Formula 1 (F1) represents various things to different people. A certain percentage of F1 fans are focused on the races’ sporting elements. Other F1 viewers may find interest in the sport’s technology-driven and innovative atmosphere. Combine these two sides of the F1 coin, and you have the yin-and-yang that exemplifies what these racing events are all about.
You can still find value in F1 racing even if you aren’t a dedicated or casual fan of the sport. The technologies developed within F1 permeate into outside industrial sectors so our lives can be safer and more efficient. This industrial influence is made possible by the vast amounts of research and development drive F1’s technological evolution.
Here are some examples of F1 technology finding its way into our daily lives:
- Pirelli is the sole tire supplier for all F1 teams. If you drive on Pirelli tires, F1 has found its way into your life.
- Many modern hybrid cars utilize a regenerative braking design to supply drivers with more efficient vehicles. Regenerative braking captures braking energy and transforms it into electrical power. The concept of regenerative braking made its way into F1 in 2009 before appearing in modern hybrid vehicles.
- F1 engineers regularly have to make their engines more environmentally sustainable to meet new FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) governing restrictions. This effort to improve eco-efficiency has a positive ripple effect on mainstream vehicle engineering.
- In the early 1980s, McLaren was the first company to use carbon fiber within a race car. The carbon fiber trend continues today within vehicles like the Lamborghini Huracán Performante. Carbon fiber is a durable and lightweight material that improves a car’s overall performance and fuel efficiency.
Let’s cut to the chase. We’re here to reflect on the most significant F1 drivers in the sport’s history.
So—what makes a “great” F1 driver?
What’s behind a Great F1 Driver?
An F1 driver’s handling abilities, engineering knowledge, fitness, and team interactions help create a foundation for a successful racing career. These skills are essential given that plenty of F1 events have been won by lap times that go down to a split-second differential.
You might be wondering why fitness is essential in the realm of F1 competition. Poor fitness can lead to an F1 driver making avoidable mistakes that may lead to neck and back injuries. An in-shape driver with quality reflexes has the means to avoid these types of accidents.
Vital F1 driving knowledge includes, but is not limited to, relying on the best vehicle handling techniques, balancing a car’s weight, changing tires at the right time, saving fuel, and responding to data in real-time.
F1 driving data isn’t solely for the person behind the wheel. A superior F1 driver can communicate registered racing data to their team, so they don’t have to speculate on solutions.
This is a watered-down explanation of what makes an F1 driver great. Let’s look at history’s 10 best F1 drivers to get a better sense of the skills required to accel at this sport.
Why Do Many Consider Michael Schumacher the Best F1 Driver Ever?
Michael Schumacher is a former German F1 race car driver that was born in 1969. Seven championships, 13 race wins in 2004, and a total victory count of 91 prominently displays Schumacher’s racing prowess. Schumacher is the only F1 driver to collect seven championships, register 13 wins in a single season, earn the most points during a single season, record the most consecutive race wins, and register the fastest laps.
This German F1 legend raced for the first time at age four and won his first club championship two years later. Schumacher was so talented at an early age that local businessmen began funding his racing endeavors.
You may be surprised to learn that Schumacher’s first race involved him experiencing clutch issues which led to him exiting during the competition’s first lap. Things would quickly turn around for the German after his first race.
Schumacher never competed without his lucky pendant—an African beaded bracelet he received as a gift from his wife. After beginning racing with the Benetton F1 team in 1991, Schumacher was with the Ferrari F1 team from 1996-2005. This relationship with Ferrari led to Schumacher submitting some design ideas for the Ferrari Enzo. Schumacher continued to display his love for design by creating an ultra-strong, lightweight helmet with the Schubert team known as the RF 1.5.
How Did Michael Schumacher Balance High Achievement with Humility?
While Ferrari gifted Schumacher a vehicle after he retired from racing, Schumacher was never interested in luxury cars. Schumacher was known to use a Fiat 500 Abarth as his go-to vehicle. The humbleness associated with Schumacher’s personality was reflected in the driver’s claim that Ayrton Senna was the best F1 driver ever and not himself.
2006 led to Schumacher being voted the most popular F1 driver. Six years later, the German racing icon retired in 2012. You can hear Schumacher voicing a Ferrari F430 in the Disney/Pixar movie Cars.
Which F1 Driver Dominated the Late 1980s and Early 1990s?
Brazilian race car driver Ayrton Senna made his mark on F1 during the 1980s and early 1990s. Senna was born in 1960 and didn’t begin racing until the age of 13. After starting out racing go-karts, Senna’s skill led to him progressing to single seaters in 1981. Impressive statistics associated with Senna’s racing career include the most Monaco Grand Prix wins at six tallies, acting as the youngest three-time F1 champion in 1991, and collecting eight wins during the 1988 season.
Five of Senna’s Monaco Grand Prix victories came consecutively from 1989-1993. These wins can partially be attributed to Senna’s exceptional handling. Monaco’s sharpest turn requires drivers to turn their wheel as far as they can while crossing their arms in the process. Legend has it that Senna would downshift during this sharp Monaco turn with his left hand, straighten the car’s positioning, and keep moving.
Senna was especially skilled at overcoming adversity during racing events. This famous F1 competitor won the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix without shifting after his transmission failed. A failing transmission in Senna’s experience led to him driving without access to his third, fourth, and fifth gears. This type of racing feat was likely made possible by Senna’s philosophical views on racing that fostered an unprecedented presence behind the wheel.
How Did Ayrton Senna Think outside of the Box?
A metaphysical/spiritual outlook on racing diversifies Senna from other competitors. The Brazilian driver discussed how his racing abilities resulted from behind-the-wheel instincts that made him feel as if he was operating in a different dimension. This metaphysical outlook allowed Senna to push conventional F1 limits regularly and establish himself as one of sport’s strongest competitors.
Are you a fan of 90s Honda NSX models? Ayrton Senna helped develop the NSX by advocating for a stiffer chassis. The final result of this stiffer chassis was a higher level of driving balance.
The spirit of Senna’s legendary career and philanthropic works continues to live on.
Who Is Considered the Best Modern F1 Driver?
You can easily make a case for Lewis Hamilton deserving a spot in the top three F1 drivers ever. While our top ten list is in no particular order, Hamilton’s 100 Grand Prix wins, rookie race wins record, rookie pole positions record, rookie points record, and back-to-back F1 World Championships make him an appropriate choice to place alongside Schumacher and Senna.
Hamilton became the youngest F1 World Champion in 2008 at the age of 23. There were no signs of Hamilton slowing down as the British driver won at least one race in all of the seasons he’s participated in in addition to winning a leg of every race he’s qualified for and raced in. The young driver’s 100 Grand Prix wins solidifies his status as having the most Grand Prix wins of all time, passing Schumacher’s 91 wins. Hamilton’s “worst” F1 seasons involved him finishing 5th overall with McLaren in 2009 and 2011.
2014 led to Hamilton registering 11 wins in a single season—a career-high. This single-season accomplishment occurred when Hamilton was racing with Mercedes-Benz. Hamilton has only raced with McLaren and Mercedes-Benz during his storied track record.
How Did Lewis Hamilton’s Skill Grow So Quickly at a Young Age?
It was obvious from the start that Hamilton would make a positive impression on the racing world. The British racing legend dominated remote-controlled racing at a young age, fell in love with motorbikes and won the British Kart Championship at ten years old. An F1 team contracted Hamilton at only 13 years. This period led to Hamilton entering the McLaren and Mercedes-Benz Young Driver Support Programme that subsequently refined his skills.
A third-place McLaren rookie debut in Australia displayed Hamilton’s potential before he scored his debut win that same season in Canada.
Unlike many F1 drivers, Hamilton used to be but isn’t currently superstitious. Hamilton’s higher power comes from a strong Christian faith that gives him peace of mind when flying at high F1 speeds.
Who Was the 1950’s Best F1 Driver?
Juan Manuel Fangio was an Argentine racer that dominated the first decade of F1. After beginning his Grand Prix career in 1948, Fangio went on to win the World Driving Championship five times in the 1950s. Collecting this many championships wins with four different racing teams displays Fangio’s exceptional skill as each racing organization had different views.
It’s interesting to study this time in F1 history. While modern F1 drivers are still putting their lives at risk during racing events, F1 competition in the 1950s was much more dangerous. After a race in 1958, Fangio said, “It was a great race. Nobody got killed”.
How Did Fangio Separate Himself from Other Drivers during His Time?
A mechanical background helped Fangio catapult himself to F1 racing prominence during the 1950s. The Argentine racer began working on the mechanical side of cars at 12 before starting work as an apprentice and owning his garage. Fangio’s knowledge of how to keep a vehicle running gave him an upper hand over his racing competition as he communicated driving feedback that helped his team improve his vehicle.
The F1 racing industry praised Fangio for his kind and professional attitude that continued during his massive success. A true racing professional, Fangio would study tracks before races with motorcycles and bicycles to plan his actions for an upcoming event. Fangio was always present during car setups, paid attention to his vehicle’s mechanics, and didn’t push his models more than necessary.
The University of Sheffield voted Fangio as the greatest F1 driver of all time. The Argentine racing icon won 24 world championship Grand Prix competitions before his retirement in 1958.
Who Was the Best F1 Driver during the 1970s?
25 wins, 54 podiums, 24 quickest lap times, and 24 pole positions solidify Niki Lauda’s status as one of the most memorable F1 drivers that ever hit the track.
Niki Lauda comes from humble beginnings. While the Austrian F1 competitor was born to a wealthy family, his parents refused to support his mission of becoming a professional race car driver. This lack of support drove Lauda to fund his own racing with bank loans. Lauda eventually cleared his debts when Enzo Ferrari brought him aboard as an F1 team member in 1974.
Ferrari made a great choice signing Lauda as the Austrian driver won them two world titles in 1975 and 1977. Lauda’s third driver’s world title was with McLaren in 1984.
It’s hard not to have tons of respect for Lauda after all he’s been through. The 1976 German Grand Prix in Nürburgring was the event where Lauda suffered severe injuries after an intense crash. Trapped inside his burning car, Lauda suffered burned lungs, face disfiguration, and other serious wounds. After coming out of a coma, Lauda made an amazingly fast comeback in six weeks and fell short of the 1976 World Championship by one point to James Hunt.
Niki Lauda and James Hunt’s rivalry inspired the 2013 movie Rush. This rivalry was defined by Lauda’s focused, logical, and quiet demeanor that was the polar opposite of James Hunt’s party-centric lifestyle and aggressive on-track driving. Both drivers pushed each other to perform to the best of their abilities.
Lauda donated many of his F1 trophies to a local carwash for a lifetime supply of free carwashes. The International Motorsports Hall of Fame inducted Lauda in 1993.
What Makes Alain Prost’s Career Standout Amongst Fellow F1 Legends?
Alain Prost had a remarkable F1 career that spanned 13 seasons. 4 World Champion titles, 51 total race wins, 33 pole positions, and 106 podium appearances cement Prost’s legendary status. Prost was the first driver in F1 history to secure 50 wins. Michael Schumacher would follow in Prost’s footsteps.
Nicknamed “The Professor,” Alain Prost had a cold, collected, and calculated demeanor that led to him being underappreciated during his time in F1. When you think of flashy F1 drivers, aforementioned wild personalities like James Hunt come to mind. Prost’s strategic approach allowed him to make fewer pit stops and net tons of points that weren’t always a result of wins. One wet race involved Alain Prost parking his car and exiting the event due to his perception that the track was unsafe. Career injuries were one catalyst that led to Prost adopting a more conservative approach to racing.
How Did Prost Benefit from His Trademark Driving Style?
Prost made the art of driving an F1 car look effortless. While fans may have paid more attention to bolder driving styles, Prost’s teammates always appreciated his balanced approach that always led to his cars being returned in solid condition. Aryton Senna’s cars, on the other hand, were not as kept up in terms of their final condition. Prost and Senna would eventually become teammates in 1988 and rack up 15 wins during their season together.
We’re not here to label Alain Prost’s driving style as dull or uninteresting. Competition-driven outrage would occasionally result in Prost kicking his car into high gear to blow by opponents. This well-rounded behind-the-wheel presence helped Prost become the first back-to-back world champion since Jack Brabham in 1960.
It’s incredible to think that Alain Prost didn’t drive his first kart until he was 14. Future F1 icons like Lewis Hamilton were already enrolled in prestigious Formula racing programs by age 13. Prost had a successful partnership with Niki Lauda which resulted in the two winning 12/16 races and Lauda winning the World Championship in 1984. As stated above, this 1984 run was Lauda’s last championship. The Austrian won the title by only half a point.
Prost’s consistency was reflected in more ways than one. Contrary to many F1 drivers, Prost always wore the same helmet consisting of the French flag’s red, white, and blue coloring.
After sitting out the 1992 season, Prost’s career ended on a high note as he won the 1993 F1 championship. Post-racing, Prost displayed a passion for cycling and never backed down from a biking challenge. We wouldn’t expect anything less.
What Records Did Sebastian Vettel Break Early in His Career?
Sebastian Vettel is a German F1 driver that’s formerly raced for Ferrari, BMW Sauber, Toro Rosso and currently drives in green for Aston Martin. 259 race starts have led to Vettel collecting 57 pole positions, 3018 points, 121 podium places, and 53 wins. Vettel has the honor of being the youngest F1 world champion, the youngest F1 pole position winner, the youngest driver to win the championship four times, and the second youngest F1 race winner behind current Red Bull racing star Max Verstappen.
These are pretty amazing marks for a driver that claims he doesn’t drive for statistics. Vettel said, “you can’t always be the best, but you can do your best.”
This German F1 competitor began driving go-karts at the age of three and continued to race at higher levels until he reached Formula 3 in 2005. Vettel’s initial Formula 3 season led to him claiming top rookie honors. After beginning his first F1 season in 2006, Vettel broke the record for the quickest fine ever received in the sport’s history. This fine was a result of Vettel speeding in the pits 9 seconds into the race. Vettel would earn his first F1 win in Monza during a 2008 run with Toro Rosso. One year later, in 2009, Vettel would win F1 driver of the year only to claim the award again in 2013.
What Is Sebastian Vettel like behind the Scenes?
Other drivers have described Vettel as intelligent, fast, and technically inclined toward the mechanical side of racing. This description has led to Vettel being compared to former racing legend Michael Schumacher. Vettel mirrors Schumacher’s driving style, focus, and desire to support his team’s.
While some F1 drivers prefer to stick to their helmet designs, Vettel is passionate about consistently generating new patterns. More recent years have led to Vettel committing to single designs. Prior years showed Vettel going through as many as 50 crash helmet varieties.
2015 famously involved Vettel moving to the Ferrari Scuderia F1 team. This was a great move for Vettel, given his interest in Ferrari’s founder, Enzo Ferrari. Vettel claimed he’d tear through any reading materials that shared details on Enzo Ferrari’s life and work. A win in Malaysia led to Ferrari and Vettel starting their 2015 relationship on the right foot.
We can admire Vettel’s ability to blend natural talent and experience while remaining humble in the process. This recognition has spread outside of F1, with INFINITI naming special editions of their cars after Vettel.
How Did Fernando Alonso Alter F1 History?
Fernando Alonso is a Spanish F1 icon that began racing at the age of three. After competing in his first racing event at age 7, Alonso worked his way up to F1, where he debuted in 2001 at the age of 20. Spain hadn’t had much success in F1 before Alonso came along. In 2005, Alonso altered the narrative by being the last driver to win his country its first championship. Alonso would go on to win another championship the following year in 2006.
Before Alonso’s F1 arrival, Spain’s last podium finish was recorded all the way back in 1956. Alonso began his F2 career in 2001 with Minardi, which has now morphed into the Torro Rosso racing team.
In 18 seasons, Alonso has only been outscored by a teammate once at McLaren. This dry spell partially came as a result of Alonso missing the start of this McLaren F1 season. Alonso’s negative experiences with McLaren run deeper than this instance. When Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were teammates, Alonso felt that the McLaren team boss favored Hamilton.
Narrow margins led to Alonso missing out on three additional championships—but a loss is a loss, and these examples aren’t uncommon to the sport.
Remember how Niki Lauda lost the championship to James Hunt in 1976 by a single point and grabbed the 1984 championship by half a point? While slim point differentials led to Alonso falling just short of three championships, Alonso had the distinction of beating German F1 legend Michael Schumacher twice during his two championship runs.
Does Alonso Hold Any Racing Achievements outside of F1?
Alonso’s racing talents extend beyond the world of F1. In 2018, Alonso participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance racing event with Toyota and won. Spain’s most famous F1 driver stands as one out of five drivers that have won Le Mans and an F1 World Championship. During this same year, Alonso thoroughly beat out his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne in 21 out of the season’s 26 races. 2019 led to Alonso winning the 24 Hours of Daytona with Wayne Taylor Racing.
Critics praise Alonso for driving consistently well with pure speed, no matter the weather conditions.
What Impact Did Sir Jackie Stewart Have On F1?
Nicknamed the “Flying Scot,” Sir Jackie Stewart is Britain’s first driver ever to win three F1 World Championships and stands as a strong advocate for F1 racing safety.
Stewart dropped out of school at 16 due to his dyslexia and began working as an apprentice mechanic at his dad’s garage. Ten years later, Stewart would be signed by British Racing Motors and participate in his first non-championship event driving a Lotus. An injured Jim Clark gave Stewart the opportunity to start racing and register his first Grand Prix win that year at Monza. Stewart was able to win Rookie of the year during his initial 1965 season and collect a World Championship in 1969.
Here’s a list of the teams that Stewart raced for:
- Team Lotus
- Owen Racing Organisation
- Tyrell Racing Organisation
- Matra International
- Elf Team Tyrrell
Stewart was able to join the list of F1 drivers who experienced success at Le Mans. A Rover-BRM vehicle gave Stewart what he needed to finish second in his class.
What Led to Jackie Stewart Becoming an F1 Safety Advocate?
One of Stewart’s most respectable traits is his advocacy for F1 driving safety. Stewart labeled F1 safety measures during his career as “diabolical.” This description is appropriate considering that no medical team was present when Stewart crashed in wet conditions during the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix. Once Stewart crashed, fluid from his car began leaking all over him. Driving seatbelts, full helmets, on-site medical units, and safety barriers are a handful of F1 safety efforts that Stewart helped introduce.
What Did the End of Jackie Stewart’s Racing Career Look Like?
After tying Jim Clark for the most F1 wins at 25 during the 1973 Monaco Grand Prix, Stewart collected two more wins before retiring in 1973 to have 27 wins to his. Stewart made the decision to retire based on the fatigue he was experiencing from traveling so frequently for racing events.
The Flying Scot did return to F1 in 1997 to own a team with his son through 1999. This team’s name was Stewart Grand Prix. 1999 was the most successful season for Stewart Grand Prix, with the team winning one race, one pole position, and finishing fourth in the Constructor’s Championship. Ford would later buy Stewart Grand Prix and relabel the team Jaguar Racing.
What Did Jim Clark Do That No Other F1 Driver Did?
Jim Clark’s natural talent led to him being labeled by many as the most gifted F1 driver in history. When we look back at Clark’s career, versatility is a word that comes to mind. Clark competed in multiple race classes at once as he viewed all forms of racing as equal.
In the 1965 season, Clark participated in 63 races and won championships in F1, British F2, French Formula F3, the Indy 500, and the Tasman series. To give you some insight into how impressive 63 races in a single season are, most F1 drivers average 21 races per season. When Clark was in Formula Junior, he made the podium in F1, F2, F3, and at 24 Hours of Le Mans. This extensive resume led to the public considering Clark the best all-around driver to ever compete.
Clark was born to a family of Farmers in Scotland. These humble beginnings contrast with F1’s reputation as being a sport for the wealthy. Recent F1 years have cases of billionaire fathers buying a team and placing their son behind the wheel as one of the team’s drivers.
While F1 cars were less powerful during Clark’s time on the track—the vehicles he was driving were still quick due to their lightweight design. The combination of speed and a lack of safety measures led to Clark and many other Formula drivers dying behind the wheel in 1968. 127 other drivers died the same year that Clark died in a Formula 2 race crash. Many consider Clark’s fatal crash to be a direct result of a tire failure.
Clark’s desire to race as frequently as he did reflect a fearlessness and total commitment to the world of racing.
Who Is Your Favorite F1 Driver?
Be sure to comment your favorite F1 driver on our social media feeds!