Written by Graham Cutbill-White
The biggest event in the British motor racing calendar takes place this weekend with the historic Silverstone Circuit once again hosting the British Grand Prix.
The 10th round of the 2019 F1 season will feature a host of exciting storylines continue as the chasing pack look to cut the ever-increasing lead of reigning F1 champ Lewis Hamilton. Barring any unforeseen and uncharacteristic mistakes by Mercedes, it’s very difficult to see past Hamilton taking home the victory for the 7th time this season and extending his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings.
If Hamilton does stand atop the podium this Sunday, he will become the most successful driver in the races almost 70-year history. It also almost certainly cements his place as the greatest British F1 driver in history.
But, is that actually the case? Has Hamilton’s dominance in recent years truly put him head and shoulders above the rest of the drivers Britain has produced? To see who truly comes out on top, we’ve put our heads together to rank the top 10 British F1 drivers of all time…
#10 Jenson Button (2000-2017)
15 Race wins – 50 Podiums – 8 Pole positions – 1 World Championship (2009)
A driver who throughout his career struggled for consistency and failed to live up to his undoubted potential, Button finally came good while driving the overnight sensation BGP 001 for the Brawn team. Eventually winning 6 races that year, all in the first 7 races, Jenson’s only title was pay off for years of toil in unreliable and uncompetitive cars.
Two years later, he was the best of the rest behind the dominant Sebastian Vettel but failed to reach the heights of ‘09 again. He may not have the most wins or championships, but he was a mainstay of the F1 grid for almost 20 years notching up the third most races of all any driver. He was also blessed with a bright, engaging and outgoing personality that made him a real hit with F1 fans.
#9 Mike Hawthorn (1952-1958)
3 Race Wins – 18 Podiums – 4 Pole Positions – 1 World Championship (1958)
While on paper, Mike Hawthorn may not have the most impressive record, during his short stint in F1, Hawthorn made a profound impact on the sport and was the first British driver to lift the Driver’s Championship.
In the middle of his F1 career, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and finally took home the top prize in 1958. Famously a part of some of the most dramatic and catastrophic moments in the early and extremely dangerous days of racing.
He retired immediately after winning his only championship and was sadly killed in a road accident just months later. The essence of 50’s F1 racing, Hawthorn will go down as one of the early and most important pioneers of British racing.
#8 Damon Hill (1992-1999)
22 Race Wins – 42 Podiums – 20 Pole Positions – 1 World Championship (1996)
The son of one Britain’s greatest ever racers who (SPOILER ALERT) features later in this list, Damon had a lot to live up to when he entered the world of F1 in 1992 and the ripe old age of 32.
From his second season until he won the title in ’96, Hill was consistently at the top of the drivers’ standings, famously battling Michael Schumacher throughout the mid-‘90s. He would finally get the better of the German in 1996 where he started all 16 races from the front row, winning eight – more than living up to his father’s legacy.
#7 James Hunt (1973-1979)
10 Race Wins – 23 Podiums – 14 Pole Positions – 1 World Championship (1976)
It’s difficult to read anything about James Hunt without stumbling across the word playboy. Hunt was truly a larger than life character that epitomised everything us fans imagine an F1 driver to be. Brave, brash and hugely popular with fans, he was the ultimate showman on and off the track.
His famous duels with legendary racer Niki Lauda are the stuff of Hollywood (literally!) and would come to a head in the infamous 1976 season. Coming from behind after Lauda had won five of the first nine races, Hunt would win six of his ten career victories this season to win the title by a single point.
Hunt will go down as a legend of the sport and one of its most important characters.
#6 Nigel Mansell (1980-1992, 1994-1995)
31 Race Wins – 59 Podiums – 32 Pole Positions – 1 World Championship (1992)
Statistically, Mansell is the second-best British driver in F1 history and his numbers more than speak for themselves. Currently sitting 7th in all the time race winners list, the Brits was unlucky to have driven in an era dominated by legends Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
Famously remembered behind the wheel of his Williams, Mansell was constantly battling at the front of the pack and was involved in some of the most famous races of the era. He finally managed to stick his head above the rest in his second season back at Williams.
He dominated the ’92 season winning the first five races with nine victories in total that year. He finished with almost double the points of his teammate and championship runner-up Riccardo Patrese, a culmination of over a decade’s worth of blood, sweat and tears.
#5 Sir Sterling Moss (1951-1961)
16 Race Wins – 24 Podiums – 16 Pole Positions – 0 World Championships
The greatest driver never to win the World Championship, Sir Sterling was a legend of his era and came incredibly close to winning a much-deserved drivers title on multiple occasions. A four-time runner-up, most notably by just a single point behind #9 racer Mike Hawthorn in ’58.
Famously the fastest man on any track he drove on, Moss’s legend went beyond the world of F1. Winning just under half of all the races he entered, including the British Grand Prix twice and the Mille Miglia.
Moss became a celebrity in the UK and a poster boy for British racing and has continued to be a prominent feature of British racing for over 60 years.
#4 Graham Hill (1958-1975)
14 Race Wins – 36 Podiums – 13 Pole Positions – 2 World Championships (1962, 1968)
We teased his appearance earlier in the list and now we finally arrive at the elder Hill. Graham Hill was arguably the first superstar of British racing who’s elegant driving style was equalled by success in the driver’s championship.
Two World Championships and three second place finishes in his 17-year career were not even his most astonishing achievement. He was the first and to date, only Triple Crown of Motorsport winner with wins in the 1966 Indy 500, the 1972 24 Hours of Le Mans and five first-place finishes in the Monaco GP.
Much like his son years later, Graham Hill was late to the world of F1 and drove consistently into his 40’s. He will no doubt be remembered as an icon of British racing and one of the greatest drivers to ever race.
#3 Jim Clark (1960-1968)
25 Race Wins – 32 Podiums – 33 Pole Positions – 2 World Championships (1963, 1965)
The most successful driver in racing history at the time of his untimely death aged 32, Jim Clark still holds a number of records over 50 years on. With a record eight grand slams (Pole position, race win, fastest lap and led every lap) and the holder of the record for the highest percentage of laps in the lead in a season, Clark’s dominance is still very much recognised in the sport today.
He was also incredibly successful in his home race winning the British GP a record five times with four in a row between ’62 and ’65. Clark was famously quick and left fellow drivers dumbfounded by his ability to find pace where others couldn’t – he was also able to adapt to any car he was given, as Sir Jackie Stewart commented…
“He was so smooth, he was so clean, he drove with such finesse. He never bullied a racing car, he sort of caressed it into doing the things he wanted it to do.”
#2 Sir Jackie Stewart (1965-1973)
27 Race Wins – 43 Podiums – 17 Pole Positions – 3 World Championships (1969, 1971, 1973)
Sir Jackie’s dominance brought to a close over a decade of dominance for British drivers. In 12 seasons between 1962 and 1971, a British driver took home the title on eight occasions.
With three championships, Stewart was the most successful British driver for decades and currently sits eight in the all-time race winners list. He dominated throughout his relatively short career – finishing in the top three in six of his nine seasons.
He is rightly lauded as one of the greatest racers in history but in the years since his retirement, he has become more famous for his relentless and incredibly successful work to improve driver safety and dramatically reduce the number of deaths and injuries in the sport.
While he was recently overtaken as the most successful British driver, Sir Jackie will always be seen as the greatest to most British fans.
#1 Lewis Hamilton (2007-Present)
79 Race Wins – 142 Podiums – 86 Pole Positions – 5 World Championships (2008, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018)
Any time this discussion is had, it tends to be a battle between Sir Jackie or Jim Clark’s total body of work and dominance throughout their career vs Lewis’s potential to be the greatest ever.
While Hamilton is still racing, there’s very little he could do to tarnish what he’s already achieved. If he retired tomorrow, he would be the most successful British driver are could arguably be considered one of the three greatest drivers of all time.
Blessed with a raw natural talent for racing, Lewis won his first title aged just 23, at the time the youngest driver to ever win a World Championship. Despite a fallow few years at McLaren following his first title, Hamilton made the move to Mercedes – a shock move at the time, however one that has clearly worked out.
Four titles in six years in the Silver Arrow has seen him and the team dominate the sport in an almost unprecedented manner. He holds the record for most consecutive races with 238 starts and sits just two behind Michael Schumacher in the total driver’s championship standings.
His utter dominance doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and it’s more than likely that he’ll catch Schumacher in the next few years. He may not be as popular with fans as other drivers on this list but there’s no doubting the respect he has earned throughout his career.
It’s very likely that by the end of his time as an F1 driver, Lewis Hamilton will go down as the greatest driver of all time.