When Juan Manuel Fangio drove for Ferrari in 1956, he accused it of skulduggery on a grand scale. He claimed he was given a car with no oil in the back axle, so that somebody else would win the Belgian Grand Prix. For the Mille Miglia mechanics cut holes in the bodywork to drench him in rainwater. They arranged a fuel gauge to fracture and spray him with petrol in the French Grand Prix.
As punishment for going off to drive for Maserati in 1957, Enzo Ferrari sent seductive women on the eve of big races to try and take the edge off Fangio’s driving. The rift between two of the greatest names in the sport became so much part of motor racing folklore that it was almost disappointing to find it no more, it seems, than a misunderstanding.
Fangio blamed it on Marcello Giambertone, his manager in 1956 when he won the fourth of his five world championships. The accusations were recounted in 'My Twenty Years of Racing', published in Britain by Temple Press in 1961. In a preface Fangio wrote, "It was Giamba (Giambertone) who finally persuaded me to write this book. Many people have tried, but I did not accept their offers."
Giambertone had demanded a personal mechanic for his driver then complained that despite winning the championship Fangio, alone of the team’s drivers, did not receive the customary gold medal. "Juan's title," he wrote, "was an exceptional performance which brought Ferrari 50 million Lire in prizes from the Italian Automobile Club alone."
Enzo Ferrari saw things differently apparently regarding Fangio as, "...a great driver, afflicted by a persecution mania," angrily refuting allegations of treachery and sabotage. It was a long running quarrel and the breach was never healed.
Ferrari died in 1988, and in 1990 Fangio produced another book, 'My Racing Life, also with a preface under his byline which said, "I have never before taken any direct part in any book written about me. This is the first book I have truly contributed to." He dismissed Giambertone's 1961 work as, ..."a book of which I appeared to be the co-author. In it, certain things were written that I did not agree with, and he was entirely responsible for. It was a responsibility I felt I did not share when Signor Ferrari asked for explanations."
Perhaps as a result of his experience, Fangio insisted that after tape-recording the material for the new book he would approve the contents, "In order to see that there was no alteration to the essence of what I said." The result was rather anodyne. The prickly relationship with Ferrari was effectively ignored, and although the rest was interesting and even entertaining, it added only ephemera to what we already knew.
Stirling Moss, who wrote a preface to both Fangio's books, told me the accusations were unworthy of both men. "Fangio was always the gentleman, and like me he had the greatest respect for Enzo Ferrari and all he did for the sport. They weren't exactly buddies. Nobody was that close to Ferrari, but I never knew of any animosity between them, and we both thought the world of Ferrari's cars. Nobody ever died in a Ferrari because the car broke, and you couldn't say the same about some other cars. I always thought Giambertone was a bit of a wheeler-dealer. A driver like Fangio didn't need a manager. He was above that." Juan Fangio died in 1995.
For collectors: Fangio: My Racing Life. Juan Manuel Fangio with Roberto Caruzzo, Patrick Stephens Ltd, £20.00 ISBN 1-85260-315-1. Picture, top:
Fangio signing copies of my book The Guinness Guide to Grand Prix Racing, Guinness Superlatives, 1980, on the starting grid at Brands Hatch. Copies are available from Amazon or ebay at around £15-£20. My Racing Life had various imprints. Pay £20-£35 for a good one. More for either with Fangio’s autograph.