Monthly Archives: May 2015

The 25 Greatest Grand Prix Drivers of All-Time

British actor Peter Egan once said “Racing makes heroin addiction look like a vague wish for something salty.” Think about it, what is grand prix racing- two dozen men driving in 1000 lb. metallic beasts round and round in circles at speeds that would make any sane man run for cover. Normal mortals don’t sign up for a life like this; it takes deranged and ambitious men to make something like this their life’s passion. Ever since grand prix racing began in its primitive format over a century ago, the sport has seen many great drivers. This is my attempt to chronicle the 25 greatest men to sit in the cockpit of a grand prix car.

First of all, this list is not limited simply to Formula One. It covers top-flight racing before the initiation of Formula One as well. However, for the sake of uniformity, I have only included single-seater cockpit cars (the kind used in Formula One), which excludes all sports cars, stock cars, and touring car championships like the NASCAR. Additionally, while IndyCar uses cars similar to the modern F1 cars, it is not an international series and with a few exceptions, has always been dominated by American drivers. Hence, performance in IndyCar and other American Championships is excluded from my criteria as well. In fact, I have only considered a driver’s performance in the following series:-

  • European Championship- Started in 1927 by the AIACR (which later became FIA), the “Grandes Epreuves” was the most prestigious GP series in the world in the 1930s. Although its winner was officially called the European Champion, he was considered a de facto World Champion.
  • Formula One World Championship- Initiated by the FIA in 1950, Formula 1 racing is considered the pinnacle of grand prix racing. The season champion in F1 is considered the World Champion in GP racing. It is the most prestigious and richest GP racing series in the world. The Formula One seasons had started as early as 1946 by the AIACR but there was no drivers’ championship till 1949. I have mentioned these seasons as “Formula-A” (the earlier name of F1) in order to avoid confusion.

It is not an easy task, comparing champions from different eras. Each era has its own challenges and pitfalls, along with some benefits. It is my opinion (not saying it’s a fact) that the period from the mid-70s to the mid-90s was the toughest for any driver in the history of top-flight grand prix racing. The cars were getting quicker but no safer. On an average, there was at least one fatality every year (a total of 13 drivers died in the 1970s alone); and there was simply no dearth of competition. I mean look at just some of the names who raced during this period; you had the likes of Emerson Fittipaldi, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Mario Andretti, Ronnie Peterson, Gilles Villeneuve, Keke Rosberg, Jody Scheckter, Nelson Piquet, Nigell Mansell, and of course the forever at-war pair of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. You will find most of these names in this list and some, which probably you have never heard of.

The drivers in this list are from all eras, winning a total of 51 World Championships (out of 64) and five European Championships (out of six). The oldest driver here was born in 1892 and started racing in the 1920s, while at the other end of the spectrum are three names that are currently racing actively. I have attempted to be as objective as I can in ranking these drivers, but still personal preferences and bias has crept in to some extent. I say, keep an open mind, read about them, and for God’s sake, if your favourite driver isn’t here, please do not lynch me!

  1. JEAN-PIERRE WIMILLE (Fra) (1908-49) (Career- 1930-48) (European Championship, Formula-A)
Jean Pierre Wimille in his Bugatti at the 1939 Coupe de Paris

Jean Pierre Wimille atop his Bugatti at the 1939 Coupe de Paris

European Race Starts- 13; Formula-A Race Starts- 12, Wins- 4; Other Major GP wins- 18

One of the early masters of Grand Prix racing, Wimille began his racing career at the age of 22 in the prestigious French Grand Prix. Before the war, he did register a few major victories – 1936 French GP, the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1937 and 1939 – but his appearances in the European Championship were sporadic. Driving exclusively for Bugatti, he participated in 13 championship races but never finished on the podium. It was after the war in the newly started Formula-A that Wimille reached the peak of his driving skills. Driving an Alfa Romeo, he won two races each in the 1947 and 48 seasons. However, the absence of a Driver’s Championship meant that despite being the best driver in the world, Wimille was never officially crowned the World Champion. He died on the wheel during the practice runs for the 1949 Buenos Aires Grand Prix.

  1. JOCHEN RINDT (Aut) (1942-70) (Career- 1964-70) (Formula 1)
Jochen Rindt in his Lotus at the 1970 German GP

Jochen Rindt in his Lotus at the 1970 German GP

Race Starts- 60, Wins- 6, Podiums- 13, World Titles- 1

The only driver to win the Formula One Driver’s Championship posthumously, Jochen Rindt had a brief but memorable foray into the world of Formula One. Having made his F1 debut in 1964, the Austrian spent the first few seasons driving inferior cars and lagging behind the championship leaders. He did win the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1965 but F1 success eluded him. It was in 1969 when he switched to Lotus that Rindt found success. He won his first race at the 1969 US Grand Prix and finished 4th in the championship standings. The following year, the 28-year old won five races, including four in a row to take a staggering lead in the Championship race. Despite his tragic death during the practice for Italian GP, which meant he earned no points in the last four races, Rindt finished five points clear of his nearest rival, and became the only man be the World Champion posthumously.

  1. MARIO ANDRETTI (US) (b 1940) (Career- 1968-82) (Formula 1)
Mario Andretti celebrates his Indianapolis 500 victory

Mario Andretti celebrates his Indianapolis 500 victory

Race Starts- 128, Wins- 12, Podiums- 19, World Titles- 1

Andretti’s name is synonymous with speed in the United States due to his status as that rare American driver to achieve international success and fame. Andretti began his career in stock car racing before moving on to GP racing in the US. He was mostly a part-time racer in the Formula 1 between 1968 and 1974 and focussed more on IndyCar racing, where he won three titles. But from 1975, he became a full-time Formula 1 driver, and helped a struggling Lotus team revive its fortunes. In 1977, he won four races but still finished only 3rd in the standings due to reliability issues with car. The following year, having addressed Lotus’ consistency issues, Andretti dominated the field and won the title, becoming one of the rare drivers to win both the F1 World Championship and the IndyCar Championship. He returned to IndyCar after 1982 where he won another title in 1984, at the age of 44.

  1. BERND ROSEMEYER (Ger) (1909-38) (Career- 1935-37) (European Championship)
Bernd Rosemeyer in his Silver Arrow, c. 1935

Bernd Rosemeyer in his Silver Arrow, c. 1935

Race Starts- 12, Wins- 3, Podiums- 6, European Titles- 1; Other Major GP wins- 7

A darling of the German masses, Rosemeyer was one of the first superstars of GP racing. When he joined the Auto Union racing team in the 30s, he had no experience in racing cars, having only raced motorcycles before. But the young German was quick to learn the tricks of the trade. He debuted in the European Championship in 1935 and duelled with the great Rudolf Caracciola in only his second race at the Nurburgring. Later that year, he won his first race in Czechoslovakia becoming the first rookie to win a championship GP. The following year, he won three out of the four races of the season, decimating all competition and becoming the youngest European Championship at 26. He also won the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup in America and the German GP three times in a row. Rosemeyer died in January 1938 during a land-speed record attempt, having set a new world record of 432 km/hr.

  1. GRAHAM HILL (Eng) (1929-75) (Career- 1958-75) (Formula 1)
Graham Hill celebrates his 1966 Indianapolis 500 victory . Image © The Times

Graham Hill celebrates his 1966 Indianapolis 500 victory . Image © The Times

Race Starts- 176, Wins- 14, Podiums- 36, World Titles- 2

One-half of the only father-son pair to win the Formula 1 World Championship (his son Damon was the champion in 1996), Graham Hill remains one of the most successful drivers in GP racing history. In a long and distinguished career, Hill became the first (and till date only) man to win the Triple Crown of Motorsport – the F1 World Championship, 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Indianapolis 500. The Briton entered F1 racing in 1958 and after a few quiet seasons, hit the jackpot by winning his first world title in 1962. Forming a great rivalry with Jim Clarke, Hill finished the runner-up in the championship standings in the following three seasons before winning his second world championship in 1968. He registered his last victory in 1969 but continued to compete even afterwards. Hill was still active in F1 at the age of 46 when he died when a plane he was piloting crashed in London.

  1. MIKA HAKINNEN (Fin) (b 1968) (Career- 1991-2001) (Formula 1)
Mika Hakinnen after winning the 1998 FIA World Championship. Image © F1

Mika Hakinnen after winning the 1998 FIA World Championship. Image © F1

Race Starts- 161, Wins- 20, Podiums- 51, World Titles- 2

The original ‘Flying Finn’, Hakinnen overcame a life threatening injury early on in his career to finish as a two-time world champion. Making his F1 debut with Lotus, Hakinnen joined McLaren in 1993, the team with which he would remain for the remainder of his career. In 1994, he became the team’s lead driver after the exit of Ayrton Senna but a near-fatal crash at the 1995 Australian GP put his promising career on a hold. A resilient Hakinnen made a remarkable comeback to Formula One the following season. With the McLaren team making considerable improvements, Hakinnen won the title in 1998 winning eight out of the 16 races, and repeated the feat the following year with five victories. In 2000, he narrowly missed out on making it a hat-trick of world titles due to a late charge in the season by Michael Schumacher. The Finn retired from F1 at the end of the 2001 season.

  1. NELSON PIQUET (Bra) (b 1952) (Career- 1978-91) (Formula 1)
Nelson Piquet. Image © F1

Nelson Piquet. Image © F1

Race Starts- 204, Wins- 23, Podiums- 60, World Titles- 3

Nelson Piquet rose through the ranks of GP racing as a teenager in the 70s breaking Jackie Stewart’s record of most Formula Three wins before making his debut in the big league in 1978. He signed up with Brabham in 1980 and finished second in the drivers’ standings. He won his first world championship in 1981 registering three victories and four podium finishes. After a disappointing 1982 where he failed to finish in as many as nine races, the Brazilian returned splendidly winning his second world title in ’83. Piquet moved to Williams in 1986 and won his third and final world title with them the following year. He finally signed up with Benetton in 1990 but despite advancing age, still remained competitive in his final years. He won two races in 1990 and one in 1991, his final season.

  1. EMERSON FITTIPALDI (Bra) (b 1946) (Career- 1970-80) (Formula 1)
Emerson Fittipaldi after winning the 1974 Belgian GP. Image © The Cahier Archive

Emerson Fittipaldi after winning the 1974 Belgian GP. Image © The Cahier Archive

Race Starts- 144, Wins- 14, Podiums- 35, World Titles- 2

Emerson Fittipaldi remains one of the few drivers to win the Formula One World Championship, the IndyCar Championship, and the Indianapolis 500. The Brazilian joined Lotus as the third driver in the late 1960s and became the team’s no. 1 driver in 1970, following the death of Jochen Rindt. In 1972 Lotus unveiled what was known as ‘the greatest Formula one design of all time’ – Lotus 72D, and Fittipaldi easily won the drivers’ championship that year, winning five out of the 11 races. He was then, the youngest champion in F1 history. An unreliable car cost him the championship next season and Fittipaldi left Lotus for McLaren in 1974. That year, he won his second world title and finished runner-up in 1975. The following season, he sprang a surprise by leaving a highly competitive McLaren to join his brother’s Copersucar-Fittipaldi team, where he stayed for the remainder of his career without any success.

  1. GILLES VILLENEUVE (Can) (1950-82) (Career- 1977-82) (Formula 1)
Gilles Villeneuve in his Ferrari

Gilles Villeneuve in his Ferrari

Race Starts- 67, Wins- 6, Podiums- 13

He may not have a Formula One world championship to his name but Gilles Villeneuve has something that several world champions can only dream of – an F1 racetrack named after him. The Canadian driver began his career racing snowmobiles and winning the Canadian and American championships in the sport. In 1976, Villeneuve beat world champion James Hunt and several other F1 drivers in a non-championship race. Promptly, he was signed by McLaren for the 1977 season. But it was for Ferrari that he won his first race – his home GP in Canada in 1978. He finished 2nd in the drivers’ championships in 1979 behind Jody Scheckter. Villeneuve continued to develop as a driver over the next few seasons and when many believed, he was reaching his best, he lost is life in a collision with Jochen Mass during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix. His son Jacques became the first Canadian to win the Formula One World Championship in 1997.

  1. JACK BRABHAM (Aus) (1926-2014) (Career- 1955-70) (Formula 1)
Jack-Brabham celebrates his victory in the 1973 World Championship

Jack-Brabham celebrates his victory in the 1973 World Championship

Race Starts- 126, Wins- 14, Podiums- 31, World Titles- 3

Jack Brabham’s contribution to Formula One is twofold – first as a three-time World Champion, and second as the founder and owner of the Brabham Racing Team. Somewhat of a late bloomer, the Australian driver began his F1 career in 1955 but it wasn’t until three seasons later that he became a regular driver for Cooper. He won his first world title the following year with two victories and three podium places. In 1960, Brabham put on his most dominant display yet, winning five back-to-back races and easily winning his second world championship. In 1962, he left Cooper to start his own team, where he drove himself. The Brabham racing side developed slowly and in 1966, Brabham became the first and only driver to win the world title driving his own car. He finished runner-up the following season and after a couple of indifferent seasons, retired in 1970.

  1. LEWIS HAMILTON (Eng) (b 1985) (Career- 2007 onwards) (Formula 1)
Lewis Hamilton, the youngest double world champion

Lewis Hamilton, the youngest double world champion

Race Starts- 152, Wins- 36, Podiums- 74, World Titles- 2

When he was ten years old, Hamilton famously told the McLaren team boss Ron Dennis, “I want to race for you one day, I want to race for McLaren.” He was signed by the team in their Young Drivers Programme and rose through the ranks winning titles in Formula Three and GP2 before making his F1 debut in 2007 at the age of 22. Hamilton took the F1 world by storm, registering seven podiums and two victories in his first nine races. He won two more races but lost out in the title race by just one point. It was the best performance by a rookie in F1 history. He made amends by becoming Formula One’s youngest world champion the following year. After a few dull seasons, Hamilton switched to Mercedes in 2013, where he roared to success the following year, beating team-mate Nico Rosberg to the title, winning 11 out of 19 races.

  1. NIGEL MANSELL (Eng) (b 1953) (Career- 1980-95) (Formula 1)
Nigel Mansell on the podium of the 1992 British GP

Nigel Mansell on the podium of the 1992 British GP

Race Starts- 187, Wins- 31, Podiums- 59, World Titles- 1

Nigel Mansell holds the unique honour of holding both the Formula One World Championship and the IndyCar title simultaneously. The British driver began his F1 career for Lotus in the early 1980s but it was after he moved to Williams in 1985 that he managed to register his first GP win. He finished runner-up in the championship with Williams in 1986 and 1987 before racing for Ferrari for two seasons. Mansell returned to Williams in 1991 and again finished runner-up with five victories in the season. The following year was his annus mirabilis as Mansell clinched his only world title with nine victories from 16 races. In a surprising move, he moved to IndyCar racing the next year where he promptly won the American Championship, becoming the only driver to hold both the titles. He made a brief comeback to F1, starting six races in 1994-95 and winning the 1994 Australian GP.

  1. FERNANDO ALONSO (Esp) (b 1981) (Career- 2001 onwards) (Formula 1)
Fernando Alonso after winning the 2005 World Championship. Image © Christine Blachford

Fernando Alonso after winning the 2005 World Championship. Image © Christine Blachford

Race Starts- 238, Wins- 32, Podiums- 97, World Titles- 2

When he began his F1 career for Minardi, at 19 years, Fernando Alonso was the third youngest driver to start a Formula One GP. The following season, he signed up as the test driver for the Renault team and in 2003, got his first start for the team. That year, he became the youngest man to achieve a pole position and the youngest to register a win in Formula One. In 2005, in a very competitive Renault car, Alonso ended Michael Schumacher’s five-year streak and became F1’s youngest world champion. The following year, he repeated his performance and again won the world title with seven wins in 18 races. Spending one season with McLaren, Alonso returned to Renault before moving to Ferrari in 2010 and finished runner-up in the championship on three occasions for the Italian team. Still only 33, Alonso has a very realistic chance of winning many more races and possibly, even the championship.

  1. ALBERTO ASCARI (Ita) (1918-55) (Career- 1947-55) (Formula-A, Formula 1)
Alberto Ascari poses for the camera. Image - The Daily Mail

Alberto Ascari poses for the camera. Image – The Daily Mail

Formula-A Race Starts- 9, Wins- 2; F1 Race Starts- 32, Wins- 13, Podiums- 17, World Titles- 2

The son of Antonio Ascari, himself a grand prix champion in the 1920s, Alberto put on his father’s racing shoes after the end of World War II. He raced in the Grand Prix circuit (Formula-A) with Maserati and dominated the field in the early years. Apart from winning one race each in 1948 and 1949, he won several minor races too. Ascari joined Ferrari towards the end of the 1949 season. In the inaugural Formula One season, Ascari finished 5th in the championship standings but immediately made improvements, finishing 2nd in 1951. The following year, he obliterated all competition, winning six races in a row (in a seven-race season) and won his first world title. He successfully defended his crown in 1953, winning five races. Ascari left Ferrari after this season and joined Lancia but only started five races for them over the next two seasons before his untimely death at Monza in 1955.

  1. TAZIO NUVOLARI (Ita) (1892-1953) (Career- 1924-49) (European Championship)
Tazio Nuvolari in the pits. Image © National Media Museum, UK

Tazio Nuvolari in the pits. Image © National Media Museum, UK

Race Starts- 25, Wins- 4, Podiums- 7, European Titles- 1; Other Major GP wins- 20

With over 150 career victories including 24 GP races, Nuvolari was a giant of the game; the man whom Ferdinand Porsche called ‘the greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future’. He began his career racing motorcycles in 1920 and even won the 350cc European Championship before moving to cars in 1931. Driving for Alpha Romeo in the newly started European Championship, Nuvolari won the title in 1932. The Italian then moved to Ferrari but despite a memorable victory in the German GP, he lost out in the title race to the superior German cars. After his relationship with Enzo Ferrari took a turn for the worse, Nuvolari drove for the Auto Union, with whom he won the 1938 Italian GP. Even though he was in his 50s after the war, Nuvolari returned to GP racing and even won some minor races. During his long career, he also won five Coppa Cianos, two Mille Miglias, two Targa Florios, two RAC Tourist Trophies, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

  1. STIRLING MOSS (Eng) (b 1929) (Career- 1951-61) (Formula 1)
Stirling Moss aka the 'Runner-Up'

Stirling Moss aka the ‘Runner-Up’

Race Starts- 66, Wins- 16, Podiums- 24

Widely acknowledged as ‘the greatest driver never to win the World Championship’, Stirling Moss was a force to be reckoned with in the early years of Formula One. He first drove in the 1951 Swiss GP for Hersham and Walton but remained on the fringes for the next few seasons driving for different teams. He was signed by Mercedes for the 1955 season and finished runner-up in the drivers’ championship, registering his first GP win in the process. Moss was the runner-up in the next three seasons as well, losing out to Juan Manuel Fangio in ’56 and ’57, and Mike Hawthorne in ’58. Not to be undone, the Briton continued his consistent performance finishing 3rd in the championship from 1959-61, making it seven years in a row where he finished in the top three. In 1962, he suffered a life-threatening accident that put him out of action for a year. Even though he recovered, he retired from racing after that.

  1. SEBASTIEN VETTEL (Ger) (b 1987) (Career- 2007 onwards) (Formula 1)
Sebastien Vettel, the youngest to do a hat-trick of world titles

Sebastien Vettel, the youngest to do a hat-trick of world titles

Race Starts- 143, Wins- 40, Podiums- 69, World Titles- 4

One of the most dominant drivers in motorsport, the German is one of the leading lights in Formula One currently. Having made his F1 debut for Sauber in 2006 as a 19-year old, he drove for Red Bull’s secondary team Torro Rosso in 2008. The following year, Vettel graduated to the main team and finished the season as runner-up in the drivers’ standings. Beginning his most dominant phase, he then went on to win the world title from 2010 to 2013 (one of only three men to win the world title four years in a row). He holds the records for several ‘youngests’ in F1 – youngest to lead a race, youngest to win a GP, youngest to win pole, youngest world champion, and youngest multiple world champion. Additionally, he also holds the record for most consecutive GP wins (9). For all his accomplishments, it is remarkable that Sebastien Vettel is only 27 years old and has ample time to rewrite the record books further.

  1. NIKI LAUDA (Aut) (b 1949) (Career- 1971-85) (Formula 1)
Niki Lauda in one of his post-accident victories

Niki Lauda in one of his post-accident victories

Race Starts- 171, Wins- 25, Podiums- 54, World Titles- 3

If they had a world title for resilience and determination, Niki Lauda would win it hands down. Lauda made his way up from Formula Two to the big leagues in the early 1970s, racing for Mach and BRM. But it wasn’t until his move to Ferrari in 1974 that his true genius emerged. He won his first world title in ‘75. The following season, Lauda started imperiously, taking the fight away from his rivals to a point where it seemed a second Championship was a mere formality. But at Nurburgring, the Austrian suffered a horrific crash that caused extensive burns to his face and head. Remarkably, a far from fit Lauda returned to racing in just six weeks in an effort to salvage his championship hopes. He lost out that year to a resurgent James Hunt but won the title again in 1977 and retired two seasons later. In 1982, Lauda made a surprise comeback to racing for McLaren, racing for four more seasons and winning yet another world title in ’84.

  1. RUDOLF CARACCIOLA (Ger) (1901-59) (Career- 1931-39) (European Championship)
Rudolf Caracciola, the most decorated race-car driver in history

Rudolf Caracciola, the most decorated race-car driver in history

Race Starts- 24, Wins- 10, Podiums- 17, European Titles- 3; Other Major GP wins- 13

One of the earliest masters of wet weather conditions, Rudolf Caracciola remains one of the most dominant drivers in the history of grand prix racing. Having won several minor GP races in the late ‘20s, Caracciola debuted in the 1932 European Championship for Alpha Romeo. He won his first Grandes Epreuves that year in Germany and finished 3rd in the standings. After Alpha Romeo withdrew the following season, Caracciola was left without a drive and spent two seasons in the wilderness racing for his own team in minor races. He made a comeback in 1935 for Mercedes and promptly won his first Championship. He won lost out to a young Bernd Rosemeyer in the championship standings in 1936 but dominated the field in the following two seasons, winning back-to-back Championships. Caracciola was third in the standings in ’39 when war interrupted the season. He attempted a comeback after the war but at 45, he was way past his prime.

  1. JACKIE STEWART (Sco) (b 1939) (Career- 1965-73) (Formula 1)
Jackie Stewart, who retired from F1 as the reigning World Champion. Image - Fox Sports

Jackie Stewart, who retired from F1 as the reigning World Champion. Image – Fox Sports

Race Starts- 99, Wins- 27, Podiums- 43, World Titles- 3

In a brief but dominant career, Jackie Stewart established himself as one of the quickest drivers in the history of Formula One. Within one year of his Formula Three debut, Stewart signed with BRM in F1. He won his first race in that very season at Monza and finished 3rd in the Championship, giving indication of things to come. After two indifferent seasons with BRM, he switched to Matra in 1968, and promptly finished as the runner-up in the drivers’ championship that year. Having earned the nickname, ‘the Flying Scot’, Stewart won six of the 11 races in 1969 to win his first world title. Making a move from Matra to Tyrell in 1970, he won the Championship again the following season. Despite four wins in 1972, the Scot had to settle for a runner-up place behind eventual Champion Emerson Fittipaldi. But Stewart made amends in 1973 beating Fittipaldi for his third world title and earning the rare distinction of retiring from the sport as the reigning world champion.

  1. JIM CLARK (Sco) (1936-68) (Career- 1960-68) (Formula 1)
Jim Clark, the only driver to win the F1 World Championship and the Indianapolis 500 in one year

Jim Clark, the only driver to win the F1 World Championship and the Indianapolis 500 in one year

Race Starts- 72, Wins- 25, Podiums- 32, World Titles- 2

A hugely talented and versatile driver, Jim Clark’s genius lay in his ability to adapt to the demands of different types of races and cars. He finished runner-up in his class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959 and 1960, before making his F1 debut mid-season in 1960 for Lotus. After finishing runner-up in the Championship in 1962, Clark won his first world title the following year with seven victories from 10 races. He finished 3rd the following season before fighting back to win his second crown in 1965. This year, he also won the prestigious Indianapolis 500, making him the only driver ever to win the F1 World Championship and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year. After two bad seasons, Clark and Lotus were all set for resurgence in ‘68 with Clarke winning the opening race of the season. However, he was killed in a fatal crash driving in a Formula Two race in Germany the same year. At the time of his death, he held the records for most wins and pole positions in Formula One.

  1. ALAIN PROST (Fra) (b 1955) (Career- 1980-93) (Formula 1)
Alain Prost, often dubbed the 'Professor' for his calculative racing style

Alain Prost, often dubbed the ‘Professor’ for his calculative racing style

Race Starts- 199, Wins- 51, Podiums- 106, World Titles- 4

Alain Prost drove in an era that included some of the most talented and successful drivers in history. That he managed to win four world titles amidst such fierce competition speaks volumes about his talent. After making his debut for McLaren, Prost moved to Renault in 1981 where he finished as the runner-up in the Championship in 1983. He moved back to McLaren the next year, where he again finished 2nd in the standings. Establishing himself as the best driver of his generation, Prost won back-to-back world titles in 1985 and ‘86. He finished 2nd again in 1988 before being crowned the World Champion for a third time in 1989. The Frenchman, known as ‘The Professor’ for his intellectual approach to competition, moved to Ferrari in 1990, winning his fourth and final world title for them in 1993, his final season. It is noteworthy that apart from his four title wins, he also finished second four times, and each time to a fellow all-time great (Piquet in 1983, Lauda in 1984, and Senna in 1988 and 1990).

  1. MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (Ger) (b 1968) (Career- 1991-2012) (Formula 1)
Michael Schumacher, the most successful and popular driver in Formula One history

Michael Schumacher, the most successful and popular driver in Formula One history

Race Starts- 307, Wins- 91, Podiums- 155, World Titles- 7

The most successful driver in the history of grand prix racing, Michael Schumacher dominated Formula One for close to a decade, rewriting record books and earning the sport new fans worldwide. The German began his career for Benetton in 1991, where he won back-to-back world titles in 1994 and 1995, beating Damon Hill both the times. In 1996, Schumacher moved to Ferrari and his stay there was instrumental in the resurgence of the Italian giant. He finished runner-up in the standings in 1997, only to be disqualified later, but repeated the feat the following year. It was at the turn of the century that the Schumacher legend began. From 2000 to 2004, Schumacher won an unprecedented five back-to-back Championships, winning 48 races in the process. This included the 2002 season where he finished on podium in all 17 races and the 2004 season where he won a record 13 times. The Alonso-Renault combine dethroned Schumacher in 2005 as he finished a distant third but the German great made a spirited charge for the title in 2006, only to end up runner-up again. He retired at the end of the season but made a comeback for Mercedes in 2010. However, in the three seasons that he raced for Mercedes, he finished on podium only once. Schumacher comfortably holds the records for most race starts, most wins, most world titles, most podiums and most pole positions in Formula One.

  1. JUAN MANUEL FANGIO (Arg) (1911-1995) (Career- 1949-58) (Formula 1)
Juan Manuel Fangio, the sport's earliest superstar

Juan Manuel Fangio, the sport’s earliest superstar. Image – Associated Press

Race Starts- 51, Wins- 24, Podiums- 35, World Titles- 5

The epitome of dominance in motorsport, Juan Manuel Fangio ruled Formula One in its formative years, winning race after race with unparalleled ease and unprecedented efficiency. The Argentine genius made his debut in top-level Grand Prix racing in 1949, winning five out of the seven races he competed in. In 1950, the FIA started the F1 World Championship and Fangio signed for Alfa Romeo. He won all three races he finished but lost in the title race to Guiseppe Farina. The following season, driving more consistently, Fangio won his first world title before moving to Maserati in 1953. He won only a single race that season and again finished runner-up before winning his second crown in 1954, winning six out of the eight races. The remarkable thing about Fangio’s 1954 season is that he drove the first two races for Maserati and the remaining for Mercedes, making him the first driver to win a world title despite switching teams mid-season. Fangio won his third title in 1955, again for Mercedes before switching to Ferrari the following year. The Argentine continued his dominant form winning his fourth world title in five years. Fangio won his fifth and final world title in 1957, this time for Maserati, making him the only driver ever to win three titles in three years for three different teams. His ability to win the title with virtually any team settles the debate that at least in this case, it was the driver and not the car that won titles.

  1. AYRTON SENNA (Bra) (1960-94) (Career- 1984-94) (Formula 1)

Race Starts- 161, Wins- 41, Podiums- 80, World Titles- 3

Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna

Senna differed from other Formula One drivers in a number of ways. First of all, he wasn’t dependant on the car for his performances; then he was never afraid to take risks in order to win; and he was arguably the most fiercely competitive driver in the history of the sport. From the moment he chased the reigning world champion Alain Prost in a rain-hit 1984 Monaco Grand Prix in a Toleman, people knew this Brazilian was meant for bigger things. Debuting for Toleman in 1984, Senna impressed one and all by securing three podium finishes in the season in a relatively inferior machine. The following year, he signed on with Lotus, where he registered his maiden win at Portugal. Senna stayed with Lotus till the end of the 1987 season, winning five more races and securing 12 other podium finishes. But his dream of winning the Championship was only realised in 1988 with his move to McLaren, where he was partnered with the reigning World Champion, the Frenchman Alain Prost. During his record-breaking season, Senna secured 13 pole positions and won eight races to win his first world title, leaving Prost behind in a cloud of dust and igniting a great rivalry.

Senna's trademark insignia

Senna’s trademark insignia

In 1989, Prost won back his crown and Senna finished a distant second despite winning six races. With Prost moving to Ferrari in 1990, Senna became McLaren’s number one driver. This was the peak of his racing abilities as the Brazillian won back to back word titles, winning 13 races in the two seasons. But McLaren’s failure to keep up with Williams and Benetton in 1992 meant that Senna finished a distant fourth that season, despite winning three races, including the prestigious Monaco GP. Senna finished his McLaren career the following year by winning five races and finishing second in the championship behind Prost’s Williams. In 1994, Senna moved to Williams as his great rival retired. In the third race of the season at San Marino, Senna collided with a concrete wall at around 233 kmph. He died later that day at the age of 34. To this day, Ayrton Senna remains the last fatality in the sport of Formula One.

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