Juan Manuel Fangio in Mercedes-Benz W196S

Celebrating 100 Years of Juan Manuel Fangio

Juan Manuel Fangio (June 24, 1911 – July 17, 1995) was a racing car driver from Argentina, who dominated the first decade of Formula One racing. He won five Formula One World Driver’s Championships — a record which stood for 46 years until eventually beaten by Michael Schumacher — with four different teams (Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Maserati), a feat that has not been repeated since. Many still consider him to be the greatest driver of all time.

Fan­gio was born to Italian immigrants on June 24, 1911 in the small country town of Balcarce in Argen­ti­na – seemingly a very far cry from a future career as a five-time Formula 1 world champion. But the youngster, who did an apprenticeship as a mechanic, was inspired by his fellow countrymen’s passion for motor racing. He came into contact with the local racing driver scene at an early age, gained some experience at the wheel himself and learned how to rebuild vehicles for racing. In 1932, he opened his own car workshop, and four years later Fan­gio competed in his first race in a converted Ford ta­xi.

After the end of World War II, Fan­gio made the switch from rebuilt standard passenger cars to thoroughbred racing cars, and entered the international racing arena. In 1950, he came second in the World Championship driving for Alfa Romeo, before going on to win his first world title for the Ita­lia­n car maker in 1951 at the wheel of the Tipo 159 Alfetta.

During the 1952 season, when the World Championship was switched to Formula 2, Fan­gio suffered a serious accident in Monza. He spent the remainder of the year convalescing from his injuries, most notably from one he sustained to his spine. He was already back in the racing seat in 1953 though, when he finished second in the World Championship driving the A6GCM for Mase­rati.

The 1954 season saw Fangio drive for both Maserati and Mercedes-Benz. Racing director Alf­red Neu­bauer signed the Argentinean driving ace as the captain of the Silver Arrows racing team. The Stutt­gart­-based outfit had been developing the W 196 R racing car for the new Formula 1 season since 1953. It was powered by a 257 hp inline eight-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2.5 litres, desmodromic valves and direct petrol injection. Apart from the Streamliner version, a clas­sic For­mula racing car with exposed wheels was also created. The new Silver Arrows were not ready for the start of the season, so Fan­gio still competed in a Mase­ra­ti 250F in the first three races, winning at Argentina and Belgium.

On 4 July 1954, Fan­gio lined up for his first ever grand prix in a Mer­ce­des-Benz: exactly 40 years after Mer­ce­des driver Chris­tian Lau­ten­schla­ger drove to victory in Lyon, the Stutt­gar­t team returned to the fray at the French Grand Prix in Reims. Fan­gio took the chequered flag ahead of teammate Karl Kling. The apparently effortless switch from Mase­rati to the W 196 R once again underlined Fangio’s immense ability to adapt: ever since taking part in the tough endurance races in his home country, he seemed to be able to extract the very best from every vehicle. It was this vir­tu­oso impro­vi­sational skill that led to victory for the Argentinean time and time again.

Reims 1954, in full racing pose: Juan Manuel Fangio (starting number 18) pilots the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R Streamliner racing car around the circuit in Reims with supreme skill.
French Grand Prix in Reims, July 4, 1954, in full racing pose: Juan Manuel Fangio (starting number 18) pilots the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R Streamliner racing car around the circuit in Reims with supreme skill. (photo credit: Mercedes-Benz)
French Grand Prix, Reims 1954. The Mercedes-Benz team of racing drivers, starting from the left: Hans Herrmann, Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling.
French Grand Prix, Reims 1954. The Mercedes-Benz team of racing drivers, starting from the left: Hans Herrmann, Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling. (photo credit: Mercedes-Benz)
French Grand Prix in Reims, July 4, 1954. The winner, Juan Manuel Fangio (start number 18), at the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R Formula One racing car with streamlined bodywork.
French Grand Prix in Reims, July 4, 1954. The winner, Juan Manuel Fangio (start number 18), at the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R Formula One racing car with streamlined bodywork. (photo credit: Mercedes-Benz)
Italian Grand Prix in Monza, 5 September 1954. Juan Manuel Fangio with the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R Formula 1 racing car with Streamliner body.
Italian Grand Prix in Monza, 5 September 1954. Juan Manuel Fangio with the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R Formula 1 racing car with Streamliner body. (photo credit: Mercedes-Benz)

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  1. I’m Argentine as well, and must say that Fangio was and still is the great Formula 1 Champion. Amazing human being and sportman. About the Museum, consider a visit when coming to Argentina. Same o even better standards than Galleria Ferrari at Modena. Cheers!

  2. Too young to have seen this great man race. (I’ll be a hundred only in 2040). Seriously, I never was at the right place at the right moment. But he is an idol in my heart forever. Along with Jim Clark.

  3. Fantastic – I remember reading a report on the famous German GP when I was a young fella and it thrilled me then. Just watched a video of Fangio and Brabham racing on YouTube. Fangio in a Mercedes and Brabham in what looked like a Tasman Brabham Repco. You have just got to watch it!!!!

  4. I met with Fangio and his daughter in Monaco the year when Alan Jones won world championship with Williams….and tailed him to Modena from Monaco.. ..he was in a 500sec,as we were, and we met at DeTomaso Factory….I framed a great photo …and his  faded signature on a business card features on the framed photo…that year I had watched Nelson Picquet..Alan Jones in Monaco ..,,but  to meet Fangio was the absolute highlight of that trip……he could have driven a refrigerator and won races…
    I really enjoy your features.

  5. delighted to Fangio remembered as I watched him at Germanb GP 1957 and hope to see more Art Evans articlesJim Sitz

  6. As a child living in Buenos Aires during Fangio’s winning decade, he was our hero and becuse of him I became enamored with the automobile. Great Champion, great man.

  7. Not just a great driver, but a wonderful gentleman, whewnb he walked into a crowded room, there was a hush. thrilled to see him driving on the Masersti team!

  8. When Fangio was honored at Laguna seca a few years ago he was still in top form.
    Even the totally modern SL photo car that was following him on the track could not keep up with him in the old F1 with narrow tires. Leaving the corkscrew and into turn 10 the press car lost it and did a 360 while Fangio serenely blitzed on. At lunch in Carmel’s Casanova restaurant he exuded the charm and friendliness to all who interupted his meal to greet him. Always a very special man.

    1. I loved his philosophy of not beating his cars: “Win, at the slowest possible speed” Moss would drive the guts out of a car, Fangio could make the car last and that is why he was so great. 1957 Nurburgring really shook him up as he felt that he had done the final laps at 12/10ths. That was his last ’emotional” drive.

  9. On Fangio’s passing Forrest Bond penned the following:

    “Fangio was from a different time in the broader sense, a time in which honor, duty, ethics, and fair play had meaning in the larger society, which carried over even into racing’s cloistered community.”

    A great man and a superb talent.