Racers, no matter which category they belong to, are definitely enviable. With fast cars, heroic survival stories and money involved, this has to be everybody’s dream job. Everyone, however, does not make it to the top and forever get their names imprinted in the yellowing pages of history. The lucky ones, and no doubt with talent, reach the top and savor their victory and fame for as long as their careers last and even beyond that.
In compiling this list of the best racers of all time, it was difficult to be able to number them in any particular order because, firstly, all of them enjoyed successful careers in different kinds of racing and secondly, they all were very good. So, numbering them in order would have made this list biased. I might have missed out some names that fans might think deserved to be put up here, but that was not intentional. It is difficult to add all the names here on one page.
1. Juan Manuel Fangio
Juan Manuel FangioImage Credit: Nico Rosberg
This superb racer hailing from Argentina was nicknamed El maestro (the master) because of his racing skills. People might argue that he won only five Formula One championships (compared to the highest which are seven by Michael Schumacher who I will talk about later in this list) over the span of his entire career, his real strength lies in the fact that he won 23 Formula One races out of only 51 starts. This is indeed very impressive considering that he had to compete with the likes of very tough rivals such as Mike Hawthorn and Stirling Moss. The most remarkable thing about Fangio is that he started his career at 37 and it spanned over only eight complete seasons before retiring i.e. he never really reached his full potential and we do not quite know how far he could have gone as a Formula One driver.
2. Michael Schumacher
Michael SchumacherImage Credit: Motorclan
No list on the best racers of all times would be complete without Michael Schumacher’s name on it and although, I certainly acknowledge him as a great racer, I am not too fond of his overly introvert attitude. As mentioned previously, he has won a record setting seven Formula One championships and has 91 grand Prix victories under his belt. His best years are definitely from 2000 to 2004 when he won five world championships.
He is known for being cold towards his fans and other drivers, hardly giving any thought to either of them. Furthermore, Schumacher’s final run of five in a row was possible by driving the world’s famous Ferrari while other racers, such as Fangio have won using different manufacturers (four in Fangio’s case). But the highlights of his ‘cold heartedness’ have to be the two deliberate collisions he staged with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, which were decisive factors in the world championship (although only one of them actually benefitted him). A great racer but definitely not a likeable one.
4. Mario Andretti
Mario AndrettiImage Credit: Ciorra Photography
If I had to skim the crème de la crème from this list of best racers, the first one would have to be Mario Andretti. He is the only American (he hails from Italy but was an American citizen when he started his career) racer to have won the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and a Formula Championship during his career which spanned over 40 years from 1965 to 1994. Overall, he won four Indy car championships and an Indianapolis 500. His resume, as compared to the other racers on this list is quite lengthy with a total of 38 Indy Car style races and four championships which span over USAC (United States Auto club) and CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams).
He has also won 12 Formula One races which is the highest in the circuit by an American driver. His only noticeable failure is not having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for which he tried out nine times and his best finish was second in 1995 (he was driving a Courage C34). His most remarkable feature has to be his adaptability because of which he was excellent at all kinds of racing; be it on dirt tracks, high speed paved ovals or traditional road courses.
5. Shirley Muldowney
Shirley MuldowneyImage Credit: ATOMIC Hot Links
The first female to excel in the male world of drag racing, she is also one of the best racers overall regardless of her gender. She started her career by restricting racing to only local competitions but then rose to competing in bigger events with the major competitors in this field and managed to beat them. She was active for 40 years in IHRA (Hot Rod International Association) and NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) becoming a three time champion in the latter. Driving in her signature hot pick race cars, she is also known as being one of the greatest representatives of the sport. 10 years after her retirement, she remains popular amongst fans of the sport.
7. Mike Hailwood
He is not particularly popular amongst car racing fans but this underrated car racer is definitely worth putting up in this list. He competed in a total of 50 Formula One races although he won a spot on the podium in only twice of them. Unlike, Michael Schumacher who is known partly for his destructive collisions, Mike Hailwood was more tilted towards the heroic side and this image was especially perpetuated when he pulled out Cley Regazzoni out of his burning car at the 1973 South African Grand Prix, which earned him a George Medal. He is also popular for his largely successful comeback at an older age of 38 after an 11 year long absence by winning the very dangerous Isle of Man TT using the Ducati 900SS. Michael Schumacher probably envies him for his successful comeback.
8. Don Garlits
Don GarlitsImage Credit: VISIT FLORIDA
The popularity of drag racing can be attributed to Don Garlits because he started off his career in it when it was on the sidelines, but with his skills and talent, it was brought to the forefront and acknowledged as a legitimate nationwide racing draw. He was NHRA’s (National Hot Rod Association) first big star and his other talents include being a mechanical and technical innovator too. He is credited with having a major hand in establishing the “Swamp Rat” front engine Top Fuel series which was one of the biggest and most popular. Unlike most other racers who like their cars to be maintained for them by professionals, Garlit was more hands on and preferred to maintain his dragster on his own.
He built, tuned, drove and kept it in top shape by being in charge of the maintenance, putting air in the tires and packing the rear parachute on his own which is quite impressive. His career was as impressive as his attitude which was reflected in his successful races. He won three NHRA Top Fuel titles and became the very first driver to reach the speeds of 200, 250 and then 270 mph. Overall, he won 144 national events which include: eight wins in the sport’s biggest race, the Labor Day U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. For almost forty years from 1959 to 1986, he excelled at quarter mile years and his success went on through his later years as well. He is, undoubtedly, the greatest driver in the history of NHRA.
10. Ayrton Senna
Ayrton Senna is considered to be the fastest driver of his era. The Brazilian took up professional racing in early 1980s and conquered the world of racing till his death in Imola in 1994. 41 GP victories, 65 poles, 19 fastest laps and 80 podium finishes speak volumes of his talent and class. Senna’s career was full of success, including record six triumphs at Monaco and his amazing ability to counter wet weather at Donington Park and Estoril. Some racing analysts consider him to be a genius, while others believe that he was a thug. However, Senna had immense belief in his abilities and he believed that he could not be defeated, which was the key behind his success.
11. Alain Prost
Alain Prost was a genius and with four world titles under his belt, the French driver was called by many as ‘le professeur’. He secured 51 GP victories in his active career of about 12 years, to go with 106 podiums, 33 poles and 41 fastest laps.
Prost was extremely popular for his rivalry with Ayrton Senna as they collided at Suzuka in 1989, with Prost emerging as the winner consequently to register his third world title. However, a year later, Senna and Prost collided again at Ferrari, with the former clinching the title this time.
13. Jim Clark
Jim Clark, from Great Britain, is considered to be one of the most naturally talented racers of all time. Clark enjoyed driving the best cars because of the outstanding relationship with his boss, Colin Chapman. Experts believe that he would have enjoyed a lot more success if he was more reliable. The British driver met an unfortunate death in a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim in 1968. Had he lived, the experts believe, he would have achieved a lot more. In a career span of about eight years, Clark accumulated 25 GP wins, 33 poles, 28 fastest laps and 32 podium finishes.
14. Jackie Stewart
Sir Jack Stewart is a living legend from Great Britain. He is considered to be among the fastest drivers of all times, despite the fact that he never compromised on precision, smoothness and the safety standards. In his eight year long career, Stewart managed 21 GP victories, 43 podium finishes, 17 poles and 15 fastest laps. He won the world championships in 1969, 1971 and 1973. At his best, he was unstoppable and is surely an amazing role model for all the upcoming racers.
16. Niki Lauda
After a not so successful career in F2 and F3, no racing expert was taking Niki Lauda very seriously in F1; however, having done brilliantly at BRM in 1973, he made Ferrari hire his services. No Ferrari driver had won a world championship since 1964 but Lauda rose to the occasion in 1975 and won the illustrious event. He later won a couple of more world championships in 1977 and 1984, when he returned with McLaren after retiring in 1979. The Austrian had 25 GP victories, 24 poles and as many fastest laps in his career.
17. Stirling Moss
Born in 1929 in Great Britain, Stirling Moss is arguably one of the best all-round drivers, who knew his strengths and weaknesses. In a decade-long career, Moss enjoyed success in touring cars, sports cars and rallying. He enhanced his skills along with another legend of that era, Juan Manuel Fangio, in 1955 at Mercedes Benz, and with the passage of time he became the greatest competitor of the great Argentinian. Moss was considered to be an exemplary driver by his rivals, despite the fact that he never secured a world championship title. The British driver managed 16 GP wins and 24 podiums in his career.
19. Fernando Alonso
The Spanish driver is without doubt among the modern day greats. Michael Schumacher appeared to have been unbeatable in the initial half of the previous decade, before Alonso became the first world champion from Spain in 2005. In his opening year as a Renault race driver in 2003, the 32 year old driver secured his first victory and pole, thanks to the training he received from Flavio Briatore. Alonso already has 32 GP victories, 20 fastest laps, 22 poles and 92 podiums under his belt.
20. Ronnie Peterson
Ronnie Peterson is considered to be one the finest drivers produced by Sweden. According to many racing pundits, Ronnie is among the fastest drivers in the history of F1. However, because of his naturally aggressive instincts, Peterson was not able to accumulate as many triumphs as a talent of this caliber should have. He secured 10 GP wins and 14 poles in his career, along with nine fastest laps and 26 podiums. The Swedish driver lost his life in a tragic incident at the Italian Grand Prix in 1978.
22. Jacky Ickx
Jacky Ickx ruled the world of auto-racing in the 1970s and is considered to be one of the greatest drivers produced by Belgium. Because of two world titles and six Le Mans 24 Hours triumphs, he was more popular for his sports car achievements than for his career in F1. The racing experts believe that Jacky was among the very best of the world when it came to single-seater driving.
Born in 1945, Jacky became an active driver in 1967 and in the next 12 years, he achieved a lot of laurels, including eight GP victories, 13 fastest laps and as many poles are a proof of his heroics. In the 1974 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, the driver from Belgium recorded a brilliant victory, while driving for Lotus. However, Jacky limited himself to sports cars after that.