Motorsport Stories: Fangio
When you mention Fangio, most people remember his kidnapping in 1958, in Cuba, and his 5 world titles with 4 teams. There's more.
He came from the land of Asado, Mate and Tango but he probably never actually danced once, because he was fundamentally shy and because he was bowlegged.
Juan Manuel Fangio, 5-time world champion, like Lewis and before Lewis and, some would say, in an F1 world that was tougher than the one Lewis is experiencing. But that's speculation because there is no way to assess whether this is better than that, or whether that was harder than this. This has been discussed over and over again, talking about glory and resume, but perhaps this isn't about honours and titles, it's more about nostalgia.
Fangio was born in Balcarce, Argentina, in dire straits, and he grew up wanting to play football. He was left-footed and very good at it, he knew how to "bend it". He gave up his studies to work as a mechanic and he never actually took part in any race until 1938, aged 27, when he race a Ford V8 at the "Turismo Carretera", a touring car rally series in Argentina.
Fangio had a complicated relationship with Enzo Ferrari, the two of them never really got along. Fangio was fast and silent, never really outspoken and always reluctant to give in to levity. They shared incredible success but they never really warmed each other's heart.
He debuted in Formula 1 in 1950, aged 39. He came, he won, he left. Retiring just 8 years after, in 1958, after he'd seen too many colleagues and friends die at the wheel during those years when F1 was indeed a dangerous sport. He set several records, many of which still stand today. Oldest world champion at 46, highest percentage of wins and poles. But we don't remember him for the records. We think of him as a legend.
He died, aged 84, in his hometown in Balcarce, in 1995.
Now, in 2018, what we're left with is memories and photographs, and a museum, in Balcarce, in his honour.
Fangio was the product of a world that doesn't exist anymore and he raced in environments that have changed. He didn't have a million buttons on his steering wheel and when the practice was done, he exchanged words with his mechanics, not engineers, because the F1 he lived in and raced in and won in was more mechanical and less technological.
It was Fangio and the car and the car and Fangio. Not much else. And I guess that's why we still love him today.