This list is an amalgamation of the winning-est, most iconic, and most talented Formula One drivers to ever live. I purposefully left off drivers who are currently active because their history is still being written.
10. Mario Andretti
Mr. Andretti is an icon in the United States’ race world—and rightfully so. With wins in NASCAR, IndyCar, the World Sportscar Championship, and Formula One, Andretti is one of the most successful Americans in his sport.
Andretti moved from Italy to the United States when he was 15 years old. Having already been bitten by the racing bug while in Italy, Mario and his brother Aldo continued racing on dirt tracks near their home in Pennsylvania. Andretti came to F1 in 1968 and held the pole at his debut race, the 1968 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. He was active in F1 for fifteen years, eventually winning the 1978 championship. Out of 128 starts, he had 12 wins and 18 poles.
9. Alberto Ascari
Ascari made his Formula One debut with Ferrari in 1950 (which also happened to be the inaugural season of the Formula One World Championship). In his six-year career, Ascari had 32 starts, 13 wins, and held 14 poles. He was the 1952 and 1953 F1 champion—both won with Ferrari. This Italian probably would have gone on to win more; unfortunately he was killed while testing a Ferrari at Monza in 1955.
8. Jim Clark
Clark was a British racing driver who is hailed as one of the greatest talents ever seen in F1. He began his racing career in local rallies and hill climbs and moved to F1 in 1960, driving for Lotus. Clark was active in F1 for almost a decade, winning two championships (’63 and ’65). He took home 25 wins out of his 72 starts. He held 33 poles.
In addition to F1, Clark also participated in sports car, touring, and IndyCar events (he won the 1965 Indianapolis 500). Clark was a true automotive renaissance man and deserves a place on this list.
7. Jackie Stewart
Ah, Sir Jackie.
Interestingly, this racing legend was offered rides in Formula One twice before actually accepting! He moved to F1 in 1965 and finished third in the championship–a great feat for a rookie. The “Flying Scot” racked up three championship wins (’69, ’71, and ’73) during his nine-year career. Overall, he had 99 starts, 27 wins, and held 17 poles.
Sir Stewart is one of the greatest figures in racing today.
6. Niki Lauda
Niki Lauda was the rebel in his respectable Viennese family. He wasn’t interested in being a businessman and sought to sway his family into approving his choice of being a racing driver. Unfortunately, the Laudas would not budge. Lauda infamously bought his way into the March Formula Two team in 1971, and was later promoted to their Formula One team. In 1973, he took out another loan and bought his way into the decaying BRM Formula One team. He moved to Ferrari in 1974 with the help of teammate Clay Regazzoni.
Lauda won Ferrari’s first championship in eleven years with his 1975 title. He proceeded to win again for Ferrari in 1977. Lauda clinched his third championship title in 1984 driving for McLaren. He had 171 starts, 25 wins, 54 podiums, and held 24 poles during his racing career. His skills behind the wheel and sheer determination to win–despite the circumstances–make him one of the best ever seen in F1.
5. Stirling Moss
Surprisingly, Stirling Moss never actually won a Formula One championship; however, he is hailed as one of the greatest drivers to ever get behind a wheel. Moss is great because he was amazingly versatile. He was successful in a wide range of automobile events: rallying, touring, sportscars, and Formula One. In 1955, the same year as his first Formula One grand prix win, he also won the 1955 Mille Miglia and 1955 Targa Florio.
During his eleven-year F1 career, Moss participated in 66 Formula One races, taking home 16 wins. He also had 24 podiums and held 16 poles.
4. Alain Prost
After much success in karting, and wins at the 1977 Formula Renault European championship and 1979 French and European Formula Three championships, Alain Prost made his move to Formula One. He began his career with McLaren, and later drove for Renault, Ferrari, and Williams.
The Frenchman was known for two things: his highly calculated approach to points and racing (which led to his nickname, “the professor”) and his frequent sparring with driver Ayrton Senna. Although a rivalry did exist, and the pair broke as friends for a time, Senna and Prost ultimately respected each other. Prost was a pallbearer at Senna’s funeral.During his career, Prost was a four-time Formula 1 champion–winning in ’85, ’86, ’89, and ’93. Only three other people have either met or exceeded his number of championship wins. Out of Prost’s 199 starts, he had 51 wins, 106 podiums, and held 33 poles.
3. Juan Manuel Fangio
Fangio was an Argentinean racing driver who dominated Formula One in the 1950s. Nicknamed El Maestro, or “The Master,” Fangio raced for several teams during his nine-year career, including Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Mercedes, and Ferrari.
Out of 51 starts, Fangio had 24 wins, 35 podiums, and held 29 poles. Yes, look at those numbers again, 51 starts and 24 wins… Fangio won the F1 championship five times (’51, ’54, ’55, ’56, and ’57)–only one other man has won more titles. Fangio is considered to be one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time–hence his place on this list. If you disagree, look at those statistics one more time!
2. Michael Schumacher
In terms of numbers, Schumacher is the most successful racing driver in Formula One. During his nineteen-year career, Schumacher won the F1 championship seven times (’94, ’95, ’00, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’04), shattering Juan Manuel Fangio’s previous record of five championships titles. In 2001, Schumacher also broke Alain Prost’s record of 51 F1 wins. Overall, Schumacher has 91 wins and 68 poles (which is also a record number).
1. Ayrton Senna
Senna worked his way through karting and British Formula 3 before his debut in Formula 1 at age 24. He was a very intense driver—extremely focused and self-confident almost to the point of ruthlessness. Senna won three championships (’88, ’90, and ’91), 41 races, and held 65 poles during his eleven-year career.
Despite his drive to win, Senna was also extremely sensitive about fair play (on and off the track) and generous and compassionate towards others. He was especially concerned about improving driver safety in F1. Since his passing in 1994, no driver has been killed during an F1 race.
Many drivers consider Senna to be one of the greatest in F1 (and have demonstrated this belief through various polls). Senna was a genius in a car–especially when racing in the wet–and was completely fearless. He was “the ultimate driver.”