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The Sports Lowdown’s Greatest Formula One Drivers of all time No. 3 – Juan Manuel Fangio

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Formula One has been blessed with some truly outstanding drivers in the past, and whilst they should all be respected in their own right as world champions – many of whom have won multiple titles – it is human nature to try and compare drivers of different generations. Here at ‘The Sports Lowdown’ our chief Formula One writers Dan Culyer and Ben Boorman attempt to do just that. In a daily countdown, they will formulate a list of the greatest drivers – past and present – in an attempt to decipher who is the greatest the sport has ever seen.

Whether it is Senna; or Schumacher; or Prost; or Hamilton; or Clark; or Stewart; or Vettel – be sure to keep an eye on proceedings at The Sports Lowdown, and as usual we would love to hear your views on our list, so any comments would be greatly appreciated.


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No.3 – Juan Manuel Fangio

Depending on who you ask, Fangio is often regarded as THE greatest driver of all time, and the whole motor world is unanimous in how highly they rate the Argentinian. His all-round ability in a range of different weather conditions, coupled with his sheer natural ability and calm and dignified persona, makes Fangio arguably the most well-rounded driver to have ever graced the sport, and half a century after his retirement, his greatness is still remembered with fondness.

When Formula 1 began back in 1950, Juan Manuel Fangio was 39 years old, by far the oldest driver in the field but also the quickest. He’d been racing for 15 years across the world before F1 was introduced and when he was entered into the 1950 Championship, he was immediately considered the man to beat.

In 1950 Fangio should have won the Championship for he he had the fastest car, the Alfa Romeo 159 and he won 3 of the 6 rounds that season, but he retired from the other 3 due to mechanical problems, whereas his team-mate, Giuseppe Farina finished every race that season to win the first ever F1 title. In 1951 he improved his reliability record and fought off his challengers to win the world title with 3 victories and points scored at every round, replicating what Farina had done the previous year. Going into 1952, Fangio was the man to beat, but his promising career was almost cut short the following year.

At the 1952 Italian Grand Prix he suffered a very bad accident when his car flipped over and crashed into the grass banking at the side of the circuit and leaving him with a broken neck, which sidelined him from the sport for nearly 2 years, with many believing that he would never race again. But he did. Ironically he returned the following year again in Italy, where he won his comeback race and showed he still had the speed to become world champion again.

In 1954, Fangio moved to Mercedes where he dominated the proceedings, he won 7 of the 8 races, including winning in Mercedes’ first Grand Prix as a manufacturer. He cruised to winning his 2nd title and it was a case of Déjà vu as he repeated this success in 1955 with a further 4 Victories to win his 3rd Championship, before Mercedes decided to pull out of F1, leaving the World Champion looking for a new team.

He decided to join Ferrari in 1956 and it was initially a struggle for the Argentine as the Ferrari was very fragile and did not suit Fangio’s driving style, but he still managed to rack up 3 victories throughout the season, but the fragility of the Ferrari car did almost cost him the title. At the final round in Monza he retired early on from the race and his Ferrari team-mate Peter Collins was leading and on the verge of winning the title before Collins’ allowed Fangio to take over his car and allow Fangio to win his 4th Title, which the Argentine described as ‘Moving and brought me almost to tears by his selfless grace, the grace of a Gentleman’.

The very best drivers produce performances that are remembered for a lifetime, and for Fangio that moment came in the 1957 German Grand Prix. After moving to the Italian team Maserati where he drove the legendary 250F car, he won 4 races through the season to put his hopes of a fifth world title firmly on the cards. However in order to clinch the Championship he needed to win at the Nurburgring. After leading most of the race, a chaotic pit-stop put him back into 3rd place, over 45 seconds behind the leaders with just 10 laps to go and his hopes appeared to be over. But Fangio drove arguably the greatest race ever as he closed them up with 8 consecutive lap records, 10 altogether in the race, the fastest was 8 seconds quicker than his lap for pole position and caught the two leaders before passing them both on the final lap and winning the race and with it, his fifth world championship. It was a performance that would send shock-waves throughout the motor world, and is one that people continue to talk about 58 years later! Described as inhuman and incredible, Fangio himself admitted he had never driven so quickly before and that he would not – and could not – do it again. Fangio consequently announced his retirement at the end of that season, claiming he had nothing left to prove in the sport.

Fangio was unique for the 1950’s. His professionalism in the car was noted as one of his greatest skills, and he’s considered by many to be the best ever, especially given the time he was racing in compared to many of the other greats who competed much later on after vast improvements to the cars and safety were made. Fangio drove to levels that no-one else dared to follow, and that is what made him the phenomenon he is. Not only was he very fast and successful on the track, but he was also a very humble sportsman: gracious in defeat, and respectful in victory.

At the 1955 British Grand Prix, Fangio was 2nd going into the final lap right behind team-mate, Sir Stirling Moss, but could not quite catch up in time as Moss won his first F1 race. It has been said that Fangio allowed Moss to win at his home round, but Moss has always said that he asked Fangio many times about the situation and Fangio always told him ‘You were the better driver today, you deserve to win’.

‘The Master’ set the benchmark for later decades of racing, and is hailed internationally as the ‘Godfather of Formula One’. He boasts the highest winning percentage of any driver (46.15%) and his achievement of winning a world title with four different teams is a feat that has not been repeated.  Formula One fanatics will never forget the genius of Fangio – how could we? – but for the ordinary motor-sport fan, the Argentine has been somewhat forgotten after the achievements of more recent champions such as Senna and Schumacher, and is therefore relatively understated. Those that devalue the quality of Fangio could not be more wrong, and whilst the jury will always be out on whether he is indeed – as many people claim – the best there has ever been, his place on this list is whole-heartedly deserved, and he goes down in history as a true legend of the sport.


Thank you for reading this article. Leave comments below.

@Dan_Culyer   @benboorman21

Tomorrow: Number 2 – ?

See also:

No. 4 – Lewis Hamilton – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/the-sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-of-all-time-no-4-lewis-hamilton/

No. 5 – Jim Clark – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-time-no-5-jim-clark/

No. 6 – Alain Prost – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/the-sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-of-all-time-no-6-alain-prost/

No. 7 – Sir Jackie Stewart – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-time-no-7-sir-jackie-stewart/

No. 8 – Niki Lauda – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/the-sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-of-all-time-no-8-niki-lauda/

No. 9   – Sebastian Vettel – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/the-sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-of-all-time-no-9-sebastian-vettel/

No. 10 – Sir Jack Brabham – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-time-no-10-jack-brabham/


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Alfa Romeo Ferrari Formula One Juan Manuel Fangio Maserati mercedes Racing

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One comment

  1. Nice article Ben! Good work!