Press Release) A racing great: Juan Manuel Fangio
• Fangio would have
turned 100 years old on 24 June 2011
• Senior driver of the Mercedes-Benz team in 1954 and 1955
• After his career ended, the five-time Formula 1 world champion
became the Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador
Stuttgart – Racing
driver Juan Manuel Fangio was the leading figure in Mercedes-Benz's
campaign to win the Formula 1 World Championship in the 1954 and
1955 seasons. Fangio formed an almost symbiotic partnership with the
W 196 R racing car: "It's the perfect car. The machine which every
driver dreams about their whole life long," he once said of the
Fangio drove to a total
of five Formula 1 world titles in vehicles from four different
manufacturers. There was something very special about his
relationship with Mercedes-Benz though. He had already been working
as a dealer for the Stuttgart-based brand in Argentina since 1951.
And following the end of his racing career, he became President of
Mercedes-Benz Argentina S.A. in 1974.
He died in Buenos Aires
on 17 July 1995.
It was at the French
Grand Prix on 4 July 1954 that Mercedes-Benz made its first ever
appearance with the new Silver Arrows from the W 196 R series. The
victor at the Reims circuit was Juan Manuel Fangio, who had been
world champion in 1951 and finished second in 1950 and 1953. The
Argentinean was already aged 43 at the time, making him older than
many of the other drivers in the field. He had furthermore suffered
a serious accident in the 1952 season.
Yet far from being a
fabulous finale to his career, Fangio's win for Mercedes‑Benz at
the wheel of the W 196 R marked the start of an extraordinary
success story. During 1954 and 1955, Fangio lined up on the
starting grid for the Mercedes-Benz team for a total of 19 Formula 1
and touring car races, recording ten wins and a number of other
Fangio was born to
Italian immigrants on 24 June 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. 1951 also marked the start of Fangio's
close ties with Mercedes-Benz, however, as it was the year he
opened a sales outlet for the Stuttgart brand's cars in Buenos
Aires. And it was not long before he was sitting behind the wheel of
a Silver Arrow for the first time; in February 1951,
Mercedes-Benz came over to Argentina, bringing with it three
overhauled pre-war W 154 racing cars for a guest race appearance.
Fangio was on the starting grid for the "Premio Presidente de la
Nación Juan D. Perón", along with Karl Kling and Hermann Lang.
However, the Silver Arrows were unable to reach their top speed on
the modern circuit with its many chicanes, and Fangio only managed
to finish third.
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 with
racing was made all the more spectacular in 1954 by the return of
Mercedes-Benz to the grand prix arena. Racing director Alfred
Neubauer signed the Argentinean driving ace as the captain of the
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 (189 kW) 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 in the first three races. At that time, the
Formula 1 World Championship consisted of just a drivers' title. The
constructors' championship was only contested from the 1958 season
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.
The 1954 season turned
into a great triumph for Mercedes‑Benz and Fangio: he followed up
his victory in France with further wins in Germany (Nürburgring),
Switzerland (Bremgarten) and Italy (Monza). Fangio was crowned
Formula 1 world champion for the second time, with almost double the
points of his nearest rival. The Argentinean dominated the 1955
season in similar fashion, winning the grand prix races in
Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, and finishing second
behind teammate Stirling Moss at the British Grand Prix.
performances by Fangio during this season included second spot at
the Mille Miglia, driving solo in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (W 196
S). Winner Stirling Moss, on the other hand, was accompanied by a
co-driver, Denis Jenkinson, as was most of the field.
Mercedes‑Benz's withdrawal from motor racing at the end of the
1955 season, Fangio went on to win two more world championship
titles with Ferrari (1956) and Maserati (1957). The following
year, the Argentinean called an end to his racing career at the age
of 47. In 1974, he assumed the post of President of Mercedes-Benz
Argentina S.A. His five Formula 1 world championship titles remained
a record until his death in 1995, which was not surpassed until
Michael Schumacher achieved the feat in 2003.
Today, tributes to Juan
Manuel Fangio include five identical life-size bronze sculptures
depicting the exceptional racing driver together with the W 196 R.
They can be found in front of the Mercedes-Benz Museum in
Stuttgart, outside the Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Buenos
Aires, as well as at the Nürburgring, Monza and Monaco circuits.
There is also a Fangio
Museum in Balcarce that is run by a local association. Featuring
numerous vehicles and other exhibits, it is dedicated to the racing
driver's whole life story.