By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton’s story is one of triumph against adversity, a motor racing great who came from humble origins and conquered the world.
That is something else the Briton shares with 1950s champion Juan Manuel Fangio, the late Argentine whose five Formula One titles the Mercedes driver equalled on Sunday and who remains for many the greatest.
Hamilton’s paternal grandfather Davidson arrived in Britain as an immigrant from the Caribbean island of Grenada in the 1950s and worked on the London Underground public transport system.
Fangio’s grandfather Giuseppe was a poor tenant farmer who emigrated from central Italy to the pampas of Argentina in 1887 and eventually earned enough money to bring the rest of his family over.
While Hamilton grew up idolising Ayrton Senna, the late Brazilian’s boyhood hero was Fangio.
“Even if I or someone else can equal or beat Fangio’s record, it still will not compare with his achievement,” Senna once said.
There was no silver spoon in Fangio’s or Hamilton’s background, no history of wealth or privilege and nothing to suggest either might one day step into the gilded world of grand prix racing and flourish.
In Fangio’s case, motor racing was in its infancy with the Argentine farm labourer’s son born in 1911 and the Formula One world championship starting up only in 1950.
Nicknamed “Chueco” (bandy legs) from his boyhood football days, the unassuming and softly-spoken Argentine arrived in Europe in the late 1940s with little reputation other than for winning long distance races on dirt roads in South America.
The balding maestro soon made his mark, however, taking the 1951 world championship at the age of 40 and going on to dominate that most dangerous of decades with titles in 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957.
Still regarded by many as the greatest driver of all time and winning with four different teams — Alfa Romeo, Mercedes, Ferrari and Maserati — he was famed also for his modesty.
He won 24 of the 51 Formula One races he entered, in an era when there were as few as six or seven races in a season compared to today’s 21, for a 46.15 percent victory rate.
Hamilton has won 71 of 227 races, his fifth championship coming at the age of 33 and a decade on from the first.
Racing in an era of cork helmets and goggles, with no seatbelts, Fangio had only two serious accidents — one after driving through the night from Paris to Italy in 1952 so he could race at Monza.
Even in an age of chivalry, he stood out as an elegant driver who helped rivals and raced fairly. He rarely, if ever, engaged in argument.
“In my view Juan Manuel Fangio was the best there has ever been, but then I am biased. I drove with him and against him,” British great Stirling Moss once said.
“I beat him once in F1, at Aintree in 1958, but I’m not sure that he didn’t allow that as a gesture. He was humble, a great champion, and a gentleman.”
Hamilton, too, is one of the greats and although he moves in a very different world, he knows where Fangio stands in the overall pantheon.
“He’s the godfather for us, one of the greats from the beginning and will always be admired in the sport,” Hamilton told reporters in Texas when he had his first chance of wrapping up a fifth title.
“It is crazy to think that I’m embarking on a similar number of championships that he had.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)