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The Greatest Race Car Drivers of All Time

Racing cars dates back to the invention of automobiles, but the actual sport of auto racing originated more than 100 years ago. Famous drivers have made headlines over the past century, and the best have become legends in the sport. Auto racing can include rally driving, endurance racing, and Formula One competitions. The best drivers achieved success in a variety of ways, including the number of wins, talent, determination, and diversity. Read on to learn about the 15 best race car drivers.

Measuring Greatness

Achieving greatness as a race car driver involves various factors. Drivers may make names for themselves by the number of races and championships won, for driving the fastest laps, and for pole positions. Drivers can also achieve fame for the car driven or the team, and the other drivers making up the grid also play a role in how drivers make names for themselves. Underdog competitors who come from behind to win also tend to go down in race history. Some elite drivers have also set themselves apart by competing in races of different formats and series.

Watching the Clock

The ease and speed with which drivers adapt to the sport tends to be indicative of their skills, potential, and how they will compete in the future. Longevity is another aspect that sets some race car drivers apart from the pack. It's one thing for a driver to win one race or championship. But those who achieve wins season after season differentiate themselves from the rest.

Fernando Alonso
By Zach Catanzareti Photo - https://www.flickr.com/photos/58980992@N03/40924226583/, CC BY 2.0

Fernando Alonso performed successfully in Formula One and FIA World Endurance Championship races. Alonso had humble beginnings, starting with go-kart racing and working his way up the ladder until he debuted in F1 in 2001. Alonso won back-to-back F1 titles in both 2005 and 2006. In 2018 and 2019, Alonso won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, then continuing on to the World Endurance Championships in both years as well.

Mario Andretti
By Sarah Stierch - https://www.flickr.com/photos/sarahvain/17910691546/, CC BY 2.0

Mario Andretti was born in Croatia but raised in America, and he made a name for himself in the racing world. Andretti competed in stock car racing, Formula One racing, and the IndyCar series. Andretti's fame became so huge that he achieved pop icon status. His name is even commonly mentioned in rap songs.

Jim Clark
By Lothar Spurzem - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0

Jim Clark was born in Scotland, and he made a name for himself as an early Formula One competitor. Clark won F1 titles in 1963 and 1965, also winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1965. Clark was designated as one of the all-time greatest race car drivers. Sadly, he was killed in 1968 while racing in West Germany.

Juan Manuel Fangio
By Lothar Spurzem, CC BY-SA 2.0 de

Juan Manuel Fangio was nicknamed "El Maestro," and many consider him to be one of the best Formula One competitors of all time. During the early Formula One years, Fangio dominated, even before many common techniques were devised. Fangio won five F1 titles, holding this record for nearly 50 years. Fangio has the highest winning percentage of all time for F1 titles.

A.J. Foyt
By Peter Hamer - JLM-Racing-1961-A J Foyt_midget car race, CC BY-SA 2.0

A.J. Foyt racked up numerous championship titles in various races, including the USAC National Championship, the USAC Silver Crown Series Championship, the Firecracker 400, and more. Foyt is also the only person to win a Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 12 Hours of Sebring, and the Indianapolis 500. Foyt has been inducted into numerous racing Halls of Fame.

Lewis Hamilton
By Jen_ross83 CC BY 2.0

Lewis Hamilton was the first black driver to drive in Formula One, and he won his first F1 title in 2008. Hamilton won almost every F1 championship in the last several years, only omitting 2016. Hamilton doesn't appear to be letting off the gas, so more wins are projected for him in the future. Hamilton is also partially responsible for helping to reenergize F1, gaining new fans for this race.

Graham Hill
CC BY-SA 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1179010

Graham Hill is considered one of the best drivers ever. Although Hill's career was short, he won two F1 championship titles as well as the "Triple Crown of Motorsport," which includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Monaco Grand Prix, and the Indi 500. Hill and five of his team members were killed in a plane crash. His son, Damon Hill, has gone on to win F1 titles.

Tom Kristensen
By David Merrett - https://www.flickr.com/photos/davehamster/14640574456/, CC BY 2.0

Tom Kristensen drove up through the ranks to earn himself a spot on the list of greatest race car drivers. Kristensen won the Formula 3000, the Japanese and German Formula 3 series, the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, and the British Touring Car Championship. He also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans nine times, earning him the name "Mr. Le Mans." Kristensen also set records for most wins in other endurance racing events.

Niki Lauda
By Gillfoto from Juneau, Alaska, United States - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Niki Lauda is the only person to win the Formula One championship driving a McLaren and a Ferrari. In total, Lauda won three F1 titles. In 1976, he almost lost his life in a serious crash in Germany. Badly burned in the crash, only two months later he raced in the Italian Grand Prix. After he retired from racing, he participated as both owner and consultant for several high-profile race teams.

Sebastien Loeb
By Alice Volkwardsen, CC BY-SA 3.0

Sebastien Loeb is a rally pilot from France, often named as the best rally driver ever. Loeb won consecutive titles in the World Rally Championship starting in 2004 and continuing until he retired in 2012. Loeb holds World Rally Championship records for the most stage wins, event wins, and podiums. Loeb also competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and the X Games.

Richard Petty
By Ted Van Pelt - https://www.flickr.com/photos/bantam10/2934926152/, CC BY 2.0

Richard Petty is an American NASCAR driver with an impressive career that covered the years between 1958 and 1992. Petty is the son of Lee Petty, himself a multiple NASCAR champion. Petty is even with Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt for the most NASCAR Cup Championships, which total seven. Petty earned himself the top spot on a podium 200 hundred times during his career.

Alain Prost
By Thesupermat - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Alain Prost is a French race driver who drove on the McLaren team in the 1980 F1 championship. He then went on to win championships in 1985, 1986, 1989, and 1993. Prost won more than 50 grand prix races, holding the record for the most Grand Prix wins for more than 10 years. Prost was awarded the "World Sports Award of the Century" in the motorsport class.

Carlos Sainz
By Cristina Cifuentes - Homenaje a Carlos Sainz y Lucas Cruz, CC BY 2.0

Carlos Sainz won his first World Rally Championship in 1990 and then again in 1992. In several WRC seasons he just missed the title, finishing in second or third place. Sainz also raced in the Dakar Rally, winning three times. Sainz is the father of Carlos Sainz, Jr., currently racing on the McLaren Formula One team.

Michael Schumacher
CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4498503

Michael Schumacher is widely considered one of the best Formula One drivers ever. Hailing from Germany, Schumacher has earned seven F1 championship titles. He is currently holding the record for wins. Schumacher also holds records for the most races won in one season and for the fastest laps set.

Ayrton Senna
By Legendsneverdie123 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Ayrton Senna may be the best driver to ever participate in the auto racing sport. Senna raced in Formula One, piling up numerous wins and even three championship titles. Senna's life and career were cut short in 1994 when he was racing in the San Marina Grand Prix. He had a high-speed crash that claimed his life.

Updated By Mark Houlahan

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