|First race||British Grand Prix||Silverstone||May 13, 1950||Race results|
|Last race||French Grand Prix||Reims||July 6, 1958||Race results|
Juan Manuel Fangio came to be known universally as "the maestro". He won five world titles and 24 races from 51 starts. He was noted for being able to win a race at the slowest possible speed and, although older than his rivals, had enormous staying power, with Stirling Moss the only driver capable of giving him a hard time.
Born in Balcarce, Argentina, he was the son of an Italian immigrant and had his first taste of racing while riding as a mechanic in a Chevrolet driven by a customer of the garage where he worked. After military service, Fangio started to drive in long and hazardous road races. He enjoyed great success until wartime restrictions intervened.
Racing returned in 1947 and he was intrigued by visiting Italians Achille Varzi and Luigi Villoresi. The Argentine Automobile Club had bought two Maseratis to be driven against them and one was entrusted to him.
Fangio was highly impressed by the European scene, but he came close to quitting before achieving anything as, on his return home to Argentina, he crashed in a road race and his co-driver was killed.
With the backing of the Perón regime, Fangio was sent to Europe and started winning regularly in 1949. As Alfa Romeo prepared for the first World Championship in 1950, Fangio was given a drive. He was pipped to the title by team-mate Nino Farina, but gained the first of his five World Championships the following season.
The Alfa 159 was now past its sell-by date so Fangio moved to Maserati. He then broke his neck in an accident at Monza, which kept him out of action until 1953. When he returned with Maserati, the scene was dominated by Ferrari.
Fangio won the first couple of races in 1954 with Maserati, but Mercedes poached him to head their team. He won another four races that year before taking a second title in 1955 with four victories.
At the end of 1955 Mercedes withdrew because of the Le Mans disaster and he joined Ferrari. The championship became a race between he, team-mate, Peter Collins and Maserati's Stirling Moss. At Monza, Collins handed his car over after Fangio's had failed, guaranteeing the Argentinian a fourth title.
He returned to Maserati in 1957 and won the championship for the last time. The race that clinched it was his greatest: the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. Ferrari had Collins and Mike Hawthorn against him and Maserati tried starting Fangio with a light fuel load so that he could build up a lead, refuel and get out in front. However, a slow stop meant that he was 45 seconds down when he rejoined and he had to drive like a man possessed. Although carrying a heavier fuel load, he took six seconds per lap out of them, blasting past Collins with a lap and a half to go, and then forcing his way past Hawthorn.
In 1958, Fangio was fourth in his home grand prix and then drove his last race in the French Grand Prix, where he also finished fourth. He retired and enjoyed a long retirement as a much-loved and revered owner of a Mercedes dealership in his homeland. When he did return to grands prix he was treated by drivers and fans with the respect and affection he deserved.
Strengths and weaknesses
Mentally and physically tough, Fangio's approach was professional in the modern sense, and astutely switched from team to team to ensure he had the best cars. It was said his biggest assets were strength, . endurance and tenacity. His decision-making was sublime, knowing just when to pounce and possessing the skills to do so, and he never relied on sheer pace but always drove at the slowest speed necessary to win.
His last win was his greatest, overcoming superior cars on the most dangerous and testing track of them all - the Nurburgring - to come from 51 seconds behind after a botched pit stop to beat the Ferraris of Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn, setting a string of lap records in the process. "I believe that day I managed to master it," the maestro said.
Taking a race in the 1952 Italian Grand Prix at short notice, he drove manically from London to Monza in a day, arriving half an hour before the start. Exhausted, he crashed his Maserari and suffered serious injuries, including a broken neck. That he raced again - but not that year - was remarkable. A legacy of the accident was that he could not turn his head without moving his entire torso.
"A crazy man finishes in the cemetery"
"What made him so great was his concentration and his balance of the motor car. He wasn't a technician. He was just a great artist of driving. But above all that he was a gentleman and a wonderful man." Stirling Moss
"Even if I or someone else can equal or beat Fangio's record, it still will not compare with his achievement." Ayrton Senna
As a youngster, he was apprenticed to a local blacksmith
Cuban rebels kidnapped him on the eve of the 1958 Cuban Grand Prix but he was released after two days