Best F1 drivers ever
Who are the most successful Formula 1 drivers of all time? There's been plenty of drivers who have made their mark over the sport's history, so let's see who makes the list.
The argument over what makes a driver 'the best ever' is one that will never be decided. Different eras have had their own superstars and there's been different regulations with different cars. A driver might sweep all before him under one set of regulations, while looking distinctly average with another.
There's also the probability that the quickest drivers might not always be the best. Outright speed might win you pole position, but not the race.
The surefire way to generate a top ten list is to assume that the more wins and championships a driver has won, the higher up the list they should be. Statistics don't tell the whole story, but here's a look at some of the drivers who are worthy of being described as the best in the business.
While there's ten drivers on the list, it's up to your own interpretation as to which order you would place them!
The Austrian driver won three world championships during his career, racing for both Ferrari and McLaren.
Racing for over a decade in Formula 1, his first win was at the 1974 Spanish Grand Prix with the Scuderia. Winning the driver's championship in '75, Lauda stayed with Ferrari and looked set for another title.
An infamous, and life-threatening, accident derailed Lauda's 1976 season. Fighting back from injury to return just a few weeks after almost dying at the Nurburgring, Lauda lost out to McLaren's James Hunt.
In full form again for 1977, Lauda swept all before him to clinch that championship. Joining Brabham for 1978, Lauda won again in the BT46 at the Swedish and Italian races.
A poor 1979 prompted Lauda to abruptly retire from Formula 1, parking his car up during practice in Canada to team boss Bernie Ecclestone's consternation.
Tempted back by McLaren for 1982, Lauda won another championship in 1984 by beating teammate Alain Prost by just half a point. A poor 1985 finally prompted the Austrian to retire for good.
Scottish racer Jim Clark may have 'only' won 25 races during his career, but this figure represents over a third of the F1 races he entered during his curtailed life.
Becoming legendary during the 1960s as he formed an extremely successful partnership with Colin Chapman, Clark won the 1963 and 1965 world championships with ease.
While 1966 yielded just one win, 1967 represented a big step forward again for Lotus as he claimed four wins on his way to third in the championship.
Unfortunately, Clark was to lose his life early in 1968, dying in a Formula 2 race he entered with Lotus at the Hockenheimring in Germany.
Following in the footsteps of compatriot Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart took up the mantle of F1's gold standard driver after Clark's death.
Stewart won his first race with BRM in 1965, but it wasn't until 1969 that Stewart won his first championship. Driving for Matra, the Scot switched to Tyrrell for 1970 and remained there for the rest of his career.
Winning the championship in 1971 and 1973, Stewart was another driver to abruptly end his career. Teammates with Francois Cevert, Stewart was devastated by the Frenchman's death at Watkins Glen and opted to walk away immediately, having won three titles.
Stewart was a vocal advocate for increased safety within Formula 1 during his career, often to the detriment of his own popularity with authority figures and personnel.
The British driver may have 'only' won one world championship in 1992, but he did so in completely dominant fashion to ensure nobody, not even his teammate, had a sniff of taking it away from him.
The 1992 Williams FW14B was almost a gift from the team, making up for the disappointment of 1986. Mansell looked set to clinch that year's title, but lost out after a puncture prevented him from scoring points at the Australian Grand Prix.
With 31 Grand Prix wins, Mansell finished second in the championship on three occasions and went on to also win the IndyCar Championship at the first time of asking in 1993 after leaving F1.
Returning to F1 for a brief period at the end of 1994, Mansell claimed one final victory by winning the Australian Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso may not have the most championship wins under his belt compared to others on the list, but the Spaniard's two world championships were the first to break the stranglehold of Ferrari and Michael Schumacher in the mid-2000s.
Alonso became the sport's then-youngest race winner by winning the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix, before going on to claim his first title in 2005 after a tense battle with McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen. Another fraught battle unfolded with Schumacher and Ferrari in 2006, with the Spaniard winning his second title.
Another title could have followed in 2007 as Alonso switched to McLaren. However, a bitter rivalry with rookie Lewis Hamilton and a poor relationship with team boss Ron Dennis, coupled with a resurgent Raikkonen, meant Alonso wouldn't add to his tally.
Switching back to Renault for 2008, he won two races that year before a winless year in 2009. Charged with heading up Ferrari in 2010, Alonso mounted strong championship challenges that year and in 2012, but ultimately fell short.
Alonso's most recent F1 victory was at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, with the years since being in the doldrums with Ferrari and McLaren.
Quitting F1 at the end of 2018, the Spaniard returns to the field in 2021 as he will drive for his former Renault team once more under their new Alpine name.
The sport's youngest ever world champion was also the sport's youngest ever winner when he claimed his first win with Toro Rosso in 2008.
Promoted to Red Bull for 2009, Sebastian Vettel's form improved throughout the year to remain in contention for the title until the season finale in Brazil. But it was in 2010 that the German stepped up his game and clinched the title away from teammate Mark Webber and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso at the Abu Dhabi race.
Vettel and Red Bull became an unstoppable force as the German won four straight titles to take them up to the end of 2013. The switch from the V8 engine formula to the hybrid era halted Red Bull's progress, with Vettel's form also taking a dip against new teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
Switching to Ferrari for 2015, the German immediately returned to winning ways but his first strong championship challenge didn't come until 2017. Losing out to Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton that year, and in 2018, Vettel was a consistently strong performer but mistakes did start to creep in.
Partnered with Ferrari's young protege Charles Leclerc in 2019, Vettel was matched by his unproven teammate and, as a consequence, the Scuderia opted not to extend Vettel's contract at the end of 2020.
Vettel has found refuge with Aston Martin, formerly Racing Point, for 2021.
Known for being one half of the most famous F1 rivalry in the sport's history, Alain Prost was the perfect foil to Ayrton Senna during the heady days of the late 80s and early 90s.
An uneasy rivalry in the mid 80s turned into outright war once the pair teamed up at McLaren, with mind games and occasional collisions marring their battles.
By the time they teamed up at McLaren in 1988, Prost was already a formidable driver. Winning his first race with Renault in 1981, he finished runner-up in the championship in 1984 before winning the '85 and '86 titles.
With Senna getting the better of Prost in '88, Prost had his revenge in 1989 when a collision at Suzuka resulted in Prost retiring from the race and the Brazilian being disqualified for failing to rejoin the track properly. Unable to work together as teammates, Prost departed for Ferrari, but the rivalry wasn't over.
Heading to Suzuka for the championship showdown again, Senna took Prost out of the race at the first corner, claiming the title in the process.
A poor year in 1991 prompted Prost to leave F1 for a season, but Williams convinced him to come back in 1993 to replace the departing Nigel Mansell. The Frenchman didn't need much convincing after seeing Mansell's level of dominance with the FW14B, as he stamped his authority in the 1993 car alongside the inexperienced Damon Hill.
Prost clinched that year's title, with his relationship with Senna finally starting to thaw as their careers matured. The 1993 Australian Grand Prix was Prost's final race, and the final time the pair would stand on the podium together.
Ayrton Senna has become the icon of Formula 1 thanks to his mercurial personality, desire to dominate his teammates, and, sadly, his death while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
The Brazilian stood out immediately upon his arrival into F1, fighting for the win at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix in his little-fancied Toleman. Winning his first race in 1985 with Lotus, it wasn't until 1988 that Senna claimed his first title by beating Prost at McLaren.
Winning the championship after colliding with Prost at Suzuka in 1990, his 1991 title win was a much cleaner affair. Left frustrated after being unable to challenge Mansell for the '92 season, Senna tried to go to Williams for '93 but was baulked by the signing of Prost.
Instead, Senna raced on a race-by-race deal with McLaren, and claimed five wins in the underpowered car on his way to second in the championship behind Prost.
While Prost was known as 'The Professor' for being methodical, patient and a conservative approach, Senna's relentness nature and desire to crush all around him resulted in a more exciting, flamboyant style.
This clash of personalities, racing ethos, and the tragic nature of Senna's death right as it appeared that he and Prost were becoming friendly all added to the mystery and intrigue of the famous rivalry.
Lewis Hamilton is now widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers in Formula 1 history. Winning in his debut season at McLaren as a rookie, the Brit's year alongside two time world champion Fernando Alonso almost yielded him the title at the first time of asking.
Hamilton would finish on level points with Alonso, and just one behind world champion Kimi Raikkonen, but struck back in 2008 to win his maiden title at a dramatic showdown in Brazil.
However, the relationship between Hamilton and McLaren never reached those heights again, with the next five years yielding some strong performances and wins but no real world championship challenge.
Convinced by Niki Lauda to leave McLaren to join the young Mercedes team, the questionable move turned into one of the sport's most pivotal moments.
With Mercedes dominating the early years of the hybrid era, Hamilton took the 2014 and 2015 titles. Marginally beaten to the 2016 title by teammate Nico Rosberg, the Brit has gone on to win every single title since then. His closest rival in that time has, arguably, been Sebastian Vettel as teammate Valtteri Bottas has failed to get the better of the now seven time world champion.
Should Hamilton win the 2021 title, he will become the sport's most successful driver of all time.
Michael Schumacher was another driver with whom there were no question marks over his talent, right from the start.
Qualifying in seventh for his first race at Spa-Francorchamps with Jordan, the German was brought in by Benetton where he stayed until the end of 1995.
Winning his first race in 1992, also at Spa, Schumacher became a frequent challenger to the likes of Senna and Prost, and claimed his first title in 1994 after the death of Ayrton and the retirement of Alain.
While Damon Hill and Williams ran Schumacher close in 1994, the German was in a league of his own in 1995 as he claimed his second title.
Switching to Ferrari in 1996 as the Scuderia sought to rebuild, Schumacher's partnership with team boss Jean Todt and technical director Ross Brawn resulted in a championship challenge in 1997 and 1998. Losing out marginally in both cases, the German's 1999 season was compromised after breaking his leg in a crash at Silverstone.
Returning at the end of '99, Schumacher seemed to find another gear and went on to win the 2000 title after a hard fought year with Mika Hakkinen and McLaren. The Finn's form dipped in 2001, with Schumacher having a much easier time as he took his fourth title. Even easier was 2002, with no team able to compete with Ferrari. Schumacher's teammate, Rubens Barrichello, was also employed to be a rear gunner for the German, meaning Michael was able to romp to the title.
A closer fight with McLaren and Williams in 2003 still yielded another title, while 2004 proved another dominant year for the Scuderia before the Schumacher and Ferrari era of winning was finally over. A poor 2005 turned around into another championship challenge in 2006, before Schumacher left the sport for three years.
Returning in 2010 with Mercedes, Schumacher wasn't quite as untouchable as he once was, but still showed flashes of brilliance such as his pole position at the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix.
He retired from Formula 1 for good at the end of 2012.