Schumacher inspired by Fangio's centenary

Updated: 25 June 2011 19:15 IST

A legendary image from the days of black-and-white photography and pre-World War Two motor racing was celebrated here on Friday evening by its modern reincarnation.

Schumacher inspired by Fangio's centenary
©

Valencia:

A legendary image from the days of black-and-white photography and pre-World War Two motor racing was celebrated here on Friday evening by its modern reincarnation.

The combination of Juan Manuel Fangio and his silver Mercedes car still stirs memories and emotions and as Friday would have been the great Argentine driver's 100th birthday, the modern Mercedes team lit candles, baked a cake and paid tribute.

For those with a sense of history, it was a moving, if under-stated occasion.

But the wonderful five-times champion, a man whose dignity and style served as ambassadorial values for his sport long past his retirement would, surely, have approved.

Before his death, aged 84, in July, 1995, he was the measuring stick for everyone. His feats left all who followed him in awe.

Somewhat amazingly, by the standards of a modern world that is seemingly obsessed with youth, Fangio won four of his drivers' world titles when he was in his forties, two of them with the original 'silver arrows'.

They were days when racing circuits were dangerous, the cars were equally fragile and lethal and the drivers died regularly. Safety standards, such as they were, appeared non-existent.

Fires were commonplace. Crashes equally; and the race tracks, many long and made up mainly of public roads, were littered with markings that showed where men had lost control, veered into fields, woods or buildings.

A glimpse of those flickering far-off days was given thanks to Mercedes by the running of a short film of the great Fangio's classic races and triumphs. The team held a barbecue.

Amid this nostalgia and bonhomie, it was impossible not to think of perhaps the only driver of modern times who deserves consideration as his heir apparent: Michael Schumacher, winner of seven championships.

He is the only man to have exceeded Fangio's record and, at 42, to know what it is to race - even in today's technologically-advanced super-cars - at the highest level after passing his 40th birthday.

In the twilight of his long career, he starts his 275th Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon on the demanding and unforgiving street circuit that has been created in the Mediterranean port of this eastern Spanish city.

This season has seen him fight back from early reports of his inevitable need to retire and, as in Montreal two weeks ago, prove that he retains the vigour, enthusiasm and race craft to challenge at the front of the field.

He is currently racing in a car that is not the best, a machine that cannot give him the performance to race wheel to wheel with his own fellow-German successor as champion Sebastian Vettel, of Red Bull. But he is still giving it a try.

And on Friday, as thoughts turned from the legend of Fangio to the living legend that Schumacher, there was a moment of sentiment and reality as the Mercedes motor sport chief Norbert Haug rose and spoke. To Schumacher, he said: "Fangio would be proud of you.

"You are still good, still quick and still fighting. It's probably more than coincidence."

On the weekend of the 100th birthday of the man always revered as the greatest driver of all, it would be no bad thing if the modern Mercedes monolith managed something memorable.

A 92nd victory may be beyond his, and their, dreams, but with Fangio's help - who knows what might be achieved?

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