The Five Greatest F1 Drivers of All Time

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Lewis Hamilton is closing in on the record for Grands Prix wins but does he make our top five of the greatest F1 drivers of all time?

Ayrton Senna

Lewis Hamilton is on the brink of equalling Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 F1 race victories. But who are the top five drivers ever to have taken the chequered flag?

5) MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

Michael Schumacher dominated Formula One for a decade from the mid-1990s, taking seven titles between 1994 and 2004 to set the current wins record of 91.

The German won with two different teams, first with Benetton in 1994 and 1995 before moving to Ferrari to take the Scuderia back to the top of the sport.

They achieved their goal in 2000 and became utterly dominant, winning five consecutive crowns, culminating in Schumacher winning 13 of the 18 races in 2004.

Known as the Regenmeister for his prowess in wet conditions, Schumacher was a perfect blend of blinding speed, tactical awareness and competitive instinct.

His drive caused him to cross the line several times though, most infamously when he was disqualified (from second place) in the 1997 championship for deliberately barging Jacques Villeneuve.

4) AYRTON SENNA

Revered as the greatest driver by countless F1 fans, Ayrton Senna da Silva was cut down in his prime at just 34 with a fatal crash at Imola in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

The Brazilian won only three world titles (1988, 1990 and 1991), all for McLaren after making his name with the backmarker Toleman team (finishing second at Monaco in his rookie season) and in the iconic black and yellow Lotus, scoring his first win in his first finish for the British team at Estoril in 1985.

His single-mindedness and quest for perfection are superbly captured in the 2010 documentary film Senna but, like Schumacher, he could also go too far in his desire to win, notably when clashing with great rival Alain Prost at the first corner of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, which clinched his second title.

He won 41 of his 161 starts, with 65 pole positions and started on the front row of all 16 races in 1989.

3) LEWIS HAMILTON

Even if Lewis Hamilton does not equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins in the Eifel Grand Prix, he could be well on his way to being the first driver to reach 100 by the end of this season.

The six-time champion is long odds-on to equal Schumi’s seven titles this season. He won his first in an unforgettable finish to his second year with McLaren in 2008, when he became the youngest driver to win the title (since beaten by Sebastian Vettel) and the first black driver to win the championship.

Hamilton could well have won the title in his first season, when he finished on the podium in his first nine races, but an unseemly feud with teammate Fernando Alonso saw them both pipped by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

The one blot on Hamilton’s record is that he was beaten by Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016 – but for that he would have won the last six championships – but that was nothing to do with ability as an engine failure in Malaysia effectively settled the title.

He timed his switch to Mercedes perfectly to lead the way in their dominant era and his ability to summon up an epic qualifying lap or to blow away his rivals in a race with a classic spell of Hammer time is undiminished.

2) JUAN MANUEL FANGIO

No list of F1 greats could be complete without Argentinian ace Juan Manuel Fangio. 

A five-time champion (1951 and a four-year run from 1954-57) with four different teams (Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Maserati), Fangio won 24 of the 52 F1 races he entered – an astonishing 46.15 per cent.

He would almost certainly have more F1 titles if the series had begun earlier as he was already 40 when he won the second season of the championship in 1951. 

He is likely to remain the oldest man to win the title having clinched his fifth crown aged 46 in 1957. His five championship wins remained a record for 46 years until Michael Schumacher went ahead.

1) JIM CLARK

Senna, Schumacher and Fangio have long been the names put forward for the greatest of all-time, but Fangio himself said Scotland’s Jim Clark was the man who deserved top spot.

Clark won 25 of the 72 F1 races he started in an era of poor reliability including seven of the ten races in 1963 and six of the seven events he completed in 1965 – his two championship years.

Clark forged a wonderful partnership with Team Lotus designer Colin Chapman but he was tragically killed aged just 32 in an F2 crash at Hockenheim in 1968. He held the records for most wins and most poles at the time.

Those who raced in the period, most notably Jackie Stewart, insist that the smooth Scot was the most talented racing driver of all-time.

Adam Scriven is an occasional contributor to the MansionBet Blog. He holds a keen interest in many sports, with motorsports taking the first position.

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