Top 10…Greatest Drivers of All Time.
Yep, it’s the big one. You wondered when this was coming didn’t you?
It’s taken me ages to figure out who I think are the 10 greatest talents ever to have graced this sport, after all, there have been so many and I hope I’ve done justice to their talent.
Sit back, relax and enjoy. You may not agree with all of my choices, but I think my reasoning is sound enough. Lets get started.
10. Vitaly Petrov
It was a late call to add him to the list, but after his stunning podium in sunday’s Australian Grand Prix I had to put him in the list, bumping out Fangio in the process. It isn’t just that podium though – it’s the five other memorable points finishes in his debut season, it’s his domination of Valencia in GP2, and it’s his awkward demeanour when giving interviews in English.
Petrov, pushing hard in a critically important practice session at Barcelona last year
9. Vincenzo Sospiri
Though he only attempted to compete in one solitary Grand Prix – at Melbourne in 1997 – it was clear that Vincenzo was one of motor racing’s all round talents, certainly on a par with the likes of Mario Andretti and Jim Clark, and probably superior to.
Sospiri’s talent in F3000 was there for all to see – it took him just five seasons to claim the F3000 crown, which he did by beating such legends as Tarso Marques, Naoki Hattori and the incomparable Jan Lammers.
His arrival in F1 was brief but astounding. Though the Lola T97/30 was a horrible car and both its drivers failed to qualify, Sospiri managed to outqualify his team mate – the legendary Riccardo Rosset - by over a second. Such a feat is proof enough that Sospiri was a great Grand Prix driver, even if he only had a single qualifying session to show for it.
After this appearance, Sospiri stunned the world by qualifying third for that years Indy 500 and showed remarkable consistancy in the following Champ Car season, when he finished 15th in BOTH of the races he finished.
An icon? You betcha.
8. Nick Heidfeld
Nick Heidfeld holds the most coveted record in Grand Prix racing. Between the 2007-2009 seasons, Heidfeld finished an astonishing 33 consecutive races, and was classified in an unbeliveable 41 consecutive races. To finish first, first you must finish – Nick Heidfeld understands this rule like no other driver has before or since, and that surely makes him a giant among men.
He’s already going after his own record, with a string of 5 consecutive finishes since the end of 2010. Watch this space, ‘Quick Nick’ could be big.
Extremely rare and valuable footage of Heidfeld not finishing a race
7. Andrea de Cesaris
It is an urban myth that de Cesaris earned his moniker of ‘Andrea de Crasheris’ because he put it in the wall so often in his early career. The truth is that de Cesaris drove so fast and so furious that the laws of physics simply couldn’t keep up, giving the illusion that all the crashes were his own fault.
After 15 years of being in Formula One, it looked as though physics had Andrea sussed, and everyone looked forward to a period of him dominating the sport. However, de Cesaris was fed up of F1, instead seeking a new challenge of windsurfing. At the time of writing, de Cesaris is still impervious to hydrodynamics.
6. Francois Hesnault
Anyone with a surname which is pronounced nothing like it’s written has to be something special. After a trying debut season with Ligier in 1984, Bernie Ecclestone hired him to race alongside Nelson Piquet at Brabham for 1985. Piquet realised Hesnaults potential and, not wanting to be beaten, repeatedly sabotaged the Frenchman’s car.
Hesnault was initially unaware, but by the 4th round of the season at Monaco he cottoned on. After setting laps which bystanders reported to be under a minute, an astounded Hesnault was told he’d failed to qualify. Later on that night he saw Piquet doing tequila slammers with the aid of some Brabham timing equipment. He immediately realised what was going on and left the team in disgust.
Prior to this drivers in other teams were beginning to complain that Hesnault was ‘too good’ for F1 and demanded onboard footage of his driving style be made available for them to study. At the German Grand Prix Renault sent him out in the race with an onboard camera on the car, a first for the sport. Francois knew what was going on however and deliberately drove slowly to preserve his secrets before walking away from the sport in disgust, forever.
5. Perry McCarthy
Perry McCarthy is these days probably best known for being the ‘original stig’ on BBC’s Top Gear. But back in 1992 Perry was a Formula One driver with the small, well respected, controversy free but short lived team Andrea Moda.
McCarthy was so full of promise and Ecclestone so keen to seem him on the grid that although he didn’t fulfill the criteria for a super licence, he was given one anyway.
It was a tough season, McCarthy never pre qualifying and only getting a handful of laps, mainly due to Andrea Moda not wishing to put their star driver at risk. One moment at Spa however sealed McCarthys name among the greats forever – he somehow drove through the daunting Eau Rouge corner with completely seized steering.
Doing something like that take cojones of immeasurable size, and with it Perry McCarthy deservedly earns his place at number 5 on the list.
4. Tora Takagi
Toranosuke Takagi drove two anonymous but solid seasons for Tyrrell and Arrows in the late 1990′s. Whilst he never managed to score any points, he did have the pleasure of driving one of the most beautiful Formula One cars of all time: the Arrows A20.
It’s a well known fact that Japanese F1 drivers who stuggle to communicate in English can cost them up to three seconds a lap, and this proved to be Takagi’s downfall. There was one race however that showed us a glimpse of what he could have done had he learned the language of Formula One.
On home ground at Suzuka, he qualified his Tyrrell – in the teams last ever race – in a staggering 17th place, ahead of both Minardi’s, Verstappen’s Stewart and Diniz’s Arrows. His team mate, the fabled Riccardo Rosset, simply couldn’t understand how his team mate was being so epic and failed to qualify.
Takagi was running in a lowly position but on a secret strategy which his team say would have guaranteed him victory. At just gone half distance however the kamikaze Argentine, the barely-out-of-pre-school Esteban Tuero wiped him out at the chicane, and Takagi’s certain victory was gone. The debris from the accident caused hapless journeyman Michael Schumacher to retire from the race, which for some reason got more press coverage.
Tuero ruins a certain win for Takagi
3. Alex Wurz
The king of the surprise podium, Alex Wurz has been finishing 3rd on unlikely occasions since 1997. His first came during the 1997 British Grand Prix, when he substituted at Benetton for Gerhard Berger. His second came during the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix, when he substituted at McLaren for Juan Pablo Montoya. Impressively, he managed to score this podium after the race had finished, something which takes an abundance of natural talent.
His third podium came during the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix whilst actually driving for Williams, not subbing for someone. This race would prove his lasting legacy, as on the podium he gave the sign of the horn, a symbol which has gone down in F1 folklore in the same way and Salazar and Piquet’s bust up or Tiago Montiero’s understated celebrations at the 2005 US Grand Prix.
Wurz’s symbol is so popular that many have attempted to replicate it, most notably Red Bull’s pay driver Sebastian Vettel; although he hasn’t quite grasped the concept of needing to raise his little finger at the same time.
2. Jos Verstappen
Where to start with Jos Verstappen? The man who taught Michael Schumacher everything he knows in 1994, the man who had the honour of driving the last car to be branded as a Footwork, the man who has the most intimadating nickname of them all: The Boss.
There are too many legendary Verstappen moments for me to cover before I have to pay council tax on the paragraph, so I’ll pick just two.
At the 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix, Jos Verstappen pulled off one of the great overtaking moves of all time. In an attempt to give the other drivers a chance, Verstappen had dropped back and allowed himself to be lapped by then leader Juan Pablo Montoya. Jos then decided that this was the time to unlap himself and win the race. He passed Montoya not on the inside, not on the outside, but by going over the top of him. It was a brilliant move, and it would have worked had Montoya not foolishly failed to accept 100% blame for the incident.
Over the next couple of years, other drivers attempted to replicate this overtake. Luciano Burti almost pulled it off against Michael Schumacher at Hockenheim later that year, but Ralf Schumacher did it most spectacularly against Rubens Barrichello at the start of the 2002 Australian Grand Prix.
Another classic Jos moment came during the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix. In the pouring rain, he was on course to win the race while driving for the Minardi team. No-one else who drove for Minardi was brave enough to try and achieve such success for F1′s most hated, most reviled team through fear of public alienation. Jos was brave enough however, but towards the end of the race an innocuous spin which was in no way Jos’ fault put an end to such a feat of bravery.
Jos retired at the end of the 2003 season and has been hugely missed. He was rumoured to replace Lewis Hamilton at McLaren mid way through the 2007 season after the English rookie totally failed to live up to expectations, but it came to nothing.
1. Ralf Schumacher
It had to be didn’t it? Ralf Schumacher was so great that his brother Michael spent so long in his shadow, went delirious from lack of sun and thought he could still race competitively at the age of 42.
Ralf won a whopping 6 Grands Prix, and would have undoubtedly won more had the rules, circuits, cars and tyres suited his driving style more.
Words cannot do justice to his achievements, but this video certainly does. Check out the unique way he sets his car up to steer left.