Michael Schumacher - 2012 Belgian Grand Prix - Wolfgang Wilhelm/Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team

F1: 5 of the greatest drivers of all time

–by Sam Nowak–

Formula One attracts some of the most dedicated racing fans to watch some of the most committed drivers defying physics to achieve unthinkably fast lap times. Since its earliest days in the late 1940s, the format has always attracted the best and fastest racers, with some of them going on to become global superstars.

Some of the best behind the wheel include:

Ayrton Senna

As one of the best-known names in motor racing, Ayrton Senna’s reputation for pushing boundaries was one of the things that made him so exciting to watch. Fans loved his raw energy and the sheer ambition that drove him to achieve speeds that were utterly unthinkable from any other driver.

His first race was the Brazilian Grand Prix in 1984 and that kickstarted a decade during which Senna dominated racing news, winning 161 races including three world championships. Had his career not been cut short by his untimely death in 1994, no doubt Ayrton Senna would have continued to wow fans the world over with his panache and the impressive consistency of the times he achieved.

1990: Portrait of McLaren Honda driver Ayrton Senna of Brazil before the Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Japan. Senna retired from the race after a collision with Fiat Ferrari driver Alain Prost of France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport
1990 Japanese GP at Suzuka – Senna gets revenge on Prost from year prior

Alain Prost

As one of Ayrton Senna’s contemporaries, Alain Prost was one of the few drivers that could put pressure on the Portuguese superstar. Their rivalry was legendary with Prost renowned for his intellectual approach to winning which threw him into conflict with Senna’s more instinctual style.

After taking his final title at the age of 38, Prost retired from the sport after a season that saw him face Ayrton Senna several times and beat him on almost every occasion.

Alain Prost

Sebastian Vettel

During his peak, Vettel was bordering on unbeatable due to his speed, control, and feel for the track. His first few years saw him win five times and appear on the podium at nine events, and he continued to excel over the following years as well.

He earned the title of youngest world champion, knocking Lewis Hamilton off that top spot, and broke a number of records. Vettel retired when it became clear that new regulations introduced in 2014 didn’t suit his style, but not before becoming one of the most feted drivers in Formula One history.

FORMULA 1 – Grand Prix of Brazil, Interlagos 2011. Image shows Sebastian Vettel (GER/ Red Bull Racing). Photo: Getty Images/ Clive Mason

With the cars being an important part of the Formula One equation, Vettel fell victim to the changes. At such high speeds, even simple things such as the weather can have a huge impact on the driving experience.

Teams make the most of any customizable element of the car to gain an advantage, using different tires and each team has 13 sets of dry tires to use, which is very different to our everyday reliable vogue tires that maximize performance without compromising safety.

Michael Schumacher

As one of the first drivers to really make a mark on the Formula One leader boards, Michael Schumacher was known for being a consistent and passionate driver. Racing for Benetton before signing with Ferrari, Schumacher found his niche in the late 1990s and made the most of it by winning five world titles and forty-eight wins, not to mention a number of broken records.

Although Schumacher did stage a comeback after his initial retirement in 2006 after winning a slew of accolades in the early 2000s, and although it was short-lived, it served as a reminder of how incredible his achievements had been during his peak.

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN – APRIL 4, 2004: Michael Schumacher of Germany and Ferrari celebrates with teammate Rubens Barrichello of Brazil and Ferrari after their 1-2 in the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at the Bahrain Racing Circuit on April 4, 2004 in Sakhir, Bahrain (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Lewis Hamilton

As well as matching Michael Schumacher’s record of seven World Driver’s Championship title wins, Lewis Hamilton has also earned himself a host of other records including the most wins, most podium finishes, most pole positions, and more. He was the youngest Formula One driver ever when he signed his first contract aged just thirteen, and he has continued to set records ever since.

Lewis Hamilton wins the 2014 Abu Dhabi GP. Photo courtesy of Mercedes F1

The 2014 changes that saw Sebastian Vettel flounder proved a boost for Hamilton who was spurred on by his rivalry with teammate Nico Rosberg, and an unbeatable car engineered by Also Costa, to achieve better times than ever. Off the track, Lewis Hamilton has become known for his activism and non-racing related activities such as his clothing line and his forays into the world of music.

While Formula One is an all-consuming passion for most drivers, only a very few make it into the high-profile races, and winning is all about balancing the physical, mental, and psychological aspects of the sport effectively.


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