WHO ARE THE TOP 20 F1 DRIVERS OF ALL TIME?
So, I decided to find the real GOAT...
Written by Humza Khan
Who is the Greatest of All Time? This is possibly the most controversial question in any sport and an almost impossible one to answer. How do you decide? Number of wins? Number of titles? Experience? Best overtakes? It's a difficult topic to agree on, even more so in Formula 1, an ever evolving sport with nonstop development, the seasons become longer and the cars are almost unrecognisable to the ones that were being driven five years ago, let alone ten or twenty years ago.
For most of us nostalgia plays a huge part in our opinions. If you grew up as a fan of Ferrari during the early 2000's you're likely to say Michael Schumacher, if you're younger you may pick Lewis Hamilton and if you're older you may choose Prost, Senna or Fangio just to name a few. If you've just started watching F1 in the last couple years you might even think Max Verstappen or Charles Leclerc are the greatest thing to ever burn rubber on a Grand Prix track.
Realistically we're never going to agree, it’s a debate that will go on until the end of time. No matter how many times pundits sit on the fence or drivers tell you it’s impossible to compare era's, we as fans are going to share our opinions regardless. Anyway, I thought it would be cool to try and create an actual system to get some sort of idea. I'm sure there will be a few controversial placings, keep in mind its the results from my research, not my own opinions! Once you've read this article feel free to give me feedback on Twitter! (Shameless plug; @instxnza)
How It Works
For every season from 1950 to 2020 I awarded the top 10 finishers points from 10 to 1. The points then get tallied up from their career thus therefore finding the top 20 drivers with the most points.
Every drivers points get tallied up to find their career total.
Name NAME [Total Points Amassed]
BF: Best Finish
WDC: World Drivers Champion
Top Ten: Number of seasons in which a driver has finished Top 10 in the standings
* = Driver has competed in the 2020 season / due to compete in 2021
#20 - Rubens BARRICHELLO [55 Points]
BF: 2nd (2002, 2004) | Seasons: 19 | Top Ten: 12 | Starts: 322 / Poles: 14 / Wins: 11
Rubens Barrichello | Ferrari F2003 GA | 2003
Breaking into the top 20 is the second most experienced driver in history: Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian never won a world title despite driving for two Championship-winning constructors including the all-conquering Ferrari outfit of the early 2000's. You could argue that he never really had a shot with the Maranello based team, being paired with a prime Michael Schumacher. Unfortunately during that period he became the "number two driver" poster boy, infamously letting Schumacher win on the line at the Austrian GP in 2002. Barrichello also missed out on the title in 2009 with Brawn GP, finishing 3rd in the standings, this time losing out to another team mate in the form of Jenson Button and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel. Although he had a wealth of experience and consistency Rubens just seemed to lack that raw speed to be able to mount a serious title challenge. Still, though... top 20, not bad.
#19 - Jim Clark [55 Points]
2x WDC (1963, 1965) | Seasons: 9 | Top Ten: 8 | Starts: 72 | Poles: 33 | Wins: 25
Jim Clark | Lotus 25 | 1963
Jim Clark is undeniably one of the greatest and most dominant champions in F1 history, securing two titles in 1963 and 1965 and just missing out on the '62 World Championship due to an oil leak in the final race of the season. Clark has the fourth highest win percentage in history of 34.25%. He also has an astonishing 33 pole positions from 72 starts. Famous for his formidable speed and partnership with Colin Chapman, Clark spent his entire F1 career driving for the Lotus team. Many fans and supporters alike believe the Scot would've added to his Championships if it wasn't for his fatal accident at an F2 race in Hockenheim in 1968. Clark still currently holds the record for the most career 'Grand Slams'. (8)
Note: 'Grand Slam' - Grand Prix weekend consisting of pole, win, fastest lap and leading every lap.
#18 - Jenson BUTTON [60 Points]
1x WDC (2009) | Seasons: 18 | Top Ten: 12 | Starts: 306 | Poles: 8 | Wins: 15
Jenson Button | Brawn GP BGP 001 | 2009
18th is the 2009 World Champion. Winning his first race after 6 seasons in F1 at the Hungarian GP, 2006, things were finally starting to look up for Button before a shocking turn of form for Honda in 2007 and 2008 coincided with the great recession, which saw the Japanese manufacturer pull out of the sport. Uncertain if he was going to drive the following season before Ross Brawn swooped in at the last minute and founded Brawn GP. The season that followed was one of a fairy tale, with Button winning six of the first seven races and going on to win both the Drivers championship. He was offered a contract to stay on at Mercedes and partner Nico Rosberg for 2010 but instead decided to join McLaren for 2010, pitting himself against Lewis Hamilton and later taking on Fernando Alonso, proving he wasn't afraid to take on the best. The Briton stayed for seven seasons taking 8 more wins in the process including McLarens last win (to date) at the Brazilian GP in 2012. He is the 5th most experienced driver of all time.
#17 - Stirling MOSS [60 Points]
BF: 2nd: (1955, 1956, 1957, 1958) | Seasons: 11 | Top Ten: 7 | Starts: 67 | Poles: 16 | Wins: 16
Stirling Moss | Maserati 250F | 1955
Stirling Moss is often remembered as the greatest driver to have never won a World title, finishing runner up 4 years on the trot from 1955 to 1958 and finishing in the top 3 in 1959, 1960 and 1961 respectively. Amazingly, Moss has an F1 racing record of 35 retirements (52.2%) during his F1 career which still landed him comfortably in the top 20 greatest drivers ever, a testament to his ability in the car. Although this list is based on F1 performances alone it must be mentioned that Moss raced from 1948 to 1962 in plenty of different categories and won 212 of the 529 races he entered. Staggering.
#16 - Nigel MANSELL [60 Points]
1x WDC (1992) | Seasons: 15 | Top Ten: 9 | Starts: 187 | Poles: 32 | Wins: 31
Nigel Mansell | Williams FW14 | 1992
The 1992 World Champion is next up, competing in 15 seasons between 1980 and 1995. His story is one of my favourites, one of patience, determination and heart break. I'd personally love to see a movie made on his career. Mansell excelled in arguably the most competitive era of F1; fighting his way to the top of the mountain and driving some of the greatest races ever... (Silverstone '87 anyone) He also drove for four of the most legendary teams in the sport; Lotus, Williams, Ferrari and McLaren. Mansell ranks 7th on the all-time wins list.
#15 - Mika HÄKKINEN [60 Points]
2x WDC (1998, 1999) | Seasons: 11 | Top Ten: 9 | Starts: 161 | Poles: 26 | Wins: 20
Mika Häkkinen | McLaren MP4/13 | 1998
Next up we have one of my all-time favourite drivers, the original 'flying Finn' himself; Mika Häkkinen. Mika's was the first driver I ever supported in F1, silver over red and all that... his famous rivalry with Michael Schumacher in the late 90's captivated audiences around the world, including THAT sublime comeback drive and overtake at the 2000 Belgian GP. He also made an immediate impact at McLaren, out qualifying triple world champion teammate Ayrton Senna at his first Grand Prix for the team in the 1993 Portuguese GP. Amazingly, it took the Finn 96 attempts before he secured his first victory in F1 at the 1997 European GP, he then went on to round off the 90's in style, winning back to back World titles in both 1998 and 1999. Helping McLaren secure their last Constructors Championship to date.
#14 - Graham HILL [61 Points]
2x WDC (1962, 1968) | Seasons: 16 | Top Ten: 8 | Starts: 176 | Poles: 13 | Wins: 14
Graham Hill | Lotus 49 | 1968
In all honesty I feel like Graham Hill's greatness is heavily understated. Nicknamed 'Mr. Monaco', winning around the streets of Monte Carlo five times (1963, 1964, 1965, 1968, 1969). Hill certified his status as one of the greats becoming the first and only driver to date to win motorsports prestigious 'Triple Crown' (F1 World Championship, Le Mans 24 hours & Indianapolis 500). Graham, along with his son Damon became the first father/son duo to both win World Championships. Hill was the driver of the 1960's, landing top spot of the decade.
#13 - Nelson PIQUET SR [61 Points]
3x WDC (1981, 1983, 1987) | Seasons: 14 | Top Ten: 11 | Starts: 204 | Poles: 24 | Wins: 23
Nelson Piquet | Williams FW11 | 1987
Nelson Piquet's story is one of great interest and a story of dedication. Originally a tennis phenomenon, the Brazilian was a regional champion and one of Brazil’s most exciting prospects before his focus switched to Go Karting. Racing under an altered version of his mother’s surname to hide his new found love from his disapproving parents, even winning Karting and Sportscar championships wasn't enough to win his parents over. Under the advisement of double World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, Piquet moved to Europe eventually making it to F1, going on to become of the most successful drivers of his era, winning a trio of world titles and solidifying himself as one of the greatest of all time. Piquet is the second most successful driver of the 1980's.
#12 - Niki LAUDA [61 Points]
3x WDC (1975, 1977, 1984) | Seasons: 13 | Top Ten: 9 | Starts: 171 | Poles: 24 | Wins: 25
Niki Lauda | Ferrari 312 T2 | 1975
The 1970's was the closest decade in terms of points and also with the lowest points average. Lauda ended the decade as the second most successful driver on 43 points, just one point behind Fittipaldi and level on points with Scheckter and Regazzoni. The early story of Niki Lauda is similar to the one of Nelson Piquet, also coming from a family who strongly disapproved of his racing ambitions, Lauda famously took out a £30,000 bank loan to buy a seat with the March team in F2. Perhaps the greatest story of all though was his comeback after his horrific accident at the 1976 German GP at the Nurburgring. Remarkably only missing two races and getting back into the seat just six weeks later, Lauda missed out on the title to James Hunt by just a singular point. Lauda went on to retire for the first time in 1979 before making a comeback with McLaren in 1982 and going on to win his third and final world title in 1984 by half a point to Alain Prost, an incredible feat, certifying one of the greatest sporting comebacks in history.
#11 - Gerhard BERGER [63 Points]
BF: 3rd (1988, 1994) | Seasons: 14 | Top Ten: 12 | Starts: 210 | Poles: 12 | Wins: 10
Gerhard Berger | Ferrari 412 T1 | 1994
Gerhard Berger is a driver whose stats don't jump out at you at first but he's a lot more than meets the eye. Berger drove for some of the best teams in F1 in arguably its most competitive era. Berger finished third in the 1988 standings which was dominated by the McLaren duo of Senna and Prost, he was also the only other winner of that season, winning the Italian GP. Berger finished third in the standings also in 1994 for Ferrari, runner up to Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. Berger is known for having very strong team mates, including Nigel Mansell at Ferrari and Ayrton Senna. He replaced Prost at McLaren after he left for Ferrari, he then briefly returned to Ferrari and then left for Benneton where he made way for Michael Schumacher.
#10 - David COULTHARD [67 Points]
BF: 2nd (2001) | Seasons: 15 | Top Ten: 12 | Starts: 246 | Poles: 12 | Wins: 13
David Coulthard | McLaren MP4/19 | 2004
The first driver in the Top 10 is David Coulthard, who also happens to be the highest placed non-championship winning driver on this list. The Scot finished third in the standings in 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000 and was runner up in 2001. Towards the tail end of his career he joined the brand new Red Bull racing team, taking the their first ever podium with an exquisite drive to 3rd in the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix.
#9 - Jackie STEWART [68 Points]
3x WDC (1969, 1971, 1973) | Seasons: 9 | Top Ten: 9 | Starts: 99 | Poles: 17 | Wins: 27
Jackie Stewart | Matra MS80 | 1969
In ninth we have the 'flying Scot' himself; Jackie Stewart. Another all time great, by the end of his career the triple world champion had amassed 27 wins, holding the record for most wins for fourteen years until Alain Prost broke the record in 1987. Stewart went on to found his own self titled team, Stewart Grand Prix with his son after retirement which went on to take a one victory at the 1999 European Grand Prix with Johnny Herbert.
#8 - Juan Manuel FANGIO [68 Points]
5x WDC (1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957) | Seasons: 8 | Top Ten: 7 | Starts: 51 | Poles: 29 | Wins: 24
Juan Manuel Fangio | Mercedes W196 | 1955
At number eight, it's none other than Juan Manuel Fangio, otherwise known as 'El Maestro'. The King of the first era, Fangio dominated the 50's, winning 5 titles, a record which stood for an incredible 46 years, he still currently holds the record for most titles won with different Constructors, taking title successes with Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes and Maserati, a feat that is yet to be repeated. Fangio also holds highest winning percentage in Formula 1 history at 46.15%. Incredible.
#7 - Ayrton SENNA [77 Points]
3x WDC (1988, 1990, 1991) | Seasons: 10 | Top Ten: 10 | Starts: 161 | Poles: 65 | Wins: 41
Ayrton Senna | McLaren MP4/4 | 1988
At number seven we have a true driving icon. A legend around the world and a man whose placing on this list will have many fans upset. Seventh on the list of all time greats being seen as too low is absolute proof that statistics never tell the whole story and don't always speak to the full potential of a driver. Senna's life was tragically cut short at the infamous San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 and there is little doubt that he would have added to his tally of three World Championship triumphs. Known for his hard, aggressive racing and his passion in and out of the cockpit. Ayrton passed before I was born but thankfully there are plenty of articles, YouTube clips and movies to keep his legacy eternal. Senna was and is an absolute phenomenon and will forever live long in the memory of every racing fan.
#6 - Sebastian VETTEL* [85 Points]
4x WDC (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) | Seasons: 14 | Top Ten: 12 | Starts: 256 | Poles: 57 | Wins: 53
Sebastian Vettel | Red Bull RB9 | 2013
Just outside of the top 5 is Sebastian Vettel, the first driver on the list who is still currently racing at present, winning 4 back to back titles with Red Bull from 2010 to 2013, winning in what is possibly the toughest era of F1 (in terms of competition) racing against 5 World Champions and coming out on top. At the time of writing, Vettel has just ended his 6 year semi-successful stint at Ferrari, finishing runner up in the standings in both 2017 and 2018. Vettel has had a difficult time as of late, seemingly growing more unhappy at the Italian outfit over the recent years. From the 2021 season Vettel will be driving for the recently rebranded Aston Martin F1 team, you never know, he could still creep higher on the list...
#5 - Fernando ALONSO [88 Points]
2x WDC (2005, 2006) | Seasons: 17 | Top Ten: 13 | Starts: 311 | Poles: 22 | Wins: 32
Fernando Alonso | Renault R26 | 2006
Breaking into the top 5 its the double world Champion and the only Spaniard on the list, Fernando Alonso. Where to start? Alonso is inexplicably fast wherever he is, putting on incredible performances at the beginning of his career, from dragging his lowly Minardi into places it never should've been to wringing his below average Ferrari into title contention until the very last round of the 2012 season, he's done it all. On top of all of that at 39 years old he's coming back to do it all again, joining Alpine (Renault) for 2021 after leaving the sport at the end of 2018. Another driver who could climb up the order in the next few years?
#4 - Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN* [98 Points]
1x WDC (2007) | Seasons: 18 | Top Ten: 15 | Starts: 328 | Poles: 18 | Wins: 21
Kimi Räikkönen | Ferrari F2007 | 2007
In fourth it’s the Iceman! The most experienced pilot in F1 and it shows, competing in 18 seasons and showing no signs of slowing down, Kimi has made appearances in two top 10 decade lists (2nd in the 2000s, 4th in the 2010s). His experience and his drives for legendary teams McLaren, Ferrari and Lotus over the years have earned him such a high placing on this list, his consistency at the top for almost 2 decades is unrivalled. Winning the 2007 World Championship could've easily been his 3rd title triumph, narrowly missing out on the Championships with McLaren in 2003 and 2005 due to unreliability. Now driving for Alfa Romeo it doesn't look like he'll finish in the top 10 again any time soon but even down the grid his driving has been exceptional, see his epic start at the 2020 Portuguese GP, up there as one of the greatest first laps of all time.
#3 Alain PROST [102 Points]
4x WDC (1985, 1986, 1989, 1993) | Seasons: 13 | Top Ten: 12 | Starts: 199 | Poles: 33 | Wins: 51
Alain Prost | Williams FW15C | 1993
In my honest opinion Alain Prost isn't given the love he deserves. The most dominant driver of the 1980's with 77 points compared to his closest challenger, Nelson Piquet Sr on 61, Prost owned the decade. The Frenchman's success is understated to say the least, holding the wins record (51) for 14 years from 1987-2001 before being overtaken by Michael Schumacher. Nicknamed 'The Professor' he was famous for his intellectual approach to racing, he later admitted this was an appropriate nickname citing how he would save the brakes and tyres at the beginning of the race, making them fresh for later in the race so he could mount a late charge. In 1997 he took over the Ligier team, appropriately renaming it 'Prost Grand Prix' which ran for 5 seasons until they went bankrupt in 2001. He later admitted buying Ligier was the biggest mistake of his career.
#2 - Lewis HAMILTON* [121 Points]
7x WDC (2008, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) | Seasons: 14 | Top Ten: 14 | Starts: 265 | Poles: 98 | Wins: 95
Lewis Hamilton | Mercedes W11 | 2020
We all knew he was either going to first or second... Well, he's second for the time being. It's the recent 7 times World Champion and King of the 2010's, Lewis Hamilton himself. What can I really say? His accolades speak for themselves, 14 seasons, 7 title, almost a century of poles and wins. Love him or hate him you can't deny the skill and quality of this man, he deserves his flowers whether you think he's the greatest or not. Hamilton joined McLaren in 2007, partnering double World Champion: Fernando Alonso and storming to 2nd place in the standings, just 1 point shy of the title as a rookie and level on points with Alonso. Returning in 2008, he won the title by exactly same margin, 1 point in his favour over Felipe Massa, in what was the most intense title showdown of modern times at the Brazilian GP. (If for some reason you haven't seen it, I urge you to watch it). Since joining Mercedes in 2013 his driving style has become more calm and calculated with every season. In 2020 he has equalled Michael Schumacher's 7 world titles and passed his all time wins record. Unless something drastic happens next season I'm sure he will be up another place on this list come the end of 2021. Time will tell.
#1 - Michael SCHUMACHER [125 Points]
7x WDC (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004) | Seasons: 19 | Top Ten: 16 | Starts: 306 | Poles: 68 | Wins: 91
Michael Schumacher | Ferrari F2004 | 2004
Surprise, surprise, look who it is! It's only the Greatest to ever do it! Michael Schumacher himself. The original King of F1, the benchmark for all drivers. He's actually done it all and more, rewriting almost every record in the sport, holding the wins record for 19 years and record for most World Championships for 14 years. The only driver in history to top two decades, topping the 90's at 58 points to Häkkinen's 45, going on to dominate the first half of the 2000s topping the decade once again with an impressive 57 to Räikkönen's 47. Growing up I wasn't the biggest fan of Michael, he was always winning and I supported the silver team, it was only once I grew up did I understand just how brilliant he was. Fast, strategic, reliable and adaptable he was undeniably in another league to anyone else on the grid and no matter what you think of him on track, off track he was the perfect gentleman. It was actually Ferrari and Schumacher's success that helped me appreciate the job Mercedes and Hamilton are doing currently. His comeback from 2010 to 2012 is also included in his points tally taking his top ten finishes in the standings to an unprecedented 16 seasons , he is also the fourth most experienced driver of all time.