How does one measure that? Many will say only consider the confines of Formula 1 racing.
I’m not one of them.
I think today too, more than ever with technology, the car is as important as the driver.
Certainly Michael Schumacher would be on anyone’s short list with 7 world F1 championships.
I don’t wish to denigrate his achievements, but I think the evolution of his Ferrari was as important as his abilities.
Ayrton Senna? He was a brilliant driver, cut down at the prime of his life and driving career. I think his was the last death, in 1994, on the F1 circuit but a quick lookup revealed a handful of others.
It is amazing how the safety of these cars – at 200+ miles an hour, have helped drivers survive. Wasn’t always so.
One of my minor regrets – don’t we all have them? – was at the Monterey Historic Races, when Juan Manual Fangio was honored. I would say that if votes were gathered around the world, he would be the winner. He brought world championships to Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and, for only 2 years or so in the mid 50s, Mercedes-Benz.
But what a record in those 2 years.
Anyway that year they were giving everyone posters commemorating Fangio and in between demonstrating the fantastic cars he was noted for, (including the W196 that Mercedes-Benz flew in from their museum), he was sitting at a small table and willing to sign people’s posters.
Not for a fee like you would expect of the jaded celebrities today, but just to be nice. And he had time to talk with everyone who waited.
There were 20 people in line and I didn’t have the patience.
I think to be in the running of “best driver” one has to consider not only number of championships, but individual wins, and variety.
Perhaps the best metric would be the opinion of other drivers.
Fangio considered Scotsman Jim Clark to be the best driver of all time. That to me is the highest compliment.
So did American oval race champion A.J. Foyt.
I am sure there are others.
The amazing thing to me was the variety of cars he would race. He would fly all over the world, competing in various series – Australia one weekend, France the next. He was even out at Riverside near Los Angeles.
On Amazon Prime, The Grand Tour’s Richard Hammond had a wonderful tribute to him. Rather than me simply repeating his amazing record, I’ll leave that to Hammond. I apologize for the stupid CGI that was put into some segments – that is probably there to keep the content as originally shown for Amazon Prime. You can fast forward through that.
But listen to his statistics – especially 1965. Amazing.
The Indy 500 was never the same after his Lotus conquered it that year. He changed it, in addition to winning the F1 and F2 world championships that year.
My vote would go to Jim Clark.