F1 Greatest Drivers Who Left a Trail in History

For over 70 years, Formula 1 has thrilled the world with the swish of its engineering marvels and the booming sound of the engines literally reverberating off spectator’s chests. F1 is the pinnacle of competition, precision, passion, controversy, and speed of all car racing sports. Fans watching from the stands are enthralled when the fastest cars on the planet rush in front of them in a flurry of colours.

We’ve all imagined ourselves behind the wheel of these mechanical whirlwinds cheered as one of the F1 greatest drivers in history. However, only a special few have the abilities and nerves of steel to tame a Formula 1 car. The best F1 drivers of all time are all performing at such a stellar level that mere observers have difficulties ranking them precisely. Nevertheless, we have completed a list of the greatest ever F1 drivers that includes both their gravitas and historical significance, as well as the contents of their trophy cupboards.

Buckle up! The race is about to start!

F1 Greatest Drivers of All Time

Stirling Moss

Net Worth: $20 Million
F1 Championships: 0
Total career points: 186 914
Total career wins: 16
Brand/Team: Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Vanwall, Rob Walker Cooper, Lotus, HWM

Sir Stirling Craufurd Moss, one of history’s greatest British F1 drivers, was born on 17 September 1929. Following World War II, he applied his daring spirit on the race track, becoming an idol for boys and men alike when flying through finish lines with his unrivalled racing passion. This classic British gentleman was making $1 million per year, more than any of his peers. He was even more popular than the queen at a time!

Hailed as the “greatest driver to never win a Grand Prix Championship”, Stirling Moss raced for 14 years—winning 212 of the 529 races he entered. Moss’s race-hungry nature had him behind the wheel more than once a week in all kinds of cars. Throughout his career, he raced in anything from Grand Prix to long-distance rally races. Unsurprisingly, he held the record for most F1 wins until 1991, when Mansell overtook him after driving more races.

On Monday, April 23, 1962, Stirling Moss had a crash during the Glover Trophy at Goodwood. After his Lotus collided with the earthen bank at Graham Hill, he ended up severely injured and comatose. Once he recovered fully, he attempted to resume his career; however, he found his driving instincts remained shattered with his vehicle.

In 1990, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame as one of the best F1 drivers in history. Sir Stirling Moss died peacefully on April 22, 2020, in London. Even though he finished four times as championship runner-up and three times as a third placer, he is still remembered as one of the sport’s all-time greats.

Jackie Stewart

Net Worth: $55 Million
F1 Championships: 3
Total career points: 360
Total career wins: 27
Brand/Team: BRM, Matra, March, Tyrrell

Britain’s dominance in the world of Formula One continued even after the retirement of Sir Stirling Moss. Sir John Young Stewart would become one of the best drivers in F1 soon thereafter. Also known as the “Flying Scot”, Jackie Stewart was born on June 11, 1939, in Scotland. Before discovering his love for motor racing, young Jackie had won several trophies as a member of the Scottish shooting team.

Throughout his nine seasons in Formula One, Jackie Stewart won three World Drivers’ Championships, and he was the runner-up on two other occasions. Going into the 1973 season, Jackie has decided to retire at the end of the season. Even though he wrapped up his career with another championship trophy, he still honoured his decision. For 19 years,  he held the record for most career wins by a British driver until Mansell’s triumph at the 1992 British Grand Prix.

After a nerve-wracking crash at Spa in 1996, Jackie Stewart became an outspoken advocate for racing safety in Formula One. According to Stewart, the safety precautions undertaken in the 60s and 70s were horrendous, and he was instrumental in implementing the mandatory seat belt usage and full helmets. Owing to his unyielding struggle to make motor racing a safer sport, Jackie Stewart became the racing driver who helped usher in a new era in Formula One.

He rightfully took his place among the greatest ever F1 drivers in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990.

Nico Rosberg

Net Worth: $50 Million
F1 Championships: 1
Total career wins: 23
Total career points: 1594.5
Brand/Team:  Williams, Mercedes

Next up, we have a modern racer who only recently became a member of the best F1 drivers of all time. As the only son of Keke Rosberg—the 1982 F1 World Champion—Nico was destined for a life of greatness on the circuit. Nico Rosberg began competing in various go-kart tournaments when he was only 6 years old. Ten years later, he moved onto auto racing, winning enough points to become the 2002 Formula BMW ADAC Champion.

During his 2006 inaugural start in F1, Nico Rosberg drove for Williams. However, apart from two podium finishes in 2008, he did not see any significant success until he moved to Mercedes in 2010. There, he was partnered with arguably the greatest F1 driver of all time: Michael Schumacher. Relying on his unique driving instincts and Schumacher’s experience, Rosberg won his first Grand Prix in 2012 in China.

Between 2013 and 2016, Nico’s career reached greater heights when he was teamed up with Lewis Hamilton—his former go-kart friend and colleague. At Mercedes, Nico Rosberg finished two seasons as the second-best in the world before clinching the title in 2016. However, five days later, Rosberg announced his retirement from F1 racing for personal reasons, believing he has reached the top and that he needs to spend more time with family.

The Rosbergs are the only other father-son duo to win the coveted F1 World Championship after Graham and Damon Hill. In December 2017, Nico Rosberg officially joined the best drivers in F1 when he was inducted into the FIA Hall of Fame.

Alain Prost

Net Worth: $100 Million
F1 Championships: 4
Total career points: 798.5
Total career wins: 51
Brand/Team: McLaren, Renault, Ferrari, Williams

Indubitably the best Formula One driver to come from France, Alain Marie Pascal Prost was conquering the F1 racing world in the late 80s and early 90s. He fell in love with cars at 14, when he raced go-karts with his family. He spent the following ten years progressing through the various junior ranks in motor racing before joining the McLaren F1 team in 1980 at 24 years of age.

After several podium finishes throughout his first season, Prost finally managed to win a Grand Prix in 1981. He recorded his first win during the French Grand Prix in a Renault—a French car. For the remainder of the 80s, Prost would establish himself as one of the best F1 drivers in history, despite fierce competition from contemporaries such as Ayrton Senna, Piquet and Mansell. 

By the end of his career in Formula 1, Alain Prost had won four championship titles (1985, 1986, 1989, and 1993) and won a total of 51 Grands Prix—a record he held until 2001 when Schumacher overtook him by winning the Belgian Grand Prix. He retired in 1993 after winning that year’s World Championship with Williams. Soon after that, he received the World Sports Award of the Century for motorsports.

One more fun tidbit before moving onto the next name on our greatest F1 drivers list: Alain Prost earned a nickname for his calm and rational approach to racing. “The Professor” analysed his competition, personally set up his car and considered factors such as his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses and the tarmac conditions before each race.

Sebastian Vettel

Net Worth: $100 Million
F1 Championships: 4
Total career points: 3048
Total career wins: 53
Brand/Team:  BMW Sauber, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, Ferrari, Aston Martin

When talking about the best drivers in Formula 1, Sebastian Vettel is a name that must be mentioned. Born on 3 July 1987 in Heppenheim, Germany, Vettel demonstrated his racing gift as early as 3 years old when he started driving go-karts. Five years later, he began participating in karting tournaments. His rise to stardom included various karting trophies before moving onto open-wheel cars in 2003.

Vettel started his F1 career in 2006 as a BMW Sauber test driver. Later that year, he became the youngest-ever participant at a Grand Prix weekend when he tested the cars during Friday’s free practice runs. His first pole position and triumph took place during the 2008 Italian Grand Prix in a Toro Rosso car—setting a record for the youngest pole-sitter and Grand Prix winner in F1 history.

The following five years spent with Red Bull Racing is where Vettel built his legacy as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. During his first Red Bull season, Vettel finished second in the Drivers’ Championship (behind Jenson Button). The following four years saw stellar performances from Sebastian, who won four back-to-back championships with his Red Bull car before transferring to Ferrari. With his first championship win in 2010, Vettel broke the records for the youngest-ever F1 world champion and most wins in a single season (13).

Many F1 critics point out that Red Bull built Sebastian Vettel, a car that was instrumental to his extraordinary success. However, akin to his idol Schumacher, Vettel’s hands-on approach and innate racing talent are what helped him succeed in this much-contested sport. Even though he failed to win another championship to this day, he still managed to end up a runner-up to Hamilton during two of his Ferrari years.

Lewis Hamilton

Net Worth: $285 Million
F1 Championships: 7
Total career points: 3928
Total career wins: 99
Brand/Team:  McLauren, Mercedes

Sir Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton is perhaps the most legitimate contender to Schumacher for the top spot among the F1 greatest drivers in history. Born on 7 January 1985 in Stevenage, England, Hamilton started driving go-karts as early as 1993. After innumerable successes in karting, Lewis received a call from Ron Dennis, McLaren’s team boss, to join their driver development programme in 1998.

In 2007, Lewis Hamilton made his F1 debut with McLaren as a partner to the two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso. Throughout his first season in F1, Lewis Hamilton broke several records heralding his dominance in the years to come. First, he finished as the runner-up to Kimi Räikkönen by only one point. As a rookie, he also had the most consecutive podium finishes (9), most points (109) and most joint wins (4).

The following year, he became the first, and so far the only, black driver to win the F1 World Championship by making a dramatic overtake in the last corner to be turned for that season. While failing to win the championship again for the remainder of his McLaren days, Hamilton still ended each season as part of the five best F1 drivers between 2009 and 2012.

After Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes signed a deal near the end of 2012, he would start building his storied career. Within the following eight seasons spent with Mercedes, Hamilton won six championship titles and finished once as a runner-up to his teammate Nico Rosberg—his greatest rival in the early Mercedes years. Following Rosberg’s retirement, Vettel became Hamilton’s greatest rival.

As of today, Lewis Hamilton holds several records: most F1 wins (99), podium finishes (171) and pole positions (100). He also shares the record of most championship titles (7) with Michael Schumacher. For the 2021 season, Hamilton has met fierce competition from Max Verstappen, who is looking to dethrone the current world champion.

Fernando Alonso

Net Worth: $240 Million
F1 Championships: 2
Total career points: 1919
Total career wins: 32
Brand/Team: Minardi, Renault,  McLaren, Ferrari, Alpine

Fernando Alonso Diaz (born 29 July 1981) is the only Spaniard on our list of the greatest F1 drivers in history to become a world champion or win a Grand Prix. He reached the peak of F1 racing on two occasions—in 2005 and 2006 with a Renault car. However, before earning the legendary status as one of the sport’s greats, Alonso had an astounding karting career. What would you expect from a splendid talent that started driving as early as 3 years of age?

Alonso’s maiden F1 season was with Minardi in 2001, before he switched to Renault the following year. At the time of his World Drivers’ Championships triumphs, he was the youngest pole-sitter, Grand Prix winner, and F1 champion. After intermittent stints at McLaren and back at Renault, he finally signed a deal with Ferrari in 2010, where he found the most success after his former Renault glory days.

With Ferrari, he became Vettel’s strongest opponent for the coveted championship titles in the first half of the 2010s—finishing as the runner-up to Vettel on three occasions in very close and challenging seasons. Today, after so many years in Formula 1, Fernando Alonso drives for the Alpine-rebranded Renault F1 team. His current contract is to expire at the end of 2022.

Fernando Alonso is the first driver to be inducted into the FIA Hall of Fame twice: once as a Formula One champion in 2017 and a World Endurance Champion in 2019.

Niki Lauda

Net Worth: $200 Million
F1 Championships: 3
Total career points: 420.5
Total career wins: 25
Brand/Team: March, BRM, Ferrari, Brabham, McLaren

Another legend that rightfully takes his place in our greatest F1 drivers list is the late Niki Lauda. Born as Andreas Nikolaus Lauda on 22 February 1949 in Vienna, Austria, he is the only driver to win the championship with both Ferrari and McLaren—the two most successful and competitive F1 teams. However, before Lauda could reach the highest tier in the racing world, he would need to fight the disapproval of his wealthy and influential family and endure two unsuccessful stints with March and BRM. He even took out bank loans to buy his way into both teams.

Lauda’s opportunity to leave his mark in the annals of F1 history came once he enthralled Enzo Ferrari with his third-place finish in the 1973 Monaco Grand Prix. Eager to have him on board, Niki Lauda and Ferrari signed a contract in 1974. In his first season, Lauda was still finding his feet with Ferrari, ending fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, to come back much stronger and win his first F1 championship in 1975.

Lauda dominated the first six races of the following season (4 first places and 2-second places), and the world expected an easy second championship title for the Austrian. However, fate had a different idea. The infamous Niki Lauda crash that left him disfigured and snatched the 1976 title from him took place at Nürburgring in Nürburg, West Germany, during the season’s tenth round. After swerving off the track, his car hit an embankment and went ablaze. Despite serious injuries, the indomitable Niki Lauda returned to the track mere six weeks after this horrendous crash. 

In the sunset of his career, Lauda drove for McLaren, winning the 1984 Drivers’ Championship half a point in front of Alain Prost, before retiring the following year. His final tally counted three championship titles, 25 wins and 54 podiums. 

He was deservedly introduced into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame as one of the best F1 drivers in history in 1993.

Ayrton Senna

Net Worth: 100 Million 
F1 Championships: 3
Total career wins: 41
Total career points: 614
Brand/Team: Toleman, Lotus, McLaren, Williams

In the late 80s and early 90s, no driver was faster than the fabled Ayrton Senna da Silva (born on 21 March 1960 in São Paulo, Brazil). However, before astounding the world on the big stage, this fiery Brasilian had to prove his mettle in karting and lower-tiered racing competitions. Senna is widely regarded as one of the greatest F1 drivers ever, even topping some lists that consider that “What If…?” moment had he not perished in the notorious 1994 crash at Imola.

Senna’s F1 debut came with Toleman-Hart in 1984, and despite the technical failings of his car, he still impressed the public with his extraordinary and risky driving style. He spent the next three seasons with Lotus, where he won a total of six races. However, magic started happening when he moved to McLaren in 1988. There, he partnered with Alain Prost, with whom he shared all but one Grand Prix that season. 

Ayrton Senna rightfully took his first World Drivers’ Championship in 1988, edging out Prost by only three points. In 1989, Senna finished as a runner-up to Prost before winning the 1990 and 1991 championships in glorious fashion. During his last season with McLaren, he ended up behind Prost yet again. Ayrton Senna agreed to join Williams for the 1994 season, marking an end to a fascinating and ferocious rivalry between two of the greatest F1 drivers of all time.

The notorious Ayrton Senna crash that ended both his career and his life took place on 1 May 1994 during the San Marino Grand Prix. Unfortunately, Senna’s was not the only life taken by this racetrack that weekend. The day before the race, the Austrian novice Roland Ratzenberger also lost his life in a high-speed collision at the Villeneuve corner. Senna was horrified and raised his concerns about the lack of safety precautions in Formula 1. Nonetheless, he decided to race on that fateful Sunday and died when his car speared off the track and hit the concrete wall at the Tamburello corner during Lap 7.

The world remembers Senna as one of the best F1 drivers of all time. To this day, he inspires fans and new drivers alike to fall in love with the sport. In addition, he was a master of racing in adverse weather conditions, which earned him the nickname “Rain Man”. In 2000, he was justly inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Michael Schumacher

Net Worth: $600 Million
F1 Championships: 7
Total career points: 1566
Total career wins: 91
Brand/Team: Jordan, Benetton, Ferrari, Mercedes

According to many fans, pundits, and peers in F1, Michael Schumacher is still THE best driver of all time, regardless of Hamilton’s statistical advantage. Schumi was born on January 3, 1969, in Hürth, West Germany and, like many of his fellow drivers, he fell in love with racing at a very early age by driving a go-kart. Before reaching the legendary status of the most influential person in F1 history, as voted by fans in 2020, he won numerous trophies in karting and lesser open-wheel competitions.

Michael Schumacher had his F1 start in a Jordan car at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix. However, Benetton immediately snatched him up for the following race, despite Jordan’s injunction filed with UK courts. He spent five seasons with Benetton and won the World Drivers’ Championship during the last two (1994 and 1995), edging out Damon Hill on both occasions. 

On the heels of his Benetton success, Schumi moved to Ferrari for the 1996 season. Despite several valiant attempts to win the crown during his first four seasons with Ferrari, his record-breaking run did not start until 2000. Between 2000 and 2004, Schumacher won five consecutive F1 championships, crushing several records and cementing himself among the best F1 drivers in history. After a third-place finish in 2005 and a second place in 2006, Schumi announced his first retirement from the sport.

Michael Schumacher and Ferrari managed to break a record that has stood for nearly 50 years: Juan Manuel Fangio’s five championship triumphs. The man who would push the car to its limits each race had one lap too many when he sustained a severe head injury while skiing in 2013. The latest reports about his health disclose that his condition continues to improve and that he is watching Formula 1 races at his home in Switzerland.

Future F1 Drivers/Ones to Watch

Mick Schumacher, Callum Ilott and Yuki Tsonuda are three promising young drivers who are most likely to grab the F1 headlines in the near future.

Mick Schumacher

Son of the legendary Michael Schumacher, Mick was born on 22 March 1999 in Switzerland. At first, Mick Schumacher didn’t race under his surname. Instead, he used Betsch—his mother’s maiden name. Following in his father’s steps, Mick signed for the Ferrari Driver Academy in 2019. In 2020, Mick Schumacher won the F2 Drivers’ Championship. 

Since the Scuderia Ferrari management said he could join their team as early as 2023, Mick Schumacher chose to continue his F1 career with Haas; starting with the 2021 season. Fingers crossed, we will be seeing great things from Mick Schumacher and Ferrari in the near future.

Callum Ilott

Callum Ilott, one of the best British F2 drivers, was born on 11 November 1998 in Cambridge, 

England. During his rookie season in F2, Callum Ilott secured one pole position and two podium finishes, ending in 11th position. By the end of his second F2 season in 2020, however, Ilott improved greatly—he won 3 races and ended the season as the runner-up to Mich Schumacher. 

The following year, Callum Ilott and Ferrari signed a contract for a test driver position. Later in the year, he was also appointed as a second reserve driver for Alfa Romeo. However, he is yet to race in a Sunday F1 Grand Prix.

Yuki Tsunoda

The third promising F1 talent on our list is Yuki Tsunoda, a young yet gifted Japanese racing driver who finished third in the 2020 F2 Championship—behind Schumacher and Ilott. Born on 11 May 2000 in Sagamihara, Kanagawa, Japan, Yuki racked up successes in karting, Formula 4, Formula 3, and Formula 2 before he debuted in Formula 1 in 2021. In F1, Yuki Tsunoda drives for AlphaTauri.

After the first Grand Prix of the 2021 season, Ross Brawn—F1’s technical director—hailed Tsunoda as the best rookie in years.

And the Winner Is…

Past and present generations have witnessed a plethora of phenomenal F1 drivers burning rubber on the tarmac. If you ask your parents about the greatest F1 drivers of all time, they will undoubtedly include the past greats, such as Lauda and Senna. On the other hand, you might list Alonso, Hamilton, or the inimitable Schumacher. Whereas future generations will certainly be amazed by upcoming budding prodigies, the likes of Mich Schumacher or Yuki Tsunoda.

Since the sport is continuously evolving, the list of the F1 greatest drivers will be updated accordingly. Nevertheless, one thing will remain true: Our hearts will quicken with every rumble of their engines, we will cheer when they splendidly overtake anyone, and we will sympathise when their racing cars fail them.

No other racing competition is quite as thrill-inducing as Formula One.

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