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 greatest Formula 1 drivers from past and present and list the champions from each decade.
Last Updated: 20/11/23 at 16:20
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 delve into the rich history of the sport and highlight the top 3 Formula 1 drivers from each decade.Explore offcial F1 hospitality
Who is the current F1 champion of the 2020’s?
Max Verstappen (1st)
Max Verstappen racing profile:
- Team: Red Bull Racing
- Country: Netherlands
- Podiums: 97
- Points: 2560.5
- Grand Prixs entered: 184
- World Championships: 3
- Races won: 53
- Highest race finish: 1 (x23)
- Highest grid position: 1
- Date of birth: 30/09/1997
- Place of birth: Hasselt, Belgium
Since the beginning of the 2020s, only two drivers have been crowned champions in the three seasons so far. Max Verstappen, who had been seen as a promising driver for years, fulfilled his destiny and claimed the championship in 2021 amid some controversy. However, there was no doubt about his victory in 2022, solidifying his position as the best driver on the grid.
The ongoing 2023 Formula 1 season has been nothing short of incredible for Verstappen. He has not only showcased his undeniable talent but also set multiple records that highlight his dominance.
These records include:
- The highest percentage of wins in a season*
- Most wins in a season*
- Most consecutive wins
- Most wins from pole in a season*
- Most consecutive wins from pole position*
- Most hat-tricks in a season*
- Most points in a season*
- Most podiums in a season*
- Most consecutive top-two finishes
- Most laps led in a season*
- Most pitstops by the winning driver in one race
- Most races left in a season before clinching the championship.
*Records still ongoing. Source: autosport.com.
Verstappen's remarkable achievements solidify his status as the leading force in the current Formula 1 season.
Lewis Hamilton (2nd)
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.
The British seven-time world champion is determined to end his winless streak in the 2023 Formula 1 season and has no plans to finish without a victory. Despite not winning since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Hamilton has been the closest challenger to Max Verstappen in recent races.
Mercedes, led by team principal Toto Wolff, have praised Hamilton's performances and commitment. Hamilton aims to secure second place in both the constructors' and drivers' championships. The Guardian stated in an article that the inaugural 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix received positive feedback from Hamilton and other drivers, with Verstappen's initial criticism proved wrong by the exciting race that unfolded
Sergio Perez (3rd)
Since his debut in 2011, Sergio Perez has showcased his skills on the track, earning podium finishes and gaining respect from his peers. Perez's tire management skills and ability to excel in chaotic races have earned him respect in the sport. He secured his first F1 victory in 2020 and currently races for Red Bull Racing alongside Max Verstappen.
According to Motorsport Magazine, Perez's chances of winning the 2023 championship are only theoretical since he is currently 177 points behind Verstappen with just six races left. Even if Perez wins every remaining race and fastest lap, he would only gain 93 points, barely making a dent in the gap.
The only plausible way Perez could become the champion is if Verstappen is sidelined, and Perez performs exceptionally well. If Verstappen were to be ruled out, Perez's average points score of 13 points per race would increase to around 18 points, resulting in a total of 129 additional points. However, this would still leave Perez 48 points behind Verstappen and unlikely to win.
Verstappen is favourite for the 2023 world champion title, but it’s uncertain who will win over the course of the decade. Perhaps Leclerc or Sainz of Ferrari could accomplish it? And if Mercedes has a car to challenge, George Russell will surely look to compete. With numerous contenders in the current lineup, we’ll just have to be patient and see what happens.
F1 champions of the decade: 2010’s
Lewis Hamilton (1st)
Lewis Hamilton racing profile:
- Team: Mercedes
- Country: United Kingdom
- Podiums: 197
- Points: 4637.5
- Grand Prixs entered: 331
- World Championships: 7
- Races won: 103
- Highest race finish: 1(x103)
- Highest grid position: 1
- Date of birth: 07/01/1985
- Place of birth: Stevenage, England
Listing the top champions from the 2010s is easy, with only three names to include. Notably, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes emerged as dominant forces from 2014 onwards, marking a new era in 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 later.
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 the end of the decade.
Sebastian Vettel (2nd)
Sebastian Vettel had a remarkable F1 career in the 2010s, winning four consecutive World Drivers' Championship titles from 2010 to 2013. He became the youngest person to win the championship in 2010 at the age of 23, a record that still stands today (formula1points.com).
Racing primarily for Red Bull Racing during this decade, Vettel's dominance on the track earned him numerous victories and an esteemed place in Formula One history.
Nico Rosberg (3rd)
Nico Rosberg had an impressive F1 career in the 2010s. He achieved his greatest triumph in 2016 by winning the Formula One World Championship with Mercedes, beating his teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Throughout the decade, Rosberg consistently showcased his skills on the track with strong performances and podium finishes. His rivalry with Hamilton added an extra layer of excitement to the championship battles. Rosberg's retirement immediately after winning the championship in 2016 surprised many, leaving a lasting impact on his F1 legacy.
Best Formula 1 drivers of the 2000s
Michael Schumacher (1st)
Michael Schumacher racing profile:
- Years active: 1991 - 2006, 2010 - 2012
- Country: Germany
- Teams: Jordan, Benetton, Ferrari and Mercedes
- Podiums: 155
- Career points: 1566
- Grand Prixs entered: 306
- World championships: 7
- Races won: 91
- Date of birth: 03/01/1969
- Place of birth: Hürth-Hermülhein, West Germany
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. He had impressive years in 2002, finishing on the podium in every race and setting a record of 11 wins, as well as in 2004 when he became champion with eight races remaining after winning all but one race up to the French Grand Prix.
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.
Fernando Alonso (2nd)
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.
Kimi Raikkonen (3rd)
During the 2000s, Kimi Räikkönen had a highly successful Formula One career, impressing with his talent and determination. He debuted with Sauber in 2001 before moving to McLaren in 2002. With McLaren, Räikkönen secured his first race win in 2003 and finished second in the drivers' championship.
In 2006, he joined Ferrari and won the World Championship in his first season with the team. Räikkönen's consistent performances and calm demeanor on the track earned him the nickname ‘The Iceman’. His achievements during this decade solidified his status as one of the top drivers of his generation.
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 only had three seasons that decade compared to Raikkonen’s nine. Although it was close.
Top F1 drivers of the 1990s
Ayrton Senna (1st)
Ayrton Senna racing profile:
- Years active: 1984 - 1994
- Country: Brazil
- Teams: Toleman, Lotus, McLaren and Williams
- Podiums: 80
- Career points: 610
- Grand Prixs entered: 162
- World championships: 3
- Races won: 41
- Date of birth: 21/03/1960
- Place of birth: São Paulo, Brazil
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 highlights 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.
Michael Schumacher (2nd)
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 (3rd)
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 greatest F1 drivers of the 1980s
Alain Prost (1st)
'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.
Nelson Piquet (2nd)
Nelson Piquet had a highly successful Formula One career in the 1980s, competing for various teams and establishing himself as one of the best drivers of that decade. Piquet's career began with Ensign in 1978, but he gained his first recognition with Brabham, with whom he secured two championships in 1981 and 1983.
In 1984, he left to join Williams, securing the championship title in 1987. Piquet's style was unique: he was fast, strategic, and technically minded, and his driving skills earned him the nickname ‘The Professor’. Piquet's Formula One career in the 1980s was marked by his talent, consistency, and undeniable success.
Ayrton Senna (3rd)
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.
F1 drivers of the decade: 1970s
Jackie Stewart (1st)
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 during 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 (2nd)
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 (3rd)
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 that 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.
Legendary F1 drivers of the 1960s
Jim Clark (1st)
Jim Clark racing profile:
- Years active: 1960 - 1968
- Country: United Kingdom
- Team: Lotus
- Podiums: 32
- Career points: 255
- World championships: 2
- Grand Prix entered: 72
- Races won: 25
- Date of birth: 04/03/1936
- Place of birth: Kilmany, Fife, Scotland
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 (2nd)
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 (3rd)
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.
Formula 1 greats of the 1950s
Juan Manuel Fangio (1st)
Juan Manuel Fangio racing profile:
- Years active: 1950 - 1951, 1953 - 1958
- Country: Argentina
- Teams: Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Mercedes and Ferarri
- Podiums: 35
- Career points: 245
- Grand Prix entered: 51
- Races won: 24
- Date of birth: 24/06/1911
- Place of birth: Balcarce, Argentina
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.
Alberto Ascari (2nd)
Fangio's 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.
Guiseppe Farina (3rd)
Farina, also known as Giuseppe Antonio ‘Nino" Farina’, was an Italian racing driver who became the first official Formula One World Champion in 1950.
He competed mainly for Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Lancia. Farina's successes extended beyond his championship victory, as he also won the inaugural Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1950 (formula1.com).
Throughout his F1 career, Farina showcased his driving skills and determination, securing a total of 35 entries with 33 starts. 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.
Mike Hawthorn was the first British world champion, winning his title in 1958. Jack Brabham won the first of his three titles in 1959 to round out all the champions of the decade.
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