With just days until Formula One’s 1000th Grand Prix, I now reflect on
three of the greatest drivers to ever grace this sport.
From Graham Hill to Alain Prost to current stars like Max Verstappen, there has been so many brilliant drivers to feature in F1 but my top three favourites have done more than just turn up and deliver titles but made a positive impact in different ways.
Its impossible not to rank Ayrton Senna as one of F1’s top drivers because beyond his 41 wins and 65 poles, the Brazilian is idolised for what he did out of the car as well as in it.
On track, Senna symbolised everything that is associated with F1 from competitiveness to politics to talent and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind on numerous occasions against then FIA President – Jean Marie Balestre.
He also wasn’t one to make friends as Alain Prost found out during their time together at McLaren, culminating in that controversial 1989 Japanese GP when both collided at the CASIO Triangle to put Prost out on the spot whilst Senna went on to win after a push start before being disqualified due to re-joining via escape road.
That however doesn’t take away from many of his great drives with the 1991 Brazilian GP highlighting just how much it means for a driver to win their home race, even if their car isn’t in the best of shapes.
It’s therefore probably fair to say that Senna was driven by passion and strong morals, even if it meant friendships fell by the wayside in his quest to be the best that he can be, which is quite risky as could cost people later in life.
What I like about Senna though is the way he stayed relatively grounded and used his money to help improve lives for children of poor backgrounds back home in Brazil.
For him to do that out of his own pocket does show that he wasn’t your typical F1 driver, but rather someone who wanted to use their own success as a platform to inspire and develop working class children into achieving their full potential regardless of what field it may be.
It’s therefore nice to see Senna’s family keep that aspect of his life going in his memory through the Instituto Ayrton Senna, because if he hadn’t of been killed in a fatal crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix he would probably still be changing lives today through his own charity.
Sir Jackie Stewart
For us Brits, Sir Jackie Stewart probably ranks in a similar vein to Senna in terms of impact and having three world titles to his name but his off track behaviour transcends any of his racing achievements.
Racing in one of Formula One’s most dangerous eras, Jackie produced plenty of brilliant performances despite facing a fierce crash during the 1966 Belgian GP which could of easily been an fatal accident.
In fact that accident marked a huge turning point in Jackie’s career as he developed a voice, which is still strong to this day about safety in motorsport with various changes from introduction of on track medical staff to better safety barriers around the circuit and etc. even if faced initial opposition from drivers and track organisers back in the late 60s.
He could of therefore give up and accept that F1 would be forever dangerous or walk away, but instead he fought to overcome those challenges to create a much safer sport even if deaths are now rare, as evidenced by Jules Bianchi’s tragic demise being the only driver death in F1 this century so far.
We therefore should cherish the impact that Jackie has made on F1, both in and out of the cockpit as he now looks to try and fund breakthrough research into dementia through his new charity set up last year – Race Against Dementia.
A true example of someone who never gives up in wanting to make positive change to millions of lives.
Out of the current generation, nobody gets close to Lewis Hamilton because even when his Mercedes is struggling, he never admits defeat and isn’t afraid to compliment his rivals from time to time.
Like his idol – Senna, Hamilton has that amazing ability to find time where most other drivers don’t when it matters most and has deservingly collected a record breaking 84 poles so far in his F1 career.
What ultimately marks Hamilton out from the current crop is his ability to handle pressure, because when things go wrong he often is giving morale boosting messages over the team radio to unite the team which is something that most other drivers like Vettel could learn a lesson or two from.
I however like the way that when he finds himself near if not at back of the grid, Hamilton often lights up races with last year’s German Grand Prix victory from 14th on grid being a classic comeback performance of his through a mixture of strategy, weather and luck.
Off track, he also interacts with his fans across a variety of social media platforms in a way that many others don’t, with them instead mainly using Twitter or in Sebastian Vettel’s case – none at all to interact with fans but not to the extent that Hamilton does.
All of the above therefore makes Hamilton a joy to watch because he embraces modern technology to reach what is now a tricky youth audience, yet is consistently entertaining and striving to constantly improve himself and Mercedes.