Juan Manuel Fangio 1911-1995

Balcarce, Argentina

Juan Manuel Fangio by many measures was the greatest racing driver of all time. Statistically, he has few rivals, particularly in the Formula 1 World Championship, winning five titles in eight years on the strength of 25 victories in 51 starts. In non-championship F1 races, he won eight of 24. He still holds the record for the highest percentage of victories at 46pct; the highest percentage of pole positions at 56pct; the highest percentage of front-row starts at 92pct; and the oldest driver to win a grand prix race, 46years and 41 days. Of his five world driving championships, he drove for four different marques: Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati and Mercedes-Benz with a pair.

1951, Fangio’s first season in Formula 1 at the ripe old age of 39.

There are hundreds of books and articles chronicling El Maestro. Fangio’s greatest drive was undoubtedly his stunning performance in the 1957 German Grand Prix at The Nurburgring. Here’s the race report from Wikipedia.

Airborne at the Flugplatz as Fangio storms after the Ferraris. [Kane Rogers Illustration]

“Fangio had taken notice of the tyre and fuel-level selection of the Ferrari drivers, and realized they were probably going to run the entire race without a pit stop. Fangio decided he would use softer tyres, and only a half tank of fuel. This would allow the car to take corners faster, but also require a pit stop. Fangio took his pit stop on lap 13, in first place, and 30 seconds ahead of Hawthorn and Collins.

“The pit stop was a disaster; the mechanic removing the rear left wheel let the wheel nut roll under the car without noticing, and finding it took nearly half a minute. Fangio left the pit lane in third place, and 48 seconds behind Collins who was in second place. But in his Maserati 250F he began to mount a charge. Over the next 10 laps, Fangio broke and rebroke the lap record 9 times (7 of the records were in successive laps) and he took 15.5 seconds off Hawthorn’s lead in the first lap, then another 8.5 seconds in the next lap. Early in the 21st lap, Fangio went on the inside of the left corner at the ESSO Terrasse taking second place from Collins. Late in the 21st lap, during a left corner, Fangio cut past Hawthorn on the inside of the corner, with only his right tyres on the track and his left tyres on the grass. This probably took place at the left-right combination before the Breidscheid bridge, as Fangio said it was at a 90° left followed by an also tight right just before Breidscheid and Hawthorn recollected being overtaken at a right turning bend. Fangio probably overtook Hawthorn in the left turn and then closed the door going to the right turn, thus boxing Hawthorn in. Fangio maintained his lead, but not easily, as Hawthorn fought back, nearly overtaking Fangio at a few corners, but to no avail, and Fangio won the race with about 3 seconds of a lead.

“After the race, Fangio commented, “I have never driven that quickly before in my life and I don’t think I will ever be able to do it again”. Later on, Fangio was also quoted as saying: “Nürburgring was my favourite track. I fell totally in love with it and I believe that on that day in 1957 I finally managed to master it. It was as if I had screwed all the secrets out of it and got to know it once and for all… For two days I couldn’t sleep, still making those leaps in the dark on those curves where I had never before had the courage to push things so far.”

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