Top 15 Drivers in Formula One History

Who is the greatest driver of Formula 1? Does this dress make me look fat? These two questions seem so different from each other that you may wonder why we posted them together. In actuality, answering either one is like walking into a minefield – with quicksand - where once you start answering you soon find to your horror you should have run away in the first place. For any men reading, the answer to the second question is an immediate ‘no,’ preferably before the question is even fully asked. For the first question – who is F1’s greatest driver? – we were going to try and field it but decided it was one of those questions that everyone has their own answers to.

Over its history, F1 has seen its share of great drivers and amazing stories. The record books are filled with names of legendary drivers who have the most titles, fastest laps, highest win percentages or most pole positions. Today, article discussion boards and internet forums are filled with the debate and disagreements over which one of these former drivers was the greatest. Was it Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, Juan Manuel Fangio or someone else? Each has their own set of records and each has some decent arguments to be put forward as the greatest. Senna was fast and great in bad weather conditions. Fangio has the highest win percentage of any driver. Schumacher has the most titles – and so it goes on.

Ken Tyrrell, founder of his own Formula 1 team, enjoyed a life in motorsport which covered over 40 years. When he was 75 years old he was asked who he thought was the best driver. Having seen a lot drivers first hand, Tyrrell put forward one of the best answers – none of them. He thought it impossible to pick one driver over another because they had all never raced against each other in similar cars, on similar tracks, in similar conditions. To use a specific example of what Tyrrell meant; Juan Manuel Fangio drove in the era of front engine cars with no spoilers while someone like Michael Schumacher drove a car with all sorts of aerodynamic parts and mid-mounted engine. How can you pick between two such different racing careers?

This list plays it safe, in a way, by looking at the F1 drivers who have the most wins. If you consider statistics as the measurement of greatness then this list contains the greatest F1 drivers ever. If you never liked math and thought it shouldn’t be used to rate the greatness of athletes, then the following list is a straightforward article about top Grand Prix winners. It’s a win-win and the greatest driver can continue to be whoever you think it should be.

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15 T14. Kimi Raikkonen: 20 wins

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Since 2001 Raikkonen has made a name for himself in the Formula One World Championship. While he started driving with Red Bull Sauber, the Finn didn’t get his first Grand Prix victory until the 2003 Malaysian GP, while driving for McLaren. Rӓikkӧnen made the switch to Ferrari in 2007, the same year he won his first and, so far, only Driver’s Championship. Since then, the number of GP victories has dropped off with the last coming at the 2013 Australian GP. You just feel that if Ferrari can’t get their cars sorted out soon, Raikkonen may find it hard to move any further up the GP wins ranking.

14 T14. Mika Hakkinen: 20 wins

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Tied for 14th is another famous Finnish Formula 1 driver. Between 1991 and 2007 Mika Hӓkkinen enjoyed a successful F1 career with 20 Grand Prix victories. Starting out with Lotus, Hӓkkinen joined McLaren in 1993 and won his first race in 1997. Success didn’t come easy as this was the time of Michael Schumacher’s rise to dominance. Driving a Mercedes powered McLaren, the Finn showed he could beat Schumacher and claimed the Driver’s Championship in 1998 and 1999. One of his greatest race wins is considered to have taken place during the Belgian GP at Spa. There he went head to head with Schumacher retaking the lead after the German had initially passed him.

13 Damon Hill: 22 wins

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In addition to his 22 Grand Prix wins, Damon Hill is the son of a Formula 1 champion to also win a Driver’s Championship. Now retired, Hill raced from 1992 to 1999 and won his only title in 1996 while driving the Renault powered, Rothmans sponsored Williams car. Almost every one of his GP victories came while driving for Williams. The one which didn’t was his last ever win and it came in 1998 during the Belgian GP while driving for Jordan. In comparison with the two Finns before him on this list, some might argue Hill was a ‘greater’ driver because he amassed his victories over eight years.

12 Nelson Piquet: 23 wins

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Between 1978 and 1991 Nelson Piquet won 23 Grand Prix races. A look at his career shows he never really had one single peak but spread his victories out over more than a decade. This is further evident in his championship wins which came in 1981, 1983 and 1987. What is even more impressive about the Brazilian is that, the unreliable BMW powered Brabham aside, he performed well in a variety of cars. Whether a Cosworth powered Brabham, a Honda powered William or a Ford powered Benetton, Piquet always seemed to be able to rack up the wins and finish the season well.

11 Juan Manuel Fangio: 24 wins

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Juan Manuel Fangio is one of the favorite names brought up when discussing potential ‘greatests’ in Formula 1. At first you may wonder why someone who sits 11th on the win list can be considered the greatest driver. The answer becomes clear when you see that Fangio only entered 52 races. That translates into a win percentage of 46% which is miles ahead of anyone else. This also means his 29 poles gives him the highest percentage of pole positions of any driver. In eight seasons, his 24 wins helped propel him to five Driver’s Championships. This was all accomplished by driving for a record four different teams – Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes and Maserati.

10 T9. Niki Lauda: 25 wins

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Even those unfamiliar with Formula 1 have likely heard of Niki Lauda thanks to the 2013 film Rush. Beyond being involved in a fiery crash on the Nurburgring during the 1976 German Grand Prix, not many know that the Austrian had managed to get around that track in under seven minutes during a practice run in 1974 – something most can’t even do on a Playstation today. In any event, Lauda claimed 25 GP wins over his 13 year-long career helping him to win two titles with Ferrari in 1975 and 1977, and one title with McLaren in 1984.

9 T9. Jim Clark: 25 wins

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Forever tied with Niki Lauda at 25 Grand Prix wins is British and Lotus driving legend Jim Clark. From 1960 to 1968, his entire F1 career, Clark only drove for Team Lotus. He took home the Driver’s Championship in 1963 and 1965, two seasons where his Climax V8 powered Lotus dominated the competition. Clark was known for aggressively pushing his cars, regardless of the weather. This was best seen during the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix where he lapped most of the field despite racing in a downpour. Perhaps this aggressive attitude is best highlighted by Clark’s record of 8 Grand-Slams – achieved by not only winning the race but taking the pole, setting the fastest lap time and maintaining the lead through the whole race over eight races.

8 T7. Lewis Hamilton: 27 wins

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Now in his eighth Formula 1 season, Lewis Hamilton is unlikely to remain tied for 7th place for very long. Racing since 2007, Hamilton’s 27 wins have been spread out over the last eight seasons. The British driver has never finished outside the top five in the Driver’s Championship and claimed his first title in 2008 while driving a Mercedes powered McLaren. Today, Hamilton continues to use Mercedes engines but instead of McLarens, they are found in the cars of his current team, Mercedes AMG Petronas. Perhaps Hamilton’s most impressive race was the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix – a race he didn’t win. Starting from the pit lane, he managed to finish the race in third on a track which is notoriously hard to overtake on. He holds a number of debut season-related records and remains in position to push for this season’s Driver Championship.

7 T7. Jackie Stewart: 27 wins

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Sir Jackie Stewart raced in Formula 1 between 1965 and 1973. He recorded his first victory at the 1965 Italian Grand Prix and his final win came at the 1973 German Grand Prix. In all, his 27 wins currently place him in a tie with Lewis Hamilton for 7th, although it’s likely we may find Stewart in 8th place before this season is over. Stewart’s titles were won in 1969, 1971 and 1973. In fact, the 1973 title winning year was his last as he decided before that season to retire. His final win came at the Nurburgring. It proved to be a satisfying victory for Stewart as that particular track frightened him and he admitted having doubts about making it through any German Grand Prix alive.

6 Nigel Mansell: 31 wins

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With a career spanning 15 years, Nigel Mansell currently holds sixth place on the list of winningest Formula 1 drivers. The British born driver raced for a number of teams over the years, including Lotus, Ferrari and McLaren. It was with Williams that Mansell had his greatest successes both in GP wins and titles. In 1986 and 1987, he drove his Honda powered car of Williams to second place season finishes. Mixed results with Ferrari gave way to further Williams success with another second place finish in 1991 and a Driver’s Championship in 1992, a season in which he won 9 GPs.

5 Fernando Alonso: 32 wins

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If Mika Hӓkkinen can be said to have disrupted Michael Schumacher’s early period of dominance in Formula 1, Fernando Alonso helped bring it to a close in the 2000s. The Spaniard raced for Renault F1 Team from 2003 to 2006 successfully battling and defeating Schumacher for the Driver’s Championship in 2005 and 2006 – winning seven races in each of those seasons. Currently, his most recent GP victory came at the 2013 Spanish GP while racing for Ferrari. The 33 year old still has plenty of race life left in him and its likely he’ll add to his win total. Whether or not he can beat the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton this season is another matter.

4 Sebastian Vettel: 39 wins

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German-born Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel began driving in the Championship in 2006. The first Grand Prix win came in 2008 in Italy while driving for Toro Rosso. His move to Red Bull Racing in 2009 began something very special. From 2010 to 2013 Vettel was almost untouchable and claimed four consecutive Driver’s Championships. Over this period he claimed several records, most notably for attaining an impressive 9 consecutive race victories and winning 15 poles in one season. Unfortunately, new rules and engine requirements have seen Vettel fall back in the pack where he currently sits sixth in the Driver’s Championship. Once Red Bull work out the kinks, you wouldn’t bet against him notching up a few more wins.

3 Ayrton Senna: 41 wins

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In the debate of ‘greatest’ drivers, this name always comes up. Fans of Senna believe he was the greatest driver. They are also the quickest to point out that Michael Schumacher even stated that Senna was the greatest. Regardless of what you think, there is no doubting that Senna was good. He was fast, aggressive and pushed his cars regardless of the track and weather conditions. From 1985 to 1993 he never finished lower than fourth in the Driver’s Championship. Behind the wheel of a McLaren he was a winner, taking home the 1988, 1990 and 1991 Driver’s Championships and racking up 41 wins over 10 seasons. In 1994 , Senna had qualified for pole position in each of the first three races. In the first two he was forced to retire. At Imola, the third race of the season, Senna was killed when his car went off the track and slammed into the wall.

2 Alain Prost: 51 wins

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French driver Alain Prost enjoyed a 13 year long career in Formula 1. Over this time, Prost showed himself to be one of the best drivers in the sport, notching 51 wins and taking home four Driver’s Championships. Whether McLaren, Ferrari or Renault, “the Professor” as he was nicknamed, demonstrated his ability to compete, finishing no lower than fifth in the Driver’s Championship in all but his inaugural season. Prost’s first win came at the 1981 French Grand Prix and his last victory was during the 1993 German GP at the Hockenheimring. Until 2001, he held the record for GP victories. That record was surpassed by the next and final driver on our list. Any guesses who?

1 Michael Schumacher: 91 wins

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Statistically, there is no denying Michael Schumacher is the best Formula 1 driver to date. His impressive 91 wins is equaled by 7 Driver’s Championships over a career that spanned 19 seasons. From 2000 to 2004 he was untouchable and won 48 Grand Prix and 5 consecutive titles, itself a record. His 68 poles and 155 podium finishes are equally impressive and help to prove what an all-round complete driver the German was. Despite this, there are those who argue statistics alone do not prove Schumacher as the greatest driver. Thinking back to Ken Tyrrell’s response to who the greatest driver was, they may be right. A case can be made for almost any driver mentioned on this list. In any event, Michael Schumacher probably doesn’t care if he isn’t anointed the greatest driver ever. He likely doesn’t have much time to read the internet debates. After all, polishing 7 Driver’s Championship trophies must take up most of his free time.

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