World War still in short supply, the pre-war Alfettas proved dominant. 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. Fangio won three more championship races for Alfa in 1951 in the Swiss, French and Spanish Grands Prix, and with the improved Ferraris taking points off his team mates, Fangio took the title in the final race, six points ahead of Ascari.

    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 a broken neck, and spent the rest of 1952 recovering in Argentina.

    Back to full racing fitness, Fangio began 1953 by winning the Carrera Panamericana in a Lancia D24. Back in Europe he rejoined Maserati for the championship season, and against the dominant Ferraris led by Ascari he took a lucky win at Monza. Fangio qualified second with Bonetto seventh, and Fangio set fastest lap on his way to a 1.4-second victory over Nino Farina while Bonetto retired out of fuel. Along with that win, Fangio secured three second places to finish second in the Championship, and also came third first time out in the Targa Florio.

    In 1954 Fangio raced for 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 with Mercedes—driving the W196 Monoposto—in 1955 in a team that included Stirling Moss. At the end of the second successful season (which was overshadowed by the 1955 Le Mans disaster in which more than 80 spectators were killed) Mercedes withdrew from racing.

    In 1956 Fangio moved to Ferrari, replacing Ascari, who had been killed in an accident, to win his fourth title. Enzo Ferrari and Fangio did not have a very warm relationship, despite their shared success. Fangio took over his team-mates cars after his suffered mechanical problems in three races, the Argentine, Monaco and Italian Grands Prix. In each case the points were shared between the two drivers. At the season-ending Italian Grand Prix, Fangio's Ferrari team mate Peter Collins, who was in a position to win the World Championship with just 15 laps to go, handed over his car to Fangio. They shared the six points won for second place, giving Fangio the World title.

    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.

    After his series of back-to-back championships he retired in 1958, following the French Grand Prix. Such was the respect for Fangio, that during that final race, race leader 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 in his final race. 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.

    During the rest of his life after retiring from racing Fangio sold Mercedes-Benz cars, often driving his former race cars in demonstration laps. Following his retirement, Fangio was active in assembling automotive memorabila 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. 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.