'A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story' Review: How art and ability broke hurdles for racing legend
Understandably, 'A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio story' is filled with tributes for the Argentine racing legend. Races, old and new, across the world venerated Fangio as one of the greatest in the world of Formula One. Perhaps, the most memorable tribute is the one where F1 legend Ayrton Senna crisply and unflinchingly answered 'Fangio' when asked who is the one driver he adores the most.
Rolling back the years, the documentary manages to capture Fangio's life. From his childhood to his first race, his first win and his first accident. It's laid out for the audience to know as much as there is to offer about the decorated driver. And it was all about natural ability back then.
This is one of the many thoughts that Mercedes' former driver and 2016 World Champion Nico Rosberg echoed in the documentary. "Nowadays, it's so much about speed of reactions, precision and back then, other factors played in... It was really experience that mattered back in those days, natural ability, taking care of the car..." he noted when a clip sees Fangio saying he was 37 when he raced in Europe and all his previous the races were based out of his home turf.
Simply put, nothing was easy for the drivers back in the '50s. As Fangio's son notes, cars have evolved heavily over the years in terms of structure and comfort. At that point in time, the only criteria the car had to meet was speed.
Safety may not have been necessarily overlooked, but it wasn't really the first thing that mattered. The documentary suggests that Fangio's art was the one factor that catapulted him over the other competitors he faced. Precision and art combined to make a driver a World Champion, and Fangio was equipped with both, despite the acute shortage of tech.
A footage also sees Fangio giving mechanics the recognition they deserve. "I'd ask them what the maximum power of the car is, and I'd make sure to never exceed the maximum," he opines. Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff also sheds light on how under-appreciated the crew is, as they contribute to the car and the driver's engine in equal measure.
The scene then shifts to the San Remo Grand Prix, Italy in '49, Fangio's first race in Europe — a race that he won showing the world the Argentinian Maserati race team was gunning for glory. A day before the race, he spent a majority of the night working on the Maserati which had a fair share of problems. For Maserati, Fangio was more than a race driver, he was their pilot.
Explaining the genius that Fangio was, was hard, even for the drivers who saw him vroom his way to victory in his Alfa Romeo. He was also an expert on wet race conditions, probably the most dangerous time to race when racing equipment wasn't as protective as the ones being used now.
'A Life of Speed' serves more than just an hour of comparison between cars of the past and the present. It delves into the psyche of what made drivers of the past champions that they were.
Fangio had his targets too. Ahead of the '51 season, he needed to beat Ferrari. He had proved in earlier races that he had what it took to win, but now was the time to prove he could win championships. The car did have more than a fair share of troubles with a few modifications trying to match up with the Ferrari. However, Fangio pipped Ascari's Ferrari to take the chequered flag despite the technical snags.
Netflix manages to cover a major chunk of Fangio's racing career. What it also does is capture the ovations the legend received after his death. His pallbearers were his younger brother Ruben Renato ('Toto'), Moss, compatriot racers José Froilán González and Carlos Reutemann, Jackie Stewart and the president of Mercedes-Benz Argentina, are all seen in the footage.
With 'A Life of Speed', the streaming giant has surely established itself as the go-to when it comes to dishing out premium F1 content. This one's for the generation that hasn't seen the likes of Fangio and Mika Häkkinen, and hopefully, there are more of these gems coming in, in the near future.