For every world champion there has to be a runner up, the second place guy, the closest challenger. But what of these men and most interestingly, what would the list of Formula One world champions look like if second best actually was best? The list (which is printed in full at the end of this article) makes for very interesting reading; drivers beaten into second place by the narrowest of margins, some on more than one occasion, drivers who faded into obscurity or career declines immediately after clinching their silver medal and multiple champions who rarely sampled the bitter taste of coming second, adding weight to the saying, 'all or nothing'.
Whilst the ascent to the second step of the end-of-season podium for some has been as a team's firm number two driver, aided significantly by the supremely dominant equipment they're strapped into, others can genuinely wave a clenched fist towards the High Octane Gods and demand answers as to why they didn't make it all the way to the top as often as they perhaps could have, if at all. Some, however, are remembered as much for their second places just as much as their championship wins. Rubens Barrichello and Riccardo Patrese were soundly thrashed into second place by their teammates in cars that stood head and shoulders above the competition. Alain Prost was beaten into second place by three points or less on three separate occasions. Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart and Michael Schumacher each achieved a championship second place in inferior machinery with their teammates left floundering further down the field.
So near, yet ...not even close: Rubens Barrichello, the epitome of a dominant team's number two driver.
Riccardo Patrese took second place in the 1992 world championship, driving the supremely dominant Williams FW14B, but only by three points from third place driver, Michael Schumacher and a huge (for that time) fifty-two points behind teammate and eventual champion, Nigel Mansell. Otherwise, Riccardo's spell in Formula One was largely ordinary, with no less than five of his six career wins coming from behind the wheel of the aforementioned Williams and its predecessor, 1991's equally excellent but breakdown-prone FW14. Similarly, in 1999, Eddie Irvine was shoved along to second place in the championship by a rapidly improving Ferrari team and despite coming within a whisker of top spot, beaten into second place behind Mika Hakkinen by only two points, it should be noted that Irvine's achievement wasn't as remarkable as it appears. His teammate at Ferrari, Michael Schumacher, to whom he finished two places and thirty-nine points behind in the previous season, missed seven races of the season due to injuries sustained in a crash at that year's British Grand Prix at Silverstone. In addition, the McLaren MP4/14 of 1999 was hindered by appalling reliability issues, with no less than nine mechanical retirements shared between its drivers, Hakkinen and David Coulthard, compared to just one each for Ferrari's Irvine and Schumacher-stand-in, Mika Salo. Indeed, Ferrari clinched the constructor's championship that year, despite Salo's contribution being a meagre ten points from six races (9th, 2nd, 12th, 7th, 3rd, retired) and Irvine visiting the podium only three times during the same period, such was the absence of any real challenge. Just like Patrese, Irvine's career record benefited greatly from his machinery, with each of his four wins during a nine year stay in Formula One coming in his 1999 season at Ferrari.
"Just wake me up when they're ready to start" Eddie Irvine; making a career of relaxation over perspiration.
Neither Patrese nor Irvine can therefore argue that fortune was against them during these seasons or that they hauled unfancied cars to positions well above any expectations. Certainly in Irvine's case, never has such a gilt edged opportunity been presented to a Formula One driver. Neither man was a regular challenger before or subsequent to their runner up seasons and other than being notable for the joint third longest career in Formula One (Patrese, at seventeen seasons) and once being punched in the mouth by a feisty Brazilian by the name of Ayrton Senna (Irvine, one fight and one loss by TKO), neither man left much of a ripple behind them. Now, I'm not taking a swipe at Irvine, Patrese or Barrichello. Being put behind the wheel of any Formula One car on merit (Paul Belmondo, I'm looking at you) is an indication of great skill and they were deemed more than capable by team principles of driving some of the best machinery on the grid at the time. However, just as winning the title itself can be seen as a remarkable achievement (Jensen Button, 2009) or a forgone conclusion before the first green light of the season (Alain Prost, 1993), the runner-up spot is often under the same scrutiny, more so if you're second to your teammate by a significant margin.
Stirling Moss is a man for whom recognition as the greatest driver to never win a world championship is widely regarded as fact, not opinion. Indeed, in a seven year period, Moss finished as Formula One World Championship runner up four times in a row and third the following three times. In 1955, '56 and '57, Moss was second only to Juan Manuel Fangio, regarded by many as the greatest of all time and a driver whom Moss was capable of beating on the track, a feat he demonstrated on a number of occasions, once by over 3 minutes. Moss never bowed to Fangio and certainly wasn't merely employed to provide support to the Argentine, if anything, he pushed his teammate and made him work for every single point. In 1958, Britain's Mike Hawthorn took the honours by a solitary point over Moss, aided greatly by Moss successfully defending Hawthorn in front of race stewards when the latter was threatened with a penalty by way of deduction of points for reversing on the track at the Portuguese Grand Prix. Whilst it could be argued that Irvine was guilty of inexplicably snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Stirling Moss was guilty only of being a gentleman and a sportsman.
Stirling Moss: four times runner-up, but never once an also-ran.
Consider, if you will, Clay Regazzoni, who was undoubtedly as surprised as anyone to be the runner up in 1974's championship, merely three points adrift of champion, Emerson Fittipaldi. Clay achieved this with a single win, seemingly by virtue of his car failing to cross the finish line on only three occasions. His Ferrari teammate and fourth placed man, Niki Lauda, meanwhile, finished only seven of the fifteen championship races that season with Ronnie Peterson and James Hunt also seeing their cars return to the pits on the back of a lorry, six and nine times respectively. 1974 was a championship year of attrition, thus, Regazzoni's reputation as a hard charging racer made his low retirement rate and subsequent end of season position all the more astonishing.
The damn thing just keeps going!: Clay Regazzoni, the man who simply couldn't break his Ferrari
And what of other drivers who would have been crowned champion, were it not for the man in front? Well, there's Jose Froilan Gonzalez, with his tally of 25 1/7 points in 1954, a brace of championships each for Jacky Ickx (1969 and '70), Rubens Barrichello (2002 and '04) and Ronnie Peterson (1971 and '78). Gilles Villeneuve, Didier Pironi, Michele Alboreto and David Coulthard took one apiece in 1979, '82, '85 and 2001 respectfully and even Heinz-Harald Frentzen got in on the action, nabbing himself the title in 1997, albeit aided by Michael Schumacher's disqualification from that year's championship.
Jose Froilan Gonzalez: Ferrari's first ever F1 winner and proof that one-seventh of a point is a realistic goal
However, back to reality, please spare a thought for Wolfgang von Trips, Graham Hill, Niki Lauda, Carlos Reutemann, Damon Hill, Lewis Hamilton and Filipe Massa who, along with Stirling Moss suffered the unimaginable trauma of losing out on a world championship title by a single point. A special mention at this juncture must go to Alain Prost who was second best to Niki Lauda in 1984 by one half of a point, an unenviable record which is unlikely to ever be broken.
"Look, I'm as puzzled as you guys!": Nelson Piquet took the Brabham BT49 from Gordon Murray's head to the podium in only six weeks
For some drivers, their second place finishes could be held in as high regard as the titles they won, the gulf in class between they and their teammates in these seasons being of special significance and highlighting their skills behind the wheels of cars undeserving of such high finishes. Future three-time world champion, Nelson Piquet skilfully guided his hastily designed and barely tested Brabham BT49 into second place behind the Williams FW07 of Alan Jones in 1980 with fifty-four points coming by way of three wins and three further trips to the podium, but his two teammates (Ricardo Zunino was replaced after seven rounds by Hector Rebaque) managed just one point between them. In 1993, it was fellow Brazilian, Ayrton Senna's turn to make second place look like a win, steering his Ford (under)powered McLaren MP4/8 to five victories (including *that* race at Donnington) and seventy-three points behind Alain Prost's Williams FW15C, undoubtedly the best car on the grid that season and furthermore considered to be the most technologically sophisticated Formula One car of all time. Like Piquet thirteen years previously, Senna had two teammates over the course of the season, Michael Andretti and Mika Hakkinen, scoring seven and four points each respectively.
"The most technologically advanced car of all time, eh? Hold my beer." Ayrton Senna doing what he did best, Donnington 1993
So, there you have it, just think that in the world of 'what if', double world champions Juan Manuel Fangio (1950 and '53), Michael Schumacher (1998 and 2006), and Lewis Hamilton (2007 and '16) couldn't hold a candle to triple world champion, Nigel Mansell (1986, '87 and '91), but Alain Prost (1983, '84, '88 and 90) can still boast four visits to the top step.
Four times the bridesmaid, four times the bride: Alain Prost, as good at coming second as he was at coming first.
1950: Juan Manuel Fangio: 27 points (Actual winner: Giuseppe Farina: 30 points)
1951: Alberto Ascari: 25 (Juan Manuel Fangio: 31)
1952: Giuseppe Farina: 24 (Alberto Ascari: 36)
1953: Juan Manuel Fangio: 28 (Alberto Ascari: 34.5)
1954: Jose Froilan Gonzalez: 25 1/7 (Juan Manuel Fangio: 42)
1955: Stirling Moss: 23 (Juan Manuel Fangio: 40)
1956: Stirling Moss: 27 (Juan Manuel Fangio: 30)
1957: Stirling Moss: 25 (Juan Manuel Fangio: 40)
1958: Stirling Moss: 41 (Mike Hawthorn: 42)
1959: Tony Brooks: 27 (Jack Brabham: 31)
1960: Bruce McLaren: 34 (Jack Brabham: 43)
1961: Wolfgang von Trips: 33 (Phil Hill: 34)
1962: Jim Clark: 30 (Graham Hill: 42)
1963: Graham Hill: 29 (Jim Clark: 54)
1964: Graham Hill: 39 (John Surtees: 40)
1965: Graham Hill: 40 (Jim Clark: 54)
1966: John Surtees: 28 (Jack Brabham: 42)
1967: Jack Brabham: 46 (Denny Hulme: 51)
1968: Jackie Stewart: 36 (Graham Hill: 48)
1969: Jacky Ickx: 37 (Jackie Stewart: 63)
1970: Jacky Ickx: 40 (Jochen Rindt: 45)
1971: Ronnie Peterson: 33 (Jackie Stewart: 62)
1972: Jackie Stewart: 45 (Emerson Fittipaldi: 61)
1973: Emerson Fittipaldi: 55 (Jackie Stewart: 71)
1974: Clay Regazzoni: 52 (Emerson Fittipaldi: 55)
1975: Emerson Fittipaldi: 45 (Niki Lauda: 64.5)
1976: Niki Lauda: 68 (James Hunt: 69)
1977: Jody Scheckter: 55 (Niki Lauda: 72)
1978: Ronnie Peterson: 51 (Mario Andretti: 64)
1979: Gilles Villeneuve: 47 (Jody Scheckter: 61)
1980: Nelson Piquet: 54 (Alan Jones: 67)
1981: Carlos Reutemann: 49 (Nelson Piquet: 51)
1982: Didier Pironi: 39 (Keke Rosberg: 44)
1983: Alain Prost: 57 (Nelson Piquet: 59)
1984: Alain Prost: 71.5 (Niki Lauda: 72)
1985: Michele Alboreto: 53 (Alain Prost: 73)
1986: Nigel Mansell: 70 (Alain Prost: 72)
1987: Nigel Mansell: 61 (Nelson Piquet: 73)
1988: Alain Prost: 87 (Ayrton Senna: 90)
1989: Ayrton Senna: 60 (Alain Prost: 76)
1990: Alain Prost: 71 (Ayrton Senna: 78)
1991: Nigel Mansell: 72 (Ayrton Senna: 96)
1992: Ricardo Patrese: 56 (Nigel Mansell: 108)
1993: Ayrton Senna: 73 (Alain Prost: 99)
1994: Damon Hill: 91 (Michael Schumacher: 92)
1995: Damon Hill: 69 (Michael Schumacher: 102)
1996: Jacques Villeneuve: 78 (Damon Hill: 97)
1997: Heinz-Harald Frentzen: 42* (Jacques Villeneuve: 81)
1998: Michael Schumacher: 86 (Mika Hakkinen: 100)
1999: Eddie Irvine: 74 (Mika Hakkinen: 76)
2000: Mika Hakkinen: 89 (Michael Schumacher: 108)
2001: David Coulthard: 65 (Michael Schumacher: 123)
2002: Rubens Barrichello: 77 (Michael Schumacher: 144)
2003: Kimi Raikkonen: 91 (Michael Schumacher: 93)
2004: Rubens Barrichello: 114 (Michael Schumacher: 148)
2005: Kimi Raikkonen: 112 (Fernando Alonso: 133)
2006: Michael Schumacher: 121 (Fernando Alonso: 134)
2007: Lewis Hamilton: 109 (Kimi Raikkonen: 110)
2008: Filipe Massa: 97 (Lewis Hamilton: 98)
2009: Sebastian Vettel: 84 (Jensen Button: 95)
2010: Fernando Alonso: 252 (Sebastian Vettel: 256)
2011: Jensen Button: 270 (Sebastian Vettel: 392)
2012: Fernando Alonso: 278 (Sebastian Vettel: 281)
2013: Fernando Alonso: 242 (Sebastian Vettel: 397)
2014: Nico Rosberg: 317 (Lewis Hamilton: 384)
2015: Nico Rosberg: 322 (Lewis Hamilton: 381)
2016: Lewis Hamilton: 380: (Nico Rosberg: 385)
2017: Sebastian Vettel: 317 (Lewis Hamilton: 363)
2018: Sebastian Vettel: 320 (Lewis Hamilton: 408)
2019: Valtteri Bottas: 326 (Lewis Hamilton: 413)
*Michael Schumacher scored 78 points but was disqualified from the 1997 championship.