Juan Manuel Fangio - The World Champion That Was Once Kidnapped
If this legends' life story couldn't get even more interesting...
Juan Manuel Fangio. A 5-times Formula 1 World Champion who is dubbed as one of, if not the best Formula 1 and racing driver of all time. For winning championships for Mercedes to teams such as Ferrari and Maserati, Fangio is established highly in the motorsport and motoring world. Who doesn't like this man? A man who risked his life almost every time he got into a car just to be handed a trophy and a weak handshake for winning a race. You might know about his prestigious racing career, but there is quite a lot of stories to know about this Argentinians' fascinating life.
It was the year 1958, and Cuba was looking to expand their motorsport and automotive industry, which lead to them hosting the Cuban Grand Prix along the streets of the country's capital of Havana. The first Cuban Grand Prix was held in 1957 along Havana's waterfront, and it turned to be a success, bringing serious money into Cuba's pockets. Fangio was listed to compete in this race. During the exact time the Cuban Grand Prix was announced, the Caribbean country had a major issue between their existing government at the time, and Fidel Castro’s rising power. To bring attention to Castro's cause, they decided to kidnap the 5-Time World Champion, so he was not able to race at the Cuban Grand Prix.
On February 23, 1958, the night before the awaited race, a group of Fidel Castro's rebels followed into the Havana hotel Fangio was staying in. Juan walked into the lobby of the hotel on his way to dinner, only to be confronted by a man in a leather jacket possessing a pistol. At first, Juan didn't believe them and thought it was a joke, however, when he realized the culprits were armed and meant business he was and kidnapped him at gunpoint without anyone realizing. The next day came and Fangio was nowhere to be found. The Havana police launched a manhunt to find the kidnappers and most importantly, find Fangio.
The reports at the time claimed it played out like this: "Fangio, you must come with me. I am a member of the 26th of July revolutionary movement." One of Fangio's friends picked up a paperweight to throw it at the intruder, it didn't work. "Stay still," the kidnapper exclaimed. "If you move, I shoot." Fangio agreed and followed the young man to a waiting car, contemplating the worst that could occur.
Photo Credit: The Chicane (1958 Cuban Grand Prix)
The kidnappers never wanted to do any harm to the Champion, all they wanted to do was keep him from competing at the Cuban Grand Prix to drive attention to their own campaign. The kidnappers treated Fangio well, gave him food, and even on the day of the race offered to have him listen to the event. To prevent Fangio from being found, the racing legend was moved around countless safe houses and hidden areas to shut off him from being found by the police. Fellow driver, Stirling Moss, was worried and kept up all night worrying with guards by his side
"It was a very disturbing night," Moss remembered. "Fangio told the rebels, 'You mustn't take Stirling because he's on his honeymoon' which was a lie of course, but nevertheless was very decent of him." Even though Moss was petrified for Fangio he had no other choice but to let the race go on.
Fangio was held up until the race had finished and the following day, he was finally released from captive. You would think this experience would be traumatic for the champion, however, Fangio later on expounded that he’d been treated well and had no resentment for his kidnappers, “just one more adventure” he told many new outlets after the worldwide story had been released to the world. And that's exactly what Castro wanted, he wanted the news of the "Formula 1 Champion kidnapped" to become worldwide, which it did. Juan Manuel returned to Cuba in 1981 on a work trip with Mercedes-Benz and met up with Perez and Castro and had a chat.
Photo Credit: AP News
In addition to receiving a birthday letter signed by his kidnapper friends for his 80th birthday, it is evident that the well-loved champion has been through many adventures throughout his life. The infamous and thrilling Cuban Grand Prix was won by Sir Stirling Moss, yet, it was overshadowed by the 5-time World Champion named Juan Manuel Fangio, that was kidnapped by anti-government rebels.