JUAN MANUEL FANGIO, GENTLEMAN DRIVER

Extract from Karl Ludvigsen's book "Juan Manuel Fangio, Motor racing's grand master" and "The race naar de roem" ("The power and the Glory") by Ivan Rendall (M & P - Weert - Editions)

Illustration by Benjamin Freudenthal, Michael Turner

Version Française

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"You drive like Fangio !" is a short expression that has survived in French language. If it is applied to you, It means you drive like a madman. However, if you know who was Juan Manuel Fangio, the judgement would appear unfair. An intrepid man, king of the powerslide and skid-steering indeed, but an intelligent and prudent man nevertheless.

To be truly fair one should rather say "You drive like Farina !" The italian pilot, team mate of Fangio with Alfa Romeo was really a hotheaded racer. About him Fangio said : "Farina is somebody I'm respecting but not admiring. Nino Farina really drives like mad, trusting the protection by the Madonna, but he should realize that the Madonna may occasionnally be unavailable !" Fangio had one major crash only in his seven year's carreer ; with 24 victories from 52 Grand Prix races, and five championship tittles.

When the Maestro started a race, the odds of him winning were even ! Really staggering. Below follow some passages on the life of Fangio for a further lightning of the greatest gentleman driver.


Monaco 1950 : a bright and carefull champion

At Monte carlo in 1950 Fangio and farina rocket away from their front-row starting slots, the Argentine gaining the advantage on the first lap. on his second lap, Fangio bursts out of the tunnel into the sunlight and along the quay toward the sharp left at the tobacconist's shop. Glancing up at the crowd overlooking the quay the race leader notices something odd : they aren't looking at him ! His thoughts flash back to a day earlier when he was looking through a photo album at the Monaco Auto club. He saw pictures of the 1936 race in which some cars skidded and crashed on just the quay he is now approaching at 100 miles per hour.
Fangio brakes hard to a stop before the left turn. Around it, previously hidden from his view by the balustrade, are nine crashed Grand Prix cars. On his first lap Nino Farina skidded on a freshly wetted surface and eight others folowing him crashed into him and each other, fortunately without great personal injury. The road is blocked, but Fangio spot a chance. If one car can be moved he can get by. He drives up to it and pushes its tyre by hand, rolling it enough to clear space for his Alfa. From that manoeuvre it is a clear run to a victorious finish.

The race of the maestro's life : Nurbürgring 1957

Juan manuel Fangio is the first driver winning five Grand Prix championships : in 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957.

In a legendary race at the Nurbürgring he took his last title. He owed the victory to his driving skills after the chosen strategy failed.
He drove a Maserati 250 F and his main adversaries, were Peter Collins and mike Hawthorn, both with Ferraris.
Fangio knew he had to make a pit stop for tyre change during the race, while the Ferraris could do without. So he took just enough fuel to make it to the stop. His lighter car should allow him to build a considerable advance. the advance was 30 seconds when he made the pit stop on lap 12 ; however, the break lasted 52 seconds and Collins and Hawthorn took the lead. On lap twenty Fangio had bridged the gap but for two seconds, beating the lap record several times. he passed Collins and then Hawthorn and crossed the line 3,6 seconds ahead.

After the end of the race he said he hoped to never again win a race in that way !

Karl Kling's testimony about Juan manuel Fangio

When the name Fangio is mentioned, for me he was one of the greatest drivers of those days, and one of the most congenial and fair ! A good colleague and a principled sportsman. Few were quite so fait as fangio.I was in a position to experience that. Few were as open and above-board as fangio was at that time.

In Argentina Juan Perón himself was a fan of motorsport. he provided a great deal of support for fangio. After he took note of him in the beginning (Fangio had his own private Grand Premio Standard Chevrolet, which is what made him great in the first place)
Perón recognized very early that fangio was a great talent, and supported him.
I came into contact with fangio fairly frequently in the sport. Once, for example, I was faster than him at the Nüburgring. Fangio immediately move aside. he didn't defend his position or anything like that. twice at monza I was faster than him at certain places - And he moved over. I can't say the same of many others.

Fangio remarked : "We came up against each other a few times."Perhaps at such moments I had a bit better engine ; that could well be. purely from a driving standpoint he was better, that's all there was to it. that's why I won't hear a word said aginst him. that's why I'm honest about him.
Many opportunities came that way. Sometimes I had a slightly better engine ; engine performance was scattered over a broader range then. they were not at all the same. When I got into the car I could tell immediately : "You've got a good engine" or "you've got a bad engine".
Fangio didn't notice this. Because fangio was actually not that well versed technically. He sat in the car and was satisfied with it. He never said, "I'd prefer different shock absorbers for this course, or a different gear ratio". Fangio got in the car and drove it...

However, Fangio was the faster. He could always pull out a few more stops. from time to time it was stated accurately enough that he could powerslide. Earlier this had always been his objective.

I'm not a powersliding driver, nor I am an advocate of such technique. I think that a clean, smooth lap brings me better results. But Fangio - at the extremity - could control a powerslide that was colossal. And he mastered it right to the ultimate limit.

Personally as a driver I profited a great deal from him. Frequently I found myself driving behind him ; when that happened I watched his technique. I wanted to learn somthing for him. It was a unique experience - and rarely hazardous.

I can state quite confidently that fangio and i were close friends. there is scarcely a driver - and I know a great many - whom I learned to esteem more than Juan Manuel fangio. Also a friend and comrade.

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Other stories :

Monaco 1950 : The Hotel "beau rivage in background" with his typical blue domes painted by : Benjamin Freudenthal - 28 x 20 inches print avalaible ! ( limited edition : 600 copies)
Grand prix de monaco 1950
Click on the picture !

..."Fangio and farina rocket away from their front-row starting slots, the Argentine gaining the advantage on the first lap".

Nurburgring 1957
Hawthorn and Collins exchanges worried gestures when they see the maestro getting closer and closer, beating the lap record several times ! (painting : Michael Turner)


Départ de la course du nurburgring 1957
Start od the Nurbürgring Grand Prix in 1957. Hawthorn is leading, just ahead of Peter Collins

Tout d'honneur de Fangio qui est accompagné de Hawthorn
The race is finished. Hawthorn in his Ferrari, on the right, very "fair play" accompain the maestro for a victory lap. fangio gets his fifth and last champion tittle.


Karl Kling and Fangio