When you look at the history of motorsport, the names that you see dominating at one point or another often have something in common – a little union jack next to their names. In almost every motorsport competition, there have been British drivers at the very pinnacle of the sport.
Formula One is no exception. In fact, some of the most iconic names in British sporting history, nevermind motorsport, have taken Formula One and made it their own. Here are the best of British Formula One Drivers.
When you speak of Formula One, no driver has had as big an impact as Lewis Hamilton. The six-time championship winner has dominated Formula One for almost a decade. Whether he’s winning the title or pushing rivals close, Hamilton is one of the, if not THE, greatest Formula One driver ever.
Hamilton is always an excellent ambassador for the country. Never afraid to speak out on social issues, his fearlessness off the track is almost as impressive as courage on the track. Will he match Schumacher’s haul of 7 titles (not going into the controversy surrounding 2021’s final race)? We know Hamilton will always perform to his best. It’s just a question of the car.
The second most successful driver after Hamilton, Jackie Stewart won three championships in 1969, 1971 and 1973. With 27 wins across 99 starts, he has one of the best win percentages of any driver. But his impact off the track is almost as important.
When you read on, you’ll see how tragic motorsport can be with drivers regularly dying in crashes. After a crash in 1966 where Stewart was left pinned with no track or medical assistance, he became a champion for improving safety standards. His campaigning led to emergency services and better safety barriers being installed at tracks, as well as the use of seatbelts and full-face helmets. Despite opposition, the changes made would help save many lives.
With two championship victories, Jim Clark is one of the most successful names on this list. But the Scotsman is also one of the most tragic. Motorsport in the 50s and 60s was a dangerous game, with many drivers losing their lives as they competed. Clark died in a Formula Two race in Hockenheim in 1968, cutting short an incredible racing life.
Clark had won more Grand Prixs and achieved more pole positions than any other driver at the time of his death, showing just how skilled a driver he was. What a shame that his legacy was cut short.
Winning the Formula One championship for Ferrari in 1964, John Surtees has a unique racing achievement. He’s the only driver to have won a world championship on two and four wheels, having moved from a successful motorcycle racing career to Formula One. The equivalent of winning F1 and MotoGP today, truly incredible!
Another icon of the 1960s, Graham Hill won two championship titles and was runner up on three occasions across the decade. As well as Formula One, Hill is the only driver to have won the triple crown of motorsport – Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This story is another that ends in tragedy however, with Hill losing his life in a plane crash.
Probably as famous for his moustache as he was for his racing abilities, Mansell is one of the most successful drivers in Formula One, despite only having the one championship victory. 31 race victories puts him 7th on the all-time race winners list, highly impressive when you remember how racing in the 80s and early 90s were never dominated by a single driver as they are now. He held the record for most pole positions in a single season until Sebastian Vettel took it from him during his dominant Red Bull period.
Graham’s son, Damon Hill, followed in his father’s footsteps, winning a championship for Williams in 1996. He may only have won one title, but his battles with Schumacher made the sport a must-watch in the 1990s, with some memorable on-track incidents highlighting just how fierce the rivalry was.
Another motorsport icon, Hunt’s battle with Niki Lauda for championship glory was beautifully commemorated in the film Rush. One of the sport’s most dashing playboys, the image of a jet-setting womaniser that the sport conjures was created by Hunt.
One of the most memorable championship victories belongs to Jenson Button. A popular driver, Button was successful but never really challenging at the top until he and his Brawn race car clicked in 2008, with six victories in the first seven races setting him on the road to motorsport history.
The first British driver to win a world championship, Mike Hawthorn’s story is one tinged with tragedy. Having won the series in 1958, he immediately retired. The death of his compatriot and fellow race driver Peter Collins at the German Grand Prix that same season ended his desire to compete. Tragically, Hawthorn would lose his life in a road accident just three months after his victory.
Described as the greatest driver to never win the championship, Stirling Moss is an name iconic name in Formula One regardless. Between 1955 and 1961, Moss was runner-up on four occasions, finishing third the other three times. Winning 212 of the 529 races that he competed in, Moss was one of the first real British celebrity drivers, although that just scratches the surface of his impact on the sport.