Mercedes-Benz and Juan Manuel Fangio

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(from Mercedes-Benz Press Release)  A racing great: Juan Manuel Fangio

• Fangio would have turned 100 years old on 24 June 2011
• Senior driver of the Mercedes-Benz team in 1954 and 1955
• After his career ended, the five-time Formula 1 world champion became the Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador

Stuttgart – Racing driver Juan Manuel Fangio was the leading figure in Mercedes-Benz's campaign to win the Formula 1 World Championship in the 1954 and 1955 seasons. Fangio formed an almost symbiotic partnership with the W 196 R racing car: "It's the perfect car. The machine which every driver dreams about their whole life long," he once said of the Silver Arrow.

Fangio drove to a total of five Formula 1 world titles in vehicles from four different manufacturers. There was something very special about his relationship with Mercedes-Benz though. He had already been working as a dealer for the Stuttgart-based brand in Argentina since 1951. And following the end of his racing career, he became President of Mercedes-Benz Argentina S.A. in 1974.

He died in Buenos Aires on 17 July 1995.

It was at the French Grand Prix on 4 July 1954 that Mercedes-Benz made its first ever appearance with the new Silver Arrows from the W 196 R series. The victor at the Reims circuit was Juan Manuel Fangio, who had been world champion in 1951 and finished second in 1950 and 1953. The Argentinean was already aged 43 at the time, making him older than many of the other drivers in the field. He had furthermore suffered a serious accident in the 1952 season.

Yet far from being a fabulous finale to his career, Fangio's win for Mer­ce­des‑Benz at the wheel of the W 196 R marked the start of an extraordinary success story. During 1954 and 1955, Fan­gio lined up on the starting grid for the Mercedes-Benz team for a total of 19 Formula 1 and touring car races, recording ten wins and a number of other impressive results.

Fan­gio was born to Italian immigrants on 24 June 1911 in the small country town of Balcarce in Argentina - seemingly a very far cry from a future career as a five-time Formula 1 world champion. But the youngster, who did an apprenticeship as a mechanic, was inspired by his fellow countrymen's passion for motor racing. He came into contact with the local racing driver scene at an early age, gained some experience at the wheel himself and learned how to rebuild vehicles for racing. In 1932, he opened his own car workshop, and four years later Fangio competed in his first race in a converted Ford taxi.

After the end of World War II, Fangio made the switch from rebuilt standard passenger cars to thoroughbred racing cars, and entered the international racing arena. In 1950, he came second in the World Championship driving for Alfa Romeo, before going on to win his first world title for the Ita­lia­n car maker in 1951. 1951 also marked the start of Fangio's close ties with Mer­ce­des-Benz, however, as it was the year he opened a sales outlet for the Stuttgart brand's cars in Bue­nos Aires. And it was not long before he was sitting behind the wheel of a Silver Arrow for the first time; in Feb­ruary 1951, Mer­ce­des-Benz came over to Argentina, bringing with it three overhauled pre-war W 154 racing cars for a guest race appearance. Fan­gio was on the starting grid for the "Premio Presidente de la Nación Juan D. Perón", along with Karl Kling and Her­mann Lang. However, the Silver Arrows were unable to reach their top speed on the modern circuit with its many chicanes, and Fan­gio only managed to finish third.

During the 1952 season, when the World Championship was switched to Formula 2, Fan­gio suffered a serious accident in Monza. He spent the remainder of the year convalescing from his injuries, most notably from one he sustained to his spine. He was already back in the racing seat in 1953 though, when he finished second in the World Championship with Mase­rati.

International motor racing was made all the more spectacular in 1954 by the return of Mer­ce­des-Benz to the grand prix arena. Racing director Alfred Neubauer signed the Argentinean driving ace as the captain of the racing team. The Stuttgart­-based outfit had been developing the W 196 R racing car for the new Formula 1 season since 1953. It was powered by a 257 hp (189 kW) inline eight-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2.5 litres, desmodromic valves and direct petrol injection. Apart from the Streamliner version, a classic For­mula racing car with exposed wheels was also created. The new Silver Arrows were not ready for the start of the season, so Fangio still competed in a Mase­ra­ti in the first three races. At that time, the Formula 1 World Championship consisted of just a drivers' title. The constructors' championship was only contested from the 1958 season onwards.

On 4 July 1954, Fan­gio lined up for his first ever grand prix in a Mer­ce­des‑Benz: exactly 40 years after Mer­ce­des driver Chris­tian Lau­ten­schla­ger drove to victory in Lyon, the Stutt­gar­t team returned to the fray at the French Grand Prix in Reims. Fan­gio took the chequered flag ahead of teammate Karl Kling. The apparently effortless switch from Maserati to the W 196 R once again underlined Fangio's immense ability to adapt: ever since taking part in the tough endurance races in his home country, he seemed to be able to extract the very best from every vehicle. It was this vir­tu­oso impro­vi­sational skill that led to victory for the Argentinean time and time again.

The 1954 season turned into a great triumph for Mercedes‑Benz and Fangio: he followed up his victory in France with further wins in Germany (Nürburgring), Switzerland (Bremgarten) and Italy (Monza). Fangio was crowned Formula 1 world champion for the second time, with almost double the points of his nearest rival. The Argen­ti­nean dominated the 1955 season in similar fashion, winning the grand prix races in Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, and finishing second behind teammate Stirling Moss at the British Grand Prix.

Other exceptional performances by Fan­gio during this season included second spot at the Mille Mig­lia, driving solo in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (W 196 S). Winner Stirling Moss, on the other hand, was accompanied by a co-driver, Denis Jenkinson, as was most of the field.

Following Mer­ce­des‑Benz's withdrawal from motor racing at the end of the 1955 season, Fan­gio went on to win two more world championship titles with Fer­rari (1956) and Mase­rati (1957). The following year, the Argentinean called an end to his racing career at the age of 47. In 1974, he assumed the post of President of Mercedes-Benz Argentina S.A. His five Formula 1 world championship titles remained a record until his death in 1995, which was not surpassed until Michael Schu­ma­cher achieved the feat in 2003.

Today, tributes to Juan Manuel Fan­gio include five identical life-size bronze sculptures depicting the exceptional racing driver together with the W 196 R. They can be found in front of the Mer­ce­des-Benz Museum in Stutt­gart, outside the Mer­ce­des-Benz headquarters in Buenos Aires, as well as at the Nürburgring, Monza and Monaco circuits.

There is also a Fangio Museum in Balcarce that is run by a local association. Featuring numerous vehicles and other exhibits, it is dedicated to the racing driver's whole life story.