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10 Best Formula 1 Drivers Before Lewis Hamilton Turned It On

Hamilton may be the biggest name in F1 now, but who were the top contenders before he appeared on the scene?

This year's Formula One season is another season dominated by #1 F1 driver Lewis Hamilton. He drives for Constructor Mercedes and is on his twelfth season in Formula 1. His first 5 years were with McLaren, and there he got his first championship and the record of being the youngest world champion. This year he's already won 8 out of 12 circuits, the Hungarian Grand Prix being the latest, and is on track to beat the best of all-time in F1 in terms of championship wins. This begs the question, who were the best drivers before Lewis Hamilton came to the league and dominated?

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10 Fernando Alonso

The retirement of Michael Schumacher made it easier for Fernando Alonso to make a name for himself in the world of Formula One Racing. But that's not to say that he had it easy, he worked harder than ever and won his first driver's title in 2005. Then the young man beat the legend in Bahrain in 2006, then beat him big time by inching away at the driver's title, taking what was Schumacher's supposed career eighth. It was Renault's time and it was Alonso's season. This Spanish driver is one of the best in F1 history, sadly he retired last year.

9 Jim Clark

James Clark Jr. was born in Scotland and was one of the most beloved drivers in Formula One history. The first car he used to race as a teenager was a Sunbeam Talbot, and what started as a secret hobby he kept from his parents would turn out to be the thing that he would be most remembered for. He drove for Team Lotus from 1960 until 1968 and got two World Championships in 1963 and 1965. He also competed in other racing outfits like Le Mans ('59 - '61) and the Indianapolis 500 ('63 - '67). He would have gotten more awards had he not perished during an F2 race in Germany.

8 Niki Lauda

We probably learned a lot about Niki Lauda in the 2013 film Rush, but the film's story is but a fraction of the amazing racing life Niki Lauda lived. He was controversial; people loved him and loved to hate him, he was F1's anti-hero. He started his Formula One career in 1974 driving for Ferrari. The following year he became World Champion. But the year after that was the fateful Nürburgring crash, the accident that would sideline him from racing and put him in a coma. But it didn't stop him from racing because six weeks later he was in Italy and placed fourth in the race. Let's see other drivers do that now, right?

7 Nigel Mansell

In his Formula One career, Nigel Mansell won a total of 31 races and was a staple at the podium in his illustrious 13 career years with F1. In those seasons, he played for constructors Lotus, McLaren, Williams, and Ferrari. Mansell may have been the most beaten up driver in history, sustaining damage to his neck, vertebrae and some burns early in his racing career. 

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He crashed cars and didn't finish races lots of times. The first team he drove for was Lotus in 1980, then Williams, where he started winning races. His last professional year was the year he won the Formula One World Champion.

6 Alain Prost

Alain Prost's Formula One record of 4 career World Drivers Championship awards was bested only by Hamilton, Schumacher, and the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio. The man started out in 1980 with the McLaren Team. He would transfer teams faster than he would crash cars and hurt himself, it seemed. As he switched constructors four times in 12 years. He won a total of 51 Grand Prix events and is 4th among the best, again behind Schumacher, Hamilton, and Vettel in this category. He is definitely one of the best drivers in F1 history and the history of the racing sport worldwide.

5 Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen is one of the few drivers active in Formula One today that has won championships before Lewis Hamilton ripped the competition apart. Hamilton is maybe just one more season away from breaking Schumacher's total GP wins record of 91. Raikkonen is sitting proudly with 21 for himself, one that can only go higher as he continues to compete in Formula One. 

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The Finnish phenom started his F1 career in 2001 with Sauber, then with four other teams (plus a season in NASCAR). Then just this season Kimi Raikkonen returns to Sauber, now Alfa Romeo, where it all started.

4 Michael Schumacher

Lewis Hamilton is seriously breaking records that Schumacher previously owned, but the legacy that this German-born driver established will never be broken. The last name that is most synonymous to Formula One Racing is still Schumacher. He started racing in 1991 and imprinted on the sport for three years before championing this world for at least the next 11 years. That was from 1994 to 2004, where he won seven Formula One World Drivers' Championships, still the best in the league today. His record of fastest laps may be unbreakable at 77, that’s 31, more than the 2nd place Kimi Raikkonen.

3 Ayrton Senna

Alain Prost once said that this driver cared more about winning than living. That statement could give anyone an idea what kind of driver Ayrton Senna was. The Brazilian driver died at the very young age of 34, but what he gave to Formula One would have taken other men a lifetime. He started his career in 1984 and it ended on the circuit as well. Toleman gave him his first shot in the big leagues and in just his second race already was scoring points. He'd go on to win three Drivers Championships and 41 GP wins until his death in the San Marino Grand Prix.

2 Jackie Stewart

The British legend finished with 27 Grand Prix wins, 43 podium finishes, and three World Championships. All of these he did in just nine years in Formula One. The Scotland-born champion's name is Jackie Stewart, and he is the purest and most influential ambassador of the sport. A man with extreme professionalism and charismatic personality would take the torch and let the sport be known by the whole world in his own winning and charming ways. He competed in Formula One from 1964 up to 1973, during which he was also an advocate of racing safety and an exploiter of F1's commercial potential.

1 Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel's golden years happened with Red Bull Racing where he won all his four Drivers Championships. If there is a driver whose racing career was most disrupted by the man named Lewis Hamilton, it was Germany's Sebastian Vettel. Last year, their season would ultimately identify the greater of the two men. Both were at four Drivers Championships apiece, but Hamilton proved to be the better driver that year in a rivalry that was famously called Fight For Five. Vettel's current record is 2,901 career points with 52 GP wins and almost five Drivers Championships. In the most recent Hungarian Grand Prix, he came third behind Max Verstappen and, yes, Lewis Hamilton.

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