A Life of Speed – The Juan Manuel Fangio Story is the first official documentary about the legendary racing driver Fangio. Widely regarded as the greatest racing car driver in the history of the sport. Fangio dominated motorsport in a time when things were very different from today. Safety was a second thought in the 1940s and 50s. Put it this way, drivers didn't even strap themselves in and most of them would not live to see the end of a given season.
To say that every time a driver stepped into a car, they were taking their lives in their own hands is not an unfair statement. With virtually no downforce involved, the best drivers like Fangio would slip the cars around the corners. Somehow making the cars dance around the track using an immense skill. But how can you compare the skills of Fangio to the likes of Lewis Hamilton? Well, believe it or not, a statistical model used by the University of Sheffield puts Fangio way ahead as the best driver of all time.
So what is it that makes Fangio such a legend. Well, Fangio raced for a number of different teams and across various styles of racing. But all with the same results, he won no matter what car he drove or what kind of race it was. In fact, Fangio still has the record for the highest percentage of wins in Formula 1. He has the highest percentage of front-row starts and was the oldest champion at 46. Plus, his record of five World Championships was only beaten by the great Michael Schumacher 45 years later. All this was done in Alfa Romeo, Mercedes, Maserati, and Ferrari cars. Take into account that the study at Sheffield University concluded that the team matters six times more than the driver. And that is why Fangio is regarded as the greatest.
As you might expect, the film has a long list of legendary drivers interviews. And they don't mix with their words, Jackie Stuart talks of Fangio as a God-like figure. A quote from Lewis Hamilton describes Fangio as the Godfather of Motor racing. There is even a clip of Ayrton Senna openly describing Fangio as the greatest. But generally, the viewer does not receive much more than a whole heap of archival footage and stacks of praise from other drivers. As an official documentary goes, this does not get anywhere near the like of the Senna film.
It's fair to say that if you are not a fan of motor racing, then this documentary will possibly fall short for you. But for me, I really enjoyed the amazing footage and lots of direct interviews with Fangio himself. It's just a shame that director Francisco Macri did not scratch a little more below the surface and reveal more about Fangio as a person.