Juan Manuel Fangio
Juan Manuel Fangio was born to illiterate potato farmers in Argentina in 1911. Growing up in a traditional rural family with the rugged work ethic common among 20th century Italian diaspora ... Fangio began his racing career in the most dangerous and intense form of motor sport in history. Pan continental races across South America in the years before the Second World War were thousands of miles long. They took place on impossibly dangerous public roads today's WRC teams would never allow their cars or drivers to go anywhere near.
The vehicles used primitive, agricultural steering, brakes and suspension but nevertheless had V8 engines powerful even by today's standards. In short ... they were death traps on some of the most perilous roads imaginable. This is the backdrop to Fangio's astonishing car control.
He was first and foremost a highly respected, adept and meticulous motor mechanic. He understood the physics of the cars he drove and was equal to (and often better than) any of the mechanics who worked on his race cars.
Winning these Argentine marathons ... often by big margins ... he came to the attention of the Peron Government (including allegedly Eva Peron or Evita) who in the late 1940s funded an Argentine campaign in European Grand Prix ... including the purchase of customer Ferrari.
This campaign saw Fangio noticed by the great factory teams of Europe where he was hired by Alfa Romeo as one of its drivers in the inaugural Formula One world championship of 1950.
By the time he retired from F1 with five world titles in 1958 he'd won a race from every 2.125 starts and had a career points scoring average of 5.941 points per race.
A couple of important points ...
Once Fangio overtook Ascari on the Sports Annual table (Monza 1954 driving the Mercedes Benz W196) he has never been topped. Not in 60 plus years. His gap to the second placed Alberto Ascari is one of the biggest on the grid. You have to go back to the battle for 46th position to find a wider gap.
Because the Sports Annual points per race figure reflects career average track position ... it can be converted to any points scoring system in any given year. Since his effective retirement in 1957 ... if you apply his career average track results to all the World Championships since then ... well Fangio would have won just over 54 per cent of every world driving title until today.
Pit crew working on the Mercedes W196 of 1954