July 18, 2006

Today In Automotive History

1948 "The Maestro" makes Formula One debut

Juan Manuel Fangio, a.k.a. "the Maestro," made his Formula One debut finishing 12th at the Grand Prix de l'ACF in France. Fangio was 37 years old at the start of his first Formula One race, but his late appearance onto the racing scene did not diminish his impact. Born to an Italian immigrant family outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Fangio learned to race on the death-trap tracks of Argentina for little reward. Finally, his excellence was recognized by Argentine dictator Juan Peron, who agreed to sponsor Fangio's racing career. Formula One Grand Prix racing began in 1950, and Fangio took second place in the World Driver's Championship driving for Alpha Romeo. The next year he won. A crash kept him out of the circuit for the next two years, but in 1954, he switched to the Mercedes team and won his first of four consecutive World Driver's Championships. He is the only man to ever have won five titles. Fangio was known for his spectacular technical ability and for his demure manner. He spoke always with the quiet confidence that comes from a specific talent. Said Fangio, "great drivers can do their best times in two or three laps of a circuit, while others take 10, 20, or 30." Fangio's greatest achievement came in his last full season at the German Grand Prix in Nurburgring. He needed to fend off Ferrrari's driving team of Hawthorne and Collins to wrap up his fifth world title. Fangio started the race with half-full tanks, intending to build an insurmountable lead in his lighter car. When he pitted, however, the Ferrari's thundered by, stretching to a 56-second lead. The chances looked dim for the Maestro. Gradually, though, he pulled himself back into the race. On three consecutive laps he bettered the track record for the 14.2 mile Nordeschlifer ("North Ring") by an incredible 12 seconds. Fangio was racing faster than his qualifying times recorded on an empty course. Hand over fist he pulled the Ferrari cars in, their team managers urging them on in disbelief. Fangio stated, "I believe that on that day in 1957 I finally managed to master the Nurburgring, making those laps in the dark on those curves where I had never before had the courage to push things so far." After a few races in 1958, Fangio retired. The mild-mannered Argentine reflected that since he retired, the only racers to have approached his mastery of the sport were Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna. Both men died in their cars.

Juan Manuel Fangio died on July 17, 1995, and was buried in Balcarce, Argentina.

Posted by Quality Weenie at July 18, 2006 06:56 AM | TrackBack


Didn't start until 37, huh? So there's still time for me to start a new career...when I grow up.

Posted by: Ogre at July 19, 2006 08:09 AM