Ranking the 32 Formula 1 World Champions

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2014

Ranking the 32 Formula 1 World Champions

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    Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
    Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.Associated Press

    In 64 Formula One World Championship seasons, there have been 32 different Drivers' champions.

    Even between drivers who competed directly against each other, there are debates among the followers of the sport about who is better. Juan Manuel Fangio or Alberto Ascari? Ayrton Senna or Alain Prost? Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso? There are no easy answers.

    Here, we are going to rank not only the drivers of a particular era, but every world champion from 1950 to 2013.

    To do so, we cannot rely on subjective, qualitative assessments. F1 is completely different today from what it was in 1980. And it was completely different in 1980 from what it was in 1950.

    Instead, we will use a quantitative assessment. It may not provide a definitive answer to whether Senna was a better driver than Prost, and it certainly will not tell us whether Fangio would beat Schumacher in the same car in their respective primes.

    By adjusting the statistics to account for shorter seasons in the early years and different point systems over time, however, we should be able to make a decent comparison between all 32 champs.

    Before we begin, here is the methodology.

Methodology

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    Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

    Five different statistics will be included in this ranking.

    Winning Percentage: Percentage of starts won.

    Points-Per-Start: This is adjusted so that all drivers are scored according to the system used from 1991 to 2002, with points to the top six finishers in each race (10-6-4-3-2-1).

    Number of Seasons: The number of seasons in which the driver started at least 50 percent of the races.

    Championship Percentage: Percentage of seasons (as defined above) where the driver won the world championship.

    Pole Percentage: Percentage of starts where the driver qualified on pole.

    For each statistic, the drivers are ranked and given a score—32 points for the top driver in each catergory down to one point for the 32nd driver.

    These scores are added together, and the drivers are ranked according to their total score, with 160 the highest possible score. Each driver's total is presented at the top of their slide.

    Not every variable can be accounted for (e.g. the much higher reliability of today's cars), but by using percentages we can better compare those who drove when there were only eight or 10 races in a season with modern drivers, who have 18 or 20 races each season.

    All the statistics used in this article were compiled from the official F1 website, Wikipedia and, for the adjusted point totals, Mark Wessel's real points comparison site.

32: Keke Rosberg

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    Rosberg in 1985.
    Rosberg in 1985.Mike King/Getty Images

    Total Score

    30

    Winning Percentage

    4.4%

    Points-Per-Start

    1.4

    Number of Seasons

    8

    Championship Percentage

    12.5%

    Pole Percentage

    4.4%

    The original "Flying Finn"—although he was born in Sweden—Keke Rosberg won his only world title in 1982. He only had one other really good season in F1, when he finished third in the 1985 championship, behind Alain Prost and Michele Alboreto.

    Interestingly, Rosberg had more wins (two) in 1985 than he did in his championship season (one). In fact, five drivers won more races in 1982 than Rosberg did, though he edged John Watson and Didier Pironi for the title.

    Other than being the first Scandinavian to win a world championship, Rosberg's career does not really stand out. For example, his five victories leave him tied for 45th on the all-time list.

    In short, Rosberg did not possess the consistency, nor the longevity, that distinguishes the truly exceptional drivers.

31: John Surtees

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    John Surtees and Enzo Ferrari in 1964.
    John Surtees and Enzo Ferrari in 1964.Anonymous/Associated Press

    Total Score

    38.5

    Winning Percentage

    5.4%

    Points-Per-Start

    1.7

    Number of Seasons

    11

    Championship Percentage

    9.1%

    Pole Percentage

    7.2%

    When Jim Clark suffered an engine failure on the second-to-last lap of the 1964 Mexican Grand Prix, John Surtees slid into second place in the race and beat Graham Hill by a single point for the world championship.

    Hill had actually scored one more point than Surtees that year, but only the top six results for each driver counted in the championship.

    Like Rosberg, though, Surtees' career was made by that one triumph.  He finished a distant second to Jack Brabham in 1966, but those were his only two seasons in the top three of the Drivers' Championship.

    Of course, the lack of results was not always his fault. In 1968, he scored one second-place finish and one third in a Honda that failed to finish eight of 12 races.

30: Jacques Villeneuve

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    Villeneuve and Schumacher at the Nurburgring in 1997.
    Villeneuve and Schumacher at the Nurburgring in 1997.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Total Score

    42.5

    Winning Percentage

    6.7%

    Points-Per-Start

    1.3

    Number of Seasons

    10

    Championship Percentage

    10%

    Pole Percentage

    7.9%

    Despite the shadow cast by his famous father, Jacques Villeneuve legitimately earned his place in F1. He had success in Japanese Formula Three and won the IndyCar championship and Indianapolis 500 before earning an F1 drive with Williams in 1996.

    The Canadian did not disappoint, scoring a victory and two second-place finishes in his first four grands prix. By the end of the season, he had collected three more victories and finished second in the championship to his teammate, Damon Hill.

    In 1997, with Hill replaced by Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Villeneuve won seven races and the world championship in a dramatic showdown with Michael Schumacher at the final race of the season.

    Although Villeneuve would last another nine years in F1, he never won another race. After one more season with Williams, he left for British American Racing (which had purchased Tyrell) and struggled to build the team. His first 11 races ended in retirement and, in five seasons with BAR, Villeneuve only finished on the podium twice.

    In his final season at BAR, Villeneuve was outscored by Jenson Button, and he asked the team to release him prior to the final race of the year, as reported on the CNN website

    Unsuccessful stints followed with Renault and Sauber, and he was replaced with Robert Kubica midway through the 2006 season.

29: Jenson Button

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    Button on his way to the 2009 title with Brawn GP.
    Button on his way to the 2009 title with Brawn GP.Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Total Score

    43

    Winning Percentage

    6.1%

    Points-Per-Start

    1.8

    Number of Seasons

    14

    Championship Percentage

    7.1%

    Pole Percentage

    3.2%

    Jenson Button is the last man other than Sebastian Vettel to win the Drivers' Championship, in 2009. However, it took him 10 years to win that championship.

    In these rankings, he is particularly hurt by the fact that he has raced more seasons than any other driver with only one title. His winning percentage is also one of the lowest among all the world champions—his first nine seasons yielded only one victory.

    Button is a very consistent driver, but he has been hamstrung by some particularly poor cars over the years. McLaren's terrible 2013 season, where the team failed to score a podium finish, certainly did not help.

28: Denny Hulme

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    Hulme during his championship season.
    Hulme during his championship season.Getty Images/Getty Images

    Total Score

    43.5

    Winning Percentage

    7.1%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.3

    Number of Seasons

    10

    Championship Percentage

    10%

    Pole Percentage

    0.9%

    Denny Hulme is New Zealand's only world champion. He won the 1967 title ahead of teammate Jack Brabham...in a Brabham car. Hulme won at Monaco and Germany, while Brabham took victories in France and Canada.

    Hulme went into the final race, in Mexico, needing a fourth-place finish to clinch the title. Although Brabham came second behind Jim Clark, Hulme claimed the last spot on the podium, and the title.

    Incredibly, despite winning eight races over his career, Hulme took only one pole position—at the 1973 South African Grand Prix.

27: Jody Scheckter

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    Scheckter in Monaco in 1967.
    Scheckter in Monaco in 1967.Tony Duffy/Getty Images

    Total Score

    46

    Winning Percentage

    8.9%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.4

    Number of Seasons

    7

    Championship Percentage

    14.3%

    Pole Percentage

    2.7%

    Another country's only world champion, South Africa's Jody Scheckter raced only seven full seasons in F1. In the first five, he came second or third in the championship three times.

    In 1974, with two races left in the season, Scheckter trailed Clay Regazzoni by just one point. Two retirements in Canada and the U.S. allowed Emerson Fittipaldi to snatch the title, with Regazzoni coming second.

    In 1977, Scheckter finished a distant second to Niki Lauda.

    Then, in 1979, he moved to Ferrari. Scheckter won a season-long duel with teammate Gilles Villeneuve, finishing four points clear of the Canadian in the final standings. The duo also won Ferrari's fourth Constructors' title in five years, the Scuderia's best run until it won six championships in a row during the Schumacher years.

    Like Hulme, Scheckter was not a great qualifier, taking only three poles in his career. That number, along with his relatively short career, has hurt his ranking here.

26: Alan Jones

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    Jones in the FW07 at the 1980 U.S. Grand Prix West.
    Jones in the FW07 at the 1980 U.S. Grand Prix West.Don Morley/Getty Images

    Total Score

    49

    Winning Percentage

    10.3%

    Points-Per-Start

    1.9

    Number of Seasons

    8

    Championship Percentage

    12.5%

    Pole Percentage

    5.2%

    Alan Jones, the last Australian to win the world championship, had three fantastic seasons from 1979 to 1981. 

    In 1979, he won four races, but reliability issues with his Williams cost him a shot at the title, and he finished 11 points behind Scheckter. Those four wins came in the last six races, once Williams had introduced the FW07.

    Continuing the car's development in 1980, Jones won the season opener in Argentina and battled with Nelson Piquet throughout the year. With two races to go, Piquet was ahead by a single point, but he retired in Canada and the U.S. while Jones won both races, giving him the title.

    Jones got off to a good start again in 1981, winning the first race, at Long Beach. He did not win again until the final race of the season, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The season proved to be one of the closest in F1 history, with the top five drivers separated by only seven points. 

    In the end, Piquet beat Jones' teammate, Carlos Reutemann by one point, with Jones three points further back, in third place.

    Jones would be ranked higher, but he also had a relatively short career and, other than the three seasons just mentioned, he never finished higher than seventh in the Drivers' standings.

25: Phil Hill

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    Hill in the distinctive Ferrari "Sharknose", which he drove to the 1961 title.
    Hill in the distinctive Ferrari "Sharknose", which he drove to the 1961 title.Anonymous/Associated Press

    Total Score

    50

    Winning Percentage

    6.3%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.1

    Number of Seasons

    6

    Championship Percentage

    16.7%

    Pole Percentage

    12.5%

    Phil Hill only won three world championship grands prix in his career, but two of them came in 1961. Along with four other podium finishes, it was enough to clinch the championship for Hill when his teammate, Wolfgang von Trips, was killed at the Italian Grand Prix.

    That year was also Ferrari's first Constructors' Championship, with the Italian team's Ferrari 156 "Sharknose" winning five of the seven races it entered.

    After his championship, Hill raced only three more seasons, scoring 15 points in total. He was also a skilled endurance racer, though, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times, along with a number of other races.

    However, his three F1 victories are tied for the fewest among all the world champions.

T-23: Mike Hawthorn

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    Hawthorn's first victory, in 1953 at Reims.
    Hawthorn's first victory, in 1953 at Reims.Associated Press

    Total Score

    54

    Winning Percentage

    6.7%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.8

    Number of Seasons

    6

    Championship Percentage

    16.7%

    Pole Percentage

    8.9%

    The other champion with only three wins? The U.K.'s Mike Hawthorn.

    His career began in 1952, and he finished third in the championship in 1954 but never really came close to winning it until 1958.

    That year, two of his Ferrari teammates, Luigi Musso and Peter Collins, were killed in racing accidents. Stirling Moss won four races and Tony Brooks won three, compared to Hawthorn's one. But Hawthorn's five second-place finishes were enough to give him the title by one point over Moss.

    Thus, he became the first British man to win the world championship. After winning, he announced his retirement, only to be killed in a road car accident three months later.

T-23: Mario Andretti

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    Andretti driving for Lotus at the 1977 Monaco Grand Prix.
    Andretti driving for Lotus at the 1977 Monaco Grand Prix.Tony Duffy/Getty Images

    Total Score

    54

    Winning Percentage

    9.4%

    Points-Per-Start

    1.5

    Number of Seasons

    8

    Championship Percentage

    12.5%

    Pole Percentage

    14.1%

    Born in Italy and later a U.S. citizen, Mario Andretti was a versatile driver. He won races in IndyCar, NASCAR, F1 and also finished on the podium twice at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

    Andretti did not start racing full-time in F1 until he was in his mid-30s, and his two most successful years came when he was 37 and 38 years old.  

    Driving for Lotus in 1977, he won four times, including two of his home races—the U.S. Grand Prix West and the Italian Grand Prix—to finish third in the championship.

    The next season he won six times but secured the championship in tragic circumstances following the Italian Grand Prix. Ronnie Peterson, his teammate and closest rival for the title, died in hospital following surgery to repair damage from a first-lap accident at Monza.

    Andretti never won again in F1, racing three more full seasons. He then moved to the American CART series, where he won the championship in 1984.

    In these rankings, Andretti's greatest strength is his qualifying performance, as he captured 18 poles in his F1 career. However, he has one of the lowest (adjusted) points-per-start numbers of any former world champion.

22: Graham Hill

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    Hill at the 1964 British Grand Prix.
    Hill at the 1964 British Grand Prix.Getty Images/Getty Images

    Total Score

    59

    Winning Percentage

    8%

    Points-Per-Start

    1.8

    Number of Seasons

    17

    Championship Percentage

    11.8%

    Pole Percentage

    7.4%

    Graham Hill is the lowest-ranked double world champion on our list. He won titles in 1962 and 1968, finishing second three times in between (in 1964, by only one point to John Surtees).

    His 1962 championship season was his most successful, as he won four races and finished second twice more in a nine-race season. In 1968, he clinched the title over Jackie Stewart with a victory in the final race of the season, his third of the year.

    Hill retired part-way through the 1975 season but sadly, like Hawthorn, was killed in a non-racing accident only months into his retirement, when a small plane he was piloting crashed while trying to land in London.

    Despite winning two championships, Hill is actually held back by his longevity in the sport. Despite his success in the 1960s, he had a number of far-less-fruitful years, which hurt his winning percentage and points-per-start.

    He is the father of Damon Hill, the only father-son combination to each win a world title.

21: Emerson Fittipaldi

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    Fittipaldi winning the 1972 British Grand Prix.
    Fittipaldi winning the 1972 British Grand Prix.Associated Press

    Total Score

    61.5

    Winning Percentage

    9.7%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.0

    Number of Seasons

    10

    Championship Percentage

    20.0%

    Pole Percentage

    4.2%

    Another double world champion, Emerson Fittipaldi won his first title in only his third season in F1.

    Driving for Lotus in 1972, he won five times and clinched the championship with two races remaining, becoming the youngest man and first Brazilian to win the Drivers' title. He finished second the next year, winning three more races.

    In 1974, he moved to McLaren and won his second championship by three points over Clay Regazzoni. After another second-place finish in 1975, Fittipaldi left McLaren for his family's team, scoring only two podium finishes over his last five years in F1.

    He then went on to a full second career in American CART racing, winning the title there in 1989.

    Fittipaldi would be ranked higher, but his years with the Fittipaldi Automotive team hurt his average points-per-start. Also, he was not a great qualifier, scoring only six pole positions in 144 starts.

20: Jochen Rindt

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    Rindt in 1970.
    Rindt in 1970.DUNCAN CUBITT/Associated Press

    Total Score

    63

    Winning Percentage

    10.0%

    Points-Per-Start

    1.9

    Number of Seasons

    6

    Championship Percentage

    16.7%

    Pole Percentage

    16.7%

    Jochen Rindt is the only driver to win the world championship posthumously. He only raced six full seasons in F1 before he was killed in an accident during qualifying for the 1970 Italian Grand Prix.

    Although there were four races remaining in the season at the time of his death, Rindt had built what proved to be an insurmountable lead in the championship. He won five of nine races, including four in a row once the dominant Lotus 72 was introduced. Rindt had also qualified first in Austria, his home grand prix, which also proved to be his last race, but engine trouble stopped him from potentially winning his fifth straight race.

    Had he not been killed, Rindt would no doubt be ranked higher on this list, but several relatively unsuccessful seasons earlier in his career, before joining the Lotus team, hurt his average points-per-start.

19: James Hunt

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    Hunt at the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix.
    Hunt at the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix.Tony Duffy/Getty Images

    Total Score

    65

    Winning Percentage

    10.9%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.1

    Number of Seasons

    5

    Championship Percentage

    20.0%

    Pole Percentage

    15.2%

    James Hunt also had quite a short career, racing only five full seasons in F1.

    His title-winning 1976 season is fresh in most people's minds, thanks to the release of Rush last year. After a slow start to the year, with only one win in seven races, Hunt won five of the next eight and clinched the title by one point with a third-place finish in the final race, after Niki Lauda retired.

    Despite his on-track success, Hunt is probably better known for his off-track escapades. Some may be surprised to see him ranked this highly, but he was a good qualifier and packed his success into a relatively short time frame, giving him a boost in the rankings. 

18: Kimi Raikkonen

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    Raikkonen wearing a helmet honouring Hunt at the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix.
    Raikkonen wearing a helmet honouring Hunt at the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix.Christian Lutz/Associated Press

    Total Score

    70.5

    Winning Percentage

    10.4%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.9

    Number of Seasons

    11

    Championship Percentage

    9.1%

    Pole Percentage

    8.3%

    From James Hunt to the man most-often compared to James Hunt: Kimi Raikkonen.

    The Finn burst into F1 in 2001, scoring a point in his first race with Sauber. He was picked up by McLaren to replace Mika Hakkinen in 2002 and came within two points of the title in 2003. Another close call followed in 2005, when Raikkonen won seven times but still finished second to Fernando Alonso.

    In 2007, Raikkonen moved to Ferrari and found immediate success, winning the championship by one point over the McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

    Following two less-successful years at Ferrari, Raikkonen retired, only to return with Lotus in 2012. He finished third that year, but was not really in the title hunt in the last half of the season. After a disappointing 2013, Raikkonen signed a contract to return to Ferrari for 2014, pairing him with Alonso.

    Despite his reputation as a quick driver, Raikkonen is not an incredible qualifier, with 16 poles from 193 starts. His winning percentage is also not huge and, in fact, his strongest point in these rankings is his longevity, despite a two-year hiatus.

17: Nino Farina

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    Farina in 1953.
    Farina in 1953.Remo Nassi/Associated Press

    Total Score

    89

    Winning Percentage

    15.2%

    Points-Per-Start

    4.0

    Number of Seasons

    4

    Championship Percentage

    25.0%

    Pole Percentage

    15.2%

    Nino Farina won the first F1 world championship in 1950, driving for Alfa Romeo. He won by three points, battling with Juan Manuel Fangio until the final race.

    For 1952, he moved to Ferrari, but another Italian, Alberto Ascari, won all six European races he started that year and Farina was a distant second in the championship.

    The following year, Farina won at the Nurburgring but fell to third in the title race, behind Ascari and Fangio. And that was his last full season in F1.

    Farina won five of the 33 races he started but is handicapped in these rankings by his short career in F1—he was already 43 years old by the time the 1950 season began.

16: Nigel Mansell

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    Mansell in 1992.
    Mansell in 1992.Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

    Total Score

    90

    Winning Percentage

    16.6%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.7

    Number of Seasons

    12

    Championship Percentage

    8.3%

    Pole Percentage

    17.1%

    Nigel Mansell raced 11 full seasons in F1, finishing second three times, before finally claiming his Drivers' title in 1992.

    He came especially close to winning in 1986, going into the final race with a six-point lead over Alain Prost. Mansell qualified on pole and was running third, with eight laps remaining, when his tyre exploded. Prost won the race and the championship.

    In 1992, driving for Williams, Mansell won the first five races of the season and eight of the first 10. He won once more, in Portugal, and took the title by 52 points from his teammate, Riccardo Patrese.

    Mansell scores well across nearly all of our metrics, with 31 wins and 32 poles in 187 starts. However, among the former world champions, only Jenson Button has more seasons in F1 with just one title.

15: Jack Brabham

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    Brabham leads the 1960 Dutch Grand Prix.
    Brabham leads the 1960 Dutch Grand Prix.Anonymous/Associated Press

    Total Score

    91

    Winning Percentage

    11.1%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.3

    Number of Seasons

    14

    Championship Percentage

    21.4%

    Pole Percentage

    10.3%

    Australia's most decorated driver, Jack Brabham won three world championships between 1959 and 1966.

    Racing for Cooper, he won back-to-back titles in 1959 and 1960. In the former year, he edged Tony Brooks by four points. The next season, he won five of his eight starts and beat Bruce McLaren by nine points.

    In 1966, having formed his own team, Brabham won four more times and took the title by 14 points from John Surtees. The next year, Brabham was a close second to teammate Denny Hulme, but that was the last time he was a serious championship challenger.

    After three more seasons, having survived 14 full seasons in a dangerous era, Brabham retired. His winning percentage and points per race are not very high, but he did have a relatively long career and, of course, he did win three Drivers' titles. Given that number alone, it is perhaps surprising that he does not rank even higher on this list.

14: Damon Hill

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    Hill at the 1996 Portuguese Grand Prix.
    Hill at the 1996 Portuguese Grand Prix.Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

    Total Score

    92

    Winning Percentage

    19.1%

    Points-Per-Start

    3.1

    Number of Seasons

    7

    Championship Percentage

    14.3%

    Pole Percentage

    17.4%

    Damon Hill did not have a long career—only seven full seasons—but he won 22 races in that short time, including one world championship.

    He was 31 years old when he made his F1 debut, and in his first full season, 1993, he won three times and finished third in the Drivers' standings.

    The next two years, he finished second to Michael Schumacher before breaking through in 1996. Winning eight races, he won the title by 19 points from his rookie teammate at Williams, Jacques Villeneuve.

    Despite his championship win, Hill was dropped by Williams for the 1997 season and signed with Arrows. After nearly taking the team's first victory in Hungary, he moved on to Jordan for 1998. He scored his last grand prix victory in Belgium that year and retired after a frustrating 1999 season.

    Hill won nearly 20 percent of the races he started, but his short career keeps him from being ranked even higher here.

13: Mika Hakkinen

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    Hakkinen at the 1998 Hungarian Grand Prix.
    Hakkinen at the 1998 Hungarian Grand Prix.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Total Score

    94

    Winning Percentage

    12.4%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.6

    Number of Seasons

    10

    Championship Percentage

    20.0%

    Pole Percentage

    16.1%

    The third and final Finn on our list, Mika Hakkinen won back-to-back world championships for McLaren in 1998 and 1999.

    Before those titles, though, Hakkinen had raced for seven seasons with only one victory to show (at the final race of that seventh season). In 1998, though, he won the first two races and eight overall, en route to a 14-point victory over Michael Schumacher in the championship.

    The next season was a closer fight, with Hakkinen prevailing by two points over Eddie Irvine, after Schumacher broke his leg at the British Grand Prix.

    In 2000, Schumacher won nine races, but the Finn kept the title chase alive until the second-to-last race, in Japan. Hakkinen eventually settled for second, 19 points adrift of the German.

    He managed two wins in 2001 but finished fifth in the championship and retired after the season, with 20 career victories.

T-11: Lewis Hamilton

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    Hamilton on his way to the title at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.
    Hamilton on his way to the title at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Total Score

    96

    Winning Percentage

    17.1%

    Points-Per-Start

    3.5

    Number of Seasons

    7

    Championship Percentage

    14.3%

    Pole Percentage

    24.0%

    Having Lewis Hamilton ranked 11th overall may be one of the biggest surprises on this list. He is the highest-ranked driver with only one title, and he has only had two seasons which could be called "very good."

    He exploded into F1 in 2007, finishing on the podium in his first nine races, including two victories. A seventh-place finish at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix left him just one point behind Kimi Raikkonen in the Drivers' standings.

    The next year, Hamilton won five times and took the championship from Felipe Massa on the last lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix in one of the most amazing finishes in F1 history.

    Over the last five seasons, though, Hamilton has finished fourth in the championship three times and fifth twice. So why is he ranked so highly here?

    Well, he has a relatively high winning percentage and is a very good qualifier, starting from pole in nearly a quarter of his races. He also has a strong adjusted points-per-start score.

T-11: Nelson Piquet

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    Piquet at the 1987 British Grand Prix.
    Piquet at the 1987 British Grand Prix.VINCENZO GIACO/Associated Press

    Total Score

    96

    Winning Percentage

    11.3%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.5

    Number of Seasons

    13

    Championship Percentage

    23.1%

    Pole Percentage

    11.8%

    Tied with Hamilton is three-time champion Nelson Piquet. The Brazilian won titles in 1981, 1983 and 1987 with Brabham and Williams.

    He won his first title by a single point over Carlos Reutemann and his second by just two points, ahead of Alain Prost.

    In 1986, he moved to Williams and won four races, finishing third in the championship, just three points behind the winner, Prost. The next year, Piquet won three times, along with seven second-place finishes, and won his third title.

    He raced four more seasons, coming a distant third in 1990, before retiring with 23 victories and 24 pole positions.

    He would be ranked higher but, between his championship years, he had a number of less successful seasons, which hurt some of his scores, including winning percentage and adjusted points-per-start.

10: Fernando Alonso

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    Alonso at the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix.
    Alonso at the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Total Score

    97

    Winning Percentage

    14.8%

    Points-Per-Start

    3.5

    Number of Seasons

    12

    Championship Percentage

    16.7%

    Pole Percentage

    10.2%

    After a season with Minardi to begin his career, Alonso was signed by Renault for 2003 and scored four podiums, including one victory, in his first season there. The next year, he finished fourth in the championship, despite not winning a race (Michael Schumacher won them all...well, almost).

    In 2005, Renault produced a dominant car and Alonso won seven races, failing to finish on the podium only twice in 18 starts (none of the Michelin-shod cars started the U.S. Grand Prix). A third-place finish in Brazil clinched the championship for Alonso ahead of McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen.

    For 2006, Schumacher and Ferrari were back on-form. Both Alonso and Schumacher took seven victories, but the Spaniard won the championship with seven second-place finishes to Schumacher's four.

    Alonso moved to McLaren in 2007 but did not get along with his new teammate, Lewis Hamilton. He also fell out with team principal Ron Dennis over Alonso's role in the Stepneygate scandal. Nonetheless, Alonso and Hamilton finished the season tied with 109 points, one behind world champion Kimi Raikkonen.

    Alonso then rejoined Renault for two relatively unsuccessful years before making his way to Ferrari. With the Scuderia, Alonso has finished second to Sebastian Vettel in the Drivers' standings three times in the last four years. In both 2010 and 2012, Alonso took the title chase into the final race of the season before ultimately falling to the young German.

    Alonso actually has a lower winning percentage than Hamilton (partly due to the year he spent with Minardi), but his extra title and longer career (so far) allowed him to edge Hamilton and Piquet for a spot in the top 10.

9: Niki Lauda

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    Lauda in 1975.
    Lauda in 1975.Tony Duffy/Getty Images

    Total Score

    100

    Winning Percentage

    14.6%

    Points-Per-Start

    2.6

    Number of Seasons

    12

    Championship Percentage

    25.0%

    Pole Percentage

    14.0%

    As with James Hunt, Niki Lauda's story will be familiar even to those who did not live through his championship years in 1975, 1977 and 1984, thanks to Rush.

    Following two seasons in uncompetitive cars, Lauda arrived at Ferrari in 1974, won in Spain and the Netherlands and was leading the championship with five rounds remaining. Five straight retirements ended his hopes for that year, but in 1975 he would not be denied.

    Lauda won five races that year, clinching the title from Emerson Fittipaldi at Monza. His 1976 season and rivalry with James Hunt was chronicled in the aforementioned film, including his horrific accident at the Nurburgring.

    Although Hunt won the title in 1976, Lauda completed his comeback from the accident in 1977, winning his second championship and finishing on the podium in 12 of 17 races.

    He raced two more years with Brabham, took a two-year hiatus then returned with McLaren in 1982. The first two years there produced only two victories, but in 1984 Lauda won five times and finished second four others, nipping Alain Prost for the title by half a point. After one more season at McLaren, he retired for good.

    Lauda's winning percentage is actually the lowest of any driver in our top 10, but his three titles and his longevity make up for some lean years throughout his career.

8: Jackie Stewart

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    Stewart at the 1973 British Grand Prix.
    Stewart at the 1973 British Grand Prix.Getty Images/Getty Images

    Total Score

    119

    Winning Percentage

    27.3%

    Points-Per-Start

    3.9

    Number of Seasons

    9

    Championship Percentage

    33.3%

    Pole Percentage

    17.2%

    Jackie Stewart was a star from the moment he arrived in F1 with BRM. He scored a point in his debut race and before his first season was over, he had added a victory at Monza, three second-place finishes and one third.

    Stewart won the opening race in 1966 but did not manage to return to the podium that season as he suffered from reliability issues at a number of races. He was already recognized as a potential future world champion, though, and was profiled in Sports Illustrated.

    After another frustrating season at BRM in 1967, Stewart moved to Matra and immediately became a title contender. He finished second to Graham Hill in 1968 and then won six of 11 races to take his first title in 1969.

    He then changed teams again, signing with Tyrell, where he won two more titles in 1971 and 1973. During practice for the final race of the 1973 season, at Watkins Glen, teammate Francois Cevert was killed. Stewart had already clinched the title and was planning to retire after the race, but the team withdrew instead.

    He never raced again.

7: Alberto Ascari

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    Ascari on his way to victory at the Nurburgring in 1952.
    Ascari on his way to victory at the Nurburgring in 1952.RIETHA USEN/Associated Press

    Total Score

    123

    Winning Percentage

    40.6%

    Points-Per-Start

    4.7

    Number of Seasons

    4

    Championship Percentage

    50.0%

    Pole Percentage

    43.8%

    Alberto Ascari was one of the first F1 superstars. He is also, sadly, one of the many drivers from the sport's early years who were killed before they could fulfill their potential.

    In the short time he had, Ascari won two world championships—1952 and 1953—and served as Juan Manuel Fangio's biggest rival.

    He won every European race he started in 1952 and his first three in 1953, for a nine-race winning streak that would not be equalled until Sebastian Vettel won the final nine races of the 2014 season.

    Ascari was killed while testing a sports car at Monza in 1955, having retired from the first two races that season. He would be higher in these rankings but for his tragically short career.

6: Jim Clark

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    Clark at the 1968 South African Grand Prix, his final F1 race.
    Clark at the 1968 South African Grand Prix, his final F1 race.Anonymous/Associated Press

    Total Score

    124

    Winning Percentage

    34.7%

    Points-Per-Start

    4.2

    Number of Seasons

    8

    Championship Percentage

    25.0%

    Pole Percentage

    45.8%

    Like Ascari, Jim Clark was killed in the middle of his career. But not before he won two world championships, including one of the most dominant seasons in F1 history.

    After finishing second in 1962, Clark won seven of 10 races in 1963 in his Lotus 25. In the other three races, he finished second, third and eighth (due to a gearbox problem in Monaco, where he had qualified on pole).

    Although he officially won the championship by 25 points from Graham Hill, only the six best results counted for each driver. Counting their total scores, Clark beat Richie Ginther 73 to 34—Hill had 29 total points.

    Clark was in contention for the 1964 title as well, winning three races, but he eventually settled for third, behind John Surtees and Hill.

    In 1965, he won six of 10 races and again beat Hill for the championship. He was not as competitive in 1966, but the following year he finished in third again, 10 points behind Denny Hulme.

    Clark won the first race in 1968, the South African Grand Prix. Just before the start of the European season, though, he was killed during a Formula Two race at Hockenheim. His teammate, Hill, went on to win the title that season.

5: Sebastian Vettel

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    Vettel at the 2013 Indian Grand Prix.
    Vettel at the 2013 Indian Grand Prix.Mark Baker/Associated Press

    Total Score

    125

    Winning Percentage

    32.5%

    Points-Per-Start

    4.7

    Number of Seasons

    6

    Championship Percentage

    66.7%

    Pole Percentage

    37.5%

    This is probably the most controversial part of this entire ranking. Even die-hard Sebastian Vettel fans would probably be hesitant to say he is one of the top five drivers in F1 history. Yet here he is.
     
    But before you fire off a bunch of angry comments, remember: This ranking is not necessarily meant to demonstrate, qualitatively, who the best drivers are. Rather, it is using a defined set of statistics to quantitatively assess the careers of drivers from 64 years of F1.
     
    Like it or not, no one can deny Vettel has been statistically dominant for most of his short career. Four championships in six full seasons; 39 wins and 45 poles in 120 starts. It does not get much more dominant than that.
     
    Yes, the German has had the best car for most of that time, and no, he has not proved he can win with another team, but give him time. If we revisit these rankings in five years, there are two things that could happen. Either Vettel will continue winning as he has—or maybe at a slightly reduced rate—and cement his place among the all-time greats, or he will fall off his incredible pace and fall back down this list into the realm of the mere mortals.

4: Ayrton Senna

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    Senna at his home race in 1991.
    Senna at his home race in 1991.Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

    Total Score

    125.5

    Winning Percentage

    25.5%

    Points-Per-Start

    4.0

    Number of Seasons

    10

    Championship Percentage

    30.0%

    Pole Percentage

    40.4%

    Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost share one of the most celebrated rivalries in the history of F1. From 1985 and 1993, those two drivers accounted for seven world championships between them. Senna won in 1988, 1990 and 1991, although Prost actually out-scored him in 1988. Only the top 11 results for each driver were counted in the championship, though, so the Brazilian prevailed.
     
    Here, Senna is ranked (spoiler alert!) one place below Prost, but it is as close as their many battles on the track (Japan 1990, anyone?). Prost edges Senna in all of our statistics, except qualifying, where the Brazilian is the acknowledged master.
     
    Senna is the sentimental favourite, though, for his emotional driving style and untimely death. Of course, it is impossible to say what might have happened had Senna not been killed early in the 1994 season, but who would have bet against him adding at least one more championship to his resume?

3: Alain Prost

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    Prost at Brands Hatch in 1985.
    Prost at Brands Hatch in 1985.Mike King/Getty Images

    Total Score

    129

    Winning Percentage

    25.6%

    Points-Per-Start

    4.2

    Number of Seasons

    13

    Championship Percentage

    30.8%

    Pole Percentage

    16.6%

    And now the other half of the rivalry: Alain Prost. The Frenchman won three races in his second season and two in his third. From there, he raced 10 more seasons, winning fewer than three grands prix only once.
     
    From 1983 to 1993—with a sabbatical in 1992—Prost finished first or second in the Drivers' Championship every year except 1987 (fourth) and 1991 (fifth). He won the title in 1985, 1986, 1989 and 1993.
     
    His 51 victories are second only to Michael Schumacher, though his pole percentage is far below those of the other elite drivers.
     
    Prost's competitiveness over such a long period of time, not to mention his four world championships, certainly earn him a place near the top of the all-time driver rankings.

2: Juan Manuel Fangio

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    Fangio (middle) congratulates Stirling Moss after Moss' victory at the 1957 Italian Grand Prix.
    Fangio (middle) congratulates Stirling Moss after Moss' victory at the 1957 Italian Grand Prix.Associated Press

    Total Score

    136

    Winning Percentage

    47.1%

    Points-Per-Start

    5.7

    Number of Seasons

    7

    Championship Percentage

    71.4%

    Pole Percentage

    56.9%

    From 1955, when Juan Manuel Fangio won his third title, to 2003, when Michael Schumacher won his sixth, the Argentinian held the record of most F1 Drivers' Championships.
     
    Fangio and Schumacher drove in such different eras, though, that any comparison between the two men must be taken with a grain of salt. Still, according to our methodology, Fangio is No. 2—even if Schumi himself might not agree.
     
    Fangio's career-long dominance is unmatched. He only raced seven full seasons, 1950 to 1957 (he did not race in 1952 following Alfa Romeo's withdrawal and an injury in a non-championship race), but in those seven years, he won five titles and finished second twice, by a total of 9.5 points. 
     
    The Argentinian also won 47 percent of the races he started, a record that will likely never be equalled. 
     
    Then, in 1958, following two fourth-place finishes and an unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, Fangio retired. That in itself is remarkable. Not many athletes are willing to walk away at the height of their careers, but Fangio did (although it should be noted he was 47 years old at the time).

1: Michael Schumacher

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    Schumacher leads Damon Hill at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix.
    Schumacher leads Damon Hill at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Total Score

    144

    Winning Percentage

    29.6%

    Points-Per-Start

    4.3

    Number of Seasons

    18

    Championship Percentage

    38.9%

    Pole Percentage

    22.1%

    Is Michael Schumacher the greatest F1 driver ever? Some fans, particularly in Germany, would probably argue that he is. He won seven world championships, including five straight, from 2000 to 2004.
     
    His claim for the top spot would be even more impressive had he not returned for three mediocre seasons with Mercedes after his initial retirement in 2006. That return yielded just one podium finish—third at the 2012 European Grand Prix—and hurt his career statistics.
     
    Schumacher's reputation also took a hit from his collisions with Damon Hill in 1994 and Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. There was also that time he parked his car across Monaco's Rascasse corner at the end of qualifying to secure pole position and that other time he seemingly tried to kill his former teammate, Rubens Barrichello, by forcing him into the Hungaroring pit wall at 300 kph.
     
    Of course, Schumi is not the only driver to use questionable tactics in pursuit of victory—didn't we just talk about Senna at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix?  Besides, this ranking is only supposed to determine the top drivers based on a quantitative analysis. 

    And, at least in this case, that means Schumacher is No. 1.

     

    Follow Matthew Walthert on Twitter @MatthewWalthert