A common theme in sport is trying to determine who the greatest is in their discipline, and Formula 1 is no different. There have been some amazing drivers who have taken the wheel in one of the most exhilarating sports on the planet.
From Ayrton Senna to Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel to Lewis Hamilton, each generation delivers at least one driver who could be considered the best of all time. Which begs the question, who are the greatest F1 drivers of all time?
Image source: Motorsportmagazine.com
5. Jim Clark (Great Britain)
World Championships – 2 (1963, 1965)
Races – 73
Wins – 25
Podiums – 32
Arguably one of the most naturally gifted drivers to ever get behind the wheel, Jim Clark won his first championship in 1963, just three years after being promoted to Lotus’ Formula One team.
Clark narrowly missed out on defending his title in 1964 after an oil leak in the final race of the season forced him to retire, and as a result relinquish the Drivers' Championship to John Surtees. But Clark was right back on the top of the podium the following season, proving to the world just how good he was.
Clark was tragically killed in an F2 race after a tyre failure caused his Lotus-Cosworth to skid off the track at 170mph and somersault into the woods next to the track. It was his first race on the Hockenheim Circuit, which was covered with patches of water following a rainstorm earlier that morning.
4. Alain Prost (France)
Image source: Renaultsport.com
World Championships – 4 (1985, 1986, 1989, 1993)
Races – 202
Wins – 51
Podiums – 106
Known as ‘Le Professeur’ (The Professor), watching Alain Prost race was like watching poetry in motion. Prost was incredibly brave, fiercely competitive, and extremely intelligent - characteristics that helped him win four championships.
In 1985, Prost became the first French world champion and in 1986, he became the first back-to-back champion since Jack Brabham in 1984.
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He had rivalries with some of the best drivers of his time, most notable was his feud with Ayrton Senna which began in 1988 and saw both drivers push each other past their limits. Both drivers employed tactics that caused raised eyebrows, but ultimately made for exciting racing.
Prost won more than 50 races in his career and 4 world championships.
3. Juan Manuel Fangio (Argentina)
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World Championships – 5 (1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957)
Races – 51
Wins – 24
Podiums – 35
In seven Formula One seasons, Juan Manuel Fangio won five championships and an incredible 47% of the races he started. He drove with an Argentinian flair that few could understand and even less could recreate.
While many have argued that Fangio has the cars to thank (Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari – all the best at the time) for his success, he raced with composure and skill that allowed him to remain calm under pressure.
His victory in the 1957 German GP at the dangerous Nurburgring - where he broke the lap record numerous times - is often regarded as the greatest Grand Prix drive in history.
The Argentine decided to call it a day on his career after he lost several close friends to Formula One and motorsport in one of the most dangerous eras of racing.
2. Michael Schumacher (Germany)
Image source: wtf1.com
World Championships – 7 (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004)
Races – 308
Wins – 91
Podiums – 155
Michael Schumacher is statistically the most successful driver in F1 history, and completely dominated the sport in the early 2000s winning five back-to-back titles from 2000 to 2004.
Following his Formula One debut in 1991 for Jordan, the German was quickly poached by Benneton. Schumacher would go on to win his first Drivers’ Championship in 1994 in a season marred by controversy, allegations of cheating and the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at the San Marino Grand Prix.
Following his move to Ferrari, Schumacher began the most dominant run ever seen in the sport. Starting with his first title with the Italian constructors in 2000, Michael Schumacher went on to defend his title every year thereafter until 2004.
Despite several controversies throughout his career, there is no doubt that Schumacher is the second greatest Formula One driver of all time. There is only one man who could be considered better…
1. Ayrton Senna (Brazil)
Image source: cnet.com
World Championships – 3 (1988, 1990, 1991)
Races – 162
Wins – 41
Podiums – 80
Ayrton Senna was a force of nature, a driver filled with raw talent and an unflinching determination. Senna dedicated himself to the sport of Formula One and the pursuit of success.
After making his debut with Toleman in 1984 at the Monaco GP, where he simultaneously finished second in the torrential rain, and announced himself to the world. Fast-forward to 1988 where he joined McLaren and won all three of his titles and a total of 35 races.
On May 1st
, 1994, at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Ayrton Senna was tragically killed when his Williams slid off the track and slammed into the wall on the Tamburello corner. The world watched as Senna’s car disintegrated on live TV.
The Brazilian will always be remembered for being fiercely competitive and highly skilled. Had his life not been cut short, who know how much he would have gone on to achieve in the world of Formula One.
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