Motorsport

Bahrain Grand Prix Controversy: When Fangio Was Kidnapped in Cuba

54 year ago in Cuba Fangio was kidnapped by the communist rebels.

Formula 1 teams will be arriving this week in Bahrain to take part in the Bahrain Grand Prix as well as the propaganda exercise by the local regime. They will get into the eye of the political storm that's engulfing the Persian Gulf island state. Last weekend, after all the arguments, the FIA has issued a press release in which it approved the race and gave it the go ahead. Team principals, who made noises in the weeks leading to the race, consented and sent their equipment and staff from Shanghai to Bahrain.

The drivers will be there as well for their Friday duties. No one wanted to carry the blame or to pay damages of $40 million, the assumed race fee, to Bernie Ecclestone for refusing to go to this embattled country. However if one of the thousands of staff, media or guests get injured from a terror attack or opposition demonstration, or if people who opposed the regime will be brutally dispersed while demonstrating against the race, Formula 1 morals will be badly damaged. It is not the first time that motor racing is entering into a political danger zone and is being used as a propaganda tool.

The first time was by the Nazi regime in the 1930s as the Silver Arrows dominated Grand Prix racing. In 1957, just three years before the communist revolution in Cuba, under the auspices of the local dictator Fulgencio Batista, the first Cuban Grand Prix, took place in Havana. The race ended with victory to Juan Manuel Fangio, driving a Maserati 300S. A year later Fangio, the greatest racing driver of his generation, was in Havana to take part in the second Grand Prix of Cuba. A day before the race, while Fangio was at the hotel lobby, he was confronted by a young man armed with a handgun, who politely asked him to follow him.

The young man was one of the rebels and he led Fangio to a car that drove him to spacious safe house in Havana. Fangio wasn't too disturbed. He enjoyed a good meal with his captors and went to bed, saying afterwards that he slept "like a blessing one." For the kidnappers it was a propaganda coup, though Batista ordered the race to be run as planned while he sent his security services to search for Fangio. According to a few sources, Fangio, who himself was a propaganda tool used by the Argentine populist president Juan Peron, suffered from Stockholm Syndrome and became supportive of the kidnappers' causes.

He was handed over at the Argentine embassy after the race. The headlines from his travails naturally overshadowed those of the race. That could also happen this week in Bahrain (but probably in a less friendly manner).

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