The 10 best drivers in Formula 1 history: Hamilton, Senna & more

The best F1 driver in history is a debate that has, and will continue to, rage as long as Formula 1 exists, but we look at who the best drivers are statistically.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st position, celebrates on arrival in Parc Ferme

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st position, celebrates on arrival in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

1. Lewis Hamilton – 103 wins

First race: 2007 Australian Grand Prix
World Championships: 7 (2008, 2014-15, 2017-20) 
Number of races: 288 
Number of wins: 103 
Number of pole positions: 103 
Career points: 4165.5 

In terms of career wins and total career points, Lewis Hamilton is the best Formula 1 driver to have ever graced a circuit. The Brit has taken wins in 30 different countries, won a race in every season he’s competed in, and is currently tied on world championships with Michael Schumacher (though he has the chance to edge one further in 2021). Hamilton holds many of Formula 1’s records and, with a contract that runs to the end of 2023, he looks to be able to push even further ahead on many of them. 

While he missed becoming champion in his first season by a single point, he became the (then) youngest world champion the following year. Thirteen years later he’s secured six more titles, and is fighting for an eighth. 

Read more about Hamilton’s first 100 wins here.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F2004 celebrates with the Ferrari team after winning his 7th world championship with Jean Todt and Ross Brawn

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F2004 celebrates with the Ferrari team after winning his 7th world championship with Jean Todt and Ross Brawn

Photo by: Motorsport Images

2. Michael Schumacher – 91 wins

First race: 1991 Belgian Grand Prix
World Championships: 7 (1994-95, 2000-04)
Number of races: 308
Number of wins: 91
Number of pole positions: 68
Career points: 1566

When considering the best F1 driver, Michael Schumacher immediately springs to mind. He was, until the rise of Hamilton, the face of domination in Formula 1: seven titles (five of them consecutive), a seemingly insurmountable number of wins, unrelenting competitiveness – Schumacher changed the game in F1 with his combination of dedication, passion, and, of course, raw talent.

While he took two titles with Benetton, he’s far more well-known for his time with Ferrari. He joined the team in 1996 and, after some highs and lows in the following years, the combination struck gold in 2000. What followed in the next five years were five world titles, 48 wins, and a record book that had Michael Schumacher’s name in almost every field.

His second stint in F1 wasn’t as successful as his first, yielding a single podium to add to his collection. However, his 91 wins, 155 podiums and 68 pole positions still put him high up in any statistical analysis. See our top 10 Schumacher victories here.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull RB9 Renault

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull RB9 Renault

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

3. Sebastian Vettel – 53 wins

First race: 2007 United States Grand Prix
World Championships: 4 (2010-13)
Number of races: 279
Number of wins: 53
Number of pole positions: 57
Career points: 3061

While his form in Formula 1 isn’t what it once was, there was a time when Sebastian Vettel was virtually unbeatable.

Vettel’s F1 career started in 2007 and, in his first three years, he took nine podiums and five wins, though this was nothing on what was to come. Over the next four years he became the face of F1, winning four consecutive championships and becoming the youngest world champion in the process (taking the accolade from Lewis Hamilton). He also secured the records for most podium finishes in a season, most wins in a season, most pole positions in a season, most laps led in a season, most consecutive wins, most consecutive grand slams, and most wins from pole position in a season.

Unfortunately for Vettel the regulation changes in 2014 didn’t suit Red Bull (or him), and the team quickly fell back through the pack. He went from nine consecutive wins in the final nine races of the 2013 season to not winning a single race until 2015, and since that 2013 season he’s ‘only’ taken 14 wins. Despite that he’s still widely regarded as one of the best drivers on the grid, and his list of records is likely to stand for many more seasons.

Read more about Sebastian Vettel’s top 10 wins here.

Podium: Second placed Elio De Angelis, Lotus, race winner Alain Prost, McLaren, third placed Thierry Boutsen, Arrows

Podium: Second placed Elio De Angelis, Lotus, race winner Alain Prost, McLaren, third placed Thierry Boutsen, Arrows

Photo by: Sutton Images

4. Alain Prost – 51 wins

First race: 1980 Argentinian Grand Prix
World Championships: 4 (1985-86, 1989, 1993)
Number of races: 199
Number of wins: 51
Number of pole positions: 33
Career points: 768.5

It was Alain Prost’s meticulous style that allowed him to go up against Ayrton Senna – the bitter feud that he is best remembered for. His secret weapon was brainpower, as well as speed, and he possessed a natural precision in his driving that allowed Prost to become France’s first world champion in 1985.

In 1987 he beat Jackie Stewart’s record of 27 wins and a year later McLaren won 15 out of 16 races across the season, which is testament to both Prost and Senna’s skill. Prost remained at the top of his game until his retirement, taking his fourth and final title for Williams at 38 years old.

Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4-8

Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4-8

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

5. Ayrton Senna – 41 wins

First race: 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix
World Championships: 3 (1988, 1990-91)
Number of races: 161
Number of wins: 41
Number of pole positions: 65
Career points: 610

One of motorsport’s most legendary figures, Ayrton Senna remains the benchmark for raw talent and charisma.

His depth of commitment to a lap and his constant desire to push the boundaries for more has meant that Senna has a special place in the hearts of many motorsport fans. His three titles give a sense of what could have been had he not died at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. A combination of natural speed and restless ambition gave Senna an edge rarely seen.

Such is his legacy that even nearly thirty years after his death, Senna’s cars and how he won his greatest F1 title are still talked about.

Race winner Fernando Alonso, Renault celebrates on the podium

Race winner Fernando Alonso, Renault celebrates on the podium

Photo by: Sutton Images

6. Fernando Alonso – 32 wins

First race: 2001 Australian Grand Prix
World Championships: 2 (2005-06)
Number of races: 333
Number of wins: 32
Number of pole positions: 22
Career points: 1980

Fernando Alonso is a two-time world champion with a reputation as a fearless, aggressive racer, though his career can be defined as much by what didn’t come as the two titles he won.

The Spaniard spent three years in Formula 1 before scoring the first of his two consecutive crowns, taking the title with a comfortable 21 point lead over Kimi Raikkonen. His second title the year later was a 13-point lead over the great Michael Schumacher, though this is where Alonso’s good fortune seemed to run out.

A move to McLaren in 2007 to partner then-rookie Lewis Hamilton saw him finish the season in third, just one point behind winner Kimi Raikkonen and behind Hamilton, who had the same points but more wins. His 2010 move to Ferrari looked like it would pay off as he entered the final race of the season in the lead, but a combination of him getting stuck behind Vitaly Petrov and a win for Sebastian Vettel meant Alonso had to settle for second. He missed the 2012 title by just three points (again to Vettel), and was second again in 2013 (though was 155 points the German).

He moved back to McLaren in 2015 – just in time for the disastrous McLaren-Honda relationship – and after four tough years he left at the end of 2018 – just before McLaren made their way back towards the front of the grid.

Even the 2021 season has been unkind to Alonso – racing for the midfield Alpine team he secured a fourth place at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix (the best he’d finished for seven years) while his team mate Esteban Ocon went on to win, though a long-awaited 98th podium finally in Qatar.

Despite the terrible luck that Alonso has exhibited in Formula 1 he’s still taken 32 wins, 22 pole positions and 23 fastest laps, and is a firm fan favourite. You can read more about his greatest races here.

Race winner Nigel Mansell, Williams FW11B Honda

Race winner Nigel Mansell, Williams FW11B Honda

Photo by: Motorsport Images

7. Nigel Mansell – 31 wins

First race: 1980 Austrian Grand Prix
World Championships: 1 (1992)
Number of races: 187
Number of wins: 31
Number of pole positions: 32
Career points: 482

Nigel Mansell was another one of Formula 1’s ‘unlucky’ drivers. His career was dogged by reliability issues, and his entire 1988 season consisted of two second-place finishes, two races missed due to chicken pox, and 12 retirements.

He managed to finish in second place in the championship three times – missing out on the title by two points in 1986 – and as he entered his 12th full-time season in Formula 1, it looked like he might go down as yet another brilliant driver to miss out on the title. Thankfully for the Brit though, this didn’t happen.

Mansell took five consecutive wins to start the 1992 season, going on to claim four more and taking an additional three second-place finishes. This was enough for ‘Il leone’ to take the title at the age of 39 years old, becoming the fifth-oldest person to do so.

Jackie Stewart, Tyrell 006 Cosworth

Jackie Stewart, Tyrell 006 Cosworth

Photo by: Motorsport Images

8. Jackie Stewart – 27 wins

First race: 1965 South African Grand Prix
World Championships: 3 (1969, 1971, 1973)
Number of races: 99
Number of wins: 27
Number of pole positions: 17
Career points: 360

It might seem an intrinsic part of F1 today, but Jackie Stewart was one of the first drivers to prove that racers can, and should, strive for better safety standards. As a triple champion and dominant force in the sport, Stewart had the credibility needed to change the culture around safety in motorsport. After seeing too many of his friends and colleagues killed doing what they loved, Stewart was a key pioneer in the introduction of full-face helmets, seatbelts, travelling medical units, safety barriers, runoff areas and more.

Outside his quest for safety, Stewart was a prodigious talent on track and was the man to beat throughout his time on the grid, claiming three world titles with Ken Tyrrell’s eponymous team as the two formed an irrepressible double-act in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Read more about Jackie Stewart’s best races here.

Niki Lauda, Ferrari 312T

Niki Lauda, Ferrari 312T

Photo by: Motorsport Images

9. Niki Lauda – 25 wins

First race: 1971 Austrian Grand Prix
World Championships: 3 (1975, 1977, 1984)
Number of races: 171
Number of wins: 25
Number of pole positions: 24
Career points: 420.5

Niki Lauda entered Formula 1 as a pay driver, though nobody can deny that, while his money helped him enter F1, it’s his talent that kept him there.

With three seasons in F1 under his belt, Lauda joined Ferrari for the 1974 season and secured two wins and fourth place in the championship for 1974, having often set the pace but suffered misfortune. In 1975 Lauda took five wins and the first of his three world titles, but it’s his 1976 season – and the infamous Nurburgring crash – that’s his most famous.

He bounced back from a life-threatening crash at the Nurburgring to miss out on the title by one point to James Hunt. He took his second title in 1977 and retired two years later, only to return with McLaren in 1982. That yielded a third crown in 1984, after an epic contest with Alain Prost, before Lauda retired for good at the end of 1985.

While he proved his talent on track, he later became known for his business sense off it. He worked in managerial positions for Ferrari and Jaguar, though he’s most well-known for his part in Mercedes.

He was instrumental in bringing Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes for the 2013 season, and worked with the team until he passed away in 2019.

Read more about Niki Lauda’s 10 best races here.

Jim Clark, Lotus 49 Ford

Jim Clark, Lotus 49 Ford

Photo by: Motorsport Images

10. Jim Clark – 25 wins

First race: 1960 Dutch Grand Prix
World Championships: 2 (1963, 1965)
Number of races: 72
Number of wins: 25
Number of pole positions: 33
Career points: 274

Jim Clark shunned the limelight and was only interested in winning. From 1962-65, the Scottish ace was arguably only beaten in the world title when he encountered mechanical issues and at the time of his death in 1968 – tragically during an F2 race at Hockenheim – he held the record for the most race wins.

An unrivalled talent, Clark was eight miles clear of the nearest competitor in the torrential rain at Spa in 1963, highlighting the bravery of a driver racing in the most dangerous period of motorsport’s history.

Read more about Jim Clark’s greatest drives here.

PLUS: Who is the greatest driver of all time?

Author: Eileen Mccoy