There are three questions are I get asked more often than any others.which we tackled last year.
Another is one of the trickiest questions to answer about Formula 1 racing: “Who was the greatest grand prix driver of all time?”
The complex nature of Formula 1 makes this an incredibly difficult topic to tackle. The championship now spans seven decades, nearly 900 drivers and over 1,000 races. Among the most successful drivers over 100 have won races and 33 lifted world titles, although even that is not necessarily a sign of greatness – as the championship-less Stirling Moss proves.
During F1’s lethal years the careers of many potentially great drivers too often ended prematurely. On the other hand, drivers such as Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna achieved greatness even before paying the highest price.
Whereas the basic ingredients of cricket, tennis, football and other balls sports remained largely static over the ages – balls, boots and bats have not essentially changed; rulebooks and pitches remain similar – F1 has changed almost beyond recognition since 1950, as a simple comparison of its ever-evolving technologies shows.
Would a Juan Manuel Fangio have delivered such sublime performances in gizmo-dominated mid-engined light-weights; could sprint specialists like Michael Schumacher have handled the three-and-a-half hours (500-kilometres) demanded by the original Nürburgring Nordschleife; how would a Lewis Hamilton fare without real-time input from his race engineer?
I believe the only true arbiter of driver skills is his – and, hopefully soon, her – ability to master the prevailing technologies and challenges of the day. These have all changed demonstrably over time, making direct comparisons absolutely impossible, and largely meaningless.
Comparisons of overlapping team-mates – Driver A was quicker than Driver B at Team X But B was quicker than C at Team Y… – tend to overlook experience curves and crucial internal factors. After all Ronnie Peterson out-scored Niki Lauda at March in 1972, and Jody Scheckter won the 1979 title for Ferrari, with Gilles Villeneuve second.
The only measures of greatness is provided by comparisons within eras. This enables a shortlist of greats to be compiled. F1’s seven decades provide solid reference points, being primarily: front-engined era (fifties); mid-engined, small capacity (sixties); aero/slicks (seventies); turbo (eighties); electronics (nineties); manufacturer (noughties), and hybrids (present day).
[smr2020test]Of course there are overlaps, but each decade was defined by its bracketed technology, and this gives us a broad framework to work in. So who was the definitive driver within each decade?
There is no doubt Fangio bestrode F1’s first decade like a colossus, winning five titles and a then-record 24 grands prix during extremely dangerous times. He is the only driver on my list whom I never saw race, but his record speaks for itself.
Jim Clark was king of the sixties, whether in his lightweight Lotus 25s and 33s or, all too briefly, the sublime 49. He, too, had a win record-setting career despite it ending far too soon. There is no doubt he would have added to his two titles but for tyre failure in a Formula 2 race.
Ultra-professional Sir Jackie Stewart followed his compatriot, setting records on his way to three titles and is still the only British world champion knight. Undoubtedly my choice for the seventies.
Selecting the next driver is more challenging, for three are in contention: Lauda (who also qualifies for seventies nomination); Senna (who could achieved much more); and stealthy Alain Prost. In my opinion it comes down to Niki, whose title-winning return during the eighties after all the Austrian had endured in 1976 clinches it.
Senna and Prost figured large in the nineties as well. The popular choice is Senna and so it is on my list, by a whisker: But for that fateful day in May, he could have raced to rarer heights and the course of F1 would have been so different. Senna simply stood out, and Prost loses out, albeit by a slender margin.
The 2000s belong to Schumacher, no question – having led Ferrari’s resurgence, in turn raising the bar ever higher. And the current era has been utterly dominated by Hamilton, who mastered the complex hybrids like no other. Thus, to recap my short list: Fangio, Clark, Stewart, Lauda, Senna, Schumacher, Hamilton.
How could any driver on that list even be considered above another given the enormous changes to F1 over seven decades? Thus selecting my ‘GOAT’ is an impossible task, and even attempting to do so does the remaining sextet a gross disservice.
Still, I nominate three standouts: Stewart, Lauda and Senna – in chronological sequence, mind – but, who knows, Hamilton could oust one of that legendary trio, and all three could be replaced in decades to come.
And the third question? We’ll have to save that for another time…
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165 comments on “Who was the greatest F1 driver of all time?”
9th March 2020, 12:28
I think i just found out the third question posed to Dieter :-)
I know this is more of a though experiment but perhaps this question should be modified and read
‘Which drivers in the current grid would fare well (a ranking) without real time input ? ‘
There is no certain way of knowing the answer to this, but @dieterrencken is the closest we(I) can get to an F1 driver’s mind and how well and truly he is intelligent.
Otherwise, as Lauda once said, a monkey will do.
16th July 2020, 3:36
Put any driver today in a Lotus 25 with Jim Clark as the competition at Spa or Monaco or the Ring and I’ll put everything I own on Clark….every time…no abs, no traction control, no computers, no paddle shifters no team of 15 Phd engineers from MIT and no super computers designing suspensions and tires….back when the driver was the biggest factor….
JIM CLARK was supreme…-
9th March 2020, 12:32
Lauda was undoubtedly a very fast driver, but I’ve never been able to overlook his links to Nazism the way F1 generally seems happy to.
Niki von Lauda was a scion of one of Austria’s leading families, which was instrumental in bringing about the Anschluss and made a fortune from slave labour under the Nazis. He got into F1 using Nazi blood money.
Similarly, von Lauda’s recovery from injury to win the world title would be laudable if he hadn’t used the words ‘blut und ehre’ when talking about it.
I still find it staggering that F1 was willing to turn a blind eye.
9th March 2020, 12:47
get your facts straight. Laudas family didn’t invest 1 cent in his racing career. He took a loan from the Raiffeisen Bank and paid it back when Ferrari signed him. I don’t know about his ancestors, but Niki was by no means a Nazi, not a anti-semite and not a racist. He may have been a little bit conservative, but that’s it. Stop spreading BS.
9th March 2020, 13:32
Lauds didn’t get a loan from a bank run by friends of his family off his own bat. He was able to get the loan because he was backed by blood money.
Of course Niki wasn’t a big fan of the Nazis, but he certainly displayed plenty of prejudices stemming from his childhood spent among them.
9th March 2020, 18:58
at best an opinion.. you bring it as if it were facts.
Magnus Rubensson (@)
10th March 2020, 9:36
Lauda is no longer here to speak for himself.
He was a triple F1 champion and that is how he should be remembered.
José Lopes da Silva
9th March 2020, 12:48
F1 was always filled with fascists, starting with Mosley and Ecclestone (racing in apartheid South Africa). But why are we judging politics?
We made a decision in the late 40ies: to assimilate the defeated foes into the international community. This implied to turn that blind eye to many things, otherwise you would have to persecute large swaths of the population of those countries.
If you want to fight fascism, don’t persecute fascists when they’re doing other stuff. Persecute them when they’re being fascists. Otherwise you don’t get healthy democracies.
9th March 2020, 13:46
Neither Moseley nor (especially) Ecclestone have ever expressed any view that is even slightly fascist. It’s utterly absurd to suggest Bernie, who is at least Jewish enough for Nazis to want to gas him, is a fan of any such thing.
(Re South Africa, there seems to be a modern idea that at the time people were only opposed to the sporting boycott because they didn’t care about apartheid. It’s complete nonsense, though. People opposed the boycott because they thought it would be counterproductive, and now we have the benefit of hindsight we can see that they may well have been right: it clearly didn’t work, and we didn’t get to see the great WIndies cricket team annihilating the racists.)
“We made a decision in the late 40ies: to assimilate the defeated foes into the international community. This implied to turn that blind eye to many things”
“If you want to fight fascism, don’t persecute fascists when they’re doing other stuff. Persecute them when they’re being fascists. Otherwise you don’t get healthy democracies.”
Of course. But what did I say that implies any sort of persecution? All I said is that we should note Lauda’s background when evaluating his career, particularly the comeback from injury.
José Lopes da Silva
9th March 2020, 16:39
Not nope. It was considered that Germany could be 100% desindustrialized and turned into a forced rural country. It was considered to make a neutral and policed country, with a unique status apart from every other country. In the end, the West decided to integrate Germany into the regular norms, and USSR did the same. So, not nope.
Actually, denazification was stopped at a point when it was found that Germany could be seriously diminished of of technical staff. Some people were lucky to escape, and anyway the big leaders already taken care of.
“we should note Lauda’s background when evaluating his career”
And what should we do with that note?
9th March 2020, 18:47
Dave, Ecclestone has in fact expressed comments in the past which were criticised for seeming to apologise for senior members of the Nazi party, as well as being criticised for comments that had an anti-Semitic tone to them.
On the former point, during an interview for The Times, Ecclestone stated it was: “terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was – in the way that he could command a lot of people – able to get things done.” It was an interview where he was heavily criticised for appearing to downplay Hitler’s involvement in the Holocaust, seemingly suggesting that it was the fault of people around him.
Later that same year, when he faced complaints from the World Jewish Congress, who suggested he should resign over those remarks, Ecclestone then went to repeat anti-Semitic tropes about the world banking system being run by Jews, complaining that they had too much influence in politics and the banking system and blamed them for causing the 2007-2010 financial crisis.
As for Mosely, as a young man he was part of his father’s post-war party (the Union Movement), a continuation of the pre-war British Union of Fascists, acting as an election agent for his father and for other UM candidates. He did later reject the actions of that movement, but you cannot say that he never had an association with fascism and the extreme right during his lifetime.
9th March 2020, 19:00
we should note Daves background when evaluating his career.
Please enlighten us..
ferrox glideh (@ferrox-glideh)
9th March 2020, 13:03
Drawing such libelous conclusions from such a small amount of (out of context) data makes you a bad historian.
9th March 2020, 14:27
From what I can gather (on the internet, so take this with a kilo of salt) Lauda’s grandfather was ousted by the nazis from the leadership of his company when they annexed Austria and promptly reinstated when the war was over so not sure about those nazi ties. Seems Lauda is actually Laudable (hah)
9th March 2020, 17:28
That’s interesting, I’ve never seen anything about that. It would rather change the picture of they weren’t in charge or taking profits while their factories were using slave labour. Do you have a link?
9th March 2020, 19:01
try looking at facts instead of fiction.
Of course you are entitled to have an opinion, but its only that!
9th March 2020, 21:53
Here is an example from a link that you can find from Niki Lauda’s Wikipedia page that tracks back to Hans Lauda, his grandfather, which states that Hans was “relieved of his position under the National Socialist regime”. https://austria-forum.org/af/AEIOU/Lauda%2C_Hans
For what it is worth, the German version of Wikipedia also lists Hans Lauda as being forced out of his position in 1938 when the Anschluss came about. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Lauda
Your assertion, therefore, that his grandfather made “a fortune from slave labour under the Nazis” would seem to be completely wrong. If anything, a fairly straightforward search for sources appears to suggest it was the opposite situation – his family actually seems to have been harassed by the Nazi regime because his grandfather did not support the Nazis and was therefore deemed to be “politically suspect”.
9th March 2020, 12:33
Stewart top 3 GOAT? I can see him in the top 10 and even in the top 7 provided, but top 3 is a stretch IMO
9th March 2020, 18:52
Stewart is not tobe underestimated. I don’t like the guy, but the more i learn about him as driver and what he has done for safety I really rate him near the top. I have him as a top 3 definitley if not top two.
10th March 2020, 15:58
I have him top ten. I would put Clark top five. Schumacher and Hamilton have been the most successful but not necessarily the best. Senna and Clark were otherworldly. The only two in that category in my humble opinion.
9th March 2020, 12:35
I would honestly rate Surtees as perhaps the greatest, all things considered. Winning bikes and F1 is simply monumental. His feel must have been out of this world. Same is overcoming a massive crash and injury and still keep top level. If not for politics and unlucky choices he would likely have had many more championships.
9th March 2020, 13:01
I mean, if you’re talking overall the greatest in motorsports then maybe, but for purely the greatest F1 driver, accomplishments in MotoGP are completely irrelevant.
9th March 2020, 16:51
exactly, if we’re opening it up to all motorsports then Mario Andretti is firmly near the top in my opinion
9th March 2020, 17:40
If we’re open to all motorsport, then surely the winner is Seb Loeb? If he’d been allowed to race his teammate in his rookie season, he’d have won the drivers’ title in every full season he raced, including years his team didn’t win the constructors’ .
I’m his one outing in an F1 car, he set competitive times. It’s a real shame he was refused a superlicence, or he might well have had an F1 title too.
10th March 2020, 15:55
@hugh11 No I mean F1. But for politics and circumstance Surtees could easily have won multiple championships. The talent was immense. I believe the best F1 driver of all time. I mention the conversion from bikes simply to show the latent skill and bravery. I really think in Lotus he would have outdone Clark.
31st March 2020, 23:49
@balue From the comments Forghieri made in his autobiography, Surtees might have been talented, but he sounds like he could be a rather difficult driver. Tony Rudd made a few comments in his autobiography that hinted at that too, as well as indicating that Surtees’s politicking might have put back ground effect cars in F1 by a decade due to his interference in the running of BRM.
Forghieri has stated that he thinks that there were times when Ferrari, and thus Surtees, had a better car than Lotus did, but that Clark was a better driver than Surtees – in other words, that the slight performance disadvantage that Clark might have had was outweighed by his abilities as a driver.
I believe that Moss might have also once given his opinions on Clark, Hill and Surtees when discussing the abilities of all three drivers. Again, he also indicated that he thought Clark was superior to Surtees – not that he didn’t think that Surtees wasn’t talented, but that he thought that Clark had a broader skill set than Surtees did, who seemed to rely more heavily on his reactions and raw ability.
9th March 2020, 12:35
Jim Clarck and you all know it
9th March 2020, 13:11
@johnmilk I’m with you. Shocked to see he didn’t make the short short list.
But of course this is highly subjective. I like the approach taken here.
9th March 2020, 19:02
Most don’t, they’re too young, like I’m too young to fully appreciate Fangio et al. Clark’s achievements include.
25 wins with just the one second place and a handful of minor placings
Was in championship winning position in both the last races of ’62 and ’64 when his car broke
After starting his wins with Lotus, he never finished behind a team mate in a healthy car
He caught up a lap on the entire field at Monza in ’67
He won the BTCC whilst racing F1 in his other career
He contested the ’66 RAC rally running high up in the order before retiring
Indianapolis win in ’65
He was supposed to be driving for Ford in the BOAC500 at Brands Hatch, but went to Hockenheim instead and died…
Tommy C (@tommy-c)
10th March 2020, 6:23
If clark had Hamilton’s reliability, who know how many championships he’d have had. 62 and 64 would have been in the bag. 1967, he had twice as many wins as Hulme but still no championship effectively due to car failures. He was undoubtedly quicker than Hill so 68 should have been a walk in the park. Rindt wouldn’t have been needed to replace him and so 70 would have been his. Basically any Lotus championship would have been Clark’s…(assuming he would have continued as long as 78). Ah if only…
10th March 2020, 9:53
Yes, I was a very gutted 14 year old when he died, as you say, what might have been.
11th March 2020, 22:39
@frasier I’m 31 years old. I read and watch videos about him
I can tell you, I’m very jealous of you for having the memory of seeing him race
16th July 2020, 3:43
I saw him race
I met him at Rockingham in 1967
Watching Clark drive an inferior car and win was why I became an F-1 fan in 1963
Nobody could drive a car like he did
If he had the money, engineering and support that someone like Schumacher had with Ferrari he would have son 5 titles in 63,64,65,66,67
He is the only man to win the F-1 title and Indy in the same year
Sunday, 7April1968 was one of the worst days of my life…….
I stopped watching racing for years after
9th March 2020, 12:35
For me Hamilton. Schumacher never had a WDC or a strong teammate and would never had 7WDC’s had a WDC or strong teammate. And Senna is vastly overhyped after his death. Don’t get me wrong, Senna was good but he had plenty of races where he messed up for little to no reason and got beaten hard by his teammate. Senna should not even have three WDC because Prost had more points in one year than him, i forgot which one.
José Lopes da Silva
9th March 2020, 12:54
“plenty of races where he messed up for little to no reason and got beaten hard by his teammate.”
Well, so did Hamilton.
9th March 2020, 13:26
José Lopes da Silva – Still Senna should not have three WDC’s considered the fact that Prost had more points than him and driver input is what makes a car great and todays driver need to manage way more than back in the day with all the stuff allowed unlike todays car. Alonso did nothing at McLaren and Verstappen the same at RBR. To me you are anti Hamilton for just mentioning those nonsense you just mentioned.
Cristiano Ferreira – You sound salty. Don’t tell me how you overlook how Schumacher NEVER in his whole career had a strong teammate, seriously. And don’t tell me when Schumacher won his WDC in Spa already that there was more competition than clearly you have no idea what you are talking about
9th March 2020, 14:57
Senna won the 88 WDC under the rules of that season. It makes no sense to say it wasn’t deserved because Prost had more points overall. The same rules applied to all drivers
José Lopes da Silva
9th March 2020, 16:43
We will likely spend another 30 years trying to show people that “the same rules applied to all drivers” is just common sense.
José Lopes da Silva
9th March 2020, 16:41
AAAARRGHHHHH!! BOOHH BOOH BOOOH!! RAAAAAAAWWWWW!!!!!
Yeah, internet feels so good nowadays.
9th March 2020, 18:57
If i sound salty, you sound like someone who licks Hamilton balls.
9th March 2020, 13:00
The same can be said about Hamilton. If he can “farm” championships its because Mercedes is a dominant force since 2014. Almost every driver in the grid can win a WCC driving for Mercedes. That fact alone is reason enough for me to never consider him a GOAT.
In the Shumacher era F1 was at least more competitive than its now
I’m not saying Hamilton is a bad driver or that he is without his merits, but lets its easy to perform in such a dominant car and team.
I’m way more impressed with what Alonso did driving for McLaren Honda, and with Verstappen’s performance since he joined Red Bull that still has a weaker car compared to Mercedes.
9th March 2020, 13:11
But Shumacher, as the best driver of his era, when he got to Ferrari had a car and tyres made just for him, which he could practice with 7 days a week. Even between Quali and the race.
Forget his No.2 or the other teams using the same tyres. It was all about him, I’m not implying it was the wrong decision but could he have done it now. With tyres the same for everybody and a severe lack of testing. IMHO no.
9th March 2020, 13:30
So, do you think that Mercedes build the car keeping on mind the ‘1yr contract driver’?
10th March 2020, 16:10
The team’s also had a spare car (the T car) available so they could swap it out for the race car.
9th March 2020, 13:53
WHen you said Alonso in the Mclaren Honda I had to stop. I like Alonso, but pople need to stop acting as if this guy was some kinda of god that got shafted. The man drew with a Rookie, that says a damn lot however way you look it with regards to this comparison.
Hes exploits in the Mclaren were insignificant, he did nothing. I dont get it.
Verstappen is good, but I would rate him just as good as Riccardo who kept him very honest during there time. I dont see ow his exploits all of sudden him make him the best of his generation and up there on that list already. Didnt he get his firs tpole this season or something?
I would also say last year was a very copetitive season, with Mercedes arguably not having the fastest car for the majoirty of it. In fact Since 2017 it has been a very competitive field, its just that Hamilton has outperformed all the others.
Sometimes you gotta give respect where its due.
9th March 2020, 17:09
“ with Mercedes arguably not having the fastest car for the majoirty of it.”
Hmm, last I checked they won the WCC in Japan, with four races to go…..thus having BY FAR the fastest car over the season, just like every year since the hybrid engines were introduced.
Sometimes you gotta say it as it is…..
9th March 2020, 18:04
Only great drivers could drag that dog of chassis / power unit that McLaren Honda had to places where it did not belong to. Be it Hamilton or Alonso, both are great drivers. What i said is that TO ME Alonso’s exploits were far more impressive than “farming” WCCs in a Mercedes, especially in the years 2014 until 2017 when they had much more pace than the rest of the grid.
The same can be said of Verstappen. Now i’m not saying that Red Bull is in the same place as McLaren Honda, but we have to agree that the kid has a lot of pace in him and it is just a matter of time until he gets a car that can challenge Hamilton and Mercedes. I doubt Hamilton would be farming WCCs like he is now if he had some kind of competition, be it from teammates or from rival teams (Ferrari doesn’t count because they are a mess).
Hamilton is a great driver and there’s no doubt about it, but being a GOAT just because of Mercedes dominance… well, for sure he is not a GOAT for me.
His 2008 title has my respects, that WCC was hard fought and well deserved, but i can’t say the same about his more recent WCCs.
If Mercedes had never signed Hamilton, I bet Rosberg would be the one we were going to talk about here. Replace Rosberg with any (decent) driver if you like, and there you go.
9th March 2020, 18:07
*When i say WCC, i meant WDC.
How much for an edit button? :P
9th March 2020, 18:46
Sure Rosberg was a great driver too. Only a few drivers in the field could beat him. Obviousl Hamilton for instance. Plus Alonso probably and Ricciardo.
Vettel clearly not though. Hamilton in the 2017 and 2018 Ferrari would have won 2 titles wih ease against Vettel in the Mercedes.
9th March 2020, 18:44
Cristiano Ferreira, Ferrari had a slightly better car for 2017 and a clearly better car in 2018. Plus Hamiltoin had the worst car of Mercedes for 2016.
So in reality Hamilton only had the best car of the field for 3 seasons.
9th March 2020, 19:03
Well the worst car of Mercedes (2016) gave Nico Rosberg his WDC. I’m sure Mercedes built equal cars for both drivers. So, in the end the WDC and WCC stayed in Mercedes hands.
10th March 2020, 8:26
No the worst car cost Hamilton the title too Rosberg. He was beating Rosberg 3 to 1 with a working car.
9th March 2020, 19:05
In your reality.
10th March 2020, 8:28
@robbie Yes in actual reality. Auto und motor sport actually did the same excercice and agrees. Vettel blundered away easy titles in 2017 and 2018
10th March 2020, 10:12
Easy titles? Nah you just blew your credibility when you said that. And I seem to recall in at least one of the two seasons you cite SV had some late season unreliability that became just too late to recover from. No, things average out over a season and we needn’t look beyond the standings to see that Mercedes has been dominant since 2014, just not quite as dominant every year, but comfortable winners by season’s ends nonetheless. Put another way, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone you’ll be able to convince that LH won in 2017 and 2018 in an inferior car as much as you seem desperate to have people think that, like numbers don’t stand well enough on their own for some reason…well, the reason being you don’t want people to think he won because of the car. But hey this way you get to shoot down SV and falsely promote LH at the same time, so you get to Trump the conversation that way.
9th March 2020, 23:16
Hamilton had the best car in both 2016 and 2017.
That he had worse reliability than his teammate in 2016 is irrelevant. Vettel had much worse reliability than Webber in 2010 and still won the WDC. Mercedes was the best car of 2016.
Hamilton had the best car in 5 seasons.
Schumacher in 3 seasons (2001, 2002, 2004)
10th March 2020, 8:25
@kingshark Hamilton had a car that broke down a lot more than the one his team mate drove. Which made it impossible evej for him to get that title. He was beating Rosberg 3 to 1 when his car worked.
2017 Ferrari had the faster car. Vettel dropped well over 50 poitns with his blunders. Costing him an easy title.
Schumacher did not only have the best car. He had the help of the FIA
10th March 2020, 15:56
Two car finish between Hamilton and Rosberg was 10-9 in 2016.
If we exclude Russia, China and Belgium because of mechanical problems, you still end up with a score of 10-6.
Hamilton should look back at Australia, Bahrain, Baku, Monza, Singapore and Suzuka as reasons to why he lost the 2016 WDC.
Nah, the gap between Bottas and Raikkonen that season was almost 100 points. That’s too big. Bottas was only slightly better than Massa on race day when they were teammates. If Ferrari was quicker, then Kimi should have been right there with Bottas in the standings.
Bottas also finished ahead of Raikkonen 12-4 in 2017. You know what his record against Massa at Williams was? 23-23
9th March 2020, 19:37
“Almost every driver in the grid can win a WCC driving for Mercedes”. Well Bottas has not, Rosberg did then retired afterwards, and that one time is the only one that Hamilton didn’t win. Alonso was Hamilton’s team mate and was toe to toe when he was a rookie. The fact that you are trying to downplay Hamilton’s achievements shows your biasness towards him. For Schumacher, I dont think he would have achieved his success without the dominance of that Ferrari in that era, same for all the other drivers.
9th March 2020, 21:12
Schumacher and Hamilton were both perfect for their own eras. Schumacher operated in a world where driver feedback and track testing was very important, Hamilton isn’t really suited not least because he is so adaptable he has an advantage over other drivers who would be more of a problem if they could spend hundreds of hours tailoring their setup to their driving style.
Tommy C (@tommy-c)
10th March 2020, 6:28
The thing that impresses me about hamilton though is he wins races he simply shouldn’t such as Germany 2018. Even starting way down the field he usually seems to find a way to make things happen for himself which is what I think makes the greats the greats. I remember alonso being much the same. I still reckon Hamilton would have won the championship in the 2018 ferrari.
9th March 2020, 12:48
The article is right to look at the era. Who was greater the Wright brothers or Buzz Aldrin? Pasteur or Fleming?
Not GOAT but GOTE…..greatest of the era.
9th March 2020, 13:53
Pasteur or Fleming? That’s not even a question. Pasteur was a brilliant scientist who made ground-breaking discoveries. Fleming was a poshboy amateur, given a job in the research lab because the medical school wanted to keep him in the rifle team. He completely dismissed the potential of Penicillin, and it was a travesty that he shared in Florey and Chain’s Nobel prize.
9th March 2020, 19:10
You’r “image” of historic persons is very interesting to say the least.
It all sounds like a person who is reading the wrong books or does not has the background to interpret what he reads..
9th March 2020, 12:51
Another subjective approach. To apply some science, the greatest driver must be the one with the highest % of wins to starts, and this gives us a very different list:
1.Juan Manuel Fangio – 23/51/45.1%
2. Alberto Ascari – 13/32/40.6%
3. Jim Clark -25/72/34.7%
4. Michael Schumacher – 91/306/29.7%
5. Jackie Stewart – 27/99/27.2%
6. Alain Prost – 51/199/25.6%
7. Ayrton Senna – 41/161/25.5%
8. Lewis Hamilton – 56/226/24.8%
9. Stirling Moss – 15/66/22.7%
10. Sebastian Vettel – 45/216/20.8%
9th March 2020, 22:41
Yes, this is interesting, as percentages matter, and when you consider no one had anywhere near as good a car as hamilton did on average across his career, you see that he should definitely have better stats than he does, although it’s true he had more same-team competition than schumacher.
I also, when it comes to stats like this, would remind that schumacher was well beyond peak on his return, had injuries and was several years out of the sport, as such I think it was like 91 wins out of 254 gp on his first stint, making the % even better, probably along the lines of clark’s, and indeed I’ve seen some projections where if clark hadn’t died that early he’d have ended up with similar numbers as schumacher.
Ascari is incredibly underrated, I rarely see him in the top 10 driver lists but I would always put him in there, and again had he not died that early he would’ve definitely brought more competition to fangio, just like senna did to prost.
Tommy C (@tommy-c)
10th March 2020, 6:35
As great as Ascari was, I don’t often rank him as highly as he dominated under F2 regs when Ferrari had effectively no meaningful competition following Alfa Romeo’s withdrawal and the fact Fangio wasn’t racing for a bunch of that stint. Having not witnessed that era personally, that’s just the takeaway I’ve gotten from what I’ve read.
9th March 2020, 23:10
Maybe I’m missing something, but some of the stats in this list seem off. Hamilton has 84 wins, for starters? From Wikipedia, the top 10 wins to starts ratio is:
1. Juan Manuel Fangio – 24 / 52 / 46.15%
2. Alberto Ascari – 13 / 33 / 39.39%
3. Jim Clark – 25 / 73 / 34.25%
4. Lewis Hamilton – 84 / 250 / 33.60%
5. Lee Wallard – 1 / 3 / 33.33%
6. Bill Vukovich – 2 / 6 / 33.33%
7. Michael Schumacher – 91 / 308 / 29.55% (35.83% if discounting “second career”)
8. Jackie Stewart – 27 / 100 / 27.00%
9. Ayrton Senna – 41 / 162 / 25.31%
10. Alain Prost – 51 / 202 / 25.25%
10th March 2020, 0:44
Fangio and ascari might as well be Roman emperor, when compared to Schumacher or Hamilton…
Might as well put an esports “champion” in the mix, if your gonna cast such a wide net….
10th March 2020, 7:20
This topic if full of soulda whoulda coulda’s. But if you take those out, then this is the formula in which to bet on. It’s like the batting average in baseball. All external things aside, it is the true ratio of how much one has succeeded in F1.
José Lopes da Silva
9th March 2020, 12:52
9th March 2020, 15:54
Ascari! Nobody remembers this great driver…
José Lopes da Silva
9th March 2020, 16:45
…Ascari was literally in a championship of two cars. If Tony Kanaan said this of Mercedes 2016, what would he say about Ferrari 1952
Ben Needham (@ben-n)
9th March 2020, 13:03
It’s such a subjective thing and incredibly difficult to compare from era to era. Would a prime Lewis Hamilton have beaten a prime Juan-Manuel Fangio in 1950? Or vice versa in 2019? I think it’s straightforward to compile a list of the best in each era. Mine would feature names such as Fangio, Clark, Stewart, Lauda, Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Alonso, Hamilton. I think few would disagree with that plus another for the makings of a rough top 10. Actually putting them in order is remarkably tough. Comparing even Senna and Prost, who drove the same car for some years, is tricky; Senna maybe more naturally gifted, but Prost more methodical. Does that make one better than the other?
There are different challenges in each era. In 1950, surviving a race was priority one, then finishing it, then you think about winning. Today, almost everyone finishes, so you need to get yourself in the right car, then be the best at extracting milliseconds, let alone fiddling with 50 switches and dials in the car.
I can have a guess at my list of all time greats but I’m sure many will disagree. I’ll have a go anyway; to generate discussion more than anything!:
1) Lewis Hamilton
2) Jim Clark
3) Michael Schumacher
4) Ayrton Senna
5) Alain Prost
6) Juan-Manuel Fangio
7) Jackie Stewart
8) Fernando Alonso
9) Niki Lauda
10) Mika Hakkinen
To be totally honest… my list changes depending on my mood and what videos I’ve watched recently… but it always features those drivers in some order.
9th March 2020, 16:30
Though arguably Fangio was past his prime before he even first drove in F1.
Which makes his achievement all the more remarkable.
9th March 2020, 19:26
Nigel, you have to look at it in the context of the era in which he competed in, because that same argument could also be used against most of the other drivers he raced against as well.
If you look at the grid in 1950, Fangio was of a fairly similar age to other drivers around him – in fact, out of the three Alfa Romeo works drivers who competed across the full season, Fangio was the youngest by a significant margin. Giuseppe Farina, who went on to win the title that year, was 44 – five years older than Fangio – whilst Luigi Fagioli was 52: a full 13 years older than Fangio, and one of three drivers competing that season who had been born at the tail end of the 19th Century (Fagioli was born in 1898, Chiron in 1899 and Étancelin in 1896).
In the early 1950s, the average age of the grid was in the late 30 to early 40s – the 1951 Belgian GP has the oldest average age, at nearly 43. Our view of Fangio is perhaps skewed by the lower average age of drivers in more modern times, but Fangio wasn’t that old when compared to the field around him in the early to mid 1950s.
9th March 2020, 18:48
Yeah, Senna, Prost, Alonso and Lauda are all well above Schumacher.
9th March 2020, 19:53
And Hamilton too.
Ben Needham (@ben-n)
9th March 2020, 20:04
@f1osaurus – you could certainly make an argument for Senna and Prost, but I’d be interested to hear your reasoning for Alonso and Lauda (not saying you’re wrong). I think Schumacher was probably the most hard-working driver the sport has ever seen. He really understood everything outside the car, as well as being extremely fast in it. He galvanized his team, worked on his fitness, tested, pulled politics and pushed the rules to the limit (and, granted, beyond sometimes). He stacked the cards in his favour and in my opinion deserves to be at the top of the pile (statistically).
9th March 2020, 20:29
@ben-n Schumacher benefitted massively from the support from FIA. $100 bonus a year for starters! Plus massive regulatory support from FIA. Even going so far to go against their own stewards to help Ferrari not to get beaten.
That extra money helped Schumacher (or a test driver) to test almost continously. Plus he was on a “dedicated number one” team. While drivers like Lauda and Alonso (also Hamilton) have to deal with actual team mates racing against them.
Sure Schumacher made the best of the advantages which were given to him, but without those advantages he would have never gotten that far. He wasn’t “extremely fast” either. He was consistent in the fastest car with a low failure rate.
And then there is the fact that he was a cheat.
Perhaps a slightly unfair comparison, but still, Rosberg consistently beat Schumacher for three seasons in a row.
9th March 2020, 22:43
Not only an unfair comparison, it doesn’t even make sense for 2012, as statistical analysis proves schumacher performed at the same level as rosberg in 2012 and was just hampered by bad luck, and if he did that as 43 years old…
9th March 2020, 22:56
“While drivers like Lauda and Alonso (also Hamilton) have to deal with actual team mates racing against them.”
Alonso had to deal with 2 teammates, First Hamilton when he almost had a meltdown during that year. He was better then Button. All other years he had a servant in Fisichella, Massa or Vandoorne. Trulli was fired at the first, best occasion when he came to close to Alonso.
“He wasn’t “extremely fast” either. He was consistent in the fastest car with a low failure rate.”
Yeah, Schumacher wasn’t extremely fast… He beat his first few teammates with massive gaps in qualifying. Only Senna did that before him. He was dubbed “the new Senna” even before he’d won a world title. You now they give those names to every driver that isn’t fast.
“That extra money helped Schumacher (or a test driver) to test almost continously”
For example: Toyota had more than enough recourses to do the same, they never even got close.
“Perhaps a slightly unfair comparison, but still, Rosberg consistently beat Schumacher for three seasons in a row.”
Rosberg beat Schumacher in 2010. After that, they were very evenly matched, Schumacher was outpacing Rosberg for most of the time in 2012. Some stats:
From 2011 onwards: races finished ahead when both drivers finished: 13 – 9 for Schumacher.
In 2012, when both drivers finished, Schumacher scored 37 points, Rosberg 25. Schumacher was extremely unlucky in the first half, when the Mercedes was actually half competitive having failures at Australia, China, Monaco and Canada. In all of those races, Schumacher was running for very good points. Seeing how close Rosberg was to Hamilton, means Schumacher’s pace well in his 40’s was very good and he seemed to improve each year. It has to be said though, that he made a lot more mistakes.
You seem to also forget he won 2 world titles even before he had ‘massive support from the FIA’ and ‘unlimited testing’. He had already won 35 grand prix before becoming a 3times World Champion. More than Alonso won in his career.
Everybody who actually saw Schumacher racing in his early years, knew he was special. He was performing at Senna – Prost level before winning a World Championship, even beating Senna in 92, while Berger was ahead of Brundle. Schumacher outqualified Brundle EVERY RACE, with gaps frequently being more then a second between them, in his first full season in F1. Schumacher WAS extremely fast, you just can’t deny that.
10th March 2020, 8:27
No I did not. I added that he was a cheat. That’s how he won those two.
10th March 2020, 11:11
Remind me again what he did that was cheating in 95? Because you can’t name one thing. The fact that you only take out that one sentence out of my entire, based by facts, post, just shows you can’t deny certain things.
10th March 2020, 13:24
Tim Lemmens there are many facts that you have ignored as well. All you’ve done is select what you have wanted in order to shape your comment. Not unlike what many of us do. It starts with the fact that at illegal Benetton MS was already shutting out his teammates from seeing his data but he insisted on seeing their’s. As Herbert put it, he felt like a second class citizen on the team.
And once the surprise move away from where MS was winning WDCs and was still under contract, was orchestrated by Max and Bernie to create a new chapter post-Senna, to end the Ferrari WDC drought, his teammates at Ferrari were literally under contract to not compete. So at Ferrari MS did not have one sleepless night concerned over a teammate, for that psychological aspect not to mention the physical one on the track, was removed.
I could go on, but I think I’ll save the time, as I’m sure you won’t be swayed just as you are not swaying anyone.
10th March 2020, 16:06
” It starts with the fact that at illegal Benetton MS was already shutting out his teammates from seeing his data but he insisted on seeing their’s. As Herbert put it, he felt like a second class citizen on the team.”
I never said the Benetton was not illegal in 94. However, they only found code for launch control on the car, never did they find a trace of code to traction control (these documents are still traceable on the net). So Schumacher might have had the occasional better start, his racepace was real, as shown in 95, when his car was completely legal and he was still trashing his teammates. Schumacher was already well ahead of Brundle and Patrese, who were way more experienced then him. In seems unlikely that Benetton would already put everything on a driver that had that little experience, but still he managed. When Herbert came in, Michael was already well experienced, well-liked within the team and a World Champion.
” to end the Ferrari WDC drought, his teammates at Ferrari were literally under contract to not compete. So at Ferrari MS did not have one sleepless night concerned over a teammate, for that psychological aspect not to mention the physical one on the track, was removed.”
Could you blame Schumacher on getting that clause? If they asked me, I’d sign as well. However, would Irvine, or Barrichello for that matter, be anywhere near Michael? Maybe the odd race, but concistently? No way, so it made sense for Ferrari as well.
I’m not trying to say Schumacher is the greatest of all times, I couldn’t care less who that is. I do hate it when people come with nonsens. It is clear in every post that F1osaurus hates Schumacher and is basing everything around that, while to anyone with a little bit of a neutral view, it was obvious that Schumacher was something special.
10th March 2020, 20:52
I’m no fan of MS’s either as might be obvious, and I would say that the only reason MS was something special (and his bullying sure took the shine off the apple for many) was that he was propped up with more advantages hand over fist over the rest of the grid than any driver has ever had before or since. Many drivers could have and would have compiled the numbers just as MS did, given the same huge advantages, but particularly the backing of Mosley and Ecclestone. I don’t consider it special that he had illegal cars and then had a mega team put together for him by the very operators of F1. Many drivers would have been able to do what he did only they likely would not have hung their teammates out to dry with a literal contract for them to not compete, for they would rather beat them on the track, nor would they have had the compulsion to take all those advantages…the designer car and tires and the contracted boot locker teammate, and still feel the need to be a boor on the track and drive into people on purpose and call that ‘winning’ and ‘success.’ He was not so good that he deserved all this. He was just in the right place at the right time for Max and Bernie to do their manipulation work, partly to spite Flavio Briatore as well as to get MS, their new golden boy post-Senna (who was the last of his era) away from the media pressure cooker that had surrounded Benetton and their suspicious behaviour including MS’s whack on DH.
9th March 2020, 13:04
I have been a fan since the early 60’s . I have grudgingly admired the genius of Senna and Schumacher. I have been amazed at the skill of Prost and Stewart. I have wondered at the bravery of Gilles V. and Peterson. Jim Clark without any doubts.
9th March 2020, 13:04
Mark Hughes recently had a great article on this age-old question, with a bit of a different view, namely: which great driver usurped which previous great?
On Twitter, he added:
So his list would be:
• Possibly Lauda
Now we only need to determine who’s the greatest of these ten…
9th March 2020, 13:41
Now I’d make a thought experiment to counter Mark Hugues’ assesment
Let’s say Vettel died or retired in 2013. He was the king of the blown diffuser era. I was in Monaco in 2011 when I saw his DRS fueled pole lap. He was brilliant. The grand stand stood up to clap as he was passing before we even knew he had the pole time. I can’t remember seeing a car so fast and so right on the edge as Vettel from nouvelle chicane to rascasse. I actually think a comment I did on it here was one of my first comments of the day. Hamilton was having one of those bad weekends. So had Vettel not carried on, we would all be sure he would have done more of the same and chosen him over Hamilton for driver of the 2010’s.
Who knows, maybe Senna would have been dreadful on grooved tyres, or would have had his thoughts on Brasilian politics, family etc. and been crushed by a young Schumacher (not to mention Hakkinen’s commandable efforts). Had Schumacher retired in 2004 we would not be talking about how Alonso unseated him but rather how he benefited from a power vacuum. Would Clark have been as brilliant with the era of stronger aerodynamics ? Maybe, we just don’t know.
I’d actually contend that if you apply the logic of who unseated who, then you should not count those who unfortunately died prematurely or retired early as they are, by fate or choice, shielded of such demise.
As to my two cents, if you’re great enough of a driver to be mentionned in this article or the comments, then that’s certainly a good sign ! I would not even try to decide a hierarchy when talking of era defining champions. And I’d also note in a nod to Prost, that if you are good enough to have been a thorn in the side of Senna, Lauda, Mansell and Piquet, for the better part of two decades then you’re probably all right, even if you’re not selected here. (works with Hakkinen, Button, Vettel, Hill, etc.)