Which Formula 1 Rookie Class Is the Best Ever?

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
Which Formula 1 Rookie Class Is the Best Ever?
PIERRE VERDY/Getty Images
Michael Schumacher (foreground) and Mike Hakkinen combined for 111 wins in their F1 careers.

There have been plenty of memorable rookie seasons in Formula One history, from Jackie Stewart's five podiums in 1965 to Jacques Villeneuve pushing Damon Hill to the wire in 1996 to Lewis Hamilton's remarkable podium streak that left him one point short of the title in 2007.

But not every future star shines so brightly in their rookie season. Some, such as Fernando Alonso, start their careers in uncompetitive cars. Or others, such as Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, make their debuts partway through a season, limiting the number of races they start in their first year.

But the point of this article is not to determine which drivers were the best in their rookie seasons, rather looking at each rookie class as a whole and deciding who went on to have the most succesful careers.

Before we examine the records, though, a few notes on the criteria. First, the 1950 class was not considered—it was the first year of the F1 world championship, but many of the drivers were already grand prix veterans.

MOLTER/Associated Press
Was Juan Manuel Fangio really a "rookie" in 1950?

Second, for the purposes of this analysis, each driver's rookie season is the one in which he made his grand prix debut, even if he only made a cameo appearance that year. For example, Mario Andretti only entered one grand prix in 1968, but we considered that his rookie year. Any other definition—that a driver must have entered, say, half or three-quarters of the races in a given year—seems too arbitrary.

Finally, the names for each rookie class in the table below refer only to the drivers from that year who went on to win at least one F1 race.

With that in mind, here are the top F1 rookie classes, ranked by number of grand prix victories:

Best F1 Rookie Classes
Year Grand Prix-Winning Drivers Wins Drivers' Championships
1991 Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen 111 9
2007 Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Heikki Kovalainen 86 7
1980 Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell 82 5
2001 Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya 59 3
1984 Ayrton Senna, Gerhard Berger 51 3
1978 Nelson Piquet, Keke Rosberg, Didier Pironi, Rene Arnoux 38 4
1965 Jackie Stewart, Denny Hulme 35 4
1960 Jim Clark, John Surtees, Richie Ginther 32 3
1970 Emerson Fittipaldi, Clay Reggazoni, Ronnie Peterson, Francois Cevert, Peter Gethin 31 2
1971 Niki Lauda 25 3
1972 Jody Scheckter, Carlos Reutemann, Carlos Pace, Patrick Depailler 25 1

Wikipedia

The top of the list is probably not a surprise. Schumacher alone won more races in his career than any other rookie class combined. And when you add two-time champ Mika Hakkinen's 20 wins, no other rookie class comes close to 1991.

The 2007 class, which includes Hamilton and Vettel, is a decent bet to eventually eclipse the totals from the '91 group. Both men are driving competitive cars and are just 31 and 28 years old, respectively. They have plenty of years remaining at the top of the sport.

Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell highlight a strong 1980 class, which also includes Stefan Johansson (sort of—he tried, but failed, to qualify for two races that year). Both Prost and Mansell are in the top 10 on the career-wins list, making 1980 the only class beside 2007 with that distinction.

Also of note, Desire Wilson—one of just five women to enter an F1 race—made her only appearance that year, failing to qualify her Williams at the British Grand Prix.

AFP/Getty Images
Nigel Mansell leads Alain Prost at the 1991 Spanish Grand Prix.

Interestingly, no rookie class has produced three world champions, although seven classes have two champions.

The 1970 class is notable because, with five, it contains the most grand prix winners. Emerson Fittipaldi is the only drivers' champion from that group, although Ronnie Peterson finished second in 1978, the year he was killed following a crash at the Italian Grand Prix. Clay Regazzoni was also close to titles in 1970 and 1974.

Technically, the 1950 rookie class featured more winners, with 14 (six of those 14 did not win a grand prix but rather won the Indianapolis 500 when it was part of the world championship). If we did count the 1950 group in our standings, it would place fourth, with 70 wins and eight world championships (five for Juan Manuel Fangio, two for Alberto Ascari and one for Nino Farina).

Finally, the 1971 "class" is unique on our list in that it contains just one grand prix winner: Niki Lauda. However, Lauda's 25 grand prix victories matches the combined total of the 1972 class—which includes Jody Scheckter, Carlos Reutemann, Carlos Pace and Patrick Depailler—for 10th place.

Tony Duffy/Getty Images
Niki Lauda at the 1977 Monaco Grand Prix.

Red Bull advisor and compatriot of Lauda Helmut Marko also made his F1 debut in 1971, although his career lasted just 10 races before a stone thrown up by a car he was trailing left him blind in one eye.

Based on their number of victories, the 1991 group, which includes Schumacher and Hakkinen, is by far the best rookie class in F1 history. However, Hamilton and Vettel have a chance to close the gap significantly over the next few years.

And what will become of the more recent rookies?

This year's debutants are Pascal Wehrlein and Jolyon Palmer (with one more Manor driver yet to be announced).

The last group to boast a grand prix winner is the 2011 class, with Daniel Ricciardo and Pastor Maldonado combining for four wins thus far.

Perhaps 2014's class, including Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat, will also produce race winners, although the 2015 group might be even stronger. Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen has already been marked for greatness, and his team-mate, Carlos Sainz Jr., looked strong in his debut season, as well.

But will any of these groups ever be mentioned in the same breath as those in our list above, as some of the greatest rookie classes in the history of F1?

Follow me on Twitter for updates when I publish new articles and for other (mostly) F1-related news and banter: 

Follow B/R on Facebook

Formula 1

Subscribe Now

By signing up for our newsletter, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Thanks for signing up.