Ranking the Top 10 Drivers of the 1980s

Fraser MasefieldContributor IAugust 27, 2013

Ranking the Top 10 Drivers of the 1980s

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    In his column for BBC Sport on Monday, David Coulthard said that with Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen driving close to the top of their potential, we are now in a "golden era" of F1 driving.

    While I admit it is currently a great time to be an F1 fan, I grew up watching the sport back in the 1980s when names such as Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet slipped off the tongue.

    So, here are my top 10 drivers of my favourite era of the sport – the 1980s.

10. Gilles Villeneuve

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    A true legend of the sport. Villeneuve was quick and fearless and stood for everything Ferrari epitomised.

    Although Villeneuve’s most memorable season was in 1979 when he was pipped to the title by teammate Jody Scheckter, he also won twice in 1981, and may well have achieved his ambition of becoming an F1 champion had it not been for his tragic death at the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder in 1982.

9. Keke Rosberg

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    A late starter to Formula One, Rosberg made his debut at the age of 29 in 1978, but he made little impact until a bizarre 1982 season saw him clinch the drivers’ title despite winning only once, his maiden F1 victory coming late in the season at the Swiss Grand Prix.

    Rosberg would win four more times before his retirement at the end of the 1986 season, but his next best championship finish was only third in 1985.

8. Rene Arnoux

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    A true driver of the 1980s, Frenchman Arnoux’s career spanned no fewer than 12 Formula 1 seasons from 1978 to 1989.

    His first victory came at the 1980 Brazilian Grand Prix driving for Renault, and he won again in the very next race in South Africa but a lack of reliability prevented him from challenging for the title.

    His best season came in 1983 when he won three times en route to third in the drivers’ standings behind Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost.

7. Gerhard Berger

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    Austrian Berger competed in Formula One for 14 seasons from 1984 to 1997 and although he will best be remembered as Ayrton Senna’s perfect teammate at McLaren, much of his best work came behind the wheel of a Ferrari in the 1980s.

    Berger actually scored his first victory for Benetton in the 1986 Mexican Grand Prix before joining Ferrari for the 1987 season, ending the season on a high with wins in Japan and Australia.

    Five podiums and one victory saw him finish third in a 1988 championship season utterly dominated by the McLarens of Senna and Alain Prost, but the 1989 season was a disaster with 12 retirements and just one victory in Portugal.

6. Michele Alboreto

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    A veteran of 14 seasons in Formula One, Italian Michele Alboreto is best known for his five seasons spent with his beloved Ferrari from 1984-1988.

    Alboreto won his first race and the last ever at Las Vegas for Tyrrell in 1982 and won again in America, this time in Detroit, the following season.

    In his debut season for Ferrari, Alboreto took victory in the third round at Zolder, becoming the first Italian to win a grand prix for Ferrari since Ludovico Scarfiotti in 1966.

    Three podiums followed before his most successful season in the sport when he finished runner-up behind Alain Prost with two victories and six podium finishes.

5. Niki Lauda

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    A double world champion, Lauda retired from Formula 1 after a disastrous 1979 season that saw him score just four points. But needing money to shore up his new airline, Lauda returned to the sport in 1982 with McLaren.

    He won twice in his first season back at America and Britain, but it was the 1984 season that confirmed his status as a legend of the sport as he won his third drivers’ title by just half a point after an epic battle with teammate Alain Prost.

4. Nigel Mansell

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    Mansell’s career in F1 spanned 15 seasons from 1980-1995. Although he finally achieved his goal of winning the world title in his dominant Williams FW14B in 1992, it is for his battles with Alain Prost and Williams teammate Nelson Piquet in the last years of the 80s for which he is best remembered.

    Having recorded five grand prix wins in 1986 the season came down to the wire in the final race at Adelaide with Mansell only needing to finish third in order to clinch the title.

    But a spectacular left rear tyre blow out with 19 laps to go put Mansell out of the race and Prost won the race to snatch the title by two points. Mansell again finished runner-up in 1987 after an accident in practice for the Japanese Grand Prix put him out of the remaining two races.

3. Aytron Senna

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    Senna’s legacy as a great of the sport was secured even before his second and third title wins in the 90s.

    The Brazilian shot to prominence in the monsoon-like conditions of the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix where a masterful drive in his uncompetitive Toleman saw him finish second behind future rival Alain Prost although he was catching the Frenchman at four seconds a lap when the race was stopped after 31 laps.

    Senna moved to the JPS Lotus team in 1985 and scored six wins for the team in his three seasons. But it is for his epic battles with teammate Prost at McLaren in 1988 and 1989 that Senna is best remembered.

    The Brazilian won his first title with a masterful drive in Japan after stalling on the grid in 1988 before controversially losing out at the same venue a year later. It all happened after the pair collided at the chicane with Senna disqualified after winning the race after rejoining the circuit via a slip road.

2. Nelson Piquet

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    Piquet won every one of his three world drivers’ titles in the 1980s and it could easily have been four. The Brazilian was leading the 1980 championship going into the final two rounds of the season but back-to-back retirements and back-to-back wins for Alan Jones gave the Aussie the title.

    He made amends in 1981 by overturning a seventeen point deficit to Carlos Reutemann with six races remaining to clinch his first title.

    Piquet won his second title in the beautiful Brabham BT52 after a long battle with Alain Prost saw him clinch third and the points he needed in the season finale in South Africa, and he sealed his third and final title in 1987 after a tight season-long battle with Williams teammate Nigel Mansell.

1. Alain Prost

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    Without doubt the most consistent and statistically most successful driver of the 1980s was the brilliant Alain Prost.

    The Frenchman made his F1 debut for McLaren in 1980 before three successful seasons for Renault, winning nine times and finishing second in the 1983 just two points behind Nelson Piquet. The 1984 season was even closer, Prost edged out by half a point by teammate Niki Lauda but he dominated in 1985 to secure his first title before pipping Nigel Mansell the following season.

    Prost’s battles with teammate Ayrton Senna had audiences gripped towards the end of the decade with the Frenchman losing out in 1988 before edging his great rival in controversial circumstances the following year.

Missed Anyone Out?

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    What? No Alan Jones or Stefan Bellof!

    Have I missed put on anyone that would have made your top 10? Or have I even got the order wrong? I always value your feedback so tell me what you think about my selection below.