I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this book for a while. Where do I start? Donaldson’s “Fangio: The Life Behind The Legend” is possibly the best Formula One biography I have had the pleasure of reading. It’s a wealth of information and a must for any Formula One fan interested in the stories of one of the greatest drivers of all time.
What strikes immediately is Donaldson’s immense insight into the young Fangio’s life. His escapades before Formula One are rarely discussed and where other biographers have fallen short, Gerald Donaldson has flown through with flying colours.
Drawing from a large pool of sources, including news articles of the time and numerous accounts from the people who knew him best, each page brings you further closer to regarding five-time World Champion as the true great of motor racing.
Perhaps failing to maintain the brilliance of the rest of the book, the post-season summaries generally leave more to be desired. At the end of each year, it appeared to be a “He went back to Argentina and rested with his family, tending to his interests in his homeland” ordeal. Not necessarily untrue, but perhaps lacking that hook to hold the readers in.
Where Donaldson excelled with this book is bringing Fangio’s personality out in a way like no other. By the last few chapters I actually felt as if I knew Juan Manuel Fangio, such was the level of personal detail covered in the book.
This is not a biography that suffers from repetition and uninteresting tales about the subject’s life, casually glossing over his results and paying no real attention to the actions of those around him and the events which besieged his colourful career. A race-by-race review of each of Fangio’s Grand Prix events, including information about tests and his successes in other series’ is the only way in which to explain the life of a man who may become only a name that represents Formula One’s early days in generations to come.
The following extract is from Fangio’s visit to the infamous Nurburgring in 1951.
It was indeed a journey into the great unknown, for this roller-coaster ride of a circuit – where speeding cars slewed sideways around the convoluted swoops and swerves, hurtled inches from the trees over a surface often made slick by the nearly ever-present mist and fog, and flew several feet into the air over the blind brows – was a great leap of faith for the drivers. Over its turbulent 35-year history, the treacherous Nürburgring had become notorious for creating as many martyrs as heroes. It was also the scene of epic races and heroic drives, none more so than the 1935 German Grand Prix in which the legendary Tazio Nuvolari took his tiny little Alfa Romeo to an historic victory over the much more powerful Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union machines. Nuvolari’s admirable exploits were always a great inspiration for Juan, who also appreciated the fact that at the Nürburgring Nuvolari had shown how a driver could count for more than a car.
Though it was called the mother and father of all tracks, to Juan it seemed more like their beautiful daughter, and it was love at first sight. ‘I felt attracted to the Nürburgring from the very first moment I saw it,’ he said. ‘What happened there was like what happens when a friend speaks to you about a woman you don’t know, and when you meet her she turns out to be much more attractive than you had imagined. Getting to know the Nürburgring was like getting to know a woman. You can’t memorise 176 curves over more than fourteen miles, just as you can’t memorise 176 feminine wiles after a short acquaintance.’