JULY 24, 1995
THE word "legend" is all too often used in motor racing circles but, in the case of Juan-Manuel Fangio, it was deserved. Fangio, who died just after we closed for press last week in a hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was Grand Prix racing's most respected and revered senior citizen. He dominated Grand Prix racing in the 1950s, winning 24 of the 51 races he contested - over 47% - and although his record of wins has long since been overtaken by Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Alain Prost, Niki Lauda, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, his ratio of race wins is unlikely ever to be beaten. He won five World titles, which remains a record.
Born into a family of Italian immigrants in 1911, he became a apprentice mechanic at 10 and began racing at 25 in a modified taxi. He achieved fame in Argentina during the Second World War, competing in the wildly dangerous Turismo de Carretera road races. The most famous of these was the International Grand Prix of the North which took place in 1940 over a 5920-mile route. Fangio won after 13 days on the road. Fangio did not go to Europe until 1948 - at the age of 38. Sponsored by the Argentine government in 1949, he won a place in the Alfa Romeo factory team in 1950 and took victory in the second ever World Championship race at Monaco. He finished second in the title that year to team mate Giuseppe Farina, but won the following year. When Alfa Romeo pulled out of racing, he joined Maserati, but crashed badly at Monza early in the year and missed the entire 1952 season. In 1953 he won the only non-Ferrari victory in the series at Monza. For 1954 and 1955 he raced for Mercedes-Benz, winning two consecutive titles; and when Mercedes withdrew from racing after the Le Mans disaster, he joined Ferrari. He won the 1956 title when team mate Peter Collins handed over his car in the final race of the year, thus giving up his own title hopes; but he was never happy at Ferrari and went back to Maserati to win his fifth title in 1957, his last GP win - at the Nurburgring - being his finest. He raced briefly in 1958 but in mid-season announced his retirement.
In February that year, Fangio's worldwide standing was highlighted when he was kidnapped in Havana, Cuba, by Fidel Castro's guerrillas, trying to gain international recognition in their fight to overturn the government of Fulgencio Batista. He was released unharmed after the Cuban GP sportscar race - in which he was supposed to race - had taken place.
After his retirement, Fangio became the Mercedes-Benz importer in Argentina and represented the firm at events all around the world.
Fangio had heart surgery in the early 1980s but in recent years had suffered from kidney problems. He died of pneumonia. After lying in state in the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, his body was flown to his home town of Balcarce, where he was buried on Tuesday. Racers Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart attended the funeral.
|Print News Story|