Motorsport fans are a passionate bunch, as with any sport the fans have their favourite players, or in this case drivers. Whether it’s Formula One or Rallying, drivers in all disciplines and classes deserve to be recognized for what they have achieved. We’ve created a list of our favourite drivers in no particular order, because honestly there’s no way we could rank these greats.
Aryton Senna is considered to be one of, if not the greatest Formula One driver to ever grace the tracks. His incredible achievements even warranted a fantastic movie (Senna 2010) about his racing career, life and ultimately tragic death at the hands of his sport. During his time in Formula One he was dominate in a field of drivers who were some of the most skilled to ever drive a Formula One car.
Aryton Senna made his Formula One debut in 1984, winning six Grand Prix races in his first three seasons as a driver, and shaking up the field tremendously. He was considered a wet weather master and quite possibly the best qualifier the sport has ever seen. In 1988, he won all but one of the 16 Grand Prix races and accomplished his life long dream of winning the World Championship. He won later championships in 1990 and 1991 with McLaren before switching to Williams later in his career.
Another reason for Senna’s fame is his rivalry with another giant at the time, Alain Prost. Prost was Senna’s teammate at McLaren before Prost moved to Ferrari and later Williams. Sparks flew on the track and off the track, which created one of the most exciting periods in Formula One ever.
Tragically, Senna was killed in 1994 at Imola. As a testament to the great man, an estimated three million people flocked to the streets of Senna’s hometown of São Paulo during the funeral, making it one of the largest attended funerals in recorded history. If that isn’t a great legacy than we don’t know what is.
A man people seem to forget when they talk of the greatest drivers. The Frenchman is the most titled racing driver, with nine consecutive FIA World Rally Drivers’ titles. He was not only incredibly successful on the rally stages, but he also holds the record for the fastest Pikes Peak Hill Climb time of 8:13.878. He’s also raced in the FIA GT Series, the FIA World Touring Car Championship and most recently the FIA World Rally Cross Championship.
Amazingly, the most successful racecar driver’s roots didn’t even start in motorsport. Loeb was originally a gymnast before switching to rallying in 1995. He won the Junior World Rally Championship in 2001 and since then he’s been dominating everyone.
Loeb has undoubtedly silenced his critics over the years and has proven himself more than competent on practically any race surface. He became the first non-Nordic driver to take victory on the icy Swedish stages, an impressive feat itself. We just wish he could have made it to Formula One.
How could we create a list like this without including the most successful Formula One driver of all time. He is regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time, and dominated the sport after the Senna, Prost, Mansell era. Schumacher holds the most number of Formula One championships at seven. He also holds the most number of race wins, fastest laps, pole positions and races won in a single season (equaled by Sebastian Vettel nine years later).
Schumacher’s first two titles came with Benetton in 1994 and 1995, before he moved to Ferrari where he drove for 11 years. During his time at Ferrari he managed to win five consecutive titles between 2000 and 2004. In 2006 he retired from driving, but stayed on with Ferrari as an adviser. He later returned to the sport as a driver for Mercedes in 2010, before retiring a second time at the end of the 2012 season.
Sadly, Shumacher suffered a serious head injury while skiing in December 2013. He was put in a medically induced coma until the middle of 2014. Apparently, the great is now paralyzed and still recovering, bringing a sad end to his incredible driving career.
If you’ve never heard of Colin McRae you’re probably not a fan of motorsport. While Loeb is more successful on paper, many would consider McRae to be the ultimate rally driver. The mad Scotsman’s name has appeared on video games and his simple mantra of, “if in doubt, flat out” shows he meant serious business. The man won the hearts of fans across the world with his relentless pursuit of speed and flare. He was the fastest driver in the world at the time and wanted to prove it on every single corner of every stage.
Similar to the Senna/Prost battle, McRae shared a similar rivalry with his teammate in 1995. Carlos Sainz was also a Subaru driver at the time and the team-orders row during the Spanish rally event brought tensions to new heights between the two drivers. Ultimately, McRae won the rally and the World Rally Championship after being two minutes down, making for one of the most exciting rally events of all time.
McRae might have been a big hit with the fans, but his team managers were often frustrated by his gung-ho attitude to winning. The number of trophies won almost equaled the amount of cars he annihilated. He probably could of won even more events with a more tempered approach, but that’s not why we love him.
Tragically, McRae was killed in 2007 when his helicopter crashed near his home. The accident also killed his son and two family friends.
A man that people either hate or love, Alain Prost is quite possibly the best French racecar driver apart from maybe Sebastian Loeb. From 1987 until 2001, he held the record for the most Grand Prix victories in history, and his four World Championship titles solidify him as one of the greats.
He was part of some of the most exhilarating rivalries in motorsport history, with the battles between him, Aryton Senna, Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell reaching biblical status. In 1986, during the last race of the season, Prost beat Mansell and Piquet to the title after Mansell retired late in the race, and Piquet had to pull in for a late pit stop. The clash between Prost and Senna at McLaren during the 1988 season also featured some incredible moments. The most notable was the collision at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix that gave Prost his third Championship title.
Nicknamed “The Professor”, Prost had a smooth, relaxed driving style and he was one of the most intellectual drivers to ever grace the sport. In 1999 Prost received the Word Sports Award of the Century in the motorsport category.
Juan Manuel Fangio
Juan Manuel Fangio, the man they called El Maestro, was an Argentine racing driver, who won the Formula One Drivers’ Championship five times. Many consider him to be the greatest driver and his five titles came in only seven full seasons (he missed one recovering from a nearly fatal injury).
In 51 Grand Prix races, Fangio started from the front row 48 times, with 29 pole positions. He set 23 fastest lap times en route to winning 24 races. Fangio displayed some of the greatest displays of sill and daring seen in Formula One.
Fangio’s success came at the infancy of the Formula One World Championship. He was considered to be relatively old, with his last driving title coming in 1957, when he was 46. Most of his competitors were half his age and nearly all came from privileged backgrounds, compared to Fangio’s humble beginnings.
His racing career started in the incredibly arduous South American long distance races that tested Fangio to the absolute limit. At 38, Fangio moved to Europe to bring his racing career to a new level. During his time in Formula One he honed his driving and mechanical skills to the highest degree. Fangio is one of the most spectacular drivers to watch, especially when he was power-sliding past spectators.
During Fangio’s time in Formula One, over 30 of his peers were killed, showing how ruthless and dangerous was back in the 50’s. Fangio’s championship record endured for 46 years, making his legacy possibly the greatest of any driver.
One of only two drivers to ever win races in Formula One, Indy Car, World Sportscar Championship and NASCAR, Mario Andretti is a household name all over the world. His success didn’t stop there though, he also won races in midget and sprint cars, making him one of the greatest racing legends of all time. He has won four Indy Car titles and won the 1978 Formula One World Championship. Andretti is the only driver to win the Daytona 500, the Formula One World Championship and Indianapolis 500. He has also won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. His other claim to fame is that he is the last American to have won a Formula One race victory – the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix.
Mario Andretti’s achievements continued to pile up during his career. The legend is also one of only three drivers to win races on paved ovals, road circuits and dirt tracks in one season. He achieved this feat a further three times and was named United States Driver of the Year in three separate decades. All up, he had 109 career wins on major circuits, solidifying him as quite possibly the greatest driver to have ever lived.
Nigel Mansell’s Formula One career lasted 15 seasons, and he is the second most successful British F1 driver after Lewis Hamilton. He has won both the Formula One World Championship in 1992 and the CART Indy Car World Series in 1993. Not only was he the first person to win the CART title in his debut season, but he is the only person to hold both the World Drivers Championship and the American open-wheel National Championship simultaneously.
During his racing career, Mansell held the record for the most number of poles set in a single season, until that was broken by Sebastian Vettel in 2011. He has also raced in the Grand Prix Masters series, and won the title. Mansell was ranked ninth out of the 50 greatest drivers of all time b the Times Online. Additionally, longtime Formula One commentator Murray Walker rated Mansell in the top ten F1 drivers of all time.
In 2005 he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and these days he is the president of UK Youth, one of the United Kingdom’s largest youth work charities.
Like many other driving greats, A.J. Foyt achievements weren’t limited to just one discipline. He raced in the United States Automobile Club Champ, midget cars, NASCAR and USAC. Foyt’s biggest success came in the form of 159 victories in USAC and 67 wins in the American Championship series. He is the only driver to win the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 (four times), the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and 24 Hours of Daytona. His success continued in NASCAR where he won the 1964 Firecracker 400 and the 1972 Daytona 500.
Foyt had a number of close calls during his time racing. He survived three major crashes that caused serious injuries, and escaped a fourth by the skin of his teeth. After his retirement from racing, Foyt created A.J. Foyt Enterprises, which has fielded teams in a number of different racing series. These include; CART, IRL, and NASCAR.
Steerling Moss is often described as “the greatest driver to never win the World Championship”. He won a total of 212 races out of 529 across several categories of competition. Moss finished as a championship runner-up four times and third three times between 1955 and 1961. He started his professional career in a Cooper 500 at the age of 18, before eventually making his way to Formula One.
During his remarkable career, Moss drove 107 different types of cars across multiple classes of motorsport. He took part in 318 Formula One races, finishing 225 of them, which is an impressive feat when you consider how unreliable cars were during this period. Out of 375 competitive professional races, Moss won 212, which is more than one win in two! A near-fatal accident at Goodwood in 1962 ended his professional racing career.
After his retirement from professional racing Moss moved into the property business, which he continues to run to this day with his family.