FOX'S 20TH CENTURY

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The Independent Online

In any comparison between the grand prix drivers of recent high technology years and those of the past, the benchmark has to be the skill of Fangio, world champion five times between 1951 and 1957 and the winner of 24 of his 51 grands prix.

In any comparison between the grand prix drivers of recent high technology years and those of the past, the benchmark has to be the skill of Fangio, world champion five times between 1951 and 1957 and the winner of 24 of his 51 grands prix.

The dangerous and sometimes ruthless world of motor racing seemed a strange career for such an unassuming son of a decorator. His gentlemanly attitude was best portrayed in 1956 when he was driving in the exhausting Mille Miglia in Italy. He came across Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson, who had crashed off a mountain road. He stopped racing and made sure that they were unhurt, even offering them a lift.

His career began in his home country of Argentina where he had worked as a garage mechanic, but the Second World War intervened, so it was not until 1947 that he resumed racing. Two years later he won seven races in Europe and gained the support of the Peron regime. In 1951 he won his first world title but a year later he crashed while driving from Paris to Milan and broke his neck. He had doubts about his future but decided to compete again.

Probably the one race that epitomised his ability came in his last grand prix season, 1957, when he was 46. He had moved from Ferrari to Maserati who decided that he should start the German Grand Prix with a half-full tank and make a pit stop while the Ferraris decided to go through the whole race without one. He had a lead of nearly half a minute, but was delayed during his stop and rejoined 50 seconds behind Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn. Amazingly, he caught them with a lap to spare, winning his fifth world championship.

The following year he went to compete in Cuba and was kidnapped at gunpoint by the pro-Castro movement which wanted publicity. "They were charming and gave me an excellent dinner," he said later. He was released "after an adventure I rather enjoyed".

He accepted the dangers of his sport by saying: "To race is to live. But those who have died while racing knew, perhaps, how to live more than all others." However he was aware that there was no such thing as a fearless racing driver: "If there is one driver who has not waked in the middle of the night, fingers clutching a sweat-soaked pillow, eardrums bursting with shrieking tyres, that man tumbled from another planet."

Moss, who so memorably raced against him, said: "There was not one outstanding quality that he possessed, his ability was so complete."

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