Formula One (known as F1) is the highest level of international racing for open-wheel single-seater formula racing vehicles sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). Since its inception in 1950, the World Drivers’ Championship, which was renamed the FIA Formula One World Championship in 1981, has been one of the world’s finest forms of racing.
The word formula in the name alludes to the set of regulations that must be followed by all participants’ automobiles. A Formula One season consists of a series of races known as Grands Prix that are held throughout the world on purpose-built circuits as well as closed public highways.
10. Fernando Alonso
Twice a world champion and 32-race winner who could have won five titles if the dice had fallen more favorably – and Alonso had selected who he raced for and when a little more astutely. When he joined Scuderia Ferrari in 2010, he became possibly just the third driver – after Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher – to have enough personality power over the team to create it convincingly around himself.
9. Niki Lauda
We’ve all heard the story, yet it never loses its power. After crashing during the 1976 German GP, Lauda suffered catastrophic third-degree burns to his head and face, as well as significant lung injury, which required a priest to give him the last rites by his hospital bed. But he wasn’t ready to go just yet.
So started one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. Not only did Lauda live, but he was back in the cockpit of his Ferrari just six weeks later for the Italian Grand Prix. Lauda won three world championships, two at Ferrari and one at McLaren, as well as 25 races. So, a fantastic driver, but also a true hero.
8. Alain Prost
Prost is the best driver in the history of motorsport. Being a professor isn’t as attractive as Senna-style, hot-blooded Latin devilry, but he made it work for him. And then some. Prost won 51 races and four world titles – it could well have been seven – and, like Fangio, he was a wonder at saving his car for a late-race onslaught. In other words, if you love your racing drivers to do everything at 18,000rpm, Prost was probably not for you.
7. Sir Stirling Moss
This other driver for whom simply reciting the statistics is barely scratching the surface, but winning 212 of the 529 races he participated is a tremendously strong hit rate. Moss was another of those postwar heroes who could drive the wheels off anything, anyplace, and who actually enjoyed looking danger down and telling it to sod off.
Known as the best driver never to win the Formula One world championship, he had a chance to do so in 1958 when his competitor, Mike Hawthorn, was accused of reversing back into the track during the Portuguese GP. Moss actually defended him but lost the crown by a single point that year.
6. Sir Jackie Stewart
All great sports accomplishments can be reduced to simple numbers, and Jackie Stewart’s are no exception. In Formula One, he won the drivers’ championship three times and finished second twice. But it’s his hit rate that stands out: he won 27 of the 99 Grand Prix he competed in. That alone would have earned him a spot on our list, but Stewart is another winner who utilized his accomplishment as a springboard for so much more.
In his instance, it was in addressing motor racing’s deplorable safety standards, which did not endear him to certain spectators or even other drivers at the time. But then you talk to him about what he saw and what he went through, which I’ve had the pleasure of doing several times.
5. Michael Schumacher
He continues to polarize opinion, and there’s no doubt that he went too far too frequently. To put it plainly, it was a disaster. But Michael Schumacher is still considered an all-time great, and not just because he won seven world titles, 91 races, and broke every record there was to break. Or if he has the Senna-like ability to push his vehicle to the limit while being physically healthy and clever enough to retain a significant portion of his cerebral firepower in reserve to handle challenging pit-wall calls.
4. Ayrton Senna
Senna would have turned 60 today if he had survived. There isn’t much to say about the Brazilian superstar that hasn’t already been said, except that he was the driver who was willing to go further in pursuit of victory than anyone before him, who elevated the art of driving a Formula One car to almost spiritual levels, and who did so not only with sublime skill but also weapons-grade charisma.
Then he’s a racer, but he’s so much more. And one whose legacy has only grown since his death during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
3. Jim Clark
Not many of the world’s greatest athletes are as outgoing as they look – or as we would like them to be. Jim Clark was one of the most humble individuals to ever sit in an F1 cockpit, but he was also possibly the most individually skilled driver of all time.
He won 2 world championships, in 1963 and 1965, but was equally dazzling in sports cars, touring cars, and also did win the 1965 Indianapolis 500, driving the first mid-engined car to do so and leading 190 of the 200 laps. He was the son of a Borders sheep farmer whose route to F1 was facilitated by Lotus and its founder Colin Chapman.
2. Juan Manuel Fangio
He won five world titles in the 1950s, which was not a very safe age. He did it for four separate teams – Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Maserati – driving some of the most truly legendary racing vehicles in the sport’s history, finishing second twice.
And, despite the fact that it was a different era with considerably fewer races, Fangio’s hit rate was still exceptional: 29 pole positions, 48 front row starts, and 24 triumphs from 51 championship Grands Prix starts. He was 46 years old when he won his last title in 1957, demonstrating his incredible physical power.
1. Lewis Hamilton
Lewis is still winning races and establishing records, so it may seem premature to laud him. On the other hand, he continues to win races and set new marks. Mark Webber once stated, “I think he’s more complete than Michael.”
“I believe he achieved those results in a technically cleaner manner, simply via wheel-to-wheel fighting and with no genuine deception in his touch with the other drivers.” There are far too many brilliant drives to select from, but the enormous skill that delivered such stunning achievements in the early stages of his F1 career has now been tempered by vast experience. That implies he hasn’t even achieved his prime…