A Fangio Party
The record book says he raced in 51 Grands Prix, won 24 of them, was second 10 times, achieved 28 pole positions, was accredited with 23 fastest laps and was World Champion five times. That, however, does not do justice to the man many consider the greatest of them all.
Although Juan-Manuel Fangio won championships in Alfa Romeos, Ferraris and Maseratis, he is best remembered for his championship wins in 1954 and 1955 driving for Mercedes-Benz, alongside Kling and Herrmann in 1954 and with Stirling Moss as team-mate in 1955. It was a magnificent year for the Grand Prix team, apart from Monaco, with Fangio victorious in the Argentinian, Belgian, Dutch and Italian Grands Prix and Moss winning the British race with team-mates Fangio and Kling second and third. Although Fangio continued in Grand Prix racing after Mercedes withdrew at the end of the year, the relationship between the Stuttgart company and the Argentinian driver remained close and warm. It was therefore not surprising that it was Mercedes-Benz who were keen to celebrate Fangio’s forthcoming 80th birthday.
At specially convened celebrations in London and then Stuttgart, Fangio was given the star treatment, having to endure press conferences, functions, speeches, dinners and, memorably even for those who could not understand the language, a Tango to Fangio passionately sung in German in the South American style.
The highlight of all these activities, however, was the reunion on track of Fangio and Moss, W196 and 300 SLR. To see these cars at any time is quite wonderful, to see them on the racing circuit with Fangio and Moss at the wheels was stunning. It was a brief glimpse into the past with Grand Prix racing a world apart from what it is today, the cars free from any sponsors’ decals, when the grids were dominated by the red of Italy and the silver of Mercedes-Benz and the drivers sat behind the engine.
As the cars sped round the track, the engines barking as they raced up the rev-range, Moss dutifully following Fangio, it came as a sad thought that this was maybe the last time the two men and the cars would be united on the track, a footnote in the history of Grand Prix racing. Such thoughts, though, were far from the minds of both men as they came charging through the Sachs Kurve at Hockenheim, tyres scrabbling for grip as they raced through the Stadium section, belying the age of both men and machines. It lasted only a few laps, of course, by which time Fangio had decidedly tired, but it left a warm memory for all those present even those too young to have seen the Argentinian actually race and a reminder that not all the superlatives need be applied to today’s champions. — WPK