Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport, attracting the very best racing drivers from around the world. This list goes through 15 of the best F1 drivers of all time.
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15: Graham Hill
It is tough to compare different eras of Formula One, so there may be many people already upset by this list. But Graham Hill starts at number 15. Hill is one of the most celebrated racing drivers in history, being the only driver in motorsport ever to win the Triple Crown. This is because Hill won in Monaco and won the Indy 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
As well as his success in motorsport, Hill was also very decorated in F1, winning two world championships. Hill’s first came in 1962, when he won four of the nine races across the season, to beat out drivers like Jim Clark and Bruce McLaren to the driver’s titles. Hill won again in six years, his last full season in Formula One.
Hill is another example of a driver who could have been even higher on this list, but the Englishman broke both his legs after the 1969 Grand Prix crash. Hill did recover; in fact, he was able to continue driving until 1975 but never won a race after the 1969 Monaco Grand Prix.
Graham Hill was sadly killed in 1976 when his plane crashed in foggy conditions. His son Damon went on to become Formula One world champion, making them the first father-son pair to both win Formula One World Championships. Hill left a massive legacy on Formula One, a truly phenomenal driver.
14: Max Verstappen
Another pretty controversial call, I think Max Verstappen already deserves a place on this list, and I am sure he will be moving even higher up as his career progresses.
The young dutchman broke onto the F1 scene in 2015, when he was signed for Toro Rosso at 17, making him still the youngest ever driver to start a Formula One race. Verstappen was promoted to the Red Bull in 2016, winning his debut race with the team in Spain after the two leading Mercedes crashes on the first lap.
From then on, Verstappen has been one of the best drivers in Formula One, particularly showing off his skills in wet conditions. But 2021 was the year for the Dutchman. He overcame Lewis Hamilton to win his maiden Formula One world championship on the last lap of the season’s final race. An exceptionally talented driver who will be moving up this list in the future.
13: Nelson Piquet
Brazil has a phenomenal heritage with Formula One, holding a Formula One race almost every season since 1972, with the only exception being the 2020 race. Brazil has had some brilliant drivers, including three-time world champion Nelson Piquet.
Having joined Formula One in 1978, Piquet won his first title just three years later, finishing as the runner-up in 1980. After some poor performances in 1982, Piquet had an amazing resurgence in 1983, winning the title in the final race of the season over Alain Prost, having been 14 points behind Prost with three races to go in the season.
It was not Piquet’s last title either. In 1987, Piquet won the title again, this time with Williams, winning his first two titles with Brabham. It was another brilliant performance for Piquet, proving just how good a Formula One driver the Brazilian was.
12: Nigel Mansell
In terms of iconic moments in British motorsport, there may not be a more iconic moment than Nigel Mansells’ win at Silverstone in 1992, with the crowd invading the track after Mansell crossed the finish line. It was a brilliant moment in Formula One history, from a brilliant Formula One driver.
Mansell was brilliant throughout his Formula One career, which started in 1980. Mansell drove for Lotus at the start of his career, but after failing to win a race with Lotus, he moved to Williams in 1985, finally winning a race in his first season with Williams. But Mansells’ time with Williams did not produce any world championships, finishing second in the driver’s championship in 1986 and 1987.
After a poor two seasons with Ferrari, Mansell returned to Williams in 1991, finally winning a world title in 1992 after dominating the season. Mansell dominated the 1992 season with the Williams FW14B winning more than double the points of any other team, with Mansells’ winning margin of 48% being the highest in Formula One history.
Mansell was extremely close to winning more F1 titles, but he still deserves a place on this list despite only winning one.
11: Mika Hakkinen
One of the many drivers cursed to have driven at the same time as the dominant Michael Schumacher. The Finn was still able to win two titles while pushing Schumacher close in 2000.
Hakkinen did not have much success outside of his title-winning years. The Finn’s first five seasons did not produce any wins, and Hakkinen only won one race in 1997. But in 1998, Hakkinen and McLaren took a huge step forward. The Finn won eight races, including winning the title in Japan after Michael Schumacher retired on lap 31 due to a puncture.
The following year, Schumacher’s teammate Eddie Irvine pushed Hakkinen close, with the Finn once again winning the title after winning the final race in Japan. Hakkinen managed to do this in a car in which his teammate David Coulthard could only win two races in.
Hakkinen only races for two more seasons after his back-to-back titles, despite leading the championship by six points with four races to go. Hakkinen drove phenomenally, deserving a place on this list.
10: Jim Clark
A few of the younger Formula One fans will ask who Jim Clark is. But the Scottish-born Brit was the original Nigel Mansell or Lewis Hamilton, a championship-winning British driver. Clark was very unlike many drivers of his day, a real introvert who had vast amounts of talent.
Clark began his Formula One career over 60 years ago, in 1960 with Lotus. Clark became a career man with Lotus, hardly surprising considering Clark’s success with the British team. After finishing second in 1962, Clark won the 1963 world championship, winning seven of the ten races in the season to win the title comfortably.
Clark and Lotus won again in 1965. This time Clark won six out of the nine races in the season as he won his second world championship. Sadly, it turned out to be his last title after he was killed in a racing accident in Formula 2.
Clark was the greatest driver of his time, achieving 33 pole positions and 25 race wins in his 72 starts in Formula One. Clark also came close to winning the triple crown, having won the Indy 500 and finishing third at Le Mans. A brilliant career sadly cut short.
9: Jackie Stewart
One of the men most affected by Clarks’ death was fellow Scotsman Jackie Stewart, a key figure on and off the grid. On the track, Stewart was brilliant. Making his debut in 1965, Stewart won a race in his rookie season. It was only four seasons later than Stewart won his first Formula One title, a year after moving to Matra in 1968.
Stewart would further his legacy in 1971 and 1973, winning six and five races in those seasons respectively to become a three-time world champion, becoming the most successful British driver at the time. But Stewarts’ legacy in Formula One goes far beyond his incredible achievements on the track.
Having seen drivers like Jim Clark and Jo Schlesser die in racing accidents, Stewart campaigned for increased safety in motorsport, particularly after his awful crash in Spa, where there were no doctors or medical facilities to tend to Stewart. His continued campaigning meant that Formula One got a lot safer. Barriers, run-off areas, and medical facilities all improved.
Jackie Stewart is one of the most impactful drivers in Formula One history and one of the most talented drivers in the history of Formula One.
8: Fernando Alonso
If this list was judged simply on raw talent, there is a pretty good case for Fernando Alonso being even higher on this list. The Spaniard is one of the best drivers of his generation, giving an entire generation of young Spanish drivers someone to look up to.
Making his debut in 2001, Alonso is miraculously still driving 20 years on, extending his contract to race with Alpine in 2022. Alonso won the team two world championships with Renault in 2005 and 2006, the French team’s only championships. This was despite the best efforts of some incredible talent on the grid.
Fernando also came extremely close to being a four-time world champion, losing the title in the season’s last race in 2010 and 2012. He could never deliver Ferrari the championship he was brought in to do. Still, Alonso is phenomenally talented, currently having 35 wins in his F1 career, and will likely break the record for most starts in an F1 career, as long as he starts 17 races this season.
Alonso is a brilliant, exciting, and incredibly talented driver who has been successful wherever he goes. So close to being a four-time world champion, Alonso is a spectacular driver, with 10 points off being much higher on this list.
7: Nikki Lauda
In terms of stories, there is no better story than that of Nikki Lauda’s career, a comeback so spectacular it became a movie.
Lauda won the world title in 1975, but his career and life looked over in 1976, after a horrifying crash in the German Grand Prix left him with life-threatening injuries that doctors say should have killed him.
Despite this, Lauda was back in a Formula One car six weeks later, although the 1976 title was now out of reach. Lauda bounced back brilliantly, winning the title in 1977. But his closest title battle came a decade after his F1 debut when he pipped his McLaren teammate Alain Prost to the title by just half a point.
Lauda became a key figure for Mercedes in their dominance during the turbo-hybrid era, but he is still rightfully remembered as a brilliant racing driver. Lauda won 25 races in his career, a career that could have very easily been cut short. But the Austrian showed more guts than possibly any Formula One driver in history. A truly amazing person and racing driver.
6: Juan Manuel Fangio
When Formula One was just beginning, Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio dominated a decade of Formula One, with Fangio winning five F1 championships throughout the 1950s.
Fangio was one of the drivers who competed in the very first season of Formula One back in 1950, finishing the season in second in the drivers’ championship after his retirement in the final race opened the door for Giuseppe Farina to win the title. But Fangio’s 1950 season heartbreak became quickly forgotten.
The Argentinian would go on to win five world championships, winning all five within the first eight seasons, winning 24 races across that time. Fangio gave Mercedes their first Formula One world championships.
It may be difficult to compare Fangio to other drivers, as Formula One was incredibly different in the 1950s. But Fangio retired with an incredible record, retiring with the highest winning % in F1 history, a record still standing today, over 60 years since Fangio retired. His win % of 47.06% is the best of all time.
An incredible driver who helped to put Formula One on the map.
5: Alain Prost
France has had some brilliant Formula One drivers, but there are none better than Alain Prost. Having begun karting at the age of 14 on a family holiday, Prost started moving through the Formulas before making his Formula One debut in 1980. Prost started his Formula One career with McLaren but finally found success with the team after an unsuccessful time with Renault.
1985 saw Prost’s first title, winning five races to win the title easily. 1986 was a much closer affair, as Prost won in Australia to claim the title after Nigel Mansell retired during the race. Prost won more titles in 1989 and 1993, creating some brilliant title fights between him and Ayrton Senna.
Prost and Senna’s rocky relationship is crucial for Formula One history. The two were teammates at McLaren, but Prost left the team on bad terms at the end of the 1989 season. Prost’s record shows how excellent a driver was, but he was also incredibly close to more titles.
The Frenchman finished second in the drivers’ championship four times, including finishing two points behind Nelson Piquet in 1983, and finishing half a point behind Niki Lauda in 1984, the closest margin of all time. A brilliant driver whose calmness led him to incredible success.
4: Sebastian Vettel
I think there are quite a few drivers frustrated by the dominance of Mercedes during the hybrid era, but possibly none more than Sebastian Vettel. The Germans’ incredible time with Red Bull seems a lifetime ago, but it can’t be forgotten how good Vettel was from 2010-2013.
Having shot to attention after a miraculous win with Toro Rosso in Monza in 2008, Vettel won the title two years later with Red Bull, despite being 25 points behind Fernando Alonso with two races to go. Vettel then dominated the 2011 season before a brilliant fightback in Brazil in 2012 gave him his third title.
Since again dominating the sport in 2013, Vettel has not seen a title since, to the frustration of Ferrari, who he moved to in 2015. But the German has probably been Lewis Hamiltons’ closest competition throughout the turbo-hybrid era, simply being unlucky enough to drive at the same time as a dominant car and driver.
Despite no titles in his time with Ferrari, Vettel’s time with Red Bull is one of the best four-year spells in F1 history, as Vettel is only the fourth driver to win four titles in a row. An incredible driver during a brilliant generation of Formula One.
3: Ayrton Senna
The Brazilian is considered by many to be the most talented driver of all time, despite not having as many world championships or wins as others on this list. But Senna is the perfect example of the stats not telling the full story.
The Brazilian pursued a career in racing due to his love for it, making his debut in 1984. Senna outperformed his Toleman car, earning him a move to McLaren in 1988. Senna’s move brought immediate success, winning the title in 1988. Senna became the undoubted number one driver for McLaren in 1990 when Alain Prost left for Ferrari.
Senna would go on to win the title in 1990 and 1991, with his driving skill constantly being on display with incredible performances throughout his career. Sadly, Senna was killed at the 1994 Imola Grand Prix after his car’s steering column failed. It was an incredibly sad ending to the career of a legend.
Senna had a significant impact on Formula One in his short career. The Brazilian was a phenomenal driver, and one of the best Formula One has ever seen.
2: Michael Schumacher
No words can accurately describe just how good of a Formula One driver Schumacher was. When the German retired at the end of 2012, he was the most successful driver of all time. Schumacher finished his career with an unbelievable 91 wins and seven world championships.
Schumacher began his Formula One career in 1991, and he managed to pick up his first win just one season later at Spa. Schumacher then won eight races in 1994 to win the title before winning nine races in 1995 to win back-to-back titles. This success gave Schumacher a move to Ferrari in 1996, but the German did not win a title in his first four seasons with Ferrari, including being disqualified from the 1997 season.
But once the 21st century started, Schumacher began a five-year dominance of the sport that has only been seen one other time in Formula One. Schumacher won 48 races across five seasons, including winning 13 in 2004, as Schumacher became a seven-time world champion.
His incredible dominance made him a hero to many current Formula One drivers. He is a brilliant driver who we hope to see back in the public light soon.
1: Lewis Hamilton
There are very few records in Formula One not currently held by Lewis Hamilton. The Stevenage-born driver may have missed out on the title in 2021, but he is still undoubtedly the greatest driver in Formula One history, having dominated the sport with Mercedes for many years.
Hamilton came incredibly close to winning the title in his rookie season but managed to win the title in his second season. After struggling with McLaren, Lewis took the surprise move to Mercedes in 2013. But it paid off massively for Hamilton.
Lewis won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015, as Mercedes were able to adapt to the massive engine changes brilliantly. Mercedes dominance continued, with Hamilton winning four titles from 2017 to 2020, with very little difficulty at all. In fact, he even won 11 of the 15 races he started in 2020, which became his most dominant season.
Hamilton will look to bounce back in 2022, and it would be hardly surprising for Hamilton to end the 2022 season as an eight-time world champion. Hamilton is the best Formula One driver of all time, a truly magnificent athlete.