Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler BlackJack’sBriefs
Such a list is not easy to compile, and it is even harder to be objective.
The way I reduced 830 F1 drivers to 20 is detailed in Part I. I wanted twenty top drivers (top No.2’s who might have been a team leader.) who had proved their ability to win – not drivers who showed talent but were unable to realise their potential, including drivers whose career was brought to an untimely end, for whatever reason.
The driver previously known as ‘Rafi’…
Serafino de Vierzon
Born in a German border town c.1934 (records were lost during the War), ‘Rafi’ grew up in Neuchatel, Switzerland, and his family always regarded themselves as Swiss. His father, René, had been a design engineer for the Delahaye GP team in the 1920’s before moving to Germany to work for Auto Union, where he met his future wife ‘Mausi’, whose family were of Italian origin, where she had been an operatic star of some note. ‘Rafi’, who was weened on the smell of oil and grease is seen in the photo on the right – the chubby, smiling chap in the background, at the Swiss GP, c.1948. (©Vierzon Estate.)
‘Rafi’s maternal grandfather, an accountant in Freiburg, made frequent visits to Switzerland and Italy… and it was apparently he who engineered the family’s move across the border as the European stage mustered for War. Known to his friends as ‘Bazi’, he started a family tradition for nicknames.
During the War ‘Bazi’ acquired a damaged ERA racing car from Prince Bira of Siam which he tried unsuccessfully to renovate, and the family often found the missing young ‘Rafi’ asleep in the car. ‘Bazi & Rafi’ became famous (and feared) around the town when the car was being ‘tested’.
‘Rafi’s father had been killed during the War, and while ‘Mausi’ was now seeing a Bavarian Count, and about to follow him to England, a chance meeting with an Alfa Romeo engineer, skiing in the Swiss Alps, led to ‘Bazi’ finding a position for ‘Rafi’ in Milan in the Spring of 1950.
At Alfa Romeo ‘Rafi’’s keen enthusiasm and self-taught engineering expertise soon had him on the GP team, as ‘spanner-man’ to Nino Farina, who took the inaugural 1950 F1 Drivers Championship… and in 1951 he teamed with Juan Manuel Fangio, who regularly gave driving tips to young ‘Rafi’ in exchange for testing his car for him. Rumour has it that it was not unusual for ‘Rafi’ to better Fangio’s lap times, despite Fangio becoming the second Champion.
Meanwhile ‘Rafi’ was already competing in junior events, and sports-cars, and won two F.Libre races in 1950 (the GP Rennes le Chateau, and the Coppa del Negri) and, in 1951, was on pole for all five races of the new European F2 series. He won three, came 2nd in the other two, and recorded four fastest laps, in a ‘private’ Alfa Romeo financed by ‘Pappy Bazi’.
At the end of the year ‘Rafi’ was signed to a works F1 drive with Alfa for 1952 , until disaster struck… Enzo Ferrari, once employed by Alfa Romeo, was now regularly beating them with his own team and, strapped for cash, State-owned Alfa Romeo, having been refused more government subsidies, withdrew… having won the first two Drivers Championships with just nine engine blocks, all made in the 30’s…
Presumably no ‘budget-caps’ there, then…
Fangio was obliged to sit out the 1952 season but he continued to mentor young ‘Rafi’ who, with an inheritance from ‘Bazi’s demise, had bought a Gordini T16 Straight-6, which he took to seven non-Championship wins during the year, plus nine pole positions, five further podiums, and seven fastest laps.
Fangio returned in 1953, with Maserati, and was able to take ‘Rafi’ with him, first as his mechanic/test-driver, and then as a member of the team, when Gonzalez was obliged to pull out mid-season, but Maserati’s slender resources were entirely aimed at helping Fangio to a third Championship… and ‘Rafi’ retired from the three remaining events.
After just three seasons, in F1, F2, and F.Libre (because the FIA seemed unable to make up its mind which formula to adopt as the ‘Premiere’…) ‘Rafi’ had reached a point where his incredible natural talent had more than justified him a position in this list – and 1954 was hoped to be ‘make or break’ for his Championship chances…
Fangio and ‘Rafi’ remained at Maserati for 1954. Fangio won the first two races and then made a quantum leap to the newly-returned Teutonic might of Mercedes Benz, and again ‘Rafi’ was left behind, but this time ostensibly as Maserati team-leader. But… sadly, a combination of Maserati’s disinterest in a German/Swiss driver, and subsequent indignation from ‘Rafi’, plus retirements in the next two races, saw ‘Rafi’ exit – stage right… It allegedly didn’t help that when the legendary Mercedes Team Principle, Alfred Neubauer, was accosted by ‘Rafi’ near the Maserati pit, ‘Rafi’s mechanics pushed his car over Neubauer’s foot… creating considerable postal activity between Stuttgart and Modena for several weeks afterwards.
Rumours were rife during the off-season that ‘Rafi’ would join Fangio at Mercedes for 1955 but, when he turned up, unannounced, in Stuttgart, Neubauer, still blaming ‘Rafi’ for his sore toe, informed him that they had just signed the comparatively unknown, Stirling Moss…
‘Rafi’ went home to Lausanne, dusted off his old Gordini, and returned in 1955. After a heart-stopping drive at Silverstone, in which he caught and passed both Mercedes, Moss later declared, “I felt I had no alternative; ‘Rafi’ was clearly faster, and as I would not pass Fangio, there was a danger of the three of us colliding.” After two laps in the lead ‘Rafi’s engine emulated the creation of the universe, with a ‘big bang’, and he was forced to retire. With no more money, he also retired from F1, a dejected man, and returned to his home on the Lake.
Last known photo of ‘Rafi’, passing Fangio and Moss at Maggotts – 1955
Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person, living or dead, or any actual event, is entirely coincidental and unintentional…
No animals were hurt in the writing of this series.
Well… I know you were all expecting the final part of this series not to pass without mention of Mr Moss… so, after this little story, I will come clean… and announce the inevitable winner of…
The Best GP Driver who did NOT win a championship…
Now don’t complain at being bored that Moss always ends up 1st on everybody’s non-Championship list… after all, imagine how Stirling himself must feel… Always the bridesmaid but never the blushing bride, he’s had to live with it for fifty years and, the way things seem to be going, it’s perhaps unlikely his dominance of these lists will ever be beaten – drivers now either win lots of races and become Champion, or get tossed on the scrapheap after a year or two…
Born in Bray, Berkshire, England, in 1929, to a dentist father who was also an amateur racing driver (actually finishing 16th in the 1924 Indy-500) [No, no, I’m not joking now…], Stirling and his sister Pat were talented horse- riders before Stirling moved to motor-racing and Pat to rallying, encouraged by her beau, Ken Gregory, who became Stirling’s manager, where she won outright three international rallies, plus seven podium finishes, and the European Ladies Championship five times, as well as marrying Swedish rally ace, Erik Carlsson…
Stirling Moss’ career has been well recorded over the years, in far more detail than I can go into here – check online, or in your nearest library, or a friend’s bookshelf. His achievements are still well remembered by those who ‘were there’, and read about by fans who came along afterwards, so I’ll just point out a few highlights and victories, that are worth checking in greater detail.
1948 – started racing;
1950 – RAC Tourist Trophy – plus also in 1951 (Jaguar), 1955 (Mercedes), 1958-59 (Aston Martin) & 1960-61 (Ferrari);
1951 – first F1 race; 1952 – 2nd in Monte Carlo Rally 1954 – first F1 podium; winner 12 Hrs of Sebring; 1955 – first F1 victory, first British driver to win British GP; winner of Mille Miglia; 2nd in Drivers Championship; 1956 – winner Nassau Cup, 2nd in Drivers Championship, 3pts. adrift;
1957 – winner Nassau Cup, 2nd in Drivers Championship; 1958 – winner 1,000km Nurburgring – plus also in 1959 & 1960; 2nd in Drivers Championship, 1pt, adrift; 1959 – 3rd in Drivers Championship, 5 1/2 pts. adrift; 1960 – major crash at Spa, missed three races, and returned to win the US GP, 3rd in Drivers Championship; 1961 – 3rd in Drivers Championship; 1962 – major crash at Goodwood, and cessation of F1 driving… . . . and this is just the tip of the iceberg…
Throughout this series I have introduced a theory that, as all drivers have a fairly finite time period in which to take the World Championship, it is necessary for them to establish their claim within three years – four years, tops. Many drivers then have about three years at their peak and then, if they fail to be crowned (which can lead on to further Championships), they might have a further three years falling slowly by the wayside – while a sad few are prevented from further success by unfortunate accidents.
During that first three years a driver has to demonstrate a potential that out-shines all current drivers in order to be offered the better drives – no champion ever won in a sub-standard car, and of course no constructor ever won the Championship with a sub-standard driver. The two have to come together – and preferably at the same time.
Drivers like Fangio seem able to ‘know’ which is the next best team to move to, while others, like Vettel are fortunate that their team remains superior and the decision to change becomes almost unnecessary. Many drivers on this list (and, indeed, some who didn’t quite acquire a place here), in retrospect, were simply in the wrong car at the wrong time, or were often teamed with another fast driver – Reutemann is a good example of both.
When drawing up this list, I was less interested in drivers who had ‘failed’, per se, than with drivers who had ‘succeeded’ in making a valid claim for the laurels but had simply ‘missed out’… after all, for every driver who is crowned, three or four others have to miss out, each year. And sometimes these also rans might well have been better drivers than the Championship winner.
Secondly, it has often been the case that a Championship contender is teamed with another (equally…?) gifted driver and the fight between them, even when not partly engineered by the team-boss, can often cause a third driver to leapfrog them both… thus I tend to regard the actual, ‘crowned’, champion as at least partially lucky, and the runner-up as partially unlucky – and often the difference between them is minute.
Looking at Moss’ career, compared with other NON- champions, two additional factors come into play, which are almost unique to him. In the record books Moss’ achievements stand head and shoulders above all other drivers – which is why Moss is always regarded as the best driver who didn’t become Champion.
When I was developing my ‘scoring system’ to rate these drivers as objectively as possible, Moss scored 50% more points than Gonzalez, and twice as many as any other driver, and four times as many points as all the drivers in the lower half of the list – this is a phenomenal record.
So, why was he uniquely not favoured…? Well, two, interconnected things – he was a loyal Englishman, and an English gentleman. Prior to the late 50’s there were no British F1 racing cars capable of making champions, and every British driver wanted to be the first to win a GP in a British car, and to win the Championship in a British car. French drivers were the same in the 60’s and 70’s and I’m sure the tifosi would prefer to see an Italian driver take Ferrari to victory, and German supporters would have been even happier if Vettel had been driving a German car for the past four years… It’s human nature, as well as patriotic fervour instilled in people around the world.
Stirling Moss made no bones about his preference, and appears to have lost out at times by what some would call his prejudice – so be it. Moss knows, and defends it, and that was his choice. He doesn’t ask for sympathy. It’s a fact of life – history – ‘nothiong more to see here… move along please.’
Moss is particularly famous for having defended his rival, Mike Hawthorn’s, disqualification in the 1958 Portuguese GP, which reinstated Hawthorn’s position, and six points, and gave Hawthorn the Championship, by one point from Moss. Moss has always asserted that he could not have kept quiet, and kept the Championship – it would have been a hollow, dishonourable, victory. Even though they were in different teams I cannot recall that Moss received anything but praise, at the time, for his action. Nowadays, of course, the world is a different place and there are several reasons why such an act would not happen now – or even be understood by present-day fans.
At that time drivers not only supported each other, and automatically allowed their team-leader to pass unhindered, but drivers even came into the pits and handed their car over to the No,1 driver, if his had failed. I’m certainly not suggesting we return to such noble times – just trying to explain the differences. One of my favourite quotes is Thomas Hardy’s, in The Go-Between, where an old man is remembering his childhood and declares: The past was like a foreign country. They did things differently there.” Nowadays, when traveling abroad, we accept (if we are sensible) that things will be different, and much will not be understood, because we tend to judge others by our own standards and points of view. We can only learn by blocking out our own cultures and attitudes and looking afresh. The same consideration has to be given to the past.
We are all of us our own worst enemy – many drivers on this list must assume some of the ‘blame’ for being here – but all of them gave of their best, all of them could, in only slightly different circumstances, have taken the ultimate accolade, and all of them gave us, their fans, many enjoyable hours over the years. Instead of whining about who should have done this, or that, or whatever, let us be grateful to them all – and also to the dozens of others who didn’t quite make this list.
One story of Moss I’ve always enjoyed. It is urban legend (though not at all untrue) that British ‘Bobbies’, for about forty years, when stopping a speeding motorist, would quip: “And who do you think you are then… Stirling Moss…!?” After Moss had been knighted, and was driving out of Buckingham Palace, the policeman on the gate jokingly made the above enquiry, and Moss retorted: “No. Sir… Stirling Moss…”
That’s all, folks…
2nd – José Froilán González
3rd – Jacky Ickx
4th – Carlos Reutemann
5th – Ronnie Peterson
6th – Gerhard Berger
7th – Juan Pablo Montoya
8th – Giles Villeneuve
9th – David Coulthard
10th – Felipe Massa
11th – Mark Webber
12th – Tony Brooks
13th – Rene Arnoux
14th – Rubens Barrichello
15th – Dan Gurney
16th – Clay Regazzoni
17th – Didier Pironi
18th – Richie Ginther
19th – Francois Cevert
20th – Peter Collins
NB: Throughout this series I have used photos from the internet but it has often been difficult to properly acknowledge copyright. If anybody has seen their work published here please let us know. Credit will always be given, and photos can be removed if desired.