Formula 1 has seen 34 different champions since the start of the World Championship era in 1950. In this blog post, we look at the Formula 1 drivers from past and present and list the best champions from each decade.
Last Updated: 19/04/23 at 10:14 am
In 72 seasons of the Formula 1 World Championships, there have been 34 different World Drivers’ Champions, with 17 of them being multi-time world champions.
Across the seven decades of F1, there has also been at least one driver who has sat at the top or towards the front of the grid for the majority.
In this blog, we take a look at the Formula 1 drivers from past and present, specifically the best champions from each decade.
2020s - Max Verstappen
2nd - Lewis Hamilton | 3rd - ?
Obviously, the decade is still new and we have only seen two drivers crowned as champions in the three seasons of the 2020s so far.
Max Verstappen was an up-and-coming driver for many years and was destined to win a championship one year. While the 2021 win may have come with a fair bit of controversy, nothing can be said about the 2022 win and the fact that he is currently the best driver on the grid.
Lewis Hamilton is still very much driving at championship level, despite Mercedes’ struggles in the 2022 season. His 2020 championship victory was superb - Hamilton and the Mercedes W11 were in complete synchronisation throughout the year, leading to the Brit equaling the great Michael Schumacher with seven world titles.
Ahead of the 2023 season, we predicted a much closer season than what we have seen so far. Max Verstappen and Red Bull have looked in prime position to repeat their feat from last year, but there is still a long way to go.
Looking ahead to the future, right now it seems Verstappen's only real competition in 2023 is his own teammate, Sergio Perez. Could Perez be the next new World Champion?
Or will we see one of the other teams stepping up, with Aston Martin making the biggest gains as we now see two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso back into regular podium places. Could it be him that dethrones the Flying Dutchman?
The 2010s - Lewis Hamilton
2nd - Sebastian Vettel | 3rd - Nico Rosberg
Another easy decade to list the top champions as there were only three during the 2010s. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the 2010s from 2014 onwards as a new era came to Formula 1.
The first part, though, saw the dominance of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. Glimpses of it came in the 2009 season when new regulations turned in the team's favour, but in 2010 the young Vettel found himself in a proper winning position. He and the team ended up winning the first four championships of the decade, and fairly easily in two of the seasons.
2014, however, brought about another regulation change, this time benefitting the newly returned Mercedes team. They experienced a period of unprecedented dominance over the next eight years, spearheaded by Hamilton.
The Brit was already a world champion when he joined in 2013, having won with McLaren in 2008. His decision to move to Mercedes was ridiculed by many as they weren’t seen as a contender. That ideology quickly changed.
Hamilton won back-to-back championships in 2014 & 2015. However, he was pushed both times by his teammate, Nico Rosberg. 2016 saw a change in the Merc garage, and suddenly Rosberg was on the front foot. He ended up beating Hamilton to that year's championship at the final race in Abu Dhabi. He then retired just days after.
Rosberg’s retirement opened up Hamilton to continue on his winning ways. While he was tested at times by Vettel, who was now with Ferrari, Hamilton showed his ability to win, picking up four straight titles from 2017 to end the decade.
2000s - Michael Schumacher
2nd - Fernando Alonso | 3rd - Kimi Raikkonen
The 2000s saw a number of first-time champions - Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton & Jenson Button.
But it also was the decade that we witnessed true greatness in the form of Ferrari with Michael Schumacher at the helm. The German was already a top driver on the grid, having won two championships previously in 1994 & 1995.
But he hadn’t won again until 2000 when he finally captured his third title. It then snowballed after that. His most impressive years were in 2002 when he finished on the podium in every single race that season with a then-record of 11 wins, and in 2004, where he wrapped the title up earlier than any other driver had before, with eight races still to run after winning all but one race up until the French Grand Prix when he was crowned champion.
Schumacher’s reign of dominance ended in the 2005 season when a young plucky Spaniard named Fernando Alonso took on the great one and beat him two seasons in a row.
Alonso had joined the grid in 2003 and instantly looked like a future champion. It didn’t take him long to find his way to the front of the grid and become a two-time champion.
2007 saw Alonso move to McLaren to join a debuting Lewis Hamilton, who also was ready to compete right away. The season saw the McLaren drivers fighting each other but also the Ferrari’s of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.
In the end, it came down to the final race of the season in Brazil. Raikkonen came away winning the race and subsequently the championship by just one point over Hamilton and Alonso.
The reason why the Iceman gets third place over Hamilton and Button, who won his one and only championship in 2009, is because of how he challenged the years prior and the years after. While Hamilton looked amazing from his very first season, he did only have three seasons that decade compared to Raikkonen’s nine. Although it was close.
The 1990s - Ayrton Senna
2nd - Michael Schumacher | 3rd - Mika Hakkinen
The 1990s was a rollercoaster of a decade. There was the good, the bad and the ugly over those years, but ultimately it saw the late Ayrton Senna rise as one of the greatest and most dedicated drivers of all time.
He was already celebrated for his ability when he joined the grid in the mid-1980s, but it wasn’t until his move to McLaren in 1988 that he was able to fight at the front. His first championship came in ‘88, but he won a further two in 1990 & 1991.
Senna was a master at the wheel, especially during qualifying and in wet weather conditions. His record six wins at the Monaco Grand Prix highlight his unwavering brilliance in difficult circumstances.
His untimely death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix was one of the most sombre events in Formula 1 history.
A young Michael Schumacher went on to win his first championship that year, making it back-to-back victories in 1995. He had come from somewhat obscurity with the Benetton team in 1991 to become one of the most dominant forces on the grid for the next 15 years.
Mika Hakkinen, the ‘Flying Finn’ as he was known, brought McLaren back to the forefront of the grid to close out the decade after the team hadn’t tasted success since Senna in 1991.
He was a somewhat surprising champion as he had never really challenged at any other point in previous seasons since he joined the grid in 1993. He only won his first race in the last race of the 1997 season, but by the end of the decade, he found himself a double world champion.
The 1980s - Alain Prost
2nd - Nelson Piquet | 3rd - Ayrton Senna
'The Professor’ Alain Prost was a fantastic driver with a brilliant mind for the way the car drove, essentially being able to tap into the car to find every little thing that makes it tick. This helped him find a great amount of success, winning three of his four championships during the 80s (1985, 1986 & 1989).
Prost had other seasons where he came agonisingly close to winning the championship, such as the 1983 season when he lost by only two points. But he finally got to the top and cemented himself as an all-time great.
We’re not going to spend a whole lot of time speaking on Nelson Piquet's achievements as of what has come to light in recent times (if you do know, hopefully, you understand why we won’t be talking about him).
However, he won his three championships during this decade (1981, 1983 & 1987) so for that reason only he belongs on this list.
Ayrton Senna joined the grid in 1984 and, as mentioned before, looked to be a force immediately. His decision to join McLaren in 1988 proved fruitful instantly, as he won his first championship that season.
Senna makes the list over Niki Lauda, Keke Rosberg and Alan Jones here because of the impact he made from the moment he joined the grid.
1970s - Jackie Stewart
2nd - Niki Lauda | 3rd - Emerson Fittipaldi
Naming the best champion from the 1970s is difficult as there were three drivers who won two championships during the decade and a couple of one-time champions thrown in there too.
Jackie Stewart takes the top spot on this list, but only ever so slightly over Niki Lauda and Emerson Fittipaldi, as he won the most races from the three in the 70s (18 to Lauda’s 17 and Fittipaldi’s 14).
Stewart was at his very best at the turn of the decade. He won his first championship in 1969, his second in 1971 and his third in 1973. His F1 career didn’t last all that long - he joined in 1965 and retired after his third championship in 1973.
But what he did in that time was sensational. He held the record for most wins by a driver (27) for 14 years, and the most wins for a British driver for 17 years.
Niki Lauda was a genius of Formula 1 and was a star driver in the mid-70s. His battle with James Hunt in the 1976 season was literally script-worthy - it was made into a Hollywood movie called ‘Rush’ in 2013.
Lauda would win two of his three championships this decade as well, in 1975 and 1977.
Emerson Fittipaldi was a fantastic driver, too, but isn’t as well remembered or celebrated despite being a two-time champion as well (1972 & 1974). The problem was, his reign at the top didn’t last long, and after he fell off in 1975 he never got close to glory again until his retirement in 1980.
The 1960s - Jim Clark
2nd - Jack Brabham | 3rd - Graham Hill
Another tough decade to name the top drivers, Jim Clark is given the nod here as he was a brilliant winner whose time was cut tragically short.
Clark joined Formula 1 in 1960, and by 1962 he was establishing himself as one of the more dominant forces on the grid. He won his first championship in 1963, and his second in 1965. There was every chance he could have won more in the next decade, but unfortunately, he was tragically killed in 1968 in a Formula 2 race.
That year in F1, he had competed in just the first race of the season, which he won.
Jack Brabham first won the championship in 1959 but made it a double by defending his crown in 1960. He then had to wait a few years, challenging nowhere near the front of the grid until the 1966 season when he won his third and final title.
Graham Hill was a master of all racing - he is the only driver in motorsport history to complete the Triple Crown of Motorsport (victory at the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 & 24 Hours of Le Mans). He won two championships in 1962 and 1968.
1950s - Juan Manuel Fangio
2nd - Alberto Ascari | 3rd - Guiseppe Farina
The first decade of Formula 1 saw the dominance of one man - Juan Manuel Fangio.
Fangio was the original Greatest Of All Time in F1, winning five championships in the early years of the new top discipline in motorsport (1951, 1954-1957). He also did it with four different teams, something which no other champion has done before.
The Argentinian was simply incredible in the founding years, but while he could boast being the most successful champion for many years until Michael Schumacher’s dominance, he just missed out on being the first-ever world champion, as that went to Italy’s Giuseppe Farina.
Farina’s place on this list is purely down to the fact that he won the first-ever world championship. That is a place in history that can never be taken away from him.
But his fellow countryman Alberto Ascari pips him to second place on this list as he was a double world champion in the 50s, becoming the first back-to-back champion when he won in the 1952 & 1953 seasons.
Mike Hawthorn was the first British world champion, winning his title in 1958. And Jack Brabham won the first of his three titles in 1959 to round out all the champions of the decade.
2023 Formula 1 season & how to best experience it
After 2022 saw the introduction of the new regulations and Red Bull’s subsequent ease to their first Constructors’ Championship since 2013, 2023 will see the other teams follow their lead and possibly bring a very interesting new season.
As mentioned earlier, should Ferrari and Mercedes be in a place to challenge Red Bull this year, there is a very high chance that history could be made? Can Hamilton win his record-breaking eighth world championship, or will we see a new champion crowned?
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