Sunday 21st May 1950
The very first multiple first lap pile-up in the World Championship took place at the Monaco Grand Prix. Waves crashing over the harbour front caught out Farina who skidded, stalled, and helplessly took out eight other cars. Juan Manuel Fangio picked his way through the wreckage to win the race by two miles! The victory was the first of the 24-Grand Prix victories in his illustrious Formula One career. Born in 1911, near Balacarce, Argentina, Fangio started his professional career as a mechanic. At age 23, he drove his first race in a converted Ford taxi that fell apart during the event. Fangio struggled early on in his career as a racer, but his passion for the sport led him to continue racing while he supported himself as a mechanic. Just before World War II, Fangio began racing a Chevrolet stock car. He won the Gran Premio Internacional del Norte, a race from Buenos Aires to Peru and back. Winning the 6,000-mile race brought Fangio instant notoriety in his home country. At 36, Juan Manuel Fangio was considered too old to race. Undeterred, he began a career as a Formula 1 driver. In 1949, his first full season, he won six times in 10 races. The next year he was invited to drive for the prestigious Alpha Romeo team. He finished second in the World Driver’s Championship. The next year he won it. Fangio then bounced between the Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, and Ferrari teams en route to establishing himself as the world’s best driver. He became a national hero in his adopted Italy as well as at home in Argentina. He won four World Driver’s Championships in the 1950s, but his fine results do not do justice to his extraordinary talent. In 1957, the 46-year-old Fangio returned to the Maserati team. Maserati’s equipment was nearly obsolete at the time, and Fangio raced with a considerable handicap. Fellow racer Phil Hill evaluated Fangio’s racing ability: “With most drivers, you figure 25 percent driver, 75 percent car. With the old man, you know it’s 40 percent driver, 60 percent car, so he’s already got us beat with that something extra that’s inside of him.” The German Grand Prix that year was apt testament to Fangio’s genius. Racing against the tighter Ferraris in his weak-kneed Maserati, Fangio decided not to take a full load of fuel in his car. His plan was to build a huge lead on his competitors with a lighter car, and then to pit to take on more fuel. The other cars would run the race without stopping. Fangio was 28 seconds ahead when he pitted, and 28 behind when he came out of the pits. He passed leader Mike Hawthorn on the final lap, and won the race by four seconds. Juan Manuel Fangio is often considered the most talented driver to ever race. One wonders what his career would have been like had he had the opportunity to race early in his life.