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February 23, 1958 – Juan Manuel Fangio is kidnapped

Juan Manuel Fangio racing

Argentinian race car driver Juan Manuel Fangio dominated the first decade of Formula 1, winning the World Drivers’ Championship five times in the 1950s, a record which stood for 47 years. But he wasn’t in the driver’s seat when he made headlines on this day in 1958. It was the day before the Cuban Grand Prix and two men associated with Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement entered the Lincoln Hotel in Havana and kidnapped Fangio at gunpoint. They achieved their goal of drawing attention to Castro’s cause by embarrassing the current government of President Batista. Batista ultimately canceled the race due to the hostage situation.

Despite the news spreading quickly around the world Batista ordered the race to go on while police searched for Fangio. The captors allowed Fangio to listen to the race and watch reports on TV of a violent crash that killed seven spectators. Fangio was released the next day after developing a friendship with his captors. He remained close with them following the incident. Castro’s Cuban Revolution would conclude in January of the next year, resulting in the cancellation of the 1959 Cuban Grand Prix. The race saw its final running in 1960.  

Top: Juan Manuel Fangio (Mercedes-Benz W196) being chased by Alberto Ascari (Ferrari 625) during the 1954 Italian Grand Prix. Above: Juan Manuel Fangio driving a Mercedes-Benz W196 in the 1986 Oldtimer Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. By Lothar Spurzem

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