The dangerous world of Formula One driving has claimed many lives and injuries, and these men risk their lives each time they get behind the wheel. Couple that with the intense competition between car companies and the world of Formula One creates drama and excitement in a way that few other sports can match.
Who is the greatest Formula-1 racing driver ever? Lewis Hamilton? Niki Lauda? Or Alain Prost? It's a classic question but it now has an approximately correct answer. A universally acceptable top 10 list is improbable. In a nutshell, a ranking of the best F1 car drivers of all time that’d be universally accepted is a pipe dream. Now, if it were for a specific discipline or period, there’d be more agreement.
The TOP 10 Formula-1 car racing drivers of all time are:
1. Ayrton Senna
Ayrton Senna de Silva was born to drive. He was an awkward child growing up, and a later diagnosis showed he had a motor-coordination problem. It may have been a problem in day-to-day living, but when he got behind the wheel at age four, his genius was unlocked as the awkwardness disappeared.
‘Beco’ would later go on to consistently push himself and car beyond the limits of physical capability and human endeavour in a way never before (and probably never will be) seen. His ruthless and fierce driving style scared drivers (and their teams), fans, and even himself; but look no further than his 6 out of 8 Monaco Prix wins to acknowledge his greatness. He went hard, weather and competitors be damned.
Considering that he amassed a record 65 pole positions, 41 wins, and won 3 championships at a time when he raced against all-time great Prost as well as exceptional drivers—Piquet and Mansell; and it is obvious why he is the driver most often regarded as the greatest race car driver of all time.
2. Michael Schumacher
A young Schumacher-older Senna matchup reminiscent of the young Senna-older Prost rivalry did not play out for as long as any of us would have liked (Imola happened); but when the Red Baron did come into his own in his era, he gave goosebumps.
He didn’t just dominate his era, he rewrote the history of Formula One while he was at it and launched himself adamantly into the pantheons of the greatest to ever drive a F1 car. Whatever you think of him, you just can’t fault his numbers. He broke a record number of F1 records taking full advantage of the improved safety of F1 and longevity.
An interesting take of Schumi’s achievements is that he played a pivotal role in taking Ferrari back to its old lofty heights and beyond to make it the most successful team in Formula One history. Between 2000-2004, the Schumacher-Ferrari tsunami blew the competition out of the water, winning an unprecedented five consecutive F1 championships, becoming the only driver to finish in the top 3 in every race of a season in F1 history, and making over two dozen records in total.
3. Juan Manuel Fangio
Fangio is the gold standard, the OG racing driver all-time great, a towering figure that cast a shadow on every F1 driver that drove after him. The Master needed only 7 years to win his FIVE F1 championships, only eclipsed by Michael Schumacher who needed 14 years to win SEVEN.
Fangio was in the top 2 of every F1 World Championship he participated in except his last (where he only took part in two of the first five grands prix). Even more impressive is that he made his F1 exploits in his 40s. He is the only driver to win F1 titles with four different teams. And still holds the record for the most percentage wins and percentage pole positions.
4. Niki Lauda
The Austrian driver had exceptional success in Formula One. He was Champion driver three times and is the only driver to have been champion for both Ferrari and McLaren, who were the biggest Formula One car manufacturers at the time. He started out with Formula Two in 1971 and quickly progressed to Formula One. He drove for March and BRM before settling with Ferrari, where he drove from 1974 to 1977. He won the Spanish Grand Prix and secured six pole positions and became the dominant driver in Formula One in 1976.
That year he suffered severe injuries in the Nurburgring Grand Prix, having had concerns about the safety at the track. Lauda raced six weeks later and overcame his fear, demonstrating immense bravery at facing the race track whilst still bandaged from his accident. His injuries forced him to retire from the Japanese Grand Prix and this caused a rift with Ferrari, despite a hugely successful 1977 season saw him as a champion driver, after which he left Ferrari. He had an on-track rivalry with British driver James Hunt and they fought for pole position on the track whilst maintaining a strong friendship off the track.
5. Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton hit the Formula One ground running, missing out on the World Championship in his first season by only one point. This beginning in 2007 has continued to progress and Hamilton’s tenacious style and courageous manoeuvres have led to three World Champion wins and plaudits from fans and peers. He won four titles in his maiden season and developed a fierce rivalry with fellow driver Fernando Alonso. This rivalry intensified when Hamilton overtook Alonso’s record as the youngest ever World Champion when he won at the age of twenty-three.
He suffered from bad luck and judgement during the 2011 and 2012 season and moved to Mercedes in 2013. He rose quickly with his new team and finished fourth in the Championship leader board. In 2014, his Mercedes took him to a second World Championship title. He continued this winning streak in 2015 and became the first British driver to win Championships in consecutive years. His rivalry with Nico Rosberg ended with Rosberg’s retirement, but Hamilton could not rest on his laurels and soon developed an on-track rivalry with Sebastian Vettel. This seemed to give Hamilton a new lease of life and he went on to win a fourth world title, making him the most successful British racing driver to date. And now he is fighting for the 6th title.
6. Sebastian Vettel
The German driver dominated the sport between 2010 and 2013 winning his titles four years in a row. Red Bull also won the constructors championship four times too. After impressing in the junior categories, Red Bull signed Vettel to their young driver programme in 1998, in 2000 he was invited to join Red Bull junior team. He was a third driver for BMW Sauber before making his big move to Toro Rosso in 2007, he impressed once again and was retained for 2008 and from then on he went from strength to strength. He won his first GP and Toro Rosso’s only win in Italy that season which no doubt earnt him the switch to the Red Bull senior team for the 09 season. He lost out to Jenson Button and Brawn GP in 2009 but in the 2010 season he went one better.
Despite not being top of the drivers standing for the whole of the season he won the championship at the final race in Abu Dhabi, as he finished with his fifth win of the season and became the youngest world champion in Formula 1 history. After three more titles with Red Bull he decided he needed a change and in 2014 he agreed to join Ferrari for the departing Fernando Alonso for the 2015 season. His first season with Ferrari saw him adapting to the team after being in the Red Bull programme for so long, he still managed to win three races that season which was three more than teammate Kimi Raikkonen. However since Vettel joined the team Ferrari have not been able to win either the drivers or constructors title, losing out to Mercedes each year. Both the 2017 and 2018 season has seen Vettel and Ferrari apply more pressure to Mercedes but once again the Silver Arrows reigned supreme.
7. Fernando Alonso
Alonso has had a stellar career in Formula One securing two World Championships. He started off as World Champion in the world of go-karts and progressed to Formula One in 2003. He quickly had success by winning the Hungarian Grand Prix and became the youngest ever World Champion two years later. Despite fierce rivalry with Michael Schumacher, Alonso won his second title the following year. However, his fiery temperament and off track difficulties have meant he has jumped from one car company to another when things don’t go his way, according to En.espn.co.uk.
He drove for Ferrari from 2010-2012 and fought his corner against the other top drivers of the time. Issues with drivers, management and cars sent Alonso back to McLaren in 2015.Many of Alonso’s difficulties were of his own making, in that he demanded to be the top driver for a team and felt threatened if another driver were brought in and he felt threatened, hence his regular jumps from team to team. He took these tensions onto the track and was penalised at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2007 for blocking Lewis Hamilton. However, Alonso competed in a very strong period for Formula One and was one of the only drivers able to rival Michael Schumacher’s dominance.
8. James Hunt
James Hunt was the 1970s playboy who dreamed of being a Formula One racing driver and pursued his dream to success. He progressed through Formula Two and Three to race for Formula One where he delighted fans with his track prowess and off-track antics. He started racing for Formula One in 1974 and by 1975 had won the Dutch Grand Prix, beating his rival Nicky Lauda. After his team folded, he raced for McLaren where he had considerable success. Still known for his playboy lifestyle off the track, Hunt’s on track prowess was making the news as well, according to Biography.com.
He had a strong friendship with Niki Lauda, despite the fierce rivalry as competitors, and won a race at Nürburgring when he beat Lauda after he nearly died in an accident. Again, in Japan, Lauda was forced out of the race, leaving Hunt to win and become World Champion. Hunt had a famously fiery temper and was known to argue and fight at the track side. He was certainly an original, and refused to toe the line, dressing and acting in a way that suited him. This gave him much negative press with Formula One feeling that he brought the sport into disrepute.
9. Nigel Mansell
This aggressive and competitive British driver had an exciting style on the track that drew gasps of admiration from fans. He started his career in kart racing and suffered a horrendous accident in Formula Ford racing, coming perilously close to being paralyzed, according to Formula1.com. However, his immense courage led to his discharge from hospital and despite being told he would never drive again, he was behind the wheel in Formula 3. Suffering another horrific injury, he still raced on and qualified to race for Lotus in Formula One in 1980, and entry into the Austrian Grand Prix where he suffered another accident, burning himself badly.
He moved to Williams in 1985 and won eleven races in eighteen months. He had an acrimonious rivalry with Nelson Piquet and delighted at beating him at Silverstone in 1987. He moved to Ferrari in 1989 and started his career with a win in Rio. After a switch to Williams, he secured the World Championship in 1992 and announced his retirement. However, Mansell returned to Formula One in 1994 and gained success again but decided the car wasn’t good enough and after fifteen seasons in Formula One, during which he had beat the odds over 187 races, Mansell retired for good.
10. Alain Prost
This French intellectual embarked upon his career with a theoretical approach and won four World Championships. His tactical approach to racing meant that he knew the best way to win, according to Dsport.in. He had an intense rivalry with Ayrton Senna and although Senna often triumphed, statistically Prost was one of the greatest drivers of all time and is regarded as the greatest by many Formula One fans. Prost drove carefully, in a measured way, but saved his energy for the end when he went all guns blazing. His speed was awe inspiring and his tactics heroic. His methodical, tactical approach won him the nickname, Le Professeur.
Prost won fifty-one races in his career, but was well known for controversies as well as success. He fell out with racing teams and other drivers regularly, and his departure from four racing teams were all acrimonious. One of these departures was from McLaren, where his bitter conflicts with Ayrton Senna forced Prost into leaving and joining Ferrari. He won five races and was pipped at the post by Senna for the Champion title, where Senna drove into Prost’s Ferrari. In 1993 he returned to Williams and won the title but retired from racing at the prospect of having Senna as a team mate.
And what about you? How would you rank the top 10 F1 drivers of all time?