Argentinian automobile racer, Juan Manuel Fangio, stands out in automotive history as one of the few racers to have won more than three Formula One (F1) World Championships and set the standard for Grand Prix racing. Fangio was born in 1911 in Balcarce, Argentina, into a family of Italian immigrants. He began working as a mechanic at an early age, just as automobiles were becoming available to more people across the world. In Argentina, he was far from the U.S. and European epicenters of the automobile industry. In 1934, he began racing in the deadly local circuit races in Argentina. In this age, many of the safety devices of modern cars had yet to be created and many racers died in accidents. His success led to his title as Argentine National Champion from 1940 to 1941.
After World War II, President of Argentina Juan Perón provided financial backing to Fangio, allowing him to race in European races as a new era of racing began. While there, he quickly proved his abilities, and won a World Championship in 1951. An accident in 1952 kept him out of racing for two years, but he returned to win a streak of World Championships from 1954 to 1957—a total of five wins. He was known as “The Maestro” by fans and fellow competitors. An F1 article states, “Fangio possessed some of the greatest innate driving abilities that his or any other age had seen.”
Fangio drove for the most prestigious car designers at the time—Alfa Romeo, Mercedes, Ferrari, and Maserati. His successes also included 24 Formula One Grand Prix victories including a memorable success in 1957 at the extremely challenging Nürburgring course in Germany. Fangio was quoted later describing the race: “The victory ceremony was something else, but even so I never imagined that so many years afterward people would remember this race so clearly. And somewhere deep inside me, I told myself that never, never again was I going to drive like I did that day.” He retired in 1958 after an unprecedented racing career. He returned home to Argentina and worked for Mercedes Benz.
One cannot discuss the history of automobile racing without including Juan Manuel Fangio. His accomplishments inspired a generation of racers and automobile enthusiasts across the globe from all classes. He was also known for his quiet character and commitment to the art of racing, which led younger racers to seek his guidance and respect him.