No other sport push both the limits of human reactions and the boundaries of engineering in quite the same way as Formula One.
Arguably the greatest talent to ever bless the world of motor racing was Juan Manuel Fangio, an almost mythical figure who dominated F1 throughout the 1950s with a sense of style and charm coupled with a huge dose of courage.
In seven full Formula One seasons he was World Champion five times —a record which stood for 46 years until beaten by Michael Schumacher - and runner-up twice.
In the 51 championship Grand Prix races he took part in, he started from the front row 48 times (including 29 pole positions), notching up 23 fastest race laps en route to 35 podium finishes, 24 of which were victories.
His achievements are made all the more impressive by the fact that most of his challengers on the track were young enough to be his sons, with many of his admiring rivals referring to him as 'The Old Man'.
The son of an Italian immigrant who moved to Argentina at the turn of the century, Fangio was always fascinated by automobiles and began working in a garage at the tender age of just 11.
For the next four decades he would split his time between working as a mechanic and racing archaic, almost self-built cars in grueling South American long distance races – a grounding that would later hold him in good stead for the rigors of Formula One.
After World War II had ended – an occurrence that had stalled the careers of many race drivers, Fangio moved to Europe.
Despite being a relative senior at the age of 38, he soon caught the eye while competing in several events and would eventually move on to the newly formed Formula 1 World Championship. The move allowed him to pit his skills in cutting edge vehicles against the world’s best drivers, which in turn saw his reputation grow to legendary status.
He would go on to race for four of the most famous European manufacturers in an era where drivers raced with almost no protective equipment on circuits with no safety features.
Winning his first world title for Italian car maker Alfa Romeo in 1951 at the wheel of the Tipo 159 Alfetta, the following year saw Fangio suffer a serious accident during a pre-season event in Monza,Italy sidelining for the entirety of the campaign while he recovered from a career-threatening spine injury.
Despite the severity of the injury, which would leave him with a permanently stiff upper torso, he was nevertheless well enough to return to the drivers seat for the 1953 Championship which saw him finish second overall driving the A6GCM for Maserati.
A smooth transition when swapping teams mid-season the following year to Mercedes-Benz, saw him win eight out of twelve races to once again take the title, a feat he would repeat the following season.
With Mercedes withdrawing from competition, Fangio then went on to join Ferrari for another championship winning season in 1957, this despite a tempestuous relationship with team owner Enzo Ferrari.
His greatest accomplishment however was to come the next year.
Having subjected himself to a demanding training programme in an effort to keep up his fitness levels in line with his younger rivals, the hard work was to pay off in grand style with a successful return with Maserati it what was to prove his final full F1 season.
Driving the same iconic 250F he had driven during the 1954 season, he kicked off the new term with a mesmerizing hat-trick of wins in Argentina, Monaco and France.
With two races remaining, going into the crucial German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring circuit Fangio needed six points to extend his Championship lead and claim an unprecedented fifth world title. It was to prove to be the race of his life.
Having started the race in pole position, and enjoying a 30 second lead, on the 13 th lap, disaster struck during a pit stop.
A mechanic removing the rear left wheel on Fangio’s car let a wheel nut roll under the vehicle without noticing. Finding the stray nut took nearly half a minute, leaving Fangio trailing in third place by the time he rejoined the race - a full 48 seconds behind British drivers Mike Hawthorn, and Peter Collins.
What followed was a showcase of a driver at the height of his powers.
Over the next 10 laps, Fangio would break the course lap record a stunning nine times (seven of the records were in successive laps, taking an incredible 15.5 seconds off Hawthorn's lead in the first lap, then another 8.5 seconds in the next).
Having eased past second placed Collins on the inside of the left corner at the ESSO Terrasse during the early stages of the 21 st lap, Fangio went in hot pursuit of Hawthorn, eventually cutting past him on the inside of a late corner, with only his right tires on the track and his left tires on the grass.
It was a dramatic way to take the lead, but Fangio’s job was far from over, with the Argentine having to fight off a relentless Hawthorn who valiantly battled back as best he could, but who ultimately couldn’t stop the old master from taking the chequered flag.
At 46 years and 41 days, Fangio had once again won the world title, making him the oldest Formula One world champion – a record that still stands to this day.
The following year saw him abruptly retire after only two races into the 1958 season, before moving back to his beloved Argentina.
Not long afterwards he hit the headlines in unexpected circumstances after being kidnapped in Cuba by members of Fidel Castro's revolutionary movement in a bid to draw attention to their cause. As was the case with just about everyone who met him, his captors were left charmed by Fangio and they released him unharmed.
Frequently attending Formula 1 races in his later years, he remained a popular spokesman for the sport for many years and was regarded as an all-round champion because of the way he conducted himself outside of racing up until his death in 1995 at the age of 84.
When once asked what makes a racer, he poignantly answered: “There are those who keep out of mischief, and there are the adventurers, ‘
“We racing drivers are adventurers; the more difficult something is, the greater the attraction that comes from it.”
Recognised as a true gentleman on and off the track, Fangio proved an exception to the supposed rule that nice guys finish last.