Mark Walton on solving who is the greatest F1 driver of all time, CAR+ October 2015

Published: 16 September 2015

► Mark Walton on F1 greats
► How to resolve who is the greatest
► Cloning is the only solution 

Juan Manuel Fangio is definitely dead. This indisputable fact was confirmed last month when the poor old five-time world champion was dug up and wheeled out of the family crypt in his hometown of Balcarce, Argentina. The legend lives on, perhaps, but the authorities have confirmed that Fangio himself is still very much deceased, and lying in the box he was placed in back in 1995. 

Fangio was dug up because two men in their 70s say that he was their father, and after a long-running paternity battle an Argentinian judge finally ordered the world champion’s body be taken out of the cemetery and sent down the morgue for a DNA sample to be taken. The results will be known in a month or so. 

Fangio never married, but he always had a glamorous girl on his arm, so it’s not impossible that there were going to be one or two – or perhaps a whole pit crew – of little Juan Manuels running around. And there are family resemblances: one of the men involved in the paternity claim, Oscar Espinoza, was an F2 driver for a while, racing under the name ‘Cacho Fangio’ (he says he always knew the great man was his dad); the other, Ruben Vazquez, never raced, but he is a dead-ringer for the deceased champion.

The men say they don’t want money, they just want answers, but a morbid, disrespectful part of me wonders if this isn’t a opportunity for something else, too. A little experiment. 

So I’ll come right out and say it: cloning. 

Come on, admit it: race fans have always argued about who’s the best driver of all time – you know, ‘was it Fangio, Clark, Senna, or Schumacher’ etc. And that debate has always been impossible to resolve, because each generation of driver needs different skills – Fangio drove big, heavy front-engined Mercs and Maseratis, Clark drove featherweight mid-engined Lotuses, Senna manhandled 1500bhp turbo McLaren-Hondas. 

But imagine, for a moment, if we could really find out; imagine if Fangio – the actual Fangio – could go head-to-head with Hamilton and Vettel! In the same cars, on the same track! Now THAT is a race I’d stay awake for, perhaps even all Sunday afternoon till 4pm.

My plan is not without its difficulties: putting aside the complex legal and moral questions of using Fangio’s DNA in this way; and the undoubted howls of protest from the Fangio Foundation, and the  family (which may be about to get bigger); plus the scientific challenges of cloning a human being from tissue that’s been dead for 20 years – putting these issues aside, there’s also the problem that a New Fangio, born in 2016, wouldn’t be ready to race for at least 20 years. In fact, in order for him to live the Original Fangio’s life, his first Grand Prix wouldn’t come till he reaches 37 (Fangio was a late starter), and he’d be in his prime in his 40s. By which time Lewis Hamilton will be 70.

Clearly there’s an answer to this. We have to take Lewis Hamilton’s DNA too, as well as Vettel’s and Alonso’s, so we can start preparing now for the unmissable Battle Royale that will be the 2055 F1 World Championship. (Max Verstappen will be okay, he’ll still only be 23.)

To truly nail all those ‘best driver’ debates, though, we can’t stop there. What about Nuvolari, Clark and Senna? Would they beat Fangio in identical machinery? We’d need to exhume them too. Jackie Stewart, we could just write him a polite letter.

Picture it: it’s the year 2055, and we’re in Melbourne for the start of the new season. Bernie Ecclestone, aged 124 and still in charge of Formula 1, would be doing the pit walk with Martin Brundle (cloned). There’s Fangio, squeezed into his size XXXL race suit, lining up in the Silver Arrows with Lewis Hamilton; behind him there’s Vettel and Schumacher in the Ferraris; then Senna and James Hunt enjoying a little laugh before they climb into the two McLarens. They’re best pals. Then in the Lotuses there’s Jim Clark and his team-mate Pastor Maldonado (after winning four world titles, Maldonado contributed his DNA on his retirement in 2021). It would be a season of epic awesomeness. 

And who would win? I’ll leave you to debate that.

By Mark Walton

Contributing editor, humorist, incurable enthusiast

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