Juan-Manuel Fangio, one of the greatest sportsmen, let alone racing drivers, of all time, has died after a lengthy illness at the age of 84. He was admitted to Buenos Aires Hospital a few days ago with pneumonia.
The son of poor Italian immigrants to Argentina, he became a hero on the track and an ambassador off it. He won a record five world championships and 24 of his 51 grands prix during the 1950s, and never tarnished his reputation with controversy, as those embroiled in Formula One's latest acrimony might be reminded.
Fangio won the first of his titles in 1951, at the age of 40. He took four more in consecutive seasons, from 1954 to 1957, whereupon he became the oldest champion in the history of the sport. He retired the following year. Stirling Moss, friend, admirer and adversary, has always maintained that as a driver and a man Fangio had no equal.
"He was such a champion," Moss said. "I saw a lot of him and drove right behind so closely that we were known as 'The Train'."
He drove for some of the legendary marques - Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Mercedes and Ferrari - and always with the combination of style and strength that enabled him to outpace the rest well into his 40s.
It is generally reckoned his outstanding performance was in the 1957 German Grand Prix, at the formidable, 14-mile long Nurburgring. A lengthy pit-stop left his Maserati 48 seconds behind Ferrari's British pair of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins. But he eventually won by 3.6sec from Hawthorn, breaking the lap record 10 times in the process.
Fangio was born in Balcarce, in the province of Buenos Aires, on 24 June, 1911. His father was a stonemason but he started work as an apprentice mechanic at the age of 13 and learned how to prepare and race cars with his brother, Toto.
He made his racing debut in a modified taxi and had his first win in an endurance event, across the Andes to Peru. He went to Europe in 1948 to take up professional racing and competed in the inaugural Grand Prix World Championship two years later.
He narrowly escaped death at Monza in 1952, and saw many of his colleagues killed on the track. He quit racing, saying: "My best friends died in stupid accidents and I didn't want to go on."
Following his retirement, he returned to Argentina a folk hero. A race track and museum have been built in his honour at Balcarce.
"I never took an unnecessary risk," he said in an interview shortly before his death. "I always knew my limits."
Fangio's wake will be held at the Argentinian Automobile Club's central building in Buenos Aires. His funeral takes place in Balcarce today.
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