Why Netflix’s A Life of Speed Is One of the Best F1 Documentaries


The 2022 season of Formula One launched last week with a jaw-dropping race in Bahrain. Ferrari swept top spots, Magnussen made the best comeback in the sport’s history and Red Bull’s season opener turned into a nightmare. The next race is in one week’s time, but what should you do if you already suffer from “withdrawal symptoms?”

The first official documentary about Juan Manuel Fangio came out in 2020 and cast light on one of the most notable figures of modern sport. Filmmaker Francisco Macri entwined sports history and the story of Fangio, the legendary Formula One pioneer. Juan Manuel Fangio was the Formula One king, winning five world championships in the early 1950s — before protective gear or safety features were used. – reads Netflix’s summary. What makes A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story one of the best sports documentaries out there? Well, it is true time traveling, not only for race fanatics.

“The Driver of a Racing Car Is a Component”

Netflix’s A Life of Speed Is One F1 Documentary Crew

Argentinian director Francisco Macri (Cosequia, #SodaCirque) tackles the cutting-edge Formula One champion’s story with diligence and ease. The movie’s main focus is set in the 1950s, the fascinating early days of the sport that had its 2021 season finale watched by 108.7m viewers around the globe. A Life of Speed profiles Juan Manuel Fangio as his career parallels the onset of Formula One.

El Maestro (The Master), the Argentinian driver who dominated the first chapter of Formula One racing, competed for four different teams (Alfa Rome, Maserati, Mercedes, Ferrari) and won 24 races throughout his career. This means he took the shiniest trophy at 46.15% of the races he entered. He started his career by taking part in a number of Argentinian races where his physical endurance and technical skills made him jump fast to the top of the field. Post-World War II, he decided to move to Europe, where he settled in Galliate, Italy.

Related: Why Verstappen Didn’t Return for Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 4

In 1947, the prosperous land of pasta and mozzarella became his new home as he made the decision to race around the world and participate in the first-ever Formula One race. Fangio quickly rose to fame for staying up all night, improving his own crankshaft prior to his races. The first season of Formula One was, from today’s perspective, peculiarly short. It consisted of only seven races. Fangio was 40 years old when he joined the category. Shortly, his dedication and stamina made him a well-known figure in the parc fermé. Even though he lost the 1950 world championship to Italian driver Giuseppe Farina, he turned out to be unstoppable in the ’51, ’54, ’55, ’56, and ’57 seasons.

Kidnapping and Later Life

Netflix’s A Life of Speed Is One F1 Documentary Race

His life was an adventure story in itself. In 1958, right before the Cuban Grand Prix, Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement kidnaped the reigning champion from his hotel. Castro hoped that this would make the Batista regime cancel the event, and the kidnapping would have brought considerable shame to Batista. However, the weekend’s schedule did not change. The race continued while police were trying to hunt down Fangio’s captors. He was released after 29 hours. Fangio claimed he had been “treated well” served with French fries and steak and did not feel in danger at all. His kidnappers even gave him a radio on Sunday, but he was unable to listen to the broadcast. His absence from the race made him feel too gloomy. His kidnapers apologized to him a number of times and even befriended him during their time spent together. The car driver was not the first elite sportsman to be held captive.

Fangio was not only a gifted and confident driver but also highly skilled in mechanics who worked his way up to being a co-driver and, consequently, a driver. His record of five championship titles stood for 46 years until broken by Michael Schumacher. In his years of retirement, he served as honorary chairman of Mercedes-Benz Argentina and established his own sports museum in Balcarce, Buenos Aires. The museum is located only a few blocks away from where the legendary race driver was born. Its collection currently consists of over 50 cars, a great number of trophies, photographs, and other relics.

Honoring a Legendary Athlete

Netflix’s A Life of Speed Is One F1 Documentary

Despite some inconsistencies in the narrative and considerable dryness in the linear-biography approach, the recently discovered footage spices Macri’s movie up. Some parts are loosely explained, and characters appear without much groundwork and context. Therefore, some prior knowledge of the sport and its history might come in handy. Nevertheless, it is one of the most entertaining and authentic sports documentaries paying homage to a greatly talented man. The technical and historical details make the piece stand out from the crowd of documentaries, for sure.

A Life of Speed is meticulously crafted, and with its year-by-year presentation of each car, season and victory, it becomes somewhat of an educational piece. The film is entertaining yet not overly dramatic. It does not go along with any mainstream expectation and refuses to make a “show.” The film gives lots of fresh and exciting insights into the personal and professional life of one of the most successful athletes of the last century and sheds light on his legacy. Many decades after Fangio’s first championship victory in 1951, he still has a massive influence on many, not only within the industry. The film also tracks the mind-blowing progress Formula One went through during its early history, including the technical aspect of racing, the structure of teams, and the running of the sport itself. Furthermore, it shows how essential Fangio was in building teams and cars.

Related: These Are the Best Movies For Car Lovers

Interviewees and contributors include Fernando Alonso, Jackie Stewart, Toto Wolff, Nico Rosberg, Alain Prost, Mika Häkkinen, and other significant figures in the world of professional racing. Macri paints the portrait of the legendary sportsman with the help of candid interviews and invaluable commentaries by team bosses, engineers, and Fangio’s closest friends and family.

A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story is available to stream on Netflix.

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