Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Juan Manuel Fangio, the five times world champion racer from the 1950s.
Fangio raced for Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and won two world titles with Mercedes-Benz, the last time they were in F1 in 1954 and 1955.
He once had a playful debate with Ayrton Senna on the podium at the Brazilian Grand Prix 1993 about who was the greatest F1 driver of all time. Each was proposing it was the other.
Fangio is the source of one of the most poignant quotes I’ve come across about what makes a racer,
“There are those who keep out of mischief, and there are the adventurers, ‘ he said. “We racing drivers are adventurers; the more difficult something is, the greater the attraction that comes from it.”
He made that comment in the context of a question about the man who eventually beat his record number of titles, Michael Schumacher. But I think it stands as a perennial insight into the essential difference between the great drivers and the rest of us mere human beings.
I met him only once, in Adelaide at the Australian Grand Prix in 1990, when he was a guest of Mercedes. It was at a lunch for around 25 people and he was the guest of honour. He was smaller than I had imagined, but he was almost 80 years old at the time.
What struck me about him was his eyes; he had the eyes of a child, full of life and darting about all the time, taking everything in.
Mercedes have been co-ordinating the anniversary celebrations, putting out text, photo and video content to remember the great man.
When I was a kid it seemed impossible that anyone would ever beat Fangio’s record of five world championships, but Schumacher did it and raised the bar to seven. Given that a racing career isn’t likely to last much more than twice that many years, it will be tough to beat Schumacher’s record but someone will do it someday.
Fangio still holds the record for the highest winning percentage in Formula One winning 46.15% of the races he started, compared to Schumacher’s 33.09%.