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Juan Manuel Fangio

Became Five-time World Champion

In 1949, Fangio went back to Europe and strengthened his skills. By 1951, he was the world champion. Just as Fangio was making a name for himself, his career almost ended again. In June 1952, Fangio pulled an all-nighter driving from Paris to Monza, Italy, for a race. He arrived not long before the start and had no time for a practice run. Miscalculating a curve while trying to pass, Fangio crunched his car and broke a neck bone, shutting him out for the rest of the season.

Fangio was back in full form in 1954, winning six grand prix races. Once again, he was the world champion, repeating through 1957.

Throughout the 1950s, Fangio dominated the sport. Clearly, he possessed the greatest innate driving ability of his time—perhaps of all time. Fangio could sustain a four-wheel, controlled slide around a curve without breaking a sweat. Friends used to joke that he had distilled water instead of blood in his veins. Because of his ability, Fangio was courted by many teams and throughout the 1950s drove for Alfa Romeo, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, and Maserati.

Fangio was 46 when the 1958 season began. From the start, nothing seemed to go right. On February 23, 1958, while Fangio was waiting to race in Havana, Cuba, he was kidnapped by Fidel Castro rebels. The kidnapping was mostly a publicity stunt meant to humiliate the Batista regime then in power. In the end, Fangio was released unharmed. The kidnapping, however, illustrates the notoriety Fangio had achieved.

Fangio also had trouble with his car. Deciding too many things were going wrong, Fangio retired in the middle of the season. He returned home to Balcarce and opened a Mercedes dealership.

Soon after ending his racing career, Fangio also ended his relationship. Throughout his race life, he'd had a companion, Andreina "Bebe" Espinosa, who waited in the pits while he raced. They parted in 1960, after 20 years together. They had no children.

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Famous Sports StarsAuto RacingJuan Manuel Fangio Biography - Developed Childhood Interest In Cars, Pieced Together Own Race Car, Excelled In Long-distance Races - SELECTED WRITINGS BY FANGIO: