He didn’t start racing until he was 27 years old. His first Formula 1 race was at age 39. Not the way a career would begin today, but in 1950 the racing world was different. Juan Manuel Fangio would go on to win five world championships in a span of eight years. A new documentary, A Life of Speed – The Juan Manuel Fangio Story, is currently showing on Netflix.
I found the film fascinating mainly because I love watching racing films from long ago. There is a lot of footage of Grand Prix races from 1950- 1958. The black and white film adds an air of romance to the contests. I’m always shocked to see the three wide standing starts F1 used at that time. The first turn wasn’t the calamity you would expect.
The film proceeds in a chronological fashion, following Fangio from his childhood in Balcarce, Argentina, all the way to the European racing scene. He began his Formula 1 career the same year what we know as Formula 1 began, 1950. His first victory came at Monaco that year, driving for Alfa Romeo. The Alfas won all 11 races that year. Fangio’s teammate Nino Farina won the championship.
Fangio won the title the following year, then won four straight titles from 1954-1957. He is the only driver to win championships in four different cars- Alfa Romeo, Mercedes, Ferrari, and Maserati. The title was up for grabs in the final race of 1957. Fangio needed to finish third or fourth to win. His car developed handling problems. The team asked driver Luigi Musso to step out of his car so Fangio could win the title. Musso refused, but his other teammate, Peter Collins, gave his car to Fangio, who finished second. Collins was also in contention for the championship.
The film has interviews with retired drivers including Jackie Stewart and Nico Rosberg. There are also interviews with former employees of the car factories for which Fangio drove. I was impressed with Rosberg’s appreciation for the drivers of the past and the history of the sport in general. When he spoke of Collins lending Fangio his car, Rosberg asked, “You think Lewis Hamilton would do that for me?”
I was disappointed that there were no words from Sir Stirling Moss, although he was mentioned. I have been a Moss fan since I first heard about him.
Was Fangio the greatest driver of all time? Andrew Bell of Sheffield University in England did a study to find out. He used several metrics and concluded that Fangio indeed was the greatest driver. I’m not sure how one compares eras because of how different the cars are today. But a very strong case supports his findings in favor of Fangio.
Two other segments of the film need to be mentioned. The first is footage I had never seen before of the fatal accident at LeMans in 1955 which killed 82 spectators. If you’ve seen film of the Sachs-McDonald accident at Indianapolis in 1964, you have an idea of what it looked like. It is frightening to watch.
The other feature I liked was the end of season television graphic of the year’s standings . I enjoyed seeing the names of the Formula 1 drivers of that era like Mike Hawthorn, Alberto Ascari, Jean Behra, and Hans Hermann. Hermann also is one of the interviewees.
Each year nestled somewhere between fifth and seventh place was that year’s Indianapolis 500 winner. From 1950-1960 the Indianapolis 500 results counted toward the world championship. The nine points earned for the win was good enough for the top ten in Formula 1. Some years just 34 points was enough for a world title.
A Life of Speed is a great film for fans who love the history of Formula 1 and racing in general. It is a comprehensive glimpse of one the sports greatest drivers.
Thank you for the great response to my repost of the Greatest 33 Non Winners project. Will Power, who sits 18th on my list, obviously no longer qualifies for this listing. Who should take his place? I’m leaving that up to you. Please send me your suggestions by leaving a comment on this post as to who you think should be added to the list. Please state your case for the driver you nominate.
I’m looking at the driver’s Indianapolis 500 record only. If Lewis Hamilton started running the 500 but never finished better than 17th in this race, he wouldn’t qualify. In keeping with the old qualifying tradition, the driver will enter the grid in 33rd position. Everyone below Power will move up one spot.
I can’t wait to see who will join the field.
The Greatest Driver
Yesterday afternoon I watched the Netflix documentary A Life of Speed- The Juan Manuel Fangio Story. I will review it tomorrow. I loved the footage of the Formula 1 races from the 1950s and hearing and seeing the names of the drivers I grew up with.
Editor’s Note: This is the first reader request; originally published May 9, 2017
What a fun project this turned out to be! It was fascinating seeing how much those who submitted grids both agreed and disagreed. Some drivers got just one mention, while others appeared on every ballot. There was near unanimous placement for some drivers, and some drivers were near the front on some grids and near the back on others. The driver nearly everyone agreed should be on the pole is Michael Andretti (pictured above, from 1992).
I noticed the rankings were along age lines. Older fans close to my age seemed to have near identical grids, and younger fans as a group submitted similar lineups. Many drivers from long ago in general fared better on the lists from the older group. I was surprised how well the current drivers stacked up against the racers of the past. Another interesting detail is that all 50 driver finalists had at least one mention. I didn’t expect that.
To rank the drivers, I assigned points to the drivers corresponding to their spot on each person’s grid. A driver on pole got 1 point, the last driver got 33. If a driver was listed on pole on five grids, his total was 5. The lowest total won the pole. If a driver did not appear on someone’s grid, he/she was given 34 points. To my shock, there were only two ties. I resolved placement by averaged each driver’s highest and lowest rank of all the grades, with the lowest average getting the higher spot. One of the ties was for 32nd and 33rd. It was just like qualifying for the 1963 500.
The front row- Michael Andretti, Rex Mays, and Ted Horn, is strong. These drivers were in the top 10 on everyone’s grid. Andretti led 431 laps, the most by any non-winning driver. he started on the front row three times and had 5 top 5 finishes. Rex Mays, in the middle of the front row is the only other driver to lead more than 200 laps and not win. Mays was on the pole four times. Ted Horn, on the outside of the front row, finished in the top five 9 times in 10 starts.
So here they are, the Greatest 33 Non-Winners of the Indianapolis 500:
it’s kind of fitting that Snider is last on the grid. his trademark was jumping into a car on Bump Day and getting into the field starting near the back. Thanks to everyone who submitted a grid. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and reasoning as to how yo put your grids together.
I will be back tomorrow with some 500 news and a report on my visit to the A. J. Foyt exhibit at the Speedway Museum. The cars were great to see, but the memorabilia was even more amazing to me. Thursday I will have my Indianapolis Grand Prix preview with my normally inaccurate winner’s prediction.
The Grand Prix of Monaco, the Formula 1 equivalent of the Indianapolis 500, is cancelled for 2020. The two other Formula 1 races in May, the Netherlands, and Spain, have been postponed. Monaco could not find a feasible replacement date.
Can the Indianapolis 500 be far behind? Per Adam Stern, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is making contingency plans in case the race needs to be postponed, but the goal is still to run the race May 24.
I’m hearing July 4 weekend in conjunction with the NASCAR race at IMS, which I think is a horrible idea. It just sounds like a logistical and scheduling nightmare. I’ve also heard some people thinking of Labor Day, but there are too many negatives there as well. The Kentucky Derby is now set for the Saturday of that weekend. The NHRA US Nationals aree scheduled at Lucas Oil Raceway, just 20 minutes from the Speedway. Indycar also has a race scheduled at Portland that weekend. Moving the Portland race is probably the easiest problem to solve of the three conflicts.
A decision needs to be made soon, probably within the next couple of weeks. Given the current situation, I don’t see the 500 running May 24.
From the Long Beach Grand Prix:
LONG BEACH, Calif. (March 18) — The Grand Prix Association of Long Beach today announced that it will not be able to conduct the 2020 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach at a date later in the year.
The Grand Prix Association also announced a ticket credit/refund policy for 2020 Acura Grand Prix ticket holders.
“Over the past few days, we have actively pursued the possibility of rescheduling the Acura Grand Prix to a later date this year with the City of Long Beach, the Convention Center, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and our other race sanctioning bodies,” said Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association. “We are very disappointed that we were unable to put something together for all our loyal fans and valued clients, but trying to reassemble all the elements that have made the Long Beach event such a success does not appear feasible for 2020. As a result, our attention will now be focused on planning the 46th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 16-18, 2021.”
With the Acura Grand Prix unable to be conducted, the following two options will be offered to 2020 ticket holders:
The first option allows ticket holders to receive a credit for tickets purchased which will apply to the same level of admission to the 2021 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach event. The credit will come with a Price Protection Plan which will not only protect them against any price increase for the 2021 Acura Grand Prix but also guarantee they can purchase the same level of ticket for the 2022 event at the 2020 price.
The second option gives ticket holders a full refund (less the processing fee) by April 30, 2020.
The 2021 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place April 16-18.