Michael Schumacher pays tribute to Juan Manuel Fangio
This Friday, 24th June, Juan Manuel Fangio would have been celebrating his 100th birthday. The five-time world champion, one of the most skilful and successful racing drivers, won two of his world titles (1954 and 1955) in a Silver Arrow, and his achievements are remembered to this day.
Another F1 great, Michael Schumacher, discussed Fangio's achievements with Mercedes GP team boss, Ross Brawn.
1. Schumacher and Brawn on the subject of Fangio
Mercedes GP Team Principal Ross Brawn honours the multiple champion as follows: "There are few iconic figures in Formula One, but Fangio is certainly one of them." Michael Schumacher, who broke Fangio's record for total number of world championship titles in 2003, says: "The drivers in Fangio's time were all very courageous; it makes you realise how fortunate we are today with the build of our cars and the high safety standards."
Brawn agrees: "From our modern perspective, it's difficult to grasp the challenges which the drivers of that time had to rise to, but for everyone on our team, it's a major source of inspiration to try to repeat what Fangio achieved with Mercedes in the 1950s."
2. Schumacher meets Fangio
In 1992, Michael met Fangio at the DTM race which was being staged at the Norisring in Nuremberg. "That tells you just how old I am," says Michael with a grin. "I was struck by how youthful he still looked, even though he was already into his eighties. But from his physical coordination and the alertness of his eyes, you could see what a great racing driver he must have been."
Vice-President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Norbert Haug remembers the same race weekend and feels privileged to have met the great man: "Fangio would certainly have been proud of Michael and his subsequent long and successful career." It is more than likely that Nico Rosberg was also present, as his father was competing in DTM at the time. "Unfortunately, I can't quite remember," says Nico ruefully.
3. Fangio's keen eye
Norbert Haug encountered Fangio on several occasions, including the DTM race at Singen in 1991: "He got into a 1955 racing car and set off at a cracking pace. At one point, he slewed across the track. He was obviously having great fun." Schumacher adds his own recollection: "Norbert was quite worried that Fangio would overdo things on the demo laps and damage the car or, worse still, injure himself."
Haug recalls another anecdote from the same year: "Fangio used to watch the DTM races from the grandstand, which only gave him a view of the home straight. Even so, he asked me: 'Who's that in the black car? He's a very special driver.' Well he was right, because that driver turned out to be the current DTM record championship winner Bernd Schneider. I've no idea how he managed to talent-spot so accurately from where he was sitting."
4. Fangio's impressive record in Formula One
In 51 Grands Prix, the Argentinean driver mounted the podium 35 times, started from the front row on 48 occasions (29 of these from pole position), won 24 races and set 23 fastest race laps. With a victory rate of 47%, Fangio won almost every other race of his Formula One career and started from the front row in 94% of them.
Fangio notched up eight of his 24 GP wins in a Silver Arrow Type W196, including the first ever victory in F1 history for the Silver Arrows in the 1954 French GP. Ross Brawn: "The fact that Michael even matched his record, let alone surpassed it, is quite remarkable."
5. When Fangio was kidnapped
In February 1958, Fangio was dragged out of a busy hotel lobby in Cuba by the local guerrillas. So instead of competing in the Cuban Grand Prix in Havana, the racing star spent 26 hours as a hostage of El Movimiento 26 de Julio, an underground organisation led by Fidel Castro.
"I've heard the story of when Fangio was kidnapped," says Ross Brawn. "He was quite relaxed about the whole affair. He said it was no problem at all. They had treated him well and even allowed him to watch the race. That really impressed me. He must have been quite a cool customer."