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I have followed Formula I since boyhood and basically that means from the 1950's onwards. Of course just being more than a teeny wee bit old does not automatically entail greater wisdom. Anyway I am going to "stick my neck out" and write about the greatest Formula I driver of all time.
For starters who might be placed on a list of great drivers? Well lets start with some world champions.Juan Manual Fangio of the Argentine won the title 5 times in the 1950's and was undoubtedly a great driver. Briton Mike Hawthorn was a world champion in a Ferrari but his racing career was relatively short. Other greats of that era included Alberto Ascari, Peter Collins, Stirling Moss, and Roy Salvadori.
In the 1960's there were a succession of great drivers who won the title: Graham Hill, Phil Hill,Jack Brabham, John Surtees and another Scot Jim Clark. They were followed by three times World Champion driver the "Flying Scot" Jackie Stewart.
Later there were great drivers such as Nelson Piquet,Nikki Lauda,Alan Jones,James Hunt, and in more recent times Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost. Ayrton Senna,Mika Hakkinen and,of course,the current star,Michael Schumacher all come into the reckoning.
So far we have only considered drivers who won the world champonship but there were drivers such as Stirling Moss,Ronnie Petersen,Derek Warwick, Chris Amon, and Bruce McLaren,who were greatly admired,although they did not win the world title.
If you go only by statistics then I suppose the list has to read Fangio, Prost,Senna and Schumacher.These are undeniably great drivers and certainly among the finest of all time According to Alain Prost " Ayrton was certainly the best driver I ever raced against,by a long,long way. He was,by far,the most committed driver I ever saw."
Are we to concur with Alain-a great driver himself with 51 wins,41 fastest laps and an average of 3.99 points per race-that Ayrton was the greatest of them all ?
No, in my view the greatest driver of them all, and sadly someone tragically killed at their prime in a minor Formula II race at Hockenheim, was the Scottish driver Jim Clark.Jimmy was born to a Scottish farming family and his early motor racing exploits met with strong disapproval from his family. In the beginning of his career he raced in rallys with his friend Ian Scott-Watson. In one of his early races he drove a Lotus Elite against the legendary Coloin Chapman. The great man-founder of Lotus and a engineering genius-was highly impressed with the young Scot and eventually Jimmy joined Lotus. Right from the start Jimmy won races in the junior formula and by 1960 was promoted to the Formula I team. Two years later he raced the magnificent Lotus 25 to victory at Spa in Belgium.Although Jimmy disliked this circuit he won there four times. In that year Jimmy narrowly lost the championship to another legendary driver,Graham Hill, father of Damon,when his Lotus broke down while leading the final race.
In 1963 he won the World Championship in a Lotus winning a mind boggling 7 out of 10 grand prix's and having no less than 7 pole positions in the process. 1965 saw him return to the top rung and Colin Chapman got him to race at Indianapolis which he won. 1966 was not such a good year. The introduction of the new 3-litre Formula caught Lotus out as they did not really have a competitive engine. For the 1967 season the arrival of the Ford Cosworth DFW made Lotus a team to watch again. Jimmy won the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort and overall finished 3 rd in the World Championship. 1968 kicked off with a win for Jimmy in South Africa and this victory meant the "Flying Scot" actually surpassed the great Juan Manuel Fangio in total Grand Prix victories. What a feat ! Sadly he was to be killed at Hockenheim in Germany in a minor Formula 2 race and all who loved motor racing realised that a truly great driver had been taken from us in his prime.
He set up in his short career an incredible number of pole positions.He faced a wide array of other great drivers in the 1960's such as Brabham, Surtees, Graham Hill, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren and Jackie Stewart and looked the smoothest of them all. Jimmy Clark raced at the Indy and won it in the rear engined Lotus much to the disbelief of the US racing industry Jim,a thorough gentleman, and a shy unassuming man, was my greatest of them all,followed by Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher !
Spot on. I had completely forgot about his victory in Indy, thanks for the history list!
davidbuttery 30.07.2001 02:32
Well, this has to get a VH, doesn't it? Seeing as how you seem to be the only person who shares my view about the all-time number one! Not at all sure I'd put Senna as high as no. 2, though - certainly Fangio, and probably Prost (unfashionable view, I know) would shade him in my book.
Zebra 28.06.2001 21:26
Great opinion,l find it very difficult to disagree with you.My personal favorite was Nigel Mansel lm not saying he was any where near the best but he was certainly one of the most exciting and John Surtees record bikes and cars is unique.Cheers Zebra