Here we look at the statistical finishing positions for ten drivers that are often considered in debates of the greatest F1 drivers ever. The 10 drivers are:
Fangio, Clark, Stewart, Lauda, Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel.
Of course there are other drivers that could be added, and this list has been extended in part 2 (click here) to include all drivers that have won at least 20GP or multiple championships.
Points finishes are from the time of the race (so a 9th place finish would count today, but wouldn’t for most of F1 history). “Other” includes disqualifications, races where the driver didn’t start or withdrew. Although there is some discussion and comparison of stats between drivers below, the drivers span the entire history of F1, with different rules and circumstances across different careers.
Juan Manuel Fangio (52 entries)
Fangio’s career stats are truly astounding. Whilst his short career (just 51 starts) means that most of his absolute records from the era have been smashed many times over, he still holds several percentage records. These include highest percentage of wins (46%) and highest percentage of front row starts (92%). He’s also the only driver to have won championships with 4 different teams.
Jim Clark (73 entries)
Clark‘s percentage starts are second only to Fangio’s. He has 25 wins but only 1 second place, which suggests that almost always come out if the car was competitive and held together. He DNF’d in approximately 1/3 of races, a significantly worse rate than Fangio but better than drivers from the 70s and 80s, suggesting that retirement rates in F1 increased for a significant period of time before decreasing to more modern levels.
Jackie Stewart (100 entries)
Whilst Stewart is rightly given much praise for his campaigns to improve safety within the sport, he is frequently not given enough credit for his performances as a driver. His record of 27 victories stood for 14 years and he won 43% of the races he finished- a feat that no driver since has matched.
Niki Lauda (177 entries)
Lauda has a higher DNF rate than any other driver on this list, with his 1980s comeback being particularly bad. He failed to finish 6 of the first 9 races in his championship winning 1984 season, and reliability the following year was even worse! Even accounting for reliability his win rate is one of the lowest here, although of course it’s still exceptional compared to almost any other F1 driver.
Alain Prost (202 entries)
Prost was on the podium in 3/4 of all races he finished, second only to Fangio on this list. There is also some evidence that he was almost uniquely able to drive in a style to reduce mechanical DNFs. He held the record for most wins for the best part of two decades before Michael Schumacher’s successes at Ferrari overhauled it.
Aryton Senna (162 entries)
Senna’s record is almost identical to that of his rival Prost. It’s tempting to explain the subtle differences in their stats in terms of their differing mentalities (Senna was slightly more likely to win a race he finished, but is hurt by slightly higher DNFs), but the truth is that the differences are just splitting hairs. Like Clark, Senna’s career was tragically cut short, but there’s no evidence in either case to suggest their percentage win rates would have suffered in they’d been able to continue racing.
Michael Schumacher (308 entries)
Given that we’re looking at percentages, Schumacher’s number are obviously hurt by his Mercedes comeback. His win rate including DNFs falls from 36% to 30%, for example. Like with Prost, Schumacher’s win total seemed almost insurmountable at the time, only for it to be overhauled within a couple of decades.
Fernando Alonso (328* entries)
Alonso easily has the worst stats of everyone here, winning just 12% of the races he entered. However, he still sits 6th in the all time winners list, emphasising how career and season lengths have changed across F1 history. He’s also the only driver with significantly more 2nd/3rd places than victories. This is partly due to the quality of his cars, but it also appears to be a trait of Alonso himself: One of the main reasons neither Räikkönen or Schumacher caught Alonso in his championship winning years was his efficient podium gathering in the 2nd half of the years.
Lewis Hamilton (280* entries)
Hamilton has so far won 39% of races he’s finished. It is worth mentioning that percentages for Prost, Senna and Schumacher are all extremely similar (36%-38%). Of course Hamilton is in the discussion for the GOAT, but the stats don’t automatically place him above others in this list. However, including DNFs Hamilton has a higher win rate than all of others bar Fangio, and this is even more impressive considering the different eras and circumstances.
Sebastian Vettel (272* entries)
For such a successful driver, Vettel’s win rate is surprisingly low. It also appears that modern F1 makes it difficult for 2 drivers with significantly overlapping careers to have high percentage win rates across their career. Although Mercedes domination is of course a factor, Nico Rosberg’s win rate is less than half of Vettel’s and below even Alonso’s. As with Lauda, Vettel’s win rate is exceptional, just not quite as impressive as others on this list.
*Correct as of 2021 Italian GP.
Thanks for reading, please subscribe for more content.