F1 Legends: Juan Manuel Fangio
The greatest ever? Many would argue that ‘The Master’ is.
His stats certainly set him out as a true deity of the sport: five World Championships for four different teams, a win percentage of 47% (24 wins out of 51 races) and the fact that he never finished any lower than fourth in any race that he competed in.
Born in the suburbs of Buenos Aries during 1911, Fangio spent many years successfully competing in South American long-distance races. Indeed when the Formula One Championship started in 1950, Fangio was already 38 and greatly experienced in racing high-end cars. The season ended in a rare loss for the great man, missing out on the title by three points to team mate at Alfa-Romeo, Giuseppe Farina, who was 44 at the time.
1951 was a much better year for Fangio, who secured his first Championship, winning the title from the ever improving Ferraris of Alberto Ascari and Jose Froilan Gonzales.
However, his bubble was burst before the start of the 1952 season. During a non-championship race at Monza, Fangio crashed heavily and broke his neck, although not life threatening, he was forced to miss the entire season handing the title to Ascari and his Ferrari (The Scuderia’s cars finished first and fourth in that years points table.)
When he returned, Fangio was racing for Maserati. However, he walked straight into Ascari’s hot streak, during which the Italian won his second consecutive title. Fangio at least managed to break the Ferrari stranglehold and finished second overall. The year after though, he stormed to the title with the highest points difference between first and second in the Championship since its inception. Fangio won in Argentina and Belgium in a Maserati and France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy in the Mercedes.
1955 saw Fangio partnered by young Brit, Stirling Moss. The two battled all through the season, winning five out of six races, including Moss’ debut win at the British Grand Prix, one of the greatest races of all time.
The rivalry got even tighter in 1956, with Mercedes withdrawing, Fangio moved to Ferrari whilst Moss went to Maserati. It was Fangio’s closest title win, with three points the gap back to Moss. The following season would be Fangio’s last and possibly his easiest to win, as he dominated the Championship, winning by 15 points from Moss. Aged 46 years and 41 days, Fangio became the oldest title winner in the history of F1.
Despite the fact Schumacher has won more titles many will point to the ease at which he did it, Fangio came back from two teams closing down, a broken neck and the march of time to become arguably the greatest driver that Formula 1 has ever seen.