The greatest F1 drivers – A consultation document (part 1)

Introduction: An approach

I’ve spent quite a bit of time considering this because when I began to think about the content of this article I found myself strangely sanguine and with a neutral attitude, open mind and blank piece of paper. I have no agenda to say Fangio is great, Schumacher had it easy, Vettel is too young – and even as I write this introduction I do not know the conclusions that will ensue.

Usually, as a writer you pen your introduction last because its like a movie trailer for what is coming, and when you begin to write you’re not sure exactly what you will end up with. So this is an interesting experiment for me to have written an open-minded introduction now and in 5-7 days time when this piece is finished and published I will have formed some definite opinions.

Those 2 para’s were written 2 days ago and now I think I’m going to publish a series of consultation documents maybe 2 or 3 parts, because I would like this article to be co-written by thejudge13 readers. A collaborative work that carries therefore great breadth of source and as such has more persuasive force. You’ve heard how the camel came into being? A committee attempting to design a horse. So I will have final editorial privileges.

What is greatness in a wider sense

1) Influence

One element of greatness should be the ability to influence. There’s an article on Wikipedia called ‘The 100’ and it summarises the findings of a fairly famous book written in 1978 called The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Michael H Hart.

The top 10 are Mohammed, Isaac Newtin, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Confucius, the Apostle Paul, Cai Lun (invented paper), Johannes Gutenberg (invented printing press) Christopher Columbus, Alber Einstein. Okay so no F1 drivers there then.

These people all had influence in the moment and influence beyond their time – which then shaped the course of human history. I’m not sure we’ll find an F1 driver who shaped the course of human history, but I believe to be considered great anyone should have maybe influence in the moment but certainly influence beyond the time of the F1 driver’s racing career.

I think we should allow projected views of current drivers influences if we need to not to exclude certain favourites people may have today – but the measure of influence I believe is important.

2) Effort

The list of above people are mostly 1 of a kind – in that I mean only 1 inventor of paper etc… In sport the ‘greatest ever’ debates have rage for years and of course the competitors are usually from the same sport.

Many great athletes are legendary for the brutal discipline of their practice routines. In basketball, Michael Jordan practiced intensely beyond the already punishing team practices. (Had Jordan possessed some mammoth natural gift specifically for basketball, it seems unlikely he’d have been cut from his high school team.)

Tiger Woods is a textbook example of what the research shows. Because his father introduced him to golf at an extremely early age – 18 months – and encouraged him to practice intensively, Woods had racked up at least 15 years of practice by the time he became the youngest-ever winner of the U.S. Amateur Championship, at age 18. Also in line with the findings, he has never stopped trying to improve, devoting many hours a day to conditioning and practice, even remaking his swing twice because that’s what it took to get even better.

The evidence, scientific as well as anecdotal, seems overwhelmingly in favor of deliberate practice as the source of great performance. Just one problem: How do you practice business? Many elements of business, in fact, are directly practicable. Presenting, negotiating, delivering evaluations, deciphering financial statements – you can practice them all.

Over to you

I was going to continue but I think we should try together to develop the interpretive grid for greatness, specifically sporting greatness in a defined field – eventually the defined the field of F1.

You may agree with my above or not. If I’m wrong no worries – its a starter to get the discussion going

I know many of you will have drivers you wish to promote, but let’s try and do this bottom up. So for now comments including driver names at this time will not be considered.

What are the characteristics you feel are important to define sporting, even F1 greatness. we’ll then develop things further once we have some consensus on the criterea.

11 responses to “The greatest F1 drivers – A consultation document (part 1)

  1. Hi Judge, great idea for an article – I look forward to watching it evolve!
    On that note, I believe that the subject of greatness cannot be discussed without touching upon innate or natural talent. I equate driving with my particular field of (relatively modest…) talent, music. I have met many talented musicians over the years, some of whom have required the necessary 10,000 hours in order to become effective, and others who quite simply seem to have the genes for making music and can, in the most extreme cases (my brother for example…) can pick up virtually any instrument and master it. Similarly, I have been in cars with people who have mastered the mechanics of driving and can drive, but then with others who seem to have a sixth sense behind the wheel and can make it do things which the laws of physics would suggest should be impossible. This, I believe, also applies to F1 drivers. The greatest drivers seem to be able to understand their car – to detect grip and slip, to know where the revs need to be at that exact moment, to know when to brake and when to hit the power which, at F1 levels, would be just fractions of a second more in tune than a ‘workman’ driver, but which when taken in the context of the process of cornering, enhance what they do to levels that lesser drivers are unable to achieve, even on their best days. Maybe it is the romantic in me, but I have always believed that the greatest drivers can make their car dance. It could just be something as simple (and vulgar) as a naturally enhanced spatial awaremess, which could be measured and made less magical, or it could be that every now and then a man is born who simply knows exactly where the limit is, and can stay there, while the world rushes past him at 180mph.

    God, I miss F1 already…

  2. One aspect that I’d like all to consider, is to try and look beyond stats, wins and titled. These only tell half the story. Once, when I attempted to do something similar, I broke it down by era and then compiled my personal top 10 easier. But looking at other sports too I’d say that factors to consider are: 1. Talent, 2. Work ethics, 3. Ability to transcend sport, 4. Those magic moments that surprised everyone, 5. Ability to invoke emotions into people, 6. Respect and universal recognition, 7. Defining their era. This is why (I only bring examples from other lists, not making suggestions) Moss is regarded higher than Graham Hill and Mansell higher than Piquet.

  3. I think this will be great. I was a bit disappointed with the BBC’s top 20. Some good points from the other comments. My criteria 1. Dominance of their era, 2. Ability to fight all the way, 3. Drawing audiences in, 4. Having a great story.

    The other point to consider is whether drivers who are not even probably half-way through their career (eg. Vettel, Hamilton) should make the list.

  4. G’day

    One name I am going to throw out there to start with – Mario Andretti. In terms of motor racing and the different disciplines he raced including formula 1 and winning the championship he has to be a contender.

  5. Motivation and the spirit to keep plugging away when the odds are against you. Hard to measure perhaps, but you could gain some insight from the following challenges: driving a poor car, recovering from injury, working with a team or team management who aren’t committed to you, or just being “stuck in a rut.”

    This is greatness of the mind, separate from talent, luck or career strategy.

  6. Right guys, I have given this some careful thought. Consistency to me is the number one ingredient. One driver stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of consistency. This guy had consistency down to a fine art and should be reckonised as the greatest of all time without a doubt. It is obviously Narain Karthikeyan.

    Nobody is as consistent as finishing last as Narain in the worst car so obviously and likely if he was in the best car like a McLaren or Red Bull he would consistently finish first. Even bad McLaren pitstops or dodgy Red Bull alternators wouldn’t stop that Narain magic shinning through and finishing first because he is the king of consistency.

    Seriously though it’s almost impossible to quantify the best F1 driver of all time because of “was it the car or the driver” question leading most people to lean toward whoever they like most among the best of the best then compiling reasons for that choice.

    Not just that but how can someone compare Fangio driving basically a truck around a track with life threatening consequences to today’s aero machines with massive G forces and even more massive run off areas.

    • Lol. Consistsntly rubbish is not good madmax. It’s not a greatest ever. Just F1’s greatest plural. We’re looking at the criteria first.

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