Since its beginnings in 1950, the FIA Formula One World Championship has been one of the most popular forms of racing globally since its inception in 1950. The legendary motorsport race has gone through monumental changes over time to improve speed, safety and fan enjoyment. How have its best sports personalities changed in the past seven decades?
Here are VHR’s picks for the top ten F1 drivers of all time:
The third-youngest driver to debut in F1 history, Fernando Alonso won the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix in his first year with Renault and went on to win 2 consecutive seasons of the 2005 and 2006 World Drivers’ Championship. Winning the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, Alonso finished second in the 2013 F1 World Drivers’ Championship with 242 points. Contesting 17 Formula One seasons, Alonso also won the 2018–19 FIA World Endurance Championship and won both the 2018 and 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans races.
Often lauded as the most naturally talent driver, James Clark Jr. OBE was a two-time World Championship winner and repeatedly broke speed records. At the time of his death following a 1968 Formula Two racing accident at Hockenheim, Clark had won more Grand Prix races (25) and achieved more Grand Prix pole positions (33) than any other driver. Beloved by fans, Jim Clark also broke international records at the Australasia Tasman series by winning an unprecedented fourteen races, won the 1968 Australia Grand Prix and was the first non-American in 50 years to win the Indianapolis 500 (with an average speed of over 150 mph).
Nicknamed "Iceman", Kimi-Matias Räikkönen won the 2007 World Championship in his first season at Scuderia Ferrari. His racing experience includes World Rally Championships, American stock racing and a decade competing in the Grand Prix. Räikkönen’s strong 103 podium finishes, memorable McLaren wins and unique personality make him a cult figure with fans around the world.
Dominating the first decade in F1 history by winning the World Drivers' Championship five times, Juan Manuel Fangio didn’t let major injuries, including a broken neck and several near-death experiences, deter him from racing victory. His career highlights include driving twelve Grands Prix for Mercedes and winning eight times, winning a three-hour race at the 1955 Argentine Grand Prix during a heatwave of 135º (few other drivers could bear to compete), and breaking speed records in his final race.
Ayrton Senna began his motorsport career in karting and succeeded in open-wheel racing before winning the British Formula Three Championship in 1983. Following his Formula One debut in 1984, Senna won six Grands Prix over three seasons. Senna claimed three World Championships in 1988, 1990 and 1991.
Senna died on 1 May 1994, after his car crashed into a concrete barrier while he was leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. He is remembered as one of the greatest and most influential motorsport drivers in history.
One of F1’s most underrated drivers, Alain Prost is a four-time champion and a 51-time winner. His career spans 13 seasons, only two of which he only failed to win a race. Prost narrowly missed out on winning seven other championships, and scored more points than Senna in 1988. From 1987 until 2001 Prost held the record for the highest number of Grand Prix victories, firmly cementing his place on the list of greatest drivers.
After serving as a test driver for Lotus, Martin debuted at the French grand Prix and saw his dreams dashed at a 1990 crash in Jerez. After hitting the barriers at 140 mph Martin’s car exploded, he was put in a coma for six weeks and suffered severe injuries that changed his life and ended his F1 career.
However, Martin wasn’t deterred: he has spent the past three decades racing across a variety of championships, including the British Touring Car Championship, the Goodwood Festival of Speed and winning Class A in the Donington Park round of the Elise Trophy, Martin has also managed the Formula Vauxhall team and formed a new track academy.
At our latest event, Martin reveals an exclusive look into the thrills and dangers of a Formula One career, including the infamous crash that left him 'the luckiest man alive'.
Legendary driver Michael Schumacher enjoys the most Formula One Grand Prix wins (91) of any diver. A seven-time champion, he has achieved a record-breaking 155 podium placements over his career. Schumacher won five consecutive drivers' titles from 2000 to 2004, including a record sixth and seventh title.
Schumacher produced the fastest qualifying time at the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix, before announcing the retirement of his 21-year career.
In 2008 Sebastian Vettel became both the youngest driver to qualify for pole position and the youngest driver in history to win a Grand Prix. Inspired by Schumacher, Vettel won consecutive titles in 2010–2013 with Red Bull Racing and holds the record for the third most race victories and podium finishes.
Vettel moved to Ferrari in 2015 season and is contracted to stay with the team until the end of 2020.
Arguably one of the most famous drivers of all time, Lewis Hamilton has won first place in Formula One races 81 times. Coming second to Schumacher’s podium placements with a close 146, Hamilton has totalled the highest points in the championship records at 3,302.
Register for our free event to meet Martin Donnelly and hear about the excitement and life-changing moments of a Formula One career.