Considered by many to be the greatest driver ever, Juan Manuel Fangio was crowned world champion on five occasions out of seven Formula One seasons. He took part in 51 Formula One races and was on the front row on 48 occasions. His record of flying laps stood at an incredible 23 and these were probably the reason he won 24 of his 51 races.
Fangio’s competitors, in his hay days, were young enough to be his sons and almost all belonged to high society and privileged backgrounds. Fangio was the proverbial “black sheep” of the starting grid as he made his way to the tracks from a small dusty town in Argentina. Fangio was 11 when he started work as a mechanic. For almost forty years, Fangio was a mechanic by trade and raced the odd car every now and then. With a very disciplined approach to life, Fangio took part in extremely long and arduous races in South America. He raced cars, he made himself, over thousands of miles while overcoming incredible hardships and odds to race away to victory. When he became 38, he went to Europe to race and with him, took along years of mechanical experience as well as the competitive edge in the art of racing.
Formula One gave Fangio the opportunity to race in more sophisticated cars and everything came easier to the Argentinean who decided to hone his skills at that level. Fangio was an expert at drifting the car at corners and the crowd always loved the flamboyant cornering amidst bellowing tyre smoke in a wild, yet controlled, maneuver. Fangio not only possessed the most astonishing car control skills, he also had the power and endurance to excel in hard-handling, heavier cars that were part of the three-hour long endurance tests that were a norm in Grands Prix in those days. Fangio always demonstrated ample reserves of perseverance, patience and an undying urge to do better. The best part of Fangio’s driving was that he hardly ever crashed. Only once ever did he have a near fatal crash but that was mainly due to a fatigued body that led to poor judgment.
Juan Manuel Fangio had just come off an all-night drive through the Alps to race at a non-championship event at Monza. On the second lap of that pre-season race, Fangio’s Maserati crashed badly and Fangio ended up with a broken neck that left him with a permanent injury in the form of a stiff upper torso.
Fangio was a short and stocky man and was nicknamed ‘El Chueco’, meaning ‘bow-legged’. Despite his un-athletic body, Fangio was constantly surrounded by women. His fame knew no bounds when Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries kidnapped Fangio to highlight their cause. As with everyone who ever met the man, his captors were charmed to no end by a cheerful Fangio and they released him without causing any harm.