As part of a special celebration during National Motorsport Week (June 30-July 8), to mark the UK’s domination of Grand Prix racing, we have teamed up with the Motor Sports Association to find out who the nation’s favourite British World Champion is.
Britain has produced more F1 World Champions than any other nation, with a roster of 10 since Mike Hawthorn became the UK’s first in 1958 and, with Brazil and Finland tied for second with three champions each, it looks unlikely ever to be surpassed.
So is your favourite? The hard-charging Nigel Mansell? Or perhaps the brilliant Jim Clark? Have your say in the poll at the bottom of the page and we will publish the results in the September issue of the magazine that goes on sale on July 27.
For our July issue we have commissioned top motor racing writers to write articles on the 10 and, in an extra twist, we’ve added an ’11th man’ to the roster: Sir Stirling Moss. Below you can read some extracts from the pieces that have been written. If you want to read more then make sure you don’t miss out on the July issue, on sale on June 28.
Mike Hawthorn (1958)
By Doug Nye
He had been a man of his time, a fun-loving, womanising, hard-driving ever-incipient hooligan – adored and lionised by his mates, a man of surprising extremes, often charitable concern, keen to see kids given a proper chance. Incorrigible, vulgar, tough outside, perhaps a deprived, too-often hurt small boy inside – how can we now tell? But Mike Hawthorn was, by the standards of his time, a true Brit: on track a real sportsman – racing first, money second – and many genuinely loved him for it. If I drank, I’d certainly raise of pint of mild and bitter in his memory. In Farnham we attend his grave on January 22 each year. Considered criticism is no bar to genuine respect.
Graham Hill (1962 and 1968)
By Colin Goodwin
They say that Graham Hill was never a natural driver, that he had to work at it. Really? To win two world championships? The Indianapolis 500? Le Mans? The only driver ever to win all three? Not a natural? Remember that Hill only started motor racing when he was 26 years-old. We should note that most of today’s ‘natural’ drivers will have been at the wheel since the age of 8. Yet within three years Hill was lining up on the grid at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix in a not particularly good Lotus 12. He won his first world championship in 1962 in the BRM, which itself wasn’t a brilliant car.
But hold on, I’ve missed a trick. Five Monaco wins. A circuit that demands precise driving, a ridiculous number of gearchanges with each one of them a chance to blow up a fragile ’60s racing engine. If there is a track that requires natural skill it is surely Monaco. Look at the others who have won many times there: Senna with the most victories of anyone with six. Schumacher with five. Prost with four. Stewart and Moss with three each. Do I have to point out the obvious common denominator? Correct, they’re all rightly considered naturals.
Jim Clark (1963 and 1965)
By Peter Windsor
After meeting Clark I left reluctantly, remembering that last thumbnail: Jim, his hair slightly longer than in previous years, his suntanned face a little more lived-in, smiling that smile, laughing that laugh. Always polite. Always humble. It was difficult to imagine that he was, too, the ferociously fast racing driver who only a few weeks before had been balancing a Gold Leaf Lotus 49 on a knife-edge right by my flag post at The Farm, dark blue Buco leaning left, fingertips guiding the wheel. That he was the driver who would never give up. Never. Even when he was dealing with the savage resistance of a Lotus 30, or competing in some minor F2 race somewhere in Germany, in the wet, between the trees, with handling that didn’t feel right.
John Surtees (1964)
By Alan Henry
John Surtees’ glittering celebrity status is rightly underpinned by his unique achievement of being the only competitor ever to win world championships on two wheels and four. Yet his F1 record of six Grand Prix wins out of 111 career starts could be said to short-change his status to some degree. Surtees was not simply a good driver, he was unquestionably a great driver, right up there amongst an elite group of contemporaries which included Jim Clark, Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham.
Jackie Stewart (1969, 1971 and 1973)
By Nigel Roebuck
Once in a while, a driver comes along who is just different, and from the start there was something about Stewart, his whole being, which radiated confidence. His jaunty step brought to mind Stirling Moss. Both walked through a paddock as if they owned them, and in a way they did. Following Fangio’s retirement, Moss’s place in the protocol of racing was mirrored by Stewart’s after the death of Clark. They were the best of their times, and they knew it.
James Hunt (1976)
By Rob Widdows
The bare facts are nothing out of the ordinary. World Champion once, by a single point. Ten wins from 93 Grands Prix with three teams over 7 years. But when it comes to James Hunt, it is not the statistics that are of interest, it is the myth, the aura of romance and glamour that continues to fascinate. This most dashing, and maverick, of men made headlines that the average racing driver may only dream about. Why? Because he lived and played outside the comfort zone, beyond what is considered to be the acceptable modus operandi of a champion sportsman.
You loved him or you loathed him, few sat on the fence. There were the two James Hunts, the megastar racing driver and later the skilled broadcaster. Maybe there were two more. The swashbuckling lothario, then later the kind, loving Father of Tom and Freddie. You knew all four, sometimes your feet were in more than one camp, but above all none of it was ever dull.
Nigel Mansell (1992)
By David Tremayne
I watched Mansell at Brands Hatch in 1983 wrestling the awful Lotus 93T, and his driving was nothing short of breathtaking. But though the fearsome determination and bravery were the cornerstones of his career, they was much more besides. Forget all that mumbo jumbo about him being a grafter who made up in effort what he lacked in ability. There was massive natural talent there.
“Nigel was a very, very quick, strong, determined driver who knew what he wanted and was very clever at setting up a car,” designer and race engineer Frank Dernie says, before making a valuable distinction. “And he was forceful rather than aggressive.”
Lotus and Williams team manager Peter Collins, who gave him that Ricard test, concurs. “Everyone said that Alain Prost was brilliant at chassis setting, but when they were at Ferrari in 1990 Nigel sorted out his 641/2 much quicker. And he was one helluva race driver.”
Indeed. He was a warrior, a superb racer. Every test session, let alone every practice or qualifying session, he needed to be fastest, because that’s the way he was. He always attacked.
Damon Hill (1996)
By Adam Cooper
As he worked his way up he always had to fight against the doubters, and now that his F1 career can be viewed in the context of just how good his nemesis Michael Schumacher turned out to be, it’s still easy for the critics to downplay his achievements.
And yet it’s all there in black and white – Hill won the 1996 World Championship, earned 22 Grand Prix victories, and took 20 pole positions. And he did it all with a dignity and good humour that others could do well to emulate.
For 1994 he was set to play number two to Ayrton Senna, but that all changed after Imola. It’s arguably that season rather than his title success two years later that Hill deserves most respect for. Suddenly thrust into the team leader role, he helped to pull the shattered Williams outfit together. His win in a dramatic rain affected race at Suzuka was magnificent, and it was only the crippled Schumacher’s desperate lunge in Adelaide that cost Damon the title.
Lewis Hamilton (2008)
By Ed Foster
Blisteringly quick, superb in wet conditions and someone who’s meteoric rise through the ranks surprised not only his fellow racers, but McLaren’s boss Ron Dennis: Lewis Hamilton marched onto the F1 track as if he had been there for two seasons already.
“Lewis is up there with the best of all the McLaren drivers,” says Neale. “He’s by far and away not the finished package yet, but we’re starting to see a new element to his game and the canniness that we saw in Fernando and Mika [Häkkinen]. His car control is very good, his will to win is unrivalled and if he decides to be in the sport for a long period of time he will be amazing. You’ll look back in a decade’s time and think ‘where were you when Lewis…’. He’s that good.”
Jenson Button (2009)
By Damien Smith
Was Button mad when he moved to McLaren, we thought? “For someone as intelligent as Jenson is,” says Whitmarsh, “to evaluate the situation and determine that he wanted the challenge of being measured in a McLaren against Lewis Hamilton showed an extraordinary level of self-belief, of commitment, hunger and bravery, because he was very comfortable where he was.”
The opportunistic wins that have followed, the hard-charging victories such as his unforgettable Canadian GP performance last year, the dominance of Melbourne in March… finally Button has delivered on the early promise of 1998, when I followed his almost-vertical progress in the cut and thrust of Formula Ford. During those first raw days in racing cars, he made mistakes, but those errors would rarely be repeated, and the sunny smile and easy-going attitude made him impossible to dislike. Nothing much has changed.
By Nigel Roebuck
Unless you were around at the time, it is impossible to appreciate just how much Moss was motor racing in Britain back then. There were others – Hawthorn, Collins, the prodigiously talented Brooks – but none captured the public imagination like Stirling, and I would venture that none has since.
Moss is the anomaly in this list – the intruder, you might say – because he never won the World Championship. To me, that diminishes only the worth of the title: I think Stirling the greatest of them all, no matter the points, no matter the country.
“If Moss had put reason before passion,” Enzo Ferrari said, “he would have been World Champion many times.” So he would – but then he wouldn’t then have been Stirling Moss.