Inside Line: Fangio movie has lessons for the future of Formula 1

I highly recommend you watch A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story — available on Netflix — an epic documentary providing an enlightening glimpse into an era of great motor racing and the grandest of characters.

I must admit that I had seen the interview with Fangio, that is central to the movie, before in various snippets along the journey of being an F1 fan.

Nevertheless, the latest documentary on the great man from Balcarce put things into perspective for me in terms of the historical timeline of the legend’s incredible career that characterised the birth of F1 post-1950.

Apart from his soft-spokenness and his incredible aura, what struck me most is that each and every Grand Prix in those days was an epic event.

Mercedes versus the rest, the Silver Arrows of the time was on another planet — pretty much like Toto Wolff’s modern arsenal.

Fangio revelled in the fact he was given three mechanics to work exclusively on his car, as were his teammates afforded such a luxury. At Ferrari it was different, it was Enzo’s way or the highway. Nothing has changed in all these decades!

So you had a stage set with so many subplots, each driver of that era would be worth a Netflix documentary. Races galvanised countries, perhaps none more than Fangio’s home race in Argentina where the crowds watching those incredible races were staggering.

And the races were the stuff of gladiators, great men died regularly on Grand Prix weekends — many, many of them Fangio’s close friends.

His greatest race, and probably the greatest race by any driver in history, was that epic at the 1957 German Grand prix, 22 laps of the daunting Nurburgring Nordschleife.

Three hours of pure El Maestro magic — a perfect combination of bravery, speed, intelligence and supernatural strength — which ended in a quite remarkable victory celebrated by all, even the rivals he overtook on the final lap of the Green Hell.

Eleven times a year, countries came to a standstill as they hosted the pinnacle of the sport in those days. Each one of them an epic saga with heroes, as well as occasional villains, trials, tribulations, astonishing feats of skill and always, sadly, with tragedy invariably looming.

Each Grand Prix was far more than a race, more like a glorious occasion. Each deserving a 10-part Netflix series in their own right. And of course, for that first intoxicating decade of F1, the man they all adored, fans and rivals alike, was Fangio.

Fast forward to our messed-up world today, is it not ironic that the season that was to be the longest in F1 history might not happen at all?

For the superstitious out there, is that not a clear message from the Gods of Motorsport that we had too many races? Or am I stretching poetic licence a tad too far?

Whatever the case, I would argue – and have suggested before – that the F1 season is a few races too many even before this year’s 22 became… who knws?

Surely 15-16 races would be more than enough for an F1 championship season when we emerge from this mess?

To pacify the money-men throw in half a dozen F1 non-championship races where the incentive is big prize money. Professional golf works well with their majors and big money competitions around the globe to keep the coffers flowing.

Go further, consider a 12-race F1 World Championship season in tandem with eight to ten big-money non-championship F1 races; eg. $50-million prize money pool per non-championship race for top ten.

And, while we are at it, make the Grand Prix races at least three hours long, the big prize money races can be 90-minutes. But the real deal is 180 minutes in the cockpit at full tilt.

These days, maybe its age for me, some races blur into others, diluting the impact. And lets face it those ingredients that made F1 racing awesome in the fifties do not apply these days.

Death is rightfully unacceptable, the machines were totally different without aero and dependence on the driver so much greater, the ‘show’ vastly different and, sadly, far more contagious than the sport is to the masses today.

As COVID-19 goes ballistic globally, with the unprecedented prospect of no races at all this season, it is perhaps appropriate to ponder a vastly changed F1 landscape when we unbatten the hatches and see where we all stand at the end of this pandemic.

The Juan Manuel Fangio Story provides us with a well-timed opportunity to go back to the future for lessons on what really made F1 the thrilling and grand spectacle it no longer is. Thank you Netflix, we want more!

I found this gem on the web, please watch in awe as I did: