Juan Manuel Fangio: On his 100th anniversary
Posted By: James Allen  |  24 Jun 2011   |  2:24 pm GMT  |  72 comments

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%.

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Thanks for this article James.

I too was at the grand prix in Adelaide in 1990, and was lucky enough to meet Fangio briefly. I was a young autograph hunter, and the great man himself was about to give me his autograph, until some meddling official pushed me out the way and I missed my chance! I believe he actually drove an Alfa Romeo 158 on track during a historic car display on this weekend. My memory is that he actually had an accident during his lap – minor and he wasn’t injured, but there was some damage to the car and it certainly was the talk of the paddock at the time. Do you remember this?


When men were men, and race cars were beautiful


Which is the best soccer team of all time ? Beckenbauer’s Germany ? Zoff’s Italy ? Maradonna’s Argentina ? Pele’s Brazil ? Zidane’s France ?… Just impossible and maybe even improper to compare these great teams with eachother. Fangio, Lauda, Senna, Prost, Schumacher, Vettel, Alonso, Hakkinen, Mansell, Hill,… they all deserve our deepest respect because they all pushed the barrier further than any one else at that time. All the rest is complete speculation. Happy Birthday Juan Manuel !


WOW! There seems to be a lot of haters on this thread. In my book Fangio is simply the greatest. He won WDC with 3 different manufacturers, he won in one of the most deadly eras, he was already old when he started winning, he broke the ‘rings track record by about 20 seconds on his last win, he has no equal. everybody else is left competing for 2nd best…


There was an aborted rear-engine Vanwall that I recall and there’s a very vague image in my head of a streamliner, but don’t ask me to draw it! Connaught, the first British car to win an F1 Grand Prix!Not enough credit given to Moss among the greats. Monte Carlo 1961 Moss against Ferrari in a private Lotus. Wonderful!

Tom in adelaide

My gosh, why can’t we make vehicles this beautiful today? Stunning.

Brian Morrison

Having watched the Fangio/Brabham 4 lap race I can say with conviction that if only we could get back to F1 cars without strong aerodynamic downforce then there would be no need to worry about the racing and the spectacle.

Fangio’s driving was just electric, it’s easy to see why the drivers of that period are still held in such regard today.


James: Thanks for this excellent piece on Fangio. I remember attending the 1957 German GP at the Nurburgring. Fangio’s win was electrifying! I was just a kid but I have memories of his car shooting by. It made me a fan of the sport for life! I should add that not only was the sport different but for spectators you could move around easily and get close. All amazing!


John, if you see a green hue in the sky, it’s emanating from my body! I cannot even begin to describe how much I would have loved to have been at that race.


Amazing. He’s a living legend. It must be amazing for him to see the likes of Ham and Vet slug it out in the modern day machinery whose DNA was was born in his era….the main difference being that life on the edge used to really be just that. Amazing.


Hes no longer with us, since 95


Is Fangio better than Schumi?

Is Schumi better than a BLT?

Pointless questions.

Is that the sexiest car ever built? Oh yes…


Can you imagine the press reaction if someone got out of the car to hand him a world championship at their own expense!


‘essential difference between the great drivers and the rest of us mere human beings’

The way you presented this line makes me believe you forgot something about human nature, or you had a clumsy moment maybe. You seem to have forgotten that every human being has the potential to be great at every point in time.

So perhaps difference is the people who achieved greatness were simply good at realizing their potential or better said letting it happen, while the so called ‘rest of us’ are still in the process of doing so.

There are no mere human beings.


In determining greatness, potential is irrelevent. Achievement and the manner of that achievement is all that matters.

The ultimate realization of potential is never simple (or easy) and most of us never truely try.

Human worth is a whole different issue but I have to say I’ve known some quite successful people who are considerably less than mere!


How often to you really challenge yourself, I mean up to and beyond your perceived limits?


All the time. My perceived limits aren’t high enough to impress anyone yet, that’s all. Whether I’ll get to where I want to be withing my lifetime or not is another matter, it doesn’t bother me.

I am just surprised you consider yourself mere, it’s unnecessary obstacle. If you do you should change that immediately, otherwise it’s no fun.


Just taking your response, I know we are getting into the sound of one hand clapping stuff now but….

YOU SAID: “I mean up to and beyond your perceived limits?”

Don’t drivers assess the limit and drive to what they feel it is. Hence why when the tail slides out they aren’t correcting it as such but they felt the car lose the grip and are correcting the car knowing that it is about to slip. It’s the old reaction time thing.

And 2ndly I would say that there are others who push themselves in what they do regularly…

Sportsmen – faster, longer, harder etc…

Musicians – Play faster, more complicated, perform with a greater understanding of the music

Anyone who does exercise competitively in anyway – beating their time around a certain lap. Here in Mlebourne at lunch time many business people run laps of ‘the tan’

I would say that since the whole world is a competitive place and the better someone is the better you will succeed in life, that anyone who wants to do better or get a better life tends to push themselves as hard as they can. Not everyone, some are happy where they are, but many do push themselves as hard as possible and challenge themselves regardless of whether they are paid 50 million euros to do it on TV or nothing at all to stay fit


I like the comment about the eyes, James. And always a first rate gentleman too. Thanks for the reality check.


Nice article, James, and perfect photo. What an outrageously beautiful car. The esthetic of motor racing will never equal what it was in Fangio’s era, and perhaps into the 60s. By esthetic I mean not only the cars but the art of race car driving.


he was not the best, but one of the best. Without a doubt what he achieved is incredible.In an era when the sport was dangerous. Now is just a sad shadow of what it was.


Thanks for the post and sharing your memories James.

As the saying goes, drivers have seasons, champions have eras.

Michael Prestia

In this sport the one with the fastest car is usually the champion. I can’t think of a year in F1 where that wasn’t the case… but I have only been watching for the last 20 years. If someone took a Virgin, Hispania or Lotus in this day and age and won the championship then you can say “WOW, that is a greatest driver ever because its all 100% driver and not the car!” Otherwise its who is fast but has the fastest machinery.


“If someone took a Virgin, Hispania or Lotus in this day and age and won the championship then you can say “WOW”

I think I’d probably say someone had nobbled the opposition. But then, with the new changes in engine mapping and blown diffusers … I think I’d still say someone had nobbled the opposition!


Thanks for that, I was at Brands when he won the Race of Champions with my uncle who was involved in motor racing at the time. I agree with your idea for a “Great Drives in Grotty Cars” thread, it’s got me diving for my reference books, but I think Senna/Toleman/Monaco will take some beating. My signed Gethin photo still has pride of place on my study wall, a bit of a sad admission from a 53 year old?


Not sad at all, Mark. We all admire the Fangios and Sennas and would have signed photos/prints of them if we had been lucky enough to meet them but our personal favourites, based on other formulae, personality or whatever, are very special to us. I have Phil Hill, Frank Gardner and Jacky Ickx very much in that category and, like you, I have their autographs on display alongside more traditional greats (Moss, Brabham, Surtees, Fittipaldi, Hakkinen, etc).


Maybe not championship winning, but look at the great drivers wring performance out of sub-standard cars. Alonso in a Minardi, Senna in a Toleman, Vettel in the Toro Rosso and my childhood hero, Peter Gethin in a BRM at Monza(OK maybe not a great but he did drive me around Brands in a sports car when I was 8) spring to mind.


And Gethin also won the Race of Champions at Brands in a F5000 car, which impressed me at the time. He’s at Goodwood next weekend, if you’re attending Mark, and from past experiences he’s a really friendly guy.

Great drives in grotty cars would make a great thread.


Thanks James, great picture, great story.

What a beautiful car, so many decades later still. At Goodwood Revival in another decade, be interesting to see how will crowd about this vs. the current cars.


I can’t remember exactly where I read it, but the one thing that sticks in my mind about Fangio is the 1957 German Grand Prix, when he overtook the two Ferraris having been an absurd distance back and then couldn’t sleep for two nights from having pushed himself so close to the limit to do so.

Absolutely remarkable, and you wonder how close any of today’s drivers get to such a state of mind (or whether they may even do it without thinking thanks to the relative security of the cars they drive).


Thanks for that report James!


I think the last of the wheel-enclosed cars in F1 must have been the Connaught from 1957. Fangio also did the long distance road races in Argentina in the 1940s, so he was lucky to be a live to drive in F1! It just isn’t possible to compare the cars then and now, so for me the drivers of that period stand out, for surviving as well as for winning. Hawthorne was once hit in the face by the bonnet of his car, Fangio had lively eyes but he could hardly move his neck after crashing at (I think) Monza in 1952. Different times. Great men.


Can’t believe I forgot the Connaught!! And there was a stillborn Vanwall, wasn’t there?


Thanks, James, for celebrating this very special anniversary. Fangio was a phenomenally skilful driver and is a genuine legend, a true great, by all accounts a gentleman and that the incomparable Sir Stirling Moss holds him in awe says all there is to say.

Comparisons with Schumacher are as pointless as they are subjective, given the difference in eras and that, for many, Fangio exists only by reputation, in books or on film.


Fangio/Senna win titles in the most dominant car….praise Fangio/Senna like superhuman beings, pretend the car was a Beetle.

Schumacher/Vettel win titles in most dominant car…..”it’s just the car, a monkey could win in them, title is hollow”.

If the best drivers of all time at their peak would be in the same car on the same day (time machine?), drivers like Fangio, Stewart and Senna would hardly make it into the top 10.

Yes, Schumacher, Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen would drive circles around them, when at their peak (and Vettel and Hamilton aren’t even close to their peak, so there you go).

But reason has no place when nostalgia concerned of course 😛


Chronologically, the three greatest GP drivers so far are Nuvolari, Fangio, Schumacher.





Michael Hutchinson

I suggest you go see the Senna movie, then you’d really know what kind of skill he had behind the wheel.


Wonderful picture of Fangio with the Mercedes in front of him…love to have the pic as my wallpaper!!


Here’s to the great one!

One question James, do you know what was Schumacher’s winning percentage at the end of the 2006 season?

Just curious how these 2 seasons have decreased that of the original retirement to what he has now.


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