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#7 Hall of Fame: Juan Manuel Fangio

2021-04-11 00:00

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#Hall of Fame,

#7 Hall of Fame: Juan Manuel Fangio

Juan Manuel Fangio, soprannominato El Chueco, nasce a Balcarce, un sobborgo nella periferia sud di Buenos Aires, il 24 Giugno 1911. Nipote di emigrati

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Juan Manuel Fangio, nicknamed El Chueco, was born in Balcarce, a suburb in the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires, on June 24, 1911. The grandson of Italian emigrants, the boy leaves school early to dedicate to his greatest passion: mechanics. At the age of thirteen, Fangio began working as a mechanical assistant in a Buenos Aires workshop, learning directly from the owner, Miguel Angel Casas, the operation of internal combustion engines.

 

The boy, in addition to learning important knowledge of mechanics, is in charge of delivering the cars from the workshop directly to customers, very often traveling the route from Buenos Aires to Balcarce, learning from a young age to extricate himself through the dirty roads of Argentina, often affected by torrential rains. Here that Fangio learns the art of driving in the wet, a skill that over time would have made him very famous. Fangio himself will speak of his early years in this way:
 

"My life has gone through various stages. From an early age, at school, I wanted to be the best. My father wanted me to work with him but my greatest desire was to learn mechanics. The problem was that at the time no one was willing to teach it to you. You had to learn it by yourself, observing others in their work".
 

After several years of apprenticeship in the Buenos Aires workshop, El Chueco begins to take part, at the age of eighteen and without parental permission, in the first competitions with the role of co-driver, being impressed by the cars that in the eyes of Fangio they seem to have a life of their own.

 

After a few years spent between military service before and after work, Fangio took part in his first competition as a driver on 25 October 1936. At the wheel of a Ford A apparently previously used as a taxi and rebuilt by himself, he took part in the Circuito de Benito Juárez. After qualifying in seventh place, he is forced to retire following a mechanical failure while in third place.

 

This first taste of racing will be followed by other appearances, as co-driver of Luis Finocchietti, in the Tourism Highway championship and, as a driver, in the 400 Kilometer of Tres Arroyos which will later be interrupted due to a fatal accident.

 

The first real results came in 1940 and 1941 when, aboard a Chevrolet Coupé, he participated and won the National Championship of Argentina, the Turismo Carretera, which to date is the longest-running championship in the world and is still held nationally. Among the various competitions in which he shows off, Fangio participates and wins the toughest of all: the Norte Grand Prix, 10,000 kilometers of course for two weeks of competition between Buenos Aires and Lima. The terrible ordeal, as nicknamed by Fangio himself, is one of the toughest races in the entire history of motoring: held in the most difficult and varied conditions imaginable, you cross hot and arid deserts, jungles infested with insects with high levels of humidity and icy and sometimes snowy mountain passes, with cliffs of 300 meters. Along the way there are numerous inconveniences that one encounters, with the pilots becoming the first mechanics of their own vehicle:

 

"Up to one hundred and fifty cars entered the races of 1940, but only twenty of them finished. We carried all the spare parts that we knew could break, the tools to carry out the repairs and, of course, also the gasoline. The machines came to weigh something like 1700, 1800 kg".
 

It is above all in these types of competitions, in which mechanical problems are more frequent, that the knowledge of cars is even more crucial. Fangio knows the cars well, the dynamics behind the functioning of the components and the limits that they must not exceed in order to preserve their integrity.

 

"I have never thought of the car as a mean to reach some place, instead I have always thought of being part of the machine, as well as the connecting rod and the piston".

 

This is the culture that Fangio will cultivate over the years and which allows him, with a time of one hundred nine hours and thirty-five minutes and with more than an hour advantage over the second classified, Daniel Musso, to win the first important competition of what will be a glorious career. This important affirmation will be followed, in 1941, by two other victories on the road: the first in Brazil in the President Getulio Vargas Award, the second in Turismo Carretera in Argentina.

 

After a forced stop due to the war, in 1947, Fangio returned to racing, obtaining his first victory at the wheel of a single-seater at the Grand Prix of the City of Rosario, and winning two more Formula Libre tests and one on the road. Thanks to these results, the Argentine Automovil Club chooses him together with Galvéz and Puopolo to participate in the first competitions in Europe. Galliate is chosen as the headquarters, a small village on the outskirts of Milan, where the three Argentines are hosted by Achille Varzi, a local motorcycle and car driver, with whom a deep friendship is established. Destiny, however, will take Varzi himself away during the free practice of the unofficial Grand Prix of Bern of the same year, leaving a deep void in the hearts of the three overseas riders who, to remember the memory of their friend who has just passed away, founded a new team called Equipo Argentino Achille Varzi, which will take part in a series of unofficial events in 1950 and will also participate in the first Formula 1 World Championship in 1951.
 

Back in Argentina, Fangio will participate and win two more Formula Libera and two road races before taking part in the most important event of the year: the South American Grand Prix. This competition, lasting almost three weeks, is spread over a 9500 kilometer course from Buenos Aires to Caracas.
 

On the first day of competition El Chueco is the victim of a mechanical problem that compromises the final result, seeing him forced to finish in last position. Having left the following morning, the Argentine becomes the protagonist of a progressive comeback that leads him to overtake sixty competitors in a single day, until he finishes the stage near the border with Bolivia.

 

The drivers, exhausted by two uninterrupted days of competition, are forced to start the third stage in the middle of the night, without any kind of lighting, without knowing the road and without the slightest rest due to a revolt that broke out in Bolivian territory. The decision of the race direction will be fatal: Fangio, intent on recovering the time lost during the first stage, miscalculates the speed of a corner and loses control of his Chevrolet, becoming the protagonist of a terrible accident in which the co-driver and friend, Daniel Urrutia, will lose his life. A few later Fangio himself reveals his innermost thoughts:

 

"I remember as the car rolled off the road I didn't lose consciousness and I realized it was going to be a big disaster, and it did. It was my first accident, I lost a great friend and the real culprit is me. I thought it wasn't. I could never race again in my life".

 

Although deeply shaken by the loss, Fangio decides not to stop and to continue his career, also in honor of his great friend, through good times and bad. In 1949 Fangio returned to Europe and began his international career aboard a Maserati. The time has come for the first race, on the Sanremo city circuit. However, even before the event begins, the Argentine's Maserati is the protagonist of problems of various kinds, of which not even its mechanics are able to understand the origin. The problems are so deep that the team leader himself, Amedeo Vignani, advises Fangio not to take part in the competition. This is how the Argentine decides to spend the whole night in the workshop disassembling the engine, filing the shaft and giving the bearings the right direction before, when dawn came, the mechanics went back to work and reassembled it. Once in the race, the Argentine dominates the scene and wins his first race in Europe.
 

"I think that it was probably the fact that I have notions of mechanics that helped me a lot. It is thanks to this that I can drive a car well. Every time I ask the mechanics what the maximum power is, and consequently I never exceed that point. I won a race, it is true, but compliments must always be taken with a grain of salt. I always agree on wanting to be the best but woe to think of really being the best".
 

A concept, this, taken years later by his future teammate in Mercedes, Hans Hermann:

 

"Fangio had the special talent of being prepared physically, mentally and mechanically. He knew everything about a car, from the engine to the clutch to the brakes. He had the talent of being able to get the most out of himself and 'car, so that the car could give everything without breaking".

 

During the same year, aboard a Maserati that he himself described as fantastic, he won the Grand Prix of Sanremo, Pau, Perpignan, Marseille and finally that of Albi in quick succession. He should also have participated in the Mille Miglia among the favorites, but his Simca does not arrive in time from France.
 

At the end of the season, rumors of Alfa Romeo's return to racing become more and more insistent and Fangio is indicated by the press as a sure driver of the renewed team. He is the president of the scuderia del biscione who, amazed by the Argentine's victory in the Sanremo Grand Prix of the year just ended, contacts Chueco and grabs him as an unofficial driver.
 

Alfa Romeo, however, appears on the Ospedaletti circuit with only two cars that should have been driven by Farina and Fagioli. During the tests Farina is the victim of a slight accident and reports an annoying pain in the arm that does not allow him to take part in the event. The Turin team, having lost the top driver, decides to boycott the event in order not to let a semi-unknown driver race in their car, but the decision is nevertheless rejected by the organizers, who had publicized the race so much. As told later, it is Fangio himself who, having understood the hitch, intervenes in the dispute by stating:
 

"If I lose, it will not be Alfa Romeo that will lose, but an ordinary driver. However, if I win, it means that Alfa Romeo can win with anyone".

 

The words of the Argentine driver convince the leaders of the snake to give him a chance: in the race Fangio misses the start by slipping to last position but, at the end of a comeback as a true champion, he wins. The same night the Turin team offers the Argentine a contract for the season that is about to begin. In a subsequent interview, Fangio himself reveals the details of that negotiation, which is so important to him:
 

"Alfa Romeo wanted to discuss the contract but I told them to fill it out as they wanted because I had the opportunity to race with the best car of that moment. I wouldn't have to pay anything, just put my body in it".

 

The rider's decision to sign a contract, whatever conditions were proposed to him, contributes decisively to establishing a deep friendship between the parties. In Alfa Romeo, Fangio joins Farina and Fagioli, composing the famous trio, later called The team of the three F.

 

For the first Formula 1 World Championship, Alfa Romeo brings the famous 158 to the track, a car born in 1938 and continuously developed until, at the dawn of the new championship, it developed a power of 250 horsepower for only 700 kilos. of weight. The Alfetta, so renamed for its small size, immediately proved to be extremely powerful and reliable and the small power-to-weight ratio configures it as the car to beat.

 

The start of the first World Championship takes place on the Silverstone circuit, developed on the platform of a disused RAF airport. Twenty-one cars are registered at the starting line: four Alfa Romeos, the fourth of which entrusted to Reg Parnell for advertising reasons, seven Maserati, six English cars (four ERA and two ALTA) and five French Talbots. Ferrari was absent, boycotting the event due to the failure to reach the agreement on the bonus for the presence of the Maranello cars.

 

The Alfa Romeos immediately proved to be the undisputed dominators, with Farina signing the first pole start in the history of the circus. In the race, the Alphas soon dig a deep furrow from their rivals, with Farina leading the race followed closely by team mates. Once in the pits for the first refueling of fuel and oil, Fangio proves to be too hasty and starts again without having allowed the mechanics to finish refueling and is forced to stop on the track a few laps later.

 

At the end of a race that will remain in history, held in front of an audience of one hundred and fifty thousand spectators, including all members of the English royal family, Farina wins the victory in front of Fagioli and Parnell.

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The second round of the world championship takes place on the Monte Carlo circuit. Unlike the race held at Silverstone, this time the Ferrari 125 S driven by Villoresi, Ascari and Sommer also take part. The Ferraris, for the same weight as the Alphas, develop less engine power. Enzo Ferrari therefore hopes to keep up with the Biscione cars by relying on lower consumption of oil and petrol which would have resulted in fewer pit stops.
 

Fangio wins pole in front of Villoresi and Farina. In the race, the Argentine immediately takes the lead while on lap two an accident occurs at the blind corner of the Tabaccaio: Farina collides with González and, unable to avoid the traffic jam, Fagioli and five other drivers are also involved. Fangio avoids the disaster and goes on to win his first race in Formula 1 undisturbed. Later he will tell about the race:
 

"The day before the race I was looking at photos at the Automobile Club and I saw one of a pre-war accident where many cars were involved at the Tobacconist bend. Because of the wall that meant that nothing could be seen. , all the cars piled one on top of the other. When, in the race, I saw the yellow flag waving, I remembered the photo and was able to avoid the accident, passing slowly to the left".

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At the third round of the season, on the Bremgarten street circuit, in Switzerland, Fangio conquers pole and battles in the race with Farina, continuously alternating at the head of the race, but on lap thirty-three he is forced to stop due to electrical problems and is forced to give way to the teammate who wins unchallenged.
 

In the two subsequent events in Belgium and France, Fangio wins as many races, while Farina is fourth in Spa and retired in Reims. With only one race to go, the general classification sees Fangio in the lead with 26 points, followed by Fagioli at 24, and Farina at 22. It is an undisputed domination.
 

This brings us to Monza for the last round of the season, decisive for the assignment of the first title. Alfa Romeo takes advantage of this Milanese showcase to make its debut, with Fangio and Farina at the wheel, the 159, natural heir to the 158, of which it follows the general layout but differentiates itself for the improvement of the braking system and transmission and for the adoption of the De Dion bridge which had been abandoned three years after the release of the first model. Power rises to 425 horsepower, making it the most powerful 1.500 cc engine ever built in motoring history.

 

Ferrari also brings the new 375 to its debut, powered by a twelve-cylinder V engine delivering a maximum power of 330 horsepower, thus making it the main antagonist of Alfa domination in what promises to be a decidedly close fight between the two Italian manufacturers.

 

In fact, during free practice, Fangio and Ascari overtake each other with record laps by continuously lowering their respective chronometric references and, having reached Saturday's qualifying, it is the Argentine who wins by just one tenth of a second, with Farina third and Fagioli fifth.

 

At the start Farina immediately took the lead followed by Ascari and Fangio, but Ferrari's claims to victory were soon shattered due to the failure of a bearing on the engine mounted on Ascari's car. The two Alfa drivers therefore immolate each other in a close battle but, on lap twenty-four, Fangio's car suffers from a broken radiator. The South American driver, in order not to abandon the fight for the title, starts again with the Alfa of his teammate Taruffi, amid the general disapproval of the public. Twelve laps later, however, Taruffi's 158 also suffers from engine problems and Fangio, retired, paves the way for Farina to win the first world title in the history of Formula 1.

 

The new season that is about to begin promises to be a two-way issue between Alfa Romeo and Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari's decision to abandon compressed engines to switch to aspirated ones is a winner, and the Maranello cars acquire a competitiveness never found in their debut season. In particular, the Ferraris are less agile and powerful than their rivals but they do not need to make pit stops to complete the entire race distance.

 

The debut of the new season takes place in Switzerland, on the Bremgarten circuit, with Fangio achieving his first success of the season, maintaining the first position conquered in qualifying and authoritatively leading the race under torrential rain; his rival from the previous year, Farina, is third, while Ascari is only sixth.

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In the following Grand Prix in Belgium, Fangio starts again from pole and shares the lead of the race with his teammate Farina until the second refueling when, due to the overheating of the left rear wheel hub, he suffers a delay of almost fifteen minutes which he relegates him to the rear, away from the points. The race was won by Farina ahead of Ascari and Villoresi, proof of the fact that victory is no longer a matter for Alfa Romeo alone.
 

The following weekend Fangio tries again the adventure at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, this time aboard a Talbot T26SC, and with his driving partner Louis Rosier, winner of the race for the French manufacturer the previous year. But a mechanical failure forces him to retire again.
 

We therefore arrive in France, on the Reims circuit, for the fourth round of the season. The transalpine circuit is famous for its sudden braking and for this reason all the manufacturers decide to bring oversized braking systems to the track. To this challenge is added that of the heat, and the car covers will suffer the most. Fangio signs the pole in front of his rivals Farina and Ascari, and at the start consolidates his leadership by immediately taking off.
 

Towards the middle of the race, however, some problems with the Alfa engine forced him to change cars with his teammate Fagioli, and even Ferrari was forced to operate in the same way with the cars of Ascari and González. Fangio resumes gear in third position, irremediably detached from the leaders, but Ascari first and Farina later accuse tire and braking problems respectively. Fangio took advantage of this situation and went on to win the second race of the season in front of Ascari himself and teammate González.

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The next race takes place on the British circuit of Silverstone, in front of a huge crowd of nearly 100.000 people. The Ferraris are increasingly competitive and González signs the pole. An intense battle between Argentines is staged in the race, with Fangio leading the race ahead of González for almost half the race. The event will be decided in the pits, with the Maranello cars exploiting the advantage of needing less fuel on board to spend less time in their respective stops, thus accumulating an advantage that will allow González himself to win for the first time in his career.
 

The event will also coincide with the first success of a Ferrari car in Formula 1, which will interrupt an Alfa Romeo hegemony that lasted for ten Grands Prix. At the end of the English appointment, the world ranking sees Fangio clearly in the lead with twenty-one points, ahead of Farina six points behind.
 

The next round of the championship, on the Nürburgring circuit, confirms the turnaround seen in the English race, with Ascari winning the first pole position for Ferrari ahead of Fangio; the Argentine, aware of the fact that the Modenese cars would have stopped only once in the pits, tries to push to the maximum from the first laps but has to be satisfied with the second final position and the fastest lap in the race. Fangio, however, increases his lead over his closest rival in the world rankings who, after the German race, became the Milanese Ascari, eleven points behind.

 

This leads to the penultimate round of the world championship on the Monza circuit: a good placement would allow Fangio to win his first world title. The weekend starts well, with the conquest of pole in front of Farina, now out of the race for the title, and with almost two seconds ahead of Ascari's third time.

 

The race, however, turns out to be quite different; in the first laps Fangio and Ascari alternate in the lead up to the first stop of the Argentine driver who, forced to force to recover, breaks the engine of his Alfa, thus allowing the top man of Ferrari to significantly shorten the distances in the world rankings, that at the end of the Italian appointment will see Fangio at 28 points, and Ascari approaching with 25 points.

 

The last round of the season takes place on the Spanish circuit of Pedralbes. Within the Alfa team it was decided to pay particular attention to the tires , since although the average speeds in this circuit are not high, the continuous braking and acceleration make tire wear a very important detail for the final victory.
 

Alfa Romeo therefore decides to focus on larger tires, inflated to maximum pressure, and softening the suspension, while Scuderia Ferrari opts for the opposite strategy, fitting smaller tires on their cars.
 

The choice will eventually condemn the Maranello cars: Ascari is forced to make four stops while Fangio shatters every record and at the end of the race wins his first World Championship.

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At the end of the season, Alfa Romeo unexpectedly announced its farewell to motoring with Fangio who, left without a team, took part in a test with the British B.R.M. near Folkingham airport, at the end of which he was so satisfied that he signed the contract:
 

"The opportunity granted me by the B.R.M. Board of Directors to test their Formula 1 car gave me great satisfaction. I found it in perfect mechanical condition and I declare without reservation that it is extraordinary and destined without any doubt to prove its large capacities".

 

The contract concerns the exclusivity for driving Formula 1 cars, however leaving him free to race for other teams in other formula races. The 1952 season begins with a series of Formula Libre races in South America: three in Brazil, two in Argentina and two in Uruguay to be precise. Fangio, aboard a Ferrari 166, retires in the third carioca race, but wins all the other six events, taking pole position in six circumstances and setting the fastest lap in four.
 

He then inaugurated the European season with a sixth place at the Richmond Trophy and took part in the Mille Miglia for the second time, nevertheless obtaining a disappointing 22nd place at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo 1900.
 

And then he took part in the Ulster Troph y, in Ireland and, after having risked a bad accident during practice hitting a sidewalk, he was forced to retire in the race due to mechanical problems. The day after the British appointment, the Formula 2 Grand Prix should have been held in Monza; Fangio does not want to miss the Brianza appointment and, having lost the plane, he drives all night, arriving at the racetrack only one hour before the start of the race.
 

The regulation, providing for the obligation to participate in the practice tests, would not have allowed him to take part in the race but the other drivers will accept that Fangio starts from the last row.

 

The need to recover and the fatigue accumulated during the trip will be fatal to the Argentine driver who, in circumstances very similar to those that led to the accident that was fatal to his friend Urrutia, makes a mistake at the first corner of Lesmo and exits violently of the track, overturning the car and being thrown out of the cockpit.

 

The general conditions do not initially seem serious but a fracture to the cervical vertebra forces him to a forced rest, putting an end to his competitive season. Weeks after the accident, Fangio will return to the subject:

 

"No one should ever drive under certain conditions. I thought that it is very easy to die without realizing it. You realize that dying is not so sad because, in those circumstances, there is no time to think about it".

 

The serious accident will prevent the Argentine champion from taking part in the 1952 world championship which will be dominated by the cars from Maranello, with Ascari winning his first ever Formula 1 championship.
 

However, already at the end of the 1952 season, the Maseratis were the most furious pursuers of the Ferraris, with the cars of the trident team which, with the same engine power as the Maranello cars, would benefit from less weight.
 

Fangio thus decides, for the season that is about to begin, to marry with the Maserati. The new car, the A6GCM, which had already debuted at the end of the season just ended, delivers a power of almost 200 horsepower for a total weight of 580 kilos. The aluminum frame is strengthened to cope with the greater torsional forces and the front end is equipped with the typical oval grille which will become its distinctive feature par excellence.
 

The debut of the new season takes place on the Argentine circuit of Buenos Aires and, as expected, the competition is very close, with Ascari signing the first pole of the championship, closely followed by a Fangio hungry for redemption and pushed by the warm home crowd. . It is Sunday, and 500.000 spectators are the setting for the first start of the year. The stands are so crowded that the spectators, finding no space, climb over the fences of the racetrack and take their place on the grassy surface by the track, despite the repeated prohibitions coming from the loudspeakers present throughout the circuit.

 

In the meantime, the race takes off and Ascari begins his escape, accumulating in the space of twenty laps as many seconds ahead of Fangio. On lap twenty-three Farina, engaged in containing the attacks of a Fangio who slipped into third position just before, was forced to avoid a spectator who was recklessly crossing the track, thus losing control of his Ferrari which swooped into the crowd: the balance was dramatic and there will be numerous losses among spectators.

 

The race, however, did not stop and in the end it was Ascari who triumphed in front of Villoresi and González, with Fangio retired, signing the victory in one of the saddest days in the history of Formula 1.
 

In the next two rounds of the world championship, Fangio is again forced to retire. In Holland, the second round of the season, he starts second again behind Ascari before retiring on Sunday due to a broken crankshaft. On the other hand, the Belgian race is particularly unfortunate. The Argentine champion, who started from pole, broke the engine when he was in command of the race and, returning to the pits, got into the car of his teammate Johnny Claes. Resuming his gear, he recovers from fourteenth to third position but, on the last lap, he demands too much of himself and violently exits the track at the Stavelot curve, getting by only with bruises and a few bruises.
 

In spite of a season that seems to have been born under a bad star, in the following three races in France, England and Germany the Argentine signs as many second places, twice behind Ascari, now a sure winner of the title, and once behind his old rival Farina, returning to the race for second place in the world championship standings.

 

For the penultimate round of the world championship, in Switzerland, Maserati shows up with a new, much more powerful engine and Fangio gets the first pole position of the season. Reliability issues, however, will lead the team to opt for the old engine; despite this conservative choice, Fangio will still be forced to replace the racing car due to a breakdown and will thus have to settle for fourth place, shared with Felice Bonetto.

 

This brings us to the last round of the world championship in Italy. However, the world of Formula 1 is shaken by a news that strikes the insiders like a bolt from the blue: Enzo Ferrari has decided to withdraw his cars from any type of competition. The reasons for this decision are not clear, but rumors about a financial failure of the Maranello-based company are quickly spreading, although it is difficult to believe. These speculations are counterbalanced by various news reports on an alleged need for rest of Ferrari himself who, suffering from the heart, has not participated in the races of his cars for some time to avoid too strong emotions. A decision that Commendatore himself should point out:
 

"The reason? It would take too long to explain. And then, who do I have to explain? Nobody has ever thought of helping me, even if for some time the machines I built have been winning at least fifty victories a year, in Europe and in America. On the other hand, I have never asked and do not ask anyone for anything. My heart cries like that of sportsmen, but allow me not to talk about this any further".

 

Fangio returns to Monza two years after the hard accident that forced him to stop for a year. At the end of a not very fortunate season, El Chueco finds himself in the position of having to face the ghosts represented by the Brianza circuit and demonstrate to the world that his talent is still intact. In fact, the Argentine has not won a Grand Prix since the Spanish round of Pedralbes, which in 1951 gave him his first and only World Championship.

 

At the end of qualifying on Saturday Ascari is the fastest, while Fangio follows him from second place. We arrive at the Sunday race, which is staged in front of an audience of 30.000 people. At the start Ascari takes the lead and is closely followed by Fangio, Farina and Marimon, also Argentine on Maserati, considered Fangio's pupil. The race is full of twists and turns and the four constantly swap positions on the track. The first to give up the infernal step of the head of the race is Marimon himself. The battle was tight until the end with Ascari in the lead ahead of Fangio and Farina but, during the last lap, the Ferrari driver came out wide from the Parabolica and left the victory to the Argentine at the end of a heart-pounding race. For El Chueco it is a very sweet return to victory, the result of a wonderful maneuver at the last corner, as told by the same:

 

"A few moments before I thought: if instead of taking off the corner I manage to tighten it, on the straight my car will be more powerful and the others won't overtake me. Better to do it on the last lap: it's less risky and the others don't expect it. I tried, it went well and I won".

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At the end of the season with the victory of the world championship of Ascari and the consequent retirement of the Ferraris from racing, the 1954 season opens with some important regulatory changes: The World Championship returns to the Formula 1 regulations with the engines passing to 2.5 liters of supply.
 

For the season that is about to begin, the return to racing of Mercedes is announced, which engages the Germans Kling and Hermann and which is joined by the Argentine Fangio. The German manufacturer seems the most determined to leave a mark in the world championship and the direction of the team is entrusted to the sporting director Neubauer. The main innovations strongly desired by the German are of two types: the first concerns the organization of internal teamwork with division of roles and the second, of course, concerns the car. As for the first, the team decides to entrust each individual driver with predefined mechanics, as explained by Fangio himself:
 

"At Mercedes we had something different: each driver had three mechanics, exclusively. And they didn't change. Three for me, three for Kling and three for Hermann, and this created a great bonding force".

 

From the point of view of the car, the matter is more complex. The W196 can be defined as one of the most technically innovative single-seaters. The new car of the Stuttgart house is based on a reticular structure with welded magnesium tubes, a solution that makes the latter very rigid, but also extremely light. Among the frame innovations, the most important concern the independent wheel suspension on the two axles.

 

The engine is a 2496 cm³ twin-shaft in-line eight-cylinder with direct injection fueling, which allows for better efficiency. This solution is developed by exploiting the experience acquired on the Messerschmitt Bf 109 combat aircraft used during the Second World War. The maximum power reached by the engine is equal to 260 horsepower but, during sporting activity and through a series of improvements, it will also reach 290 horsepower generated at 8.500 rpm.

 

During its use, the W196 is equipped with two distinct aerodynamic configurations, all in aluminum sheet: one with a faired car body, to take advantage of aerodynamics in fast circuits, and one with open wheels for the most tortuous routes. The faired type, or also called the Monza type, allows you to make the most of the aerodynamic flows and reach higher speeds than rival cars. The defect, however, consists in the dimensions and weight which are decidedly greater than the classic configuration with open wheels, making it unsuitable for more tortuous routes where a more manageable version is preferable.

 

The car of the German house, however, is late in design so that Fangio, despite having already signed a contract, takes part in the first two rounds of the season at the wheel of the new Maserati 250F, thanks to a clause expressly wanted by the Argentine driver in order not to lose world points pending the debut of the Silver Arrows.

 

In the Argentine Grand Prix he wins ahead of Giuseppe Farina and his new Ferrari 625, while in the Belgian Grand Prix he wins his second consecutive victory in front of Maurice Trintignant's Ferrari.

 

The long-awaited debut of the German team arrives at the third round of the season on the French circuit of Reims: the superiority of the new W196 is immediately evident and Fangio wins the start at the pole in front of Kling. In the race, the head-to-head between the two continues for the duration of the race, with the two Mercedes standard bearers digging a deep furrow with their opponents and frequently exchanging the lead. The battle is exciting and the two arrive in a sprint, with the Argentine triumphing with just one tenth of a second behind.

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Fangio, with his third success in as many races, runs away at the top of the world championship standings and the gap with the first of his pursuers, Trintignant, already appears unbridgeable for all the contenders. After a transition race on the Silverstone circuit, in which the inadequacy of the faired bodywork of the Mercedes single-seater cost the Argentine the podium, we arrive in Germany, on the Nurburgring circuit.

 

The complex layout of the German circuit, made up of continuous ups and downs, convinces the leaders of the German team to debut the version with open wheels. The choice turns out to be a good one and Fangio wins pole position in front of the English Hawthorn's Ferrari, on a day marred by the death of Marimon, a pupil of Chueco, who will lose control of his Maserati and will be the victim of a fatal accident. The news of the death of the man who many considered the godson of Fangio and González, leaves an immense void in the hearts of the two Argentine drivers who, once rejoined in the pits at the end of the session, will abandon themselves to an intense and moved embrace. Despite the serious loss, the Argentine will still decide to participate in the Grand Prix and win it, dominating it from start to finish.

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At this point of the season, the victory of the second world title is a pure formality for Fangio, given the abysmal gap in the championship standings from the first of his rivals. Once in Switzerland, sixth round of the season, the Argentine proves once again unbeatable. He starts second behind his friend González in a Ferrari but, on Sunday, he will immediately take the lead and win the race, graduating for the second time in his career as World Champion. In the last two races of the season Fangio will take a painful victory in Monza, in a race in which a future star of the circus, Stirling Moss, will be highlighted and will finish third in Spain, at the Pedralbes circuit.

 

This brings us to the 1955 season and, as usual, the start takes place on the Buenos Aires circuit. The Mercedes team presents itself to the occasion with a new driver, Stirling Moss, and the car entrusted to the four standard bearers of the team is the W196 which had so dominated the season just ended along the tracks throughout Europe. González is on pole with Ferrari, followed by Fangio and Ascari's Lancia D50. However, the real protagonist of the championship debut is another element: the scorching heat. The track temperature is around 55 ° C and completing all three hours of racing turns out to be a matter for a select few. With the passing of the laps more and more drivers are forced to raise the white flag: Kling goes off the track and is forced to retire, Moss is the victim of a heat stroke and parks his Mercedes on the track while Hermann, also a victim of the same problem, will at least be able to reach the pits. At the end of the race he will tell:
 

"I noticed that I had heat stroke and I knew I had to go back to the pits. I got there so weak and exhausted that they had to help me get out of the car".
 

Fangio dominates the race in the meantime but is also forced to the pits due to the excessive heat. After getting out of the car, he orders a bottle of water to be poured over his head and, after catching his breath, gets back into the car and starts driving again. The thousands of fans present witness a scene never seen before and a stoic test of the Argentine champion who, at the ripe old age of forty-four, is the only one together with his compatriot Mieres to complete the entire duration of the race. Fangio wins and immediately runs away in the championship standings.

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We arrive in Monte Carlo, where the challenge between Ascari and Fangio is re-proposed. The launch demonstrates that it has put an extremely competitive car on the track that can compete for the scepter against the most popular Mercedes in every circuit. Ascari sets the same qualifying time as the Argentine champion but, having scored after the latter, he will be forced to start from second position.

 

At the start of the race, Fangio immediately takes off, followed by Castellotti and Moss, with Ascari paying a higher gap. However, the Argentine's dominance was interrupted in the middle of the race due to the transmission failure, leaving the lead of the race to Moss. The Englishman maintains the lead for thirty laps until the engine of his Mercedes forces him to retire, leaving room for Ascari who, probably due to an oil stain left by Moss' own W196, loses control of his Launches even ending up in the sea. The driver will come out unscathed but the appointment with his destiny is only postponed for a couple of days: during a test session on the Monza circuit, the Milanese driver will be the victim of a fatal accident. With him goes another piece of Formula 1, of history, but above all one of Fangio's greatest friends and rivals who, having learned of the news, cannot hold back the pain:
 

"I can hardly believe this terrible news. I saw Ascari on Sunday evening in Monaco and never before gave me the impression of being in good physical condition. I admired his indisputable skills as a driver and the confidence he has always shown in every circumstance. We were close friends and the news of the death of my great rival strikes me particularly painfully".
 

With the world of Motorsport still terribly shaken by the death of the Italian champion, the circus makes a stop in Belgium. Castellotti honors Ascari and signs the pole position on Lancia but, in the race, nothing will be able against the excessive power of a Fangio who will once again impose himself in an authoritative manner. Immediately after the Belgian appointment, it is time for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Mercedes representatives Fangio and Moss are the favorites along with Hawthorn's Jaguar. The race takes off as usual and, once we are close to the driver change, yet another tragedy is consummated: Hawthorn enters the pits and, behind him, the English Macklin is forced to make a sudden maneuver to avoid the collision; the steering takes place during the overtaking of the French Levegh's Mercedes with the two cars that, colliding, end up in the crowd.

 

The accident soon took on the connotations of tragedy, with immediate feedback on public opinion and on the Formula 1 World Championship itself. Several world championship appointments were canceled and the Stuttgart company decided, at the end of the season, to put an end to its participation in the world championship. The remaining races on the calendar will be only three: Zandvoort in the Netherlands, Aintree in Great Britain and Monza in Italy. Fangio wins two of the three events and is World Champion for the third time.

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The withdrawal of Mercedes from official racing also coincides with the separation between Fangio and Moss, whose careers will take different paths, starting a new and important rivalry within the circus. At the end of the season, however, the words of esteem from the young Englishman arrive:
 

"He was the greatest foreman I have ever met, because he was the best driver in the world. But on top of that, he was a wonderful man to follow and I did it closely. He would never throw the dust in me. face, he always drove as he should, that was correct. It was a fantastic experience to drive alongside someone so capable".
 

At the dawn of the new season, however, Fangio is still looking for accommodation. With the retirement of Mercedes and Lancia from racing there are not many alternatives available to the Argentine multiple champion. Among the few teams enrolled in the new 1956 championship, Ferrari and Maserati are the two that offer Fangio the most attractive opportunities, facing a rather complicated choice. Fangio himself will recount those moments:

 

"I knew that Ferrari and Maserati would come looking for me. Speaking with Neubauer, I asked him for advice on the choice I should make. It was he who advised me to join Ferrari".

 

In Ferrari, Fangio joins a team made up of the Belgian Gendebien, the Italians Musso and Castellotti and, starting from the Monaco Grand Prix, the British Collins, all aboard the Lancia 50D. At the first round of the season, as is now customary on the Argentine circuit of Buenos Aires, there are only two constructors on the grid: Ferrari and, in fact, Maserati, with the trident team fielding a formation made up of González, Hawthorn and Moss.
 

It was Fangio himself who signed the first pole start of the new championship, ahead of his teammates Musso and Castellotti on the grid. Sunday's race immediately features a close battle between the two manufacturers, with González and Moss leading most of the race until the 250F engine leaves both of them, forcing them to retire. Fangio wins in sharing with Musso, ahead of the French Behra and the British Hawthorn.

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The second appointment takes place on the Monte-Carlo street circuit. The Argentine signs pole position again but is the author of a strangely dirty race: he ends up spinning on the Saint Devote hill where he damages the right side of the car and, a few laps later, goes along the Curva del Tabaccaio and is forced to withdrawal. Back in the pits, he decides to stop his teammate Collins and resumes driving, throwing himself in pursuit of Moss. The gap accumulated, however, is too high with the Argentine who has to be satisfied with second place. Moss wins and also takes the momentary top spot.

 

We then arrive at the Belgian Grand Prix: Fangio clearly records the best time in practice ahead of Moss and in the race alternates in the lead with the Englishman, until the latter loses a wheel and is forced to retire. Once he got into the car of his teammate he would have finished the race in third place, while Fangio, clearly in the lead, will suffer from serious problems with the transmission of his Ferrari and will be forced to abandon. We arrive in France, where the Ferraris prove once again fragile: Fangio signs the pole and leads the race until a loss of fuel forces him to a long stop in the pits which costs him the victory. Collins wins again, who thus hints at a first escape attempt in the standings, with Fangio delayed by six lengths.

 

The relationship between Fangio and Ferrari is immediately full of cracks: the Argentine complains about the decisions of the Maranello team, the internal organization and accuses a lack of adequacy that is seriously endangering the attempt to defend the world champion. In truth, Fangio is not the only driver unhappy with the internal situation: even Castellotti, at the end of the French Grand Prix, complains of a constant lack of reliability that does not allow him to create the right connection with the car. The Italian thus threatens dismissal and is supported by Fangio himself:
 

"He told me he wanted to quit but I replied that if he were the only one, nothing would change. So, out of solidarity with my friend, I told him that I would do it too".

 

The sensational decision of Chueco, immediately rejected by Enzo Ferrari, however, allows for a dialogue. Fangio places only one condition to remain within the team: to have a mechanic who deals exclusively with his car, trying to recreate that typical Mercedes organizational structure. Ferrari accepts the condition set by the Argentine, and entrusts him with a mechanic in charge of his Lancia D50. The new internal organization of the team effectively eliminates the reliability problems that have limited the race for the title and in the next two races, on the Silverstone and Nurburgring circuits, the same number of victories are achieved. Also thanks to Collins' retirement at the German Grand Prix, Fangio is hoisted, with only one race to go, to the top of the championship standings with an eight-point advantage over his teammate. We reach Monza with Fangio who needs only one point to win the title.

 

The Argentine signs the pole in front of Castellotti and Musso, with Collins only seventh. The latter, before the start of the race, assures his teammates that he is intent on running a quiet race and that he has no intention of fighting for the victory. At the start Fangio sprints slowly and allows Castellotti to conquer the summit, followed by Moss. The race goes by in total control until, however, the Argentine begins to lose the grip of his car. The mechanics discover a problem with the steering column that forces Fangio to a resounding stop.

 

From the pits they then decide to stop Musso to allow the Argentine to get back on track and get the points needed to win the title. But the Italian refuses to wait for the order of the team. With Moss in the lead and with a third Collins and incredibly champion in the event of final victory, for the Chueco it seems the end of the games but, with a gesture of boundless sportiness, it is Collins himself who stops in the pits and sells his car. Fangio thus resumed the march recovering up to second place a few seconds behind Moss, and thus won his fourth world title.

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Despite an initial hope in the renewal of the collaboration with Ferrari, economic differences and views with the manufacturer from Modena will ensure that Fangio is ready for the 1957 season with Maserati. The new 250F presents an upgraded engine for the new championship, which goes from six to twelve cylinders. The new engine, although more powerful than the previous one, is heavier and wears more tires. After several attempts, it is Fangio himself who decides to return to the previous solution, aware that he should have closed the performance gap with his driving. The World Champion is aware of the challenge and, at the debut of the new season on his home circuit, he wins ahead of the French Behra.
 

The dominance and superiority of the champion are irrefutable, with the Argentine who also asserts himself at the Monaco and Rouen Grand Prix. After just three races, the gap in the standings from the first of the pursuers already appears insurmountable, with a gap of seventeen points. A retirement in his fourth appearance on the British Aintree circuit seems to undermine the Argentine's dominance, but a peremptory victory in the following race, on the Nurburgring circuit, puts his fifth world title in his hands.
 

"I don't think I was a spectacular rider. I was a rider who knew his limits and who calculated the strength of the opponent".
 

A few years later, Jackie Stewart returns to the season just ended:
 

"He was simply the best. I think he's the best driver I've ever seen driving. Mike Hawthorn was a great driver, as was Peter Collins, in their Ferraris, but Fangio in his Maserati made them look slow. He was the driver for excellence".

 

He will conclude the season with two second places in Pescara and Monza. In 1958 Fangio occasionally took part in the Motorsport season without finishing it, participating in some races. A somewhat particular year, including a kidnapping just before the race in Cuba, which fortunately ended after a few hours, which led Fangio to meditate on his retirement:

 

"When one is at the peak of his career, it is difficult to declare that he will leave what he is doing. Before the season started I spoke to the people at Maserati and told them that if the car had gone well, I would have raced four races during the season. Unfortunately the car was not going very well. During the fifteenth lap of the Reims race, my clutch pedal broke and I ran out of it. I am a person who believes a lot in destiny and that year a lot had accumulated things. In Cuba they kidnapped me and I couldn't run; in Indianapolis they gave me a car that didn't work. So, while I was running, I started to think a little about my parents, who were elderly. I thought that if I still had time to give them something back. after all the pains they had suffered because I was running, I should have done it. I had come to Europe for a year and it was ten years ago. So, thinking about all these things, I decided that at the end of the race I would retire. And so was".
 

Fangio disputes fifty-two Grands Prix, winning twenty-four and getting on the podium thirty-five times. He also gets twenty-nine pole positions and forty-eight starts from the front row. His record of five world titles will last for forty-eight years and will only be surpassed in 2003 by Michael Schumacher. Fangio holds the highest percentage of pole positions obtained in his career, as he starts in first position in 55.8% of the Grand Prix disputed; at forty-six years and forty-one days he is also the oldest driver to have won a world title.

 

Luca Varano

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