The Mercedes boys.
To celebrate 1000 posts, I’m going to do a “Top Ten Favourite Drivers” list. I would just like to point out this is “favourite” not “best”, because we all know who the best drivers are. In no particular order. Here goes, in no particular order:
Francois Cevert. The handsome Parisian with eyes you could fall into was talented and earmarked to be successor to triple world champ Sir Jackie Stewart but unfortunately lost his life at Watkins Glen at what was to be JYS’ last Grand Prix, retiring immediately and not taking part in the race on Sunday. Hands down the most handsome man to have driven a Formula One car.
Gerhard Berger. The last man to be signed personally by Enzo Ferrari, the first and last man to take victories for Benetton Grand Prix, the original prankster of the Formula One paddock, and owner of the most stylish mullet in Formula One history. Favourite moments tied between that 1-2 at Monza in 1988 and that last victory at Hockenheim in 1997.
Felipe Massa. I give him a lot of stick recently, but the flood of emotions seeing him on the podium again brought back a lot of very fond memories. For three straight years he OWNED the Brazilian Grand Prix, and although it is my most heart wrenching Formula Moment watching him win the race but lose the title in 2008, and it is one that will stick with me for a long. He is Ferrari’s new guy, even if he isn’t the fasted. Like Michele and Clay and Jean and Gilles, he captured the passion and love for racing that is Ferrari and being beaten by three of the best drivers of the post-Senna era is nothing to be ashamed of.
Clay Regazzoni. Longtime Ferrari driver of the 70’s, Clay and his moustache always stood out for me. Team mate for Niki Lauda during the Championship years, Clay was also the first winner in a long line of great drivers for the Williams team. He would have his career ended after hitting an abadoned car at the USGP West at Long Beach 1980. Only his F1 career, that is, as he would go on to continue racing after being paralysed from the waste down. He had a custom Ferrari Daytona made for him that he could operate without the use of feet and fought for his right for a racing license and the acceptance of disable racers.
Mika Hakkinen. Spa 2000, nuff said.
Nigel Mansell. Il Leone. Our Nige. I’ve written at length about him before I think, and we all know who he is. Perhaps not quite as quick or naturally talented as Prost and Senna, he made up for it and then some. He earned his drive with Lotus, fighting tooth and nail, and again for his drive with Williams, and deservedly won a title in 1992 after many years of struggled. Should have stayed away from McLaren in 1995 though. Plus, dat moustache. Oh, and the reason why I like him? The way he drove. Oh buddy.
Jean Alesi. French-Sicilian and drove for Ferrari with his heart on his sleeve. The way he drove, the way he would lean his head into the corner, the tears when he won his sole race at Montreal, the tears after his car gave way after walking on water and leading by a country mile at Monza a year later. Was cursed to be at Ferrari during one of their worst periods since the 1980 season, but he chose the seat with his heart and not his head, turning down Williams which opened the door for Nigel Mansell. Imagining Jean Alesi winning a title for Williams feel weird, because although Williams has all that history, it just feels wrong separating Jean from Ferrari. Like Gilles and Clay before him and Felipe after, he was Ferrari.
Fangio. As far as I’m concerned, the greatest driver to have ever driven in Formula One. The Pelé or Johnny Unitas of Formula One, he wasn’t the first but oh boy is he the most well remembered. What he did at Nurburgring to clinch his final title is the stuff of legends. To come back from near death in 1952 to be the only man that didn’t drive a Ferrari to win in 1953, he then dominated three straight German Grand Prix in a row, won four straight championships (only matched by one man), and did it all while nearly twice the age of some of his closest competitors. The first great of Formula One and the finest.
Michael. When I was a little kid playing in the sand pit, five or six years old, every single car that had a 1 on its side was Michael Schumacher. He was my idol. All my friends cared about video games and football or whatever it was, all I cared about was Michael Schumacher. I hated McLaren, and Mercedes, and Williams, and DC and Mika and JV and Damo, and anything that wasn’t Michael and Ferrari. I have vivid memories of all these races, the elation of Hungary 1998, the devastating emptiness of Silverstone 1999, the amazing feeling when it all finally happened at Suzuka in 2000. All these strong memories tied to Ferrari and Michael. That final victory at Monza, oh boy, that one will stick with me a long time.
Sir Jack Brabham. Australia’s greatest ever driver, a national living treasure, the only man to win a World Championship as a driver and constructor. A true gentleman, only the second driver to win more than two titles, only the third to win more than one, and in a select club with Niki Lauda, JYS, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet of triple world champions (to be joined by Alonso soon -_O ). He is just one of the finest to have ever raced and as an Australian who is rarely ever patriotic, this is one of the proudest things I feel my country has done, creating this man and unleashing him onto motorsport, with two of his sons going on to win at Le Mans. Sir Jack, my favourite ever Formula One driver.
As always, photos courtesy of the Cahier Archive.
Fangio getting sideways, leading the way at Monza en route to victory in 1953. Sans the Indy 500, this would be the only race not won by a Ferrari that season.
Ascari-Moss-Fangio. Monza, 1954.
Ascari would go on to retire in his Ferrari, while Stirling Moss would also suffer troubles putting him nine laps down at the end of the race. Fangio would go on to win, bolstering his already clinched second title. This would be Fangio’s third of three victories at the famous Lombard circuit.
Fangio 1957 France 06
Kodachrome film (10 ASA!) plus a Leica 3F equipped with a Leitz Elmar 35mm F3.5 lens is the recipe for this magnificent photo of legendary Juan Manuel Fangio sliding his red Maserati 250F through the Nouveau Monde corner on the Rouen circuit, where the French Grand Prix 1957 was held.
Fernando Alonso winning on his debut for Ferrari at Bahrain in 2010. He was the second driver since Nige “il Leone” Mansell to do such a thing, with the Manx-Brit winning at Brazil on debut in 1989 despite that season’s car being dogged with horrendous reliability. In that time, such noted drivers as Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, and Kimi Raikkonen all made less spectacular debuts for Ferrari (Prost and Schumacher both retiring on debut, Raikkonen being the other driver to win on debut). Both Prost and Schumacher would go on to win 5 and 3 races respectively.
Despite all four world champions mounting title challenges in their respective debut seasons with the Scuderia, only Kimi Raikkonen was able to win the title in his debut season. He became the first since Jody Scheckter in 1979 to do so, with the pair only joined by the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio in a rare group of drivers to win the world title for the Scuderia in their debut seasons. Surprisingly (or maybe not so much?), this is not Fangio’s most exclusive club, holding five current Formula One records and a plethora more where he has been the historic leader.
Perhaps Fangio’s most staggering record is the astounding 92.31% front-row starting percentage. Michael Schumacher would have had to start front the front row over 250 times in his career to come even close to that, and he is the all time leader with 116.
Fangio at Monte Carlo
Love Loews, Forza Fangio.
Featuring the Alfa Romeo Alfetta tipo 159, winner of the first two Formula One driver’s world championships in the hands of the aforementioned Brazilian and Italian Giuseppe Farina.
Fangio at Monaco
Originally designed in 1954, the Lancia family fell on hard times and had to sell-off the Scuderia Lancia, with the car being purchased by Ferrari. Fangio would win the 1956 Driver’s Championship with it, rebadged as the Ferrari D50.