On Wednesday June 24, it would have been Juan Manuel Fangio’s 109th birthday. And that would have comfortably made him the most successful centenarian in the history of motorsport, having claimed no fewer than five world titles in the 1950s. That’s still the third-highest number of championships won by an individual driver in Formula 1, made all the more remarkable because the only other two drivers to beat his benchmark (Michael Schumacher with seven titles and Lewis Hamilton with six) did so in modern times, characterised by astronomical budgets and a relentless technical arms race.
With every driver’s place in history ultimately measured by their statistics, here’s why Fangio was unique. He started 51 grands prix and won 24 of them: an absolute record, which meant that he won nearly one in two races that he entered. Nobody else even comes close: Hamilton has 84 wins from 250 starts (a strike rate of one in three), Schumacher has 91 wins on 307 races, Jackie Stewart has 27 wins from 99 races (just over one in four) and even the legendary Ayrton Senna could ‘only’ manage 41 wins from 161 races: one in four.
Is that enough? Not yet, there’s more to Fangio’s record than meets the eye. Because those 51 races also resulted in 35 podiums (nearly 70 per cent) and 29 pole positions. Perhaps most staggeringly of all, he started from the front row 48 times in total: in other words, at every race that he entered bar three.