“The Godfather of Formula One”. Praise doesn’t come from much higher places than the current Formula One world champion but even Lewis Hamilton bows down to the Argentine pioneer. Juan Manuel Fangio was, simply put, the greatest F1 driver of all time.
Unlike Michael Schumacher or Hamilton himself, his is not a name that will instantly strike a chord with sports fans, but by gosh, it should. No driver has dominated the sport jumping from one car to another, no driver has gained such accolades from their rivals, no driver has been held in such high regard after their retirement.
After the historical masterpiece that was The English Game, Netflix dives into the history of another sport with ‘A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story’. There may be no live sport but a fan stuck at home certainly has his or her plate full with these two and the upcoming series two of Sunderland ‘til I Die.
With dusty roads and electric guitars providing an early backdrop, the sense of wonder about Fangio’s character is well portrayed. Sir Jackie Stewart calls him "the greatest driver of all time" while praise is also heaped onto the Argentine by the likes of Toto Wolff, Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg. This hour-and-a-half documentary certainly stacks up when it comes to big names.
This film sets out to prove Fangio is the greatest of all time but does so with more than just soppy-eyed tributes and rose-tinted spectacles. A highlight comes as a sports scientist is interviewed and variables and statistics are combined to see just how the legendary Argentine compares to the modern-day champions
At the age of 46 years and 41 days, Fangio is still the oldest person to have ever won the Formula One Driver’s Championship. That is the equivalent of somebody the same age as Keith Lemon or Robbie Williams beating Lewis Hamilton this year. Blimey. But this film shows the entirety of his career from humble beginnings to multiple world champion.
Moving to Europe as a novice to compete in the very first championship back in 1950 was a brave move, and bravery is a trait that runs throughout his career as he drove in the most dangerous era for the sport. His crash at Monza in 1952 is brought into focus - it could have ended his career - but Fangio bounced back with aplomb. Consecutive titles in 1954, 55, 56 and 57 established him as the greatest of his era and we get to see Fangio look back on key moments in his career thanks to archive footage.
Unfortunately, this chronological tale of his life from director Francisco Macri does run a little stale later on. There are some exciting stories and features involved, but unless we are overestimating the intelligence of the target audience, F1 fans probably know the ins and outs of his career already. To be frank, the overbearing detail about racing is unlikely to thrill a casual sports fan with other sports documentaries providing a more rounded and exciting overall experience.
But in these days with little to no sport to watch, it is worth watching simply to educate yourself on the greatness of Juan Manuel Fangio. The godfather.