You’ve seen it countless times before. An article involving a particular writer’s opinion of the top five, ten or twenty Formula 1 drivers of all time. You read it, and usually reject at least some of the drivers on the list, and almost certainly disagree with a good number of the rankings. Most of the time this is because the reasoning behind the rankings feels inexorably flawed – it’s either a popularity contest, or seemingly based on the writer’s personal bias. There also never seems to be supplied a method behind the madness that accounts for how drivers from different eras, driving vastly different machines, could ever be accurately measured and compared.
With this in mind, I have decided to set out to make my own list. With a twist. I will provide you with the means to measure the madness for yourself. Instead of writing up a list of drivers and giving nothing more than a brief blurb on why they belong on the list, I will afford the method, based on points earned in a number of categories, that will establish not only who had the speed and talent, but who were truly the all around greatest drivers, and in the process, elucidate many aspects of their abilities and achievements. In this way, the “different era, different cars” element can be minimized, and the totality of the drivers’ abilities accurately quantified and then ranked.
So what qualities should be considered when determining who the 20 greatest drivers in F1 history are? Certainly, things like the number of wins and winning percentage are critical factors. But to tell the whole story, one must consider other facets, some having nothing to do with driving per se. While the majority of the categories must be based on statistical data, there also have to be areas included in which carefully judged, subjective estimates are created, for statistics can never tell the whole story.
After much consideration, I have decided that the following fourteen categories of evaluation are essential in defining who the top drivers really are. You will note that eleven of the categories are based solely on statistical data, and three on subjective rankings.
- Win Percentage
- Pole Positions
- Pole Percentage
- Pole Position & Win
- Fastest Lap
- Fastest Lap Percentage
- Podium Percentage
- Laps Led
- Distance Led
- Technical Aptitude
In each category, a driver will be awarded from 0.5 – 10 points. Each driver’s numbers from all fourteen categories will be added together, yielding the total score. They will then be ranked according to said scores. It should be noted that drivers with an asterisk (*) beside their names are current racers whose statistics are correct at the time of publication.
At this point I would be remiss in failing to tell you to be prepared for some shocks, and that in some cases what you think you know about the drivers of Formula 1 will prove to be wrong. With that said, here we go!
First, the stats and points:
- WIN PERCENTAGE
- POLE POSITIONS
- POLE PERCENTAGE
- POLE & WIN
- FASTEST LAP
- FASTEST LAP %
- PODIUM PERCENTAGE
- LAPS LED
- DISTANCE LED
- TECHNICAL APTITUDE
|Juan Manuel Fangio||24||5.5|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||47.06||10|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||29||6.5|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||56.86||10|
|POLE POSITION & WIN|
|Driver||Pole & Win||Points|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||15||7|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||23||7|
|Jose Froilan Gonzalez||6||.5|
|FASTEST LAPS PERCENTAGE|
|Driver||Fastest Laps %||Points|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||45.10||10|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||68.63||10|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||1347||3.5|
|DISTANCE LED (KMS)|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||9316||6.5|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||10|
|Wolfgang Von Trips||4|
|Elio de Angelis||4|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||10|
|Wolfgang Von Trips||3|
|Elio de Angelis||1|
|Juan Manuel Fangio||10|
|Wolfgang Von Trips||3|
|Elio de Angelis||1|
And now the moment of truth… The Top Twenty Drivers in Formula 1 History!
- Mario Andretti (35 Points)
- His very name has become a synonym for speed. So much so, that people who aren’t familiar with motorsports know him as being the consummate racecar driver. Born in Montona, Italy on February 28, 1940, Mario’s obsession with motor racing began at the age of 14, when he watched the likes of Fangio and Ascari compete in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. A year later, his family immigrated to the United States, where he launched a career in motor sports at the age of 19. Having won in virtually every category of racing he tried his hand at, including sprint car, stock car, Indy car and endurance racing, Mario turned his attention to Formula 1 in 1968 driving for Lotus, and captured pole position in his very first race at Watkins Glen. Combining superb technical and mechanical aptitude with extremely intelligent race craft, Mario racked up 12 career F1 wins, 18 poles, and the 1978 World Driver’s Championship. His statistics show a propensity towards claiming pole positions and fastest laps, and converting them into race wins.
- Jack Brabham (39 Points)
- Jack Brabham, or Black Jack, as he was known for his sometimes dour expressions, was a second generation Australian of English descent. Learning to drive at the age of 12, Brabham left school at the age of 15 to work in a local garage in Sydney, where he taught himself everything there was to know about automobiles. Contracted to build a midget racecar for an American driver, he soon found himself the car’s driver after the Yank was convinced by his wife to quit racing. Entering the car in the New South Wales Championship, Brabham duly won the title with relative ease, having never raced a car before. Making his way to Europe in 1955, he earned a drive with the Cooper team, with whom he won the Formula 1 Driver’s title in 1959 and again in 1960. Deciding to strike out on his own, Brabham used his mechanical intellect to co-found Brabham Grand Prix, and won the Formula 1 title in a car of his own design in 1966. Statistics reveal that his 14 wins were often the result of being the fastest man on race day, as pole positions were not his strong suit.
- Giuseppe Farina (41 Points)
- Born in Turin, Italy in 1906, Giuseppe “Nino” Farina’s life involved cars from the very start, as his family owned a bodywork shop. Getting a late start in motor racing at the age of 26, Farina got his start racing in hill climbs and road races. His daredevil nature and natural athleticism attracted the interest of Enzo Ferrari who recruited Farina to drive the Ferrari produced Alfa Romeo Grand Prix cars. Winning the 1940 Tripoli Grand Prix in Libya, Farina’s ascent to the top of the Grand Prix world would be cut short due to the outbreak of World War II, and it would not be another eight years before he won another major race. Upon the formation of Formula 1 in 1950, Farina secured a drive alongside Juan Manuel Fangio in the dominant Alfa Romeo 158. Battling with his teammate for the entire season, Farina was to prevail, winning the very first Formula 1 Championship at the age of 44. Similar success eluded him in the years that followed, and a major shunt in a sports car race in 1955 all but put an end to his driving career. Farina was killed in 1966 when he crashed his Lotus Cortina road car into a telephone pole in icy conditions. Farina owed his success to a relatively high percentage of pole positions and podium appearances, suggesting he was always fast throughout the weekend.
- Kimi Raikkonen (61.5 Points)
- The Iceman, so known for his fearlessness behind the wheel and a curt demeanor, is one of the great Finns of motor racing. Born in Espoo, Raikkonen’s racing career started early at the age of 10 in karting. His even strain was evident at a young age, when in his very first kart race outside of Finland in Monaco, his steering wheel broke yet he continued to drive and finish the race. In 1998 he placed first in the Nordic Championship, and the following year placed second in the European Formula Super A series. Raikkonen took the British Formula Renault titles in 1999 and 2000, winning 13 out of 23 hosted events (an astonishing 56% win rate.) Impressed by Raikkonen, Peter Sauber gave the young Finn his start in Formula 1 in 2001. The next year saw Raikkonen jump to McLaren, replacing his retired countryman, Mika Hakkinen. Hampered by a series of unreliable cars in his five years with the Woking-based team, Raikkonen nonetheless impressed as a proven race winner and one of the outright fastest drivers on the grid. Signing with Ferrari in 2007 for a rumored $51M USD to replace the retiring Michael Schumacher, Raikkonen duly won the Driver’s World Championship by one point at the season finale in Brazil. Two disappointing seasons with the Scuderia followed, and Raikkonen’s contract was not renewed for 2010 so as to make room for Fernando Alonso. After not finding a competitive drive for 2011, Raikkonen left F1, and tried his hand in rallying and NASCAR, before returning to Formula 1 with the revamped Lotus team. Good success there for two seasons led him to be resigned with Ferrari, where he continues to race alongside Sebastian Vettel. If one examines the statistics, it becomes clear that sheer speed is the secret to Raikkonen’s success. He sits third in all time fastest laps with an impressive 41 to his credit. Also noteworthy is his consistency, finishing on the podium in 78 of his 217 races.
- Nelson Piquet (63 Points)
- The middle driver in a triumvirate of great Brazilian drivers that include Emerson Fittipaldi and Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet used his guile and cunning race craft to often beat drivers of superior raw talent. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1952, Piquet initially hid his racing activities from his family by entering events using pseudonyms. Success in Brazilian karting came in his late teens, as he handily won the National Championship in 1971 and 1972. His winning ways continued in Brazilian Formula Super Vee and British Formula 3, taking the title in both series. The Brazilian made the jump to Formula 1 with Brabham in 1980, teaming up with World Champion Niki Lauda, and duly won his first World Championship the following year. Two more titles followed in 1983 and 1987. Often criticized for only winning when his car was the fastest on the grid, Piquet nonetheless routinely beat some of the best drivers in the sport, such as Mansell, Prost and Senna. His 23 wins were usually the result of an uncanny ability to capitalize on the misfortune of others, though his 23 fastest race laps show that when he was on his game, he was hard to beat.
- Damon Hill (64 Points)
- Perhaps the most surprising driver on this list, Hill’s statistics belie a reputation for being a bumbler who often made questionable decisions behind the wheel. The only son of double World Champion, Graham Hill, Damon was simply destined to be a racecar driver. Born in London and raised in a mansion in Hertfordshire, Damon’s life was deeply affected by his father’s death in an airplane crash in 1975. After completing his education, he began a career in motocycle racing. Concerned about the dangers of the sport, Damon’s mother convinced him to switch to four-wheel racing. After graduating from the Winfield racing school, Damon had a slew of sporadically successful spells in British Formula Ford and British Formula 3, and a full season of Formula 3000. In 1992, Hill made the jump to Formula 1 with the dying Brabham team. Were it not for an opportunity testing with Williams, his Formula 1 career might have ended with the financial collapse of Brabham after the 1992 Hungarian Grand Prix. Upon Riccardo Paterse’s announcement that he would be leaving Williams for a Benetton ride in 1993, Hill was promoted to number two driver alongside triple World Champion Alain Prost, who was to win his fourth title, and retire from racing at the end of the season. The next year saw Hill paired with another three-time champion, Ayrton Senna. In what has been described as the worst weekend in F1 history, Senna was killed while leading the race at Imola, forcing Damon to take on the role of lead driver for the Williams squad. Hill acquitted himself well, only loosing the title to Michael Schumacher at the last race in Australia after the two collided. In 1996, Damon won the World Driver’s Championship for Williams, becoming the only son of a World Champion to win the title too. Despite the aforementioned criticisms of Hill’s abilities, the statistics show otherwise, beating his legendary father in every category of measurement, and posting very respectable numbers of fastest laps and pole positions.
- Sir Stirling Moss (71 Points)
- Often cited as being the greatest driver never to have won the World Championship, Sir Sterling would have been champion many times over had the respect of his peers been the criteria for winning. The son of a couple who were both involved in racing, Moss first took to a track at the age of 9. Successful in hill climbs and sports car racing around Britain in his teens and twenties, Moss graduated to Formula 1 in 1951. Stints with Maserati, Mercedes, BRM and Cooper yielded him 16 wins and 16 poles, but the World Championship continued to elude him. A serious accident at Goodwood in 1962 put paid to his Formula 1 career. Perhaps Moss’ greatest legacy is that he was a man who raced purely for the enjoyment of it, and did it with great flair as a consummate gentleman. Moss’ statistics reveal the startling fact that he achieved a win and/or pole position in 25% of the races he contested and finished on the podium 35% of the time.
- Niki Lauda (71.5 Points)
- Referred to as “The Computer” by his rivals for his lack of emotion and driving precision, Niki Lauda was born into a prominent family in Austria. Showing a keen interest in cars from an early age, Niki purchased a Cooper with the intent of racing while in his teens. Forbidden to do so by his father, Lauda entered hill climbs and the like in secret. When his activities became known to his father, the elder Lauda cut Niki off financially. Undeterred, Niki used his family name to secure loans to fund stints in Formula 3 and Formula 2. Leveraged to the hilt, Niki could have easily gone into financial default, but he managed to convince BRM owner, Louis Stanley, to sell him a race seat in his Formula 1 team. Lauda’s talents were noticed, and he was signed to Ferrari the very next season. In 1975, he handily won the World Championship for the team. 1976 would have seen him dominate the series again, but for his infamous accident at the Nurburgring, in which he was horribly burned and nearly died. Determined as ever, Lauda was back behind the wheel of his Ferrari just six weeks later. He would lose the Championship to James Hunt by one point after deciding to park his racecar in a downpour at the final race in Japan. Lauda would bounce back and reclaim the title the following year. After one and a half uncompetitive seasons at Brabham, Lauda abruptly decided to quit racing during practice for the Canadian Grand Prix. Financially struggling with the airline he founded, Lauda returned to racing with McLaren in 1982. 1984 saw him win his third and final World Championship title, beating Alain Prost by half a point. Once again, Niki Lauda decided to hang up his race suit, this time for good. Since then, he has continued to manage his airline, worked as a consultant to the Ferrari team, and has most recently taken the role of non-executive chairman of the title-winning AMG-Mercedes F1 team. His 25 race wins were achieved in large part by using his intellect to outsmart and out-strategize his opponents, but his 24 fastest laps indicate he was often blindingly quick in the race.
- Mika Hakkinen (73 Points)
- “The Flying Finn” is undoubtedly the greatest Formula 1 driver from the Nordic country. Beginning his career in karting at the age of 5, success came early as Hakkinen took both regional and national karting championships with relative ease. He moved up to Formula Ford and Formula 3 in Italy and the UK, and achieved success there too. Hakkinen graduated to Formula 1 with the struggling Lotus team in 1991. After two years there, Mika joined McLaren as a test driver in 1993, and was then promoted to race driver following the departure of Michael Andretti. He clinched his first World Driver’s Championship for the Woking team in 1998 and then repeated the feat in 1999, on both occasions beating Michael Schumacher to the title. He retired from the sport in 2002. Since then, he has raced in DTM and has moved into driver management. Mika achieved much of his Formula 1 success by being devastatingly quick in qualifying and on race day, as his 26 poles and 20 wins would attest.
- Alberto Ascari (76 Points)
- Born in Milan in 1918, Alberto Ascari was another man whose destiny seemed preordained. His father, the greatest Italian driver of his day, instilled in Alberto a love for racing when he was just a toddler. The elder Ascari was killed while competing in the French Grand Prix when Alberto was seven, and on that very day Alberto decided he would follow in his father’s footsteps. His first race was in a Ferrari at the 1940 Mille Miglia, where he showed good promise. After the war, Ascari resumed racing, entering events around Italy. A crowd favorite owing to his speed despite his rotund physique, Ascari was bestowed with the nickname “Ciccio” meaning “tubby” by the Italian fans. Enzo Ferrari was also impressed, and signed Ascari in 1949. 13 wins were the result, as well as the 1952 and 1953 Championships. The world lost the great Ciccio when he shunted while testing a Ferrari sports car at Monza. He was 36. Today, a chicane and grandstand at Monza are named in his honor. Ascari won an incredible 41% of the races he entered, a statistic bested only by Juan Manuel Fangio. His winning secret relied on taking advantage of securing pole position, as well as regularly being the fastest man on Sunday.
- Fernando Alonso (77 Points)
- The mercurial man from Oviedo, Spain, Fernando Alonso began his racing career at the age of three in karts. Winning three consecutive Spanish karting championships from 1994 to 1997, Alonso entered the World Karting Championship the following year and duly won the title. He made the jump to Formula 1 in 2001 at the age of 20, and joining the Renault team in 2003, became the youngest Formula 1 World champion in history by winning the 2005 title. He repeated the feat the following year, becoming the youngest double World Champion in the sport’s history. After unsuccessful and scandal-plagued seasons at McLaren and again at Renault, Alonso joined Ferrari in 2010. In spite of nearly winning the Driver’s title in 2010 and 2012, Alonso’s Ferrari years yielded less than anticipated, and in a shocking departure he moved to the McLaren team again for 2015. Will Alonso ever win another championship? Only time will tell. Despite his achievements, Fernando is rarely the fastest man on track, instead relying on consistency and race strategy to yield results. He ranks number three on the all-time podiums list.
- Jackie Stewart (84 Points)
- John Young Stewart, alternately known as “The Wee Scot,” is another man whose very name has become synonymous with racing. His involvement with cars began as a child in his family’s garage business, where he worked as a mechanic. Owing to his dyslexia, Stewart dropped out of school at the age of 16 and pursued dual careers in shooting and racing. The latter proved more alluring, and the Scot began his racing endeavors in Formula 3 with the Tyrrell team, a relationship that would prove unconquerable later in Formula 1. After utterly dominating F3 and winning the championship with ease, Stewart joined the BRM Formula 1 team in 1965 alongside Graham Hill, who would become a dear friend and fierce competitor. In 1966, Stewart’s crash at a rain-soaked Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, prompted his fight for improved safety in racing. Perhaps more than any other man in the sport, his efforts in this area has saved the lives of countless racers over the years. After switching to Ken Tyrrell’s Matra International team in 1968, he dominated the 1969 season, winning his first World Driver’s Championship. He repeated the feat in 1971 for the now independent Team Tyrrell. 1972 would have seen the title go to Stewart as well, but a bout of gastritis saw him miss the Belgian Grand Prix, and he finished second that year to Emerson Fittipaldi. Entering the 1973 season, Stewart had decided to himself that this would be his final year of Grand Prix racing. Alongside teammate, dear friend and protégé, Francois Cevert, Stewart racked up an impressive tally of wins. Taking the title early, Stewart informed Cevert of his plans to retire at the end of the season and that the Tyrrell team would effectively back Cevert the following season as their number one driver. In practice for what would be his 100th and final race during the last weekend of the 1973 season at Watkins Glen, Stewart was utterly devastated when Cevert was tragically killed in a horrific accident. Out of respect for his fallen friend, Stewart declined to race that weekend, and ended his career with 99 races, of which he won a record 27. He would remain the winningest driver in F1 history for 14 years until Alain Prost eclipsed his record in 1987. Stewart would become a TV commentator for Formula 1, NASCAR and the Indianapolis 500 for many years, as well as becoming a worldwide ambassador for the Ford Motor Company. Stewart returned to Formula 1 in 1997 as the owner and team principal of Stewart Racing with his son Paul Stewart. He sold the team to Ford in 2000. Stewart’s dominance of F1 in his day cannot be overestimated, and he places well in every meaningful statistic of the sport. He combined a great technical acumen with raw speed and intelligence to become, for a while, the greatest driver in the world.
- Nigel Mansell (87 Points)
- One of the most exciting drivers to ever take the wheel of a Formula 1 car, Nigel Ernest James Mansell OBE was born the 8th of August 1953 in Upton-upon-Severn, England. After early success in karting, he would move on to the British Formula Ford championship in 1977. Breaking his neck in a testing accident, it seemed as if his racing career was over before it began. By sheer force of will, Mansell physically rehabilitated, and mortgaging his house for racing funds, financed a move to Formula 3. His exploits there attracted the attention of Lotus Formula 1 boss Colin Chapman, who hired Mansell for the 1980 season. Mansell and Chapman became very close, and the driver was devastated by the latter’s sudden death in 1982. Joining Williams in 1985, Mansell began to reap the rewards of his considerable talents. The British press adored him, and dubbed their new hero “Our Nige.” Although the wins and poles started racking up, the world title always seemed to elude him. 1986 saw him lose the title to Alain Prost after a spectacular tire blowout at 200mph at the last race in Adelaide. 1987 would probably have been his year, but a back injury suffered in a qualifying accident at Suzuka handed the title to his teammate and arch-nemesis Nelson Piquet. In 1989, Mansell was the last driver to be personally picked by Enzo Ferrari before his death to drive for the Scuderia, an honor Mansell described as “one of the greatest in my entire career.” Mansell quickly acquired a new nickname from the Italian Tifosi, who bestowed the moniker “Il Leone” or “The Lion” upon the tough and utterly fearless Brit. 1990 saw Mansell paired with current World Champion, Alain Prost, and Mansell became disenchanted with his number two status in the team. He announced his retirement halfway through the season, and then reversed himself when Frank Williams privately showed him the technical tour-de-force that was to be next year’s Williams FW-14. Mansell re-signed with Williams, and despite winning five races in what was the fastest car on the grid in 1991, lost out on the title yet again due to reliability issues and a disastrous pit-stop in the Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril. Would Mansell ever win the F1 title? The answer came the following year, when Mansell broke all sorts of records on his way to the World Championship. He retired from F1 at the end of the season, but raced in the CART Indy-Car series for 1993, winning the title and becoming the only driver in history to be both Formula 1 and Indy-Car champion simultaneously. Mansell was a blindingly fast driver, whose statistics reveal that when it was his day, he was virtually unbeatable.
- Lewis Hamilton (102 Points)
- The third of the current crop of drivers to make the list, Hamilton began karting early at the age of eight and quickly began winning races and Cadet class championships. In 1995, at the age of ten, he approached McLaren team principal, Ron Dennis at an awards ceremony, and precociously announced “I want to race for you one day. I want to win for McLaren.” Less than three years later, McLaren would sign Hamilton to their Young Driver Support Program. Title wins in British Formula Renault, Formula 3 Euroseries and GP2 would follow, and in 2007 Hamilton signed to drive for McLaren in F1. He would only have to wait one season to take his first Formula 1 World Championship title, which he did in the last corner of the last lap of the last race of the season at Interlagos in Sao Paulo. Many race wins, poles and fastest laps would follow. In what was considered at the time to be an ill-advised move, Hamilton left McLaren in 2013 to drive for the struggling factory AMG-Mercedes team. Hamilton’s gamble paid off, as he once again took the driver’s title in 2014. Although known for his devastating speed, Hamilton also statistically fares well in terms of consistency, ranking high is such categories as podiums, podium percentage and laps and distance led.
- Juan Manuel Fangio (106 Points)
- A curiously low ranking for the man many consider the greatest driver of all time. Even with 10s across the board in the subjective categories of Legacy, Dominance and Technical Aptitude, The Maestro simply does not have the all around statistical might to claim a higher spot on this list. Born in Balcarce, Argentina in 1911, Fangio opened his own garage in his teens and would race in local events. These events were long-distance races, some covering 10,000 kilometers, held over dirt roads up and down South America. It was not until 1949 at the age of 37 that he achieved success on the European continent. In 1950 he was signed to Alfa Romeo to compete in the brand new Formula 1 series. He would win his first Championship the following season. 1952 saw Fangio suffer a major accident at Monza, where he broke his neck and had to miss the rest of the season. In 1954, Fangio jumped over to the Mercedes team and won his second World Championship. This marked the beginning of the first true period of dominance by a driver in F1, as Fangio won the next three Championships in succession. It would be a record that stood until Michael Schumacher won his fifth consecutive title for Ferrari in 2004. In 1957, his last season in Formula 1, Fangio put in what many consider to be the greatest drive in history, erasing a 45 second deficit in a handful of laps to win the German Grand Prix. Statistically, Fangio’s numbers are uneven. While his record 47% winning percentage, 57% pole percentage, and 68% podium percentage will likely never be beaten, Fangio doesn’t fare as well in other categories, and thus falls short compared to five of his fellow drivers.
- Jim Clark (107 Points)
- Cited by many as the most naturally gifted driver in history, James Clark Jr. was born in Kilmany to a Scottish farming family, a humble background that would leave its impression on the man no matter the heights he reached later in life. His early racing efforts were met by disapproval by his parents. Undeterred, Clark continued to race in local rallies and the like. In one such event, he caught the eye of Lotus founder Colin Chapman, who had entered the race as a driver. Blown away by Clark’s speed and incredible car control, Chapman would in a few years time sign Clark to drive for Lotus, first in Formula 2 and then Formula 1 in 1960. It was a partnership that would prove formidable. After three seasons of reliability issues that seemed to rob Clark of victories at every turn, 1963 proved to be the Scot’s year. He would win seven out of the ten races held that season, claim seven pole positions, and win the World Championship in storming fashion, all the while never losing his humble, gentlemanly nature. He would likely have won two championships on the trot, had he not broken down on the last lap of the last race of the season in Mexico. Clark would bounce back however, and claim the World Championship, as well as the Indianapolis 500, in 1965. During the 1966 and 1967 seasons, reliability issues often plagued the Lotus once again. On the top of his game in 1968, Clark’s fate was sealed in a tragic accident in a Formula 2 race in Hockenheim. On that day, the world not only lost a great racecar driver, but a great man as well. Ranking high on the all-time lists for fastest laps and pole positions, Jimmy Clark’s recipe for success is easy to interpret from his stats: in his day, he was simply the fastest man alive.
- Sebastian Vettel (112.5 Points)
- Perhaps the most controversial man on the list, not for appearing on it, but rather for ranking so high, Sebastian Vettel nonetheless statistically beats such luminaries as Juan Manuel Fangio and Jim Clark. While some might dispute his greatness by suggesting that Vettel has benefited from having the fastest car for much of his career, the sheer fact that he has accomplished so much at such a young age suggests that he is indeed the real deal. Born in Heppenheim, Germany, Vettel started karting at the incredibly young age of 3½. Showing preternatural talent, he was signed to the Red Bull Junior Karting Team at age 11. He won the title in virtually every series he entered, and was thus promoted to the German Formula BMW Championship in 2003. Once again, he won the title handily, claiming an astounding 18 victories from 20 events. Vettel signed as a test driver with the Sauber F1 team in 2006. 2007 saw him sign on as the Williams BMW Formula 1 test driver, and substitute for the injured Robert Kubica in the United States Grand Prix where he finished 8th, becoming the youngest driver to ever score a World Championship point. Jumping to Scuderia Toro Rosso for 2008, he became the youngest driver to ever win a race by claiming victory at the Italian Grand Prix in wet conditions. Moving to Red Bull Racing in 2009, Vettel became the youngest World Champion in Formula 1 history the following year by claiming victory in the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. From there, Vettel was simply transformed into the most dominant driver in the sport, joining his hero Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as the only men to ever win four consecutive World Championships. But with the massive changes to the sport’s technical regulations in 2014, Vettel found himself unable to continue his epic run of success, and he was beaten soundly by his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo. Seemingly needing a fresh challenge to jump-start his motivation, Vettel shocked the world by announcing his intent to leave Red Bull, an organization that he had been with for most of his racing career, to join the floundering Ferrari team for 2015. As fate would have it, Vettel’s timing proved impeccable, with the Scuderia managing a miraculous turn around in fortune, which has so far yielded Vettel victory in the second race of the season at Sepang. Statistically, Vettel might best be described as an all-rounder, claiming high positions in every category.
- Alain Prost (113.5 Points)
- Known as “Le Professor” for his clinical and intelligent approach to his race craft, Alain Prost was often criticized for lacking passion and sheer speed in his driving. For those of that mind, I suggest you carefully peruse his statistics, because they will bear out the fact that few drivers in history were as consistently quick and overwhelmingly successful. Born in 1955 in Lorette, France, Prost first gravitated towards automobiles and racing at the age of 14 when he discovered karting while on a family holiday. He quickly progressed through junior series, winning both the French and European Formula 3 Championships, before signing with the McLaren F1 team in 1980. Prost finished in the points on his debut in Argentina, and after switching to the factory Renault team for the following season, took his first race victory at Paul Ricard in his native France. 1984 saw him return to a revamped McLaren team run by Ron Dennis. Paired with double World Champion, Niki Lauda, the pair dominated the season, with Prost losing the title to his teammate at the final race by the smallest margin ever – .5 of a point – as half points had been awarded at a rain-shortened Monaco Grand Prix. The following year would see Prost win the title handily, and he would successfully defend his title in 1986. Prost was now the King of F1. That status would not last long however, as McLaren signed the mercurial Ayrton Senna to be his teammate for 1988. In what would go down as the most dominant performance by any team in the history of Formula 1, Prost and Senna would win 15 of the 16 races that season in their McLaren-Honda turbos and Senna would take the title. 1989 however, would see the Prost/Senna partnership shatter into a million pieces when the two men infamously collided at Suzuka in the Japanese Grand Prix. Senna was disqualified, handing the title to Prost. Prost felt he could no longer be in the same team as Senna, such was the tattered state of their relationship, and thus made a move to Ferrari for 1990. Prost held a nine-point lead over Senna in the championship going into the penultimate race of the season, once again at Suzuka. Prost took the lead at the start, and as the pair went into the first corner, Senna deliberately crashed his McLaren into the back of Prost’s car, taking them both out of the race and handing the title to Senna. 1991 saw Ferrari regress in performance, and after Prost was quoted as saying that his car drove like a truck, he was fired. Prost took a sabbatical in 1992, and returned to race for Williams in 1993. Few doubted that Prost driving the dominant Williams car would result in anyone else having a shot at winning the title, and they were right. The diminutive Frenchman took his fourth and last title, and announced his retirement. This did not end his involvement in Formula 1 though, as he subsequently worked for Renault as a PR man, and McLaren as a technical advisor. In 1997, Prost bought the foundering Ligier team and named it Prost Grand Prix. Despite hiring talented drivers such as Jean Alesi, the venture was a failure and Prost GP closed up shop in 2002. In 2012, Prost was named as Renault’s new international ambassador, and is commonly seen in the paddock at Grands Prix today. Statistically, Prost finishes high in nearly every category, coming in second in terms of all time wins, and surprisingly, for a man reputed to have won more on strategy than speed, second in all-time fastest laps.
- Ayrton Senna (114 Points)
- Beating out his former teammate Alain Prost by a mere half point in this review, Ayrton Senna da Silva is the man considered by many to be the greatest driver ever to take the wheel of a Formula 1 car. Fast, mystical, ruthless and above all committed, Senna became the symbol of F1 throughout his latter years in the sport. The mere sight of his famous yellow helmet in the mirrors of his opponents was enough to strike fear in even the bravest driver. Born in 1960 to a successful businessman, Ayrton grew up in Santana, a well-to-do neighborhood of Sao Paolo, Brazil. An awkward child growing up, Ayrton seemed to shine when around cars. His father built Ayrton a 1hp kart, hoping it would be the key to his son coming out of his shell. The gambit worked. Behind the wheel, the young Ayrton was no longer awkward, but instead focused and determined. On his 10th birthday, Ayrton was given a full-fledged 100cc kart and he began competing against the best young drivers from all over Brazil. In 1977 and 1978, Senna won the South American Kart Championship. Moving to Europe, Ayrton competed in Formula Ford 1600 where he won 22 races and the championship. British Formula 3 would follow, where again Senna triumphed. Many F1 teams paid notice to the Brazilian phenom, but the only solid offer was from struggling midfield team Toleman. Senna signed with them for 1984, and stunned the world when he nearly won at a rain-soaked Monaco. Senna had arrived. 1985 saw him switch to Lotus, but by this point it was hardly the team it was during the days of Clark, Fittipaldi and Andretti. Despite winning a slew of races and establishing himself as the king of pole position and a master in the wet, Senna knew he couldn’t bring championship glory back to the once great team. In 1988, he partnered double World Champion Alain Prost at McLaren, and the two utterly dominated the season, winning all but one of the races held. Senna would clinch the title, in the rain of course, in Japan. The next year saw relations break down between Senna and Prost to the point where the two no longer spoke. The title would be decided again at Suzuka, this time in Prost’s favor after the two McLaren drivers collided at the chicane. Prost decided his time at McLaren was over and moved to Ferrari for 1990. A back and forth battle between the two titans for the championship ensued, and was ultimately decided in the Brazilian’s favor, after he deliberately collided into Prost at their favorite arena in Japan. It was not Senna’s finest hour, and his blind ambition to win at any cost left a mark on his sporting character. 1991 saw Senna take his third and last title, defeating Nigel Mansell in a Williams. 1992 and 1993 were lean years for Senna and McLaren after engine partner Honda bowed out of the sport. Nonetheless, Senna managed some memorable wins in underpowered cars, including one of the sport’s greatest drives at Donnington Park in torrential rain. For 1994, Senna announced that he would be leaving the team that made him a triple World Champion to race for the now all-conquering Williams team. At the third race at Imola, Senna’s car ran wide at the Tamburello corner at 190mph with fatal results. The King was dead, and the world, and Brazil in particular, mourned. His remarkable talent for capturing pole positions, an unequalled talent in the wet, and an utter ruthlessness in passing opponents cemented Senna’s legacy as a master of the sport of motor racing. Surprisingly though for a man thought to be the fastest of his generation, his stats reveal a mediocre number of fastest laps and just a fair fastest lap percentage.
- Michael Schumacher (130.5 Points)
- “Schumi.” “Schuey.” “The Great German.” Whatever you care to refer to him as, there can be little doubt as to the incredible talent and ambition to win possessed by Michael Schumacher. Although some might argue that Senna, Clark or Fangio might have been more naturally talented, no one can deny that Schumacher applied his genius better than anyone else in the history of Formula 1. His period with Ferrari in the 2000s represents the single greatest period of dominance F1 has ever seen. Born in 1969 and raised in Kerpin-Manheim, Germany, Michael began karting at the tender age of four. Encouraged by his father, the boy would quickly develop an astounding technical acumen for vehicles and the dynamics involved in driving them fast. In 1984, he won the German Junior Championship, and in 1987 he dominated the European Championship as well. German Formula Koenig came next, where he won nine of the ten races held. Michael caught the eye of his future manager, Willie Weber, who at the time was running his own Formula 3 team. Weber gave Schumacher the opportunity to test one of his cars, and within six or seven laps he was setting times 1½ seconds faster than Weber’s number 1 driver. Weber quickly signed the young phenom, and after a year of acclimatization, Michael dominated the series. Instead of graduating to Formula 3000 as would be the norm, Weber steered his protégé into Sports Car racing, landing him a seat in the Mercedes junior team. Fortune visited Schumacher when the Jordan F1 team’s driver, Bertrand Gachot was jailed for assault, and his seat needed to be filled for the upcoming Belgian Grand Prix. Michael was given a test with the Irish team, and blew everyone away with his immediate speed. The German duly made his Formula 1 debut in the Jordan at Spa, and qualified 7th. In a coup of sorts, Michael was snatched up and signed by Benetton Team Principal Flavio Briatore beginning with the very next race. The next year, Michael won his first race at Spa, and in 1994 Schumacher won his first World Driver’s Championship. He successfully defended his title in 1995, and announced to the world his intention to switch to the beleaguered Ferrari team in an attempt to bring them championship glory. Along with Team Principal Jean Todt, former Benetton Technical Director Ross Brawn and Benetton designer Rory Byrne, Michael did just that, winning Ferrari its first driver’s title in 21 years. This began a period of dominance in which Ferrari would win five consecutive driver’s and constructor’s titles, a feat never duplicated in the history of F1. Announcing his retirement from Formula 1 after the 2006 Italian Grand Prix, Michael spent a few years as a technical advisor to Ferrari, before once again feeling the racing bug. He joined the new factory Mercedes team alongside his old friend and mentor Ross Brawn. Though not a successful venture for Schumacher, he did nonetheless pave the way for Mercedes’ eventual domination of the sport. Sadly, Michael suffered a severe head injury in a skiing accident in December, 2013, and continues to recover from the injury. Michael’s appearance at the top of our greatest driver list is the result of his domination of much of the stats of the sport. Placing first in seven of the fourteen statistical categories and high up in the others, there can be little doubt that the world will never see another like him.