As you might realize, Formula One is a motorsport where a driver’s name can live in glory or infamy. Being able to drive in this sport has arguably become every racecar driver’s dream since Formula One started back in 1950.
What’s different about Formula One as a motorsport is that it takes drivers around the world, across several challenging tracks, under various track conditions. During each race weekend, the teams must come together as one. Its engineers, mechanics, and drivers have to work together to produce a winning car that can drive all the way to the checkered flag. At the very least, they would aim for a podium finish. If a team is feeling more ambitious, they may even aim for a race win.
Over the years, several teams and drivers have tried to achieve victory. Only a number have succeeded. During the course of all these races, Formula One fans have come to know several drivers who have managed to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack. Some became known because of their impressive racing prowess and winning ability. Others caught attention because of their unbelievable string of failures.
Just to give you a better idea, here are 10 of the best male drivers in Formula One history along with 10 other Formula One drivers with questionable driving skills while on the track:
20 The Best: Fernando Alonso
At some point in Formula One history, Fernando Alonso became known as the youngest world champion. The Spanish driver was also credited with ending the reign of Formula One legend Michael Schumacher, making it clear that Alonso was going to be competitive on the track for years to come.
Even at the early age of 3, Alonso knew he wanted to race. He discovered it when he received a kart made by his father after his older sister turned it down. He kept playing around in this kart and started joining various karting competitions. Several years later, in 1992, Alonso won his first Spanish karting championship. He then went on to win four more.
Just like many other Formula One drivers, Alonso went on to compete in other motorsports championships, including Formula Nissan and F3000. Soon after in 2001, he did a test for a Minardi and managed to secure a racing seat in the same year. Seeing how he outperformed his teammates, Renault signed Alonso as a test driver for the 2002 season. He then signed as their race driver and claimed two consecutive world championships with the team in 2005 and 2006.
19 The Best: Lewis Hamilton
Even as a rookie, Lewis Hamilton displayed impressive racing skills. In fact, he lost out to the world championship by just a single point during his maiden Formula One season in 2007. Since then, the British driver has already managed to win four world championships, showing today’s Formula One community that he is always ready to race in top form.
According to Formula One, Hamilton turned to racing as a hobby when he was a child. By the time he reached the age of 10 though, Hamilton was already winning races.
Even with less than two years of driving experience at that time, he managed to win the British Cadet kart championship.
He continued to win more karting titles after this and caught the attention of McLaren boss Ron Dennis, who signed him on to McLaren’s young driver program. For some time, Hamilton competed in various motorsport racing championships and won. In 2007, McLaren decided to bring Hamilton into Formula One. That year, Hamilton ended up winning four races in his debut season.
The following season, Hamilton was determined to achieve more. At age 23, he took his first championship and became the youngest Formula One champion ever.
18 The Best: Sebastian Vettel
From the time he started racing in Formula One, Sebastian Vettel has been nothing but spectacular. During his mid-20s, Vettel turned heads as he achieved four world championships in four straight seasons. Almost effortlessly, he made history and today, he continues to be a formidable opponent for the likes of Hamilton.
Growing up, Vettel had always had a passion for racing even when he was just a teenager. According to Formula One, he started karting in 1995 and moved on to join various regional championships soon after. It also wasn’t long before he started to join European races. As you could expect, Vettel ended up winning a lot of races and titles.
In 1998, Red Bull took notice and immediately decided to sign to their young driver program. Two years later, Red Bull then asked Vettel to join their junior team. Upon his debut, the young German scored five wins and ended the championship in second place.
When he finally entered Formula One, Vettel worked with several teams, including BMW Sauber, BMW Williams, and Toro Rosso. He started winning championships when he joined Red Bull in 2009. Today, Vettel is going after his fifth championship with Ferrari.
17 The Best: Rubens Barrichello
There are some of you who may argue that there are other drivers more deserving of the best Formula One driver title than Rubens Barrichello. However, we urge you to take the time to look back on his time on the track. After all, there’s a good reason why fans refer to him as the most experienced Formula One driver of all time.
Perhaps, Barrichello was best known as the track side-kick of the legendary Schumacher. From day one, it was no secret that Barrichello was always going to be the number two driver in the continuously victorious Scuderia Ferrari team.
While he achieved fewer wins than his teammate, it should be pointed out that without Barrichello’s achievements, Ferrari could not have won several constructors’ World Championship titles. During the era of Ferrari dominance, Barrichello went on to achieve 55 podium finishes, according to records from ESPN.
In total, he finished over 60 times in the podium and had achieved 600 career points. Throughout his career, Barrichello has started in an impressive 322 races. Aside from Ferrari, he has also driven for Jordan, Stewart, Honda, Brawn, and Williams. The Brazilian retired from Formula One in 2011.
16 The Best: Gilles Villeneuve
Since Formula One began in 1950, Scuderia Ferrari has been on the track for all the world championship’s races. Arguably, the team has had some of the most impressive drivers in Formula One history. One of them was Gilles Villeneuve.
From the start, Villeneuve had to earn his way up. He came from humble beginnings and his family certainly could not afford all the motorsport expenses. And so, the Quebec native decided to pay for his car racing through winnings he earned from various snowmobile races.
Villeneuve came to Formula One as a McLaren driver first. However, when said team decided not to sign him, Ferrari saw an opportunity. For the last two races in 1977, Villeneuve drove for Ferrari. After this, they became partners throughout Villeneuve’s racing career.
Although there were days that Villeneuve struggled on the track, the Canadian driver was, nonetheless, impressive. This was especially evident on the day he won his first ever grand prix in 1978 while racing in his hometown.
Sadly, Villeneuve would only drive for a few more seasons. He met a tragic end while driving for Ferrari during a qualifying session for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix.
15 The Best: Juan Manuel Fangio
Even to this day, Juan Manuel Fangio is seen as one of the greatest drivers ever to take part in Formula One. Fangio came to the track at a time when Formula One racing was just in its infancy.
Unlike other drivers on the track though, Fangio did not come from a rich and privileged background. His parents were immigrants who believed in the value of self-discipline and hard work. Perhaps, this is what inspired Fangio to begin working as a mechanic when he was only 11 years old. He would serve as one for four decades while also racing in rather primitive cars that he prepared himself. Astonishingly, Fangio achieved a lot of wins during this time.
By the time Fangio competed in Formula One, he understood cars better than anyone on the track. This gave him a good advantage. In no time, the legendary Italian driver started winning world championship titles.
He raced in Formula One for seven full seasons and won five world championship titles.
According to Formula One, he also started from the front row in 48 of 51 races. He had set 23 fastest laps and achieved 35 podium finishes.
14 The Best: Alain Prost
Alain Prost is another name that is forever etched in the Formula One history books. His career may be wrapped in controversy, but nonetheless, no one can forget the fact that this Frenchman has four World Championship titles to his name.
Born in 1944 in the Loire region of France, Prost was said to be full of energy as a child.
In 1974, he decided to become a full-time race car driver. Prost supported himself by becoming a kart distributor and tuning engines. When he won the French senior karting championship, he received a season in Formula Renault as a prize.
He then went on to win two championship titles in Formula Renault before moving on to Formula three and becoming equally successful. This is how he caught the attention of some Formula One teams. Eventually, Prost signed with McLaren in 1980.
Though his first Formula One year was rather lackluster, Prost soon got his first race win with Renault the following year. He went on achieve three World Championship titles with said team. During this time, he started a rivalry with Ayrton Senna. Several years later in 1993, Prost won his fourth with Williams-Renault.
13 The Best: Niki Lauda
One of the most unforgettable names in Formula One to this day is Niki Lauda. No one would second guess this man’s dedication when it came to professional racing. In fact, there was even a time when he nearly gave his life for the sport.
The first time Lauda entered Formula One, he was having trouble with his finances. He had bought his way into Formula One through a bank loan secured by a life insurance policy and a subsequent rent-a-ride deal with the BRM team. To get out of this deal, Lauda paid BRM using money from his new employer, Enzo Ferrari.
Lauda started racing for Ferrari in 1974. One year later, he scored his first ever World Championship title. The start of the following season was also promising.
However, during the German Grand Prix, Lauda’s car crashed and burst into flames. The incident left Ladua with burns throughout his body. Many thought he would not survive.
Against all odds, Lauda returned to racing and even scored a second World Championship title in 1977. He kept driving in Formula One for several more years and got his third World Championship title in 1984 with McLaren.
12 The Best: Ayrton Senna
When you think about Formula One legends, the name Ayrton Senna always comes to mind. The Brazilian driver was a true racing superstar. He was passionate, and he was willing to push his car to the limits in order to win.
Senna was a big fan of Formula One even as a little boy. This inspired him to try karting, something he quickly discovered he was great at. After winning at karting races, Senna went on to win a number of single-seater races. He then made his Formula One debut in 1984.
He spent his first year with Toleman before moving to Lotus where he won six races across three seasons. He then moved to McLaren where he claimed three World Championship titles, according to Formula One.
During his time at McLaren, Senna also started an intense feud with teammate Prost as the Brazilian driver remained determined to keep improving his driving.
In 1994, Senna decided to move to Williams. Little did he know that this season would be his very last. During the San Marino Grand Prix that year, Senna was killed when his car unexpectedly went off the track and hit a concrete wall.
11 The Best: Michael Schumacher
Arguably, there is no greater legend in Formula One history than Michael Schumacher. His is a record of seven World Championship titles that remains unbeatable to this day. Throughout his racing career, Schumacher proved that he was a true marvel on the track. He understood how to get the most out of the car, staying competitive even during wet track conditions.
After taking several wins in karting races and other motorsport championships, Schumacher entered Formula One as a driver for Jordan in 1991. Benetton then snatched the German driver in 1992. Schumacher would go on to spend four seasons with his team and win two World Championship titles.
In 1996, Schumacher moved to Ferrari and continued winning. In the coming years, he and his team would go on to dominate the sport. During this time, Schumacher also grabbed five more World Championship titles while setting various records in Formula One history, including 91 total race wins. According to BBC, the closest to his record his Hamilton with over 60 wins.
Today, Schumacher remains an inspiration for many drivers. His legacy lives on even as he continues to recover from his tragic skiing accident back in 2013.
10 The Rest: Luca Badoer
In the beginning, Luca Badoer seemed to have quite a promising racing career. After all, he had been an F3000 European champion back in 1992, according to records from Autosport. Not to mention, he had also spent a great deal of time serving as a test driver for several Formula One teams. These included Minardi, Forti-Ford and of course, Scuderia Ferrari where he had spent as many as ten seasons as their test driver.
Hence, you would expect that Badoer would be ready to win a race, or at least score a podium finish. Sadly, that was not the case.
It was 2009 when Ferrari decided to give Badoer a bigger role in the team. At that time, driver Felipe Massa had been involved in crash in Hungary and was unable to return for the rest of the season. Hence, Ferrari asked Badoer to take Massa’s place.
Unfortunately, it soon became evident that the Italian driver was lacking in both experience and actual racing skill. During the Belgian and European Grand Prix, Badoer only managed to qualify last. Meanwhile, he was also a second off the pace during the races, according to a report from ESPN.
9 The Rest: Yuji Ide
Back in 2006, Yuji Ide became one of the oldest rookies to ever enter Formula One when he was brought in to drive for Super Aguri at 31 years old. According to the Bleacher Report, there was speculation that Ide was only brought in to join the team because Super Aguri was determined to have an all-Japanese driver line-up. Back then, they already had Takuma Sato racing for them.
Soon as Ide hit the track, the problems started. According to ESPN, Ide drove in four races as he struggled to compete in a significantly outdated car. He also had difficulty communicating with the rest of the team in English.
What sealed his fate, however, was an incident involving driver Christijan Albers at Imola. During the race, Ide ended up pushing his car into a barrel roll. Following this, the Formula One Permanent Bureau decided to withdraw his super license, according to a report from Motorsport.
In response, Super Aguri issued a statement saying that they accept Formula One’s decision. “Aguri Suzuki and A.Company (Japan) shall continue to seek driving opportunities for Yuji and hopefully a path back into Formula One,” they added. Unfortunately, this never happened.
8 The Rest: Chanoch Nissany
Usually, the path to Formula One greatness starts with a few years in karting, followed by a few more years in a type of GP2 or GP3 series. Hence, when they finally reach Formula One, they are (more or less) ready to become champions. Unfortunately, Chanoch Nissany skipped all this, which is probably why he failed in spectacular fashion when he entered Formula One.
Nissany had no professional racing experience before he entered Formula One. After all, he only took auto racing as a hobby at age 38. And so, when stepped into one of the most competitive motorsports in history, it’s safe to say he didn’t know what he was doing.
During his Formula One debut with the Minardi team in 2005, Nissany essentially made a fool of himself. It was the weekend of the Hungarian Grand Prix, which also happened to coincide with Nissany’s 42nd birthday.
At first, things looked promising for the birthday boy. However, it soon became apparent that he would be struggling. He was even 13 seconds off the pace, according to a report from ESPN. Moreover, Nissany kept complaining over the team radio. “I have too much grip,” he whined.
7 The Rest: Nelson Piquet Jr.
It’s really hard when your father is a Formula One World Champion and you are trying to follow in his footsteps. This was the case for the son of three-time World Champion Nelson Piquet who attempted to emulate his father’s success and failed miserably in the process.
The young Brazilian failed to perform as well as Renault teammate Alonso in 2008. Nonetheless, the team decided to keep him on for the following season. Soon, however, that decision proved to be a big mistake.
After a lackluster performance, Renault decided to fire Piquet after 10 races, according to a report from ESPN. They then replaced him with Romain Grosjean. In retaliation, Piquet let it slip that he had been ordered to crash his car at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to help Alonso win. This resulted in a massive scandal for Renault.
Despite having a rather disastrous career in Formula One, the younger Piquet has managed to continue in motor racing. Today, he can be seen racing in the Formula-E championship. He is currently racing for Panasonic Jaguar Racing with his teammate Mitch Evans. So far, he has already achieved five podium finishes and two wins.
6 The Rest: Narain Karthikeyan
If Narain Karthikeyan had one claim to fame, it was that he was the first Indian driver to ever race in Formula One when he joined the Jordan team in 2005.
The year proved to be a controversial season for the championship. An issue with Michelin tires during the United States Grand Prix resulted in having just six cars racing on the track. These included cars from Ferrari, Minardi and Jordan. While it was hoped Karthikeyan would take advantage of the opportunity and drive towards a podium finish, the Indian driver was soon outperformed by his teammate Tiago Monteiro who took the last spot on the podium.
The following year, Jordan dropped Karthikeyan. He then became a test driver for Williams for two years. He was all set to also drive in the Le Mans 24 Hours for his former team principal at Jordan in 2009. Unfortunately, he got a shoulder injury before he could start racing.
In 2011, the Indian driver made a return for Formula One and drove for the HRT team alongside Vitantonio Liuzzi. Unfortunately, his performance was quite unimpressive. During the later half of the season, Karthikeyan was replaced with Daniel Ricciardo.
5 The Rest: Marco Apicella
The honor of the shortest career in Formula One history goes to none other than Marco Apicella. The Italian driver drove for the Jordan team during the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1993. Little did Apicella know that his career in the championship would be over in a matter of minutes.
As the race went underway, Apicella had just made it to the first corner when the Sauber of JJ Lehto hit him. After the incident, Apicella’s race was declared over. During the next race in Portugal, the Jordan team had decided to replace Apicella with driver Emanuele Naspetti, according to the Bleacher Report.
It is unclear if any other team tried to sign Apicella after. All that everyone knows is that he was never seen in Formula One again.
Despite the sudden end to his Formula One career, Apicella decided not to give up on racing altogether. Instead, he made a return to Japanese F3000 in 1994, according to Motor Sport Magazine. Fortunately, this proved to be a relatively good move for Apicella as he managed to secure a major championship win after winning three races. After this, Apicella’s career became rather disappointing again.
4 The Rest: Al Pease
Of all the drivers that have entered the world of Formula One, Al Pease continues to hold a record that remains unique to himself. That is, Pease is the only driver that ever got disqualified for being too slow on the track. Now, that’s just embarrassing!
According to a report from ESPN, Pease’s disqualification occurred during the 1969 Canadian Grand Prix where he drove an uncompetitive car. During the race, Pease was already several laps down from the other drivers. Nonetheless, he was determined to have a little fun with any driver who appeared behind him. Unfortunately, this nearly endangered the race for Formula One legend Jackie Stewart. After Stewart’s team raised a complaint against Pease to the stewards, Pease was black flagged from the race.
After this embarrassing incident, Pease left Formula One and turned to other motorsport championships instead. He went on to race cars for both Formula A and Formula 5000. During this time, the Canadian driver reportedly enjoyed some success. According to The Globe and Mail, Pease also became Canada’s driver of the year in 1964. He was then inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame back in 1998.
3 The Rest: Esteban Tuero
While Formula One drivers made their way up the ranks by showing off considerable driving skill, Esteban Tuero reportedly advanced to motorsport due to his financial capabilities.
According to a report from ESPN, the young driver from Argentina had a significant amount of sponsorship money. This was enough to get him a driver’s seat with the Minardi team.
At just 19 years old, Tuero made his race debut. However, it soon became evident that he lacked experience. During the final race of the season, Tuero also ended up crashing into Toranosuke Takagi’s car while attempting to do an overtake at the Suzuka circuit in Japan. The crashed scattered debris all over the track and also caused Tuero to hurt a vertebra in the neck.
According to the fan website, Forza Minardi, Tuero was ready to call it quits after the incident. Although his team was expecting the Argentine driver to stay on for the 1999 season, Tuero reportedly surprised them by walking into a meeting and declaring that he was leaving Formula One for good. He already wanted to return to his home country. Indeed, Tuero was never seen on a Formula One track ever again.
2 The Rest: Pastor Maldonado
If there was one driver in recent Formula One who crashed more times than anyone thought possible, it would be none other than Pastor Maldonado. In fact, the Venezuelan driver has his car too often that he earned the nickname ‘Crashtor’ from his critics.
The number of times that he had crashed his car is simply too many to count. It did not matter if he was in the middle of a practice or race, Maldonado liked to crash it. There were several times when he crashed by himself during practice. He then crashed several more times during the races. In addition, he also crashed while in the pitlane.
According to a report from BBC, Maldonado had 29 retirements out of 96 grand prix races. He also ended up with 39 penalties, 12 of which were for causing collisions. Despite this record, Maldonado seems determined to hold his head up high. When asked by The Telegraph about his tendency to crash his car, he remarked,” To find the limit, you need to cross the limit. I think I have the big balls to cross the limit every time. They were the good things in my career.”
1 The Rest: Andrea de Cesaris
Now, if you think Maldonado is bad, wait till you hear more about Andrea de Cesaris. Believe it or not, this driver has the actual honor of having the most number of crashes in Formula One history.
According to The Telegraph, he joined the sport back in1980 and drove for Alfa Romeo. After retiring early due to engine failure at his first race, he proceeded to crash his car during his second race at the United States Grand Prix.
The following year, de Cesaris moved to McLaren. When he did, he wasted no time crashing more cars. In fact, he only managed to complete six of the 14 races in the season that year. He also reportedly destroyed as many as 18 car chassis. In the end, the team became wary about de Cesaris crashing another car that when he qualified in 13th place at the Dutch Grand Prix, they decided to withdraw him from the race.
Throughout his career, de Cesaris drove for as many as 10 teams, including Jordan, Minardi, Sauber, Tyrrell, and Ligier. He also held a record of 148 retirements, according to Drivetribe. He also never won a single grand prix.
Sources: drivetribe.com, en.espnf1.com, formula1.com