Had he lived, Juan-Manuel Fangio would today (Friday) have celebrated his 100th birthday, and to mark the occasion, Maserati is set to honour one of its favourite 'sons'.
Fangio was born in Balcarce, Argentina to Italian immigrants on 24 June, 1911, and the five F1 World Championship crowns that he clinched between 1951 and 1957 – the last of them at the comparatively grand old age of 46 – stood as a record for almost half a century, until Michael Schumacher claimed his sixth in 2003. His incredible 46.15 per cent winning ratio – with 24 grand prix victories from just 51 starts at the highest level – will likely never be surpassed.
A motor racing legend in the very truest sense of the word, two of Fangio's world championship successes were achieved with Maserati – in 1954 and 1957 – and he produced what was arguably the greatest drive of his life to secure his fifth title in a Maserati 250F at the Nürburgring on 4 August, 1957, his final grand prix victory.
In a race that lasted just over three-and-a-half hours and held around the fearsome Nordschleife, Fangio boldly elected to plump for softer tyres and just half a tank of fuel in his bid to overcome the Ferraris of Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins and Luigi Musso. In the knowledge that the scarlet machines were not planning on making a pit-stop, he reasoned that he could make up time through the corners by way of his innovative strategy – and when he came in to refuel and fit new rubber on lap 13 of 22, he was duly 30 seconds ahead of Hawthorn and Collins.
However, a delay in the stop saw 'El Maestro' rejoin the fray almost 50 seconds behind the pair. Over the next ten laps, Fangio broke the lap record nine times and passed both Ferraris on the penultimate tour – in the case of Hawthorn, with two wheels on the grass – to triumph, afterwards remarking that he had driven 'in a state of grace' and confessing: “I have never driven that quickly before in my life, and I don't think I will ever be able to do it again.”
“I raced and won with cars of all makes, but I always had a special relationship with Maserati,” he had conceded. “Not only were they safe and reliable cars always on the cutting-edge of technology, but there was a relationship of friendship and a special atmosphere between the brand and I...felt at home.”
Maserati will pay tribute to Fangio at this year's Goodwood Revival meeting from 16-18 September, paying homage both to the centenary of his birth and also the 60th anniversary of his first world championship. A daily track parade will include a variety of his most famous cars in honour of the life and achievements of this incredible man.