In just one month, Formula 1 returns when the championship kicks off in Australia on March 15th. Expectations are that Mercedes will retain their dominance from last season, thanks in large part to their PU106B power units and the fact they have Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, last season’s champion and runner-up, driving for them. Of course, the other teams haven’t stood still over the off-season and we all look forward to seeing what sorts of improvements other constructors have done in an effort to catch the champions. Will Ferrari be more competitive after engine development and the addition of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel? Can Lotus jump up the ranks after dropping engine supplier Renault for Mercedes? Will McLaren be a shock contender after taking on Honda as an engine supplier and building the most experienced driving team in the field by bringing in Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button? Only this upcoming F1 season can answer these questions.
Amidst all of these questions concerning the upcoming season, old questions concerning F1, its constructors and drivers continue to dominate forums and discussions. Probably the biggest question which shows no signs of ever going away concerns the best or greatest driver of F1. Take a look around and you’ll see internet forums full of “Prost vs Senna” and “Schumacher vs Fangio” debates. No matter what side of a discussion you take, the reasons for and against a certain driver being crowned ‘the best’ are numerous. Chassis and engine technology, rules and regulations, points systems, track development – they all make comparing any two drivers who never raced against one another very difficult. In an interview with the website Autosport, MotorSport’s editor-in-chief Nigel Roebuck gave the most straightforward reason why determining the greatest is impossible, which you can see here. Specifically, while trying to explain why seven-time champion Michael Schumacher can’t be considered the greatest, Roebuck stated that the German never raced against other great drivers in an equal car. This argument was repeated by others, such as Ken Tyrrell, and pretty much means any ‘greatest’ debate is a never ending black hole for F1 fans.
While this article makes no claims concerning the greatest drivers ever, it does, nonetheless, rank current and former F1 drivers based on success. Using Championship titles as a benchmark can be tricky because not all titles are equal. The number of races in a campaign and the points system for winning has changed over the years making comparisons harder. That said, we’ll stick with Championships for this ranking and use Grand Prix victories as the tie-breaker. Yes, there are still problems with that ranking system as well and we all likely have disagreements over the following 16 drivers. No matter though, because in the race world winning is winning – and second place is just the first loser.
16 Alberto Ascari – 2 Championships (13 GP wins)
15 T14. Emerson Fittipaldi – 2 Championships (14 GP wins)
14 T14. Graham Hill – 2 Championships (14 GP wins)
13 Mika Hakkinen – 2 Championships (20 GP wins)
12 Jim Clark – 2 Championships (25 GP wins)
11 Fernando Alonso – 2 Championships (32 GP wins)
10 Lewis Hamilton – 2 Championships (33 GP wins)
9 Jack Brabham – 3 Championships (14 GP wins)
8 Nelson Piquet – 3 Championships (23 GP wins)
7 Niki Lauda – 3 Championships (25 GP wins)
6 Jackie Stewart – 3 Championships (27 GP wins)
5 Ayrton Senna – 3 Championships (41 GP wins)
4 Sebastian Vettel – 4 Championships (39 GP wins)
3 Alain Prost – 4 Championships (51 GP wins)
2 Juan Manuel Fangio – 5 Championships
1 Michael Schumacher – 7 Championships
When you look at Michael Schumacher’s statistics you probably wonder how on earth a debate exists concerning the best F1 driver. Statistically, he is untouchable. Having notched 68 poles, 155 podium finishes and 91 race victories over his 19 season career, Schumacher definitely knew how to handle a car. Yes, he enjoyed a long spell with the fastest and most reliable car, but you could somewhat counter those points with the fact that the car didn’t drive itself. An arrogant cheater? Indeed, there were times that Ferrari and Schumacher ‘bent’ the rules or displayed poor sportsmanship. In fairness, you’d be hard pressed to argue that most others on this list were 100% squeaky clean when it came to sportsmanship over their entire careers. Regardless of whose side you’re on, having seven Drivers’ titles and 40 more GP victories than the closest rival (Alain Prost) surely crowns Schumacher as the most successful F1 driver of all time.
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