The greatest drivers of the century - a personal view

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Welcome to part two of Mark Hughes’ assessment of the top 100 greatest racing drivers of all time. On the following pages you will discover the winners of seven World Championships, two current Formula One drivers and two or three whose names you may not even recognise.

Part 2 (80-61)

The story so far:

100 – Hans stuck Snr
99 – Rubens Barrichello
98 – Philippe Etancelin
97 – Albert Clement
96 – Stuart Lewis-Evans
95 – Patrick Depailler
94 – Giuseppe Campari
93 – Rene de Knyff
92 – Elio de Angelis
91 – Wolfgang von Trips
90 – Gerhard Berger
89 – Kenelm Lee Guinness
88 – Denny Hulme
87 – Christian Lautenschlager
86 – Jo Siffert
85 – Luigi Villoresi
84 – Jean Behra
83 – Jean Alesi
82 – Ricardo Rodriguez
81 – Louis Renault

80 – David Coulthard

David was on the verge of something by the end of 1995. He’d got the Williams-Renault finely honed to his driving style and had cast aside the understandable caution of inexperience, liberating his natural racecraft and lightning starting ability. Had his confidence steamrollered from there he could have so easily been the new Niki Lauda; quick, cool, unflustered and always in control of himself and his car. But he went to McLaren where adversity and the speed of his team-mate betrayed his strength as brittle.

79 – John Watson

If the wind had turned, his face would have changed. That was Watty, a slave to a psyche too delicate for a racing driver, and a mind that was perhaps a mite too imaginative. When his environment was right, and his dander was up, he could be a Tasmanian Devil scything through the pack, his fingertip feel and faultless judgement making him one of the best overtakers the sport has seen. A few races of this and he would surf the waves – he could do no wrong. Then something, the slightest little thing, would change.

78 – Vincenzo Lancia

When he climbed aboard his monster Fiat, the blood rushed to the head of Lancia the meticulous engineer as he morphed into Lancia the driver with the devil on his back. A furious all-out attacking style with back from-the-brink car control made him the most exciting driver of his day (1904-08). Yet it was as if his mechanical understanding evaporated in the heat of competition, all that fury often mute by the roadside as less audacious racers passed quietly by.

77 – Phil Hill

The aimiable Californian seemed to spend his career in turmoil, tangled between his love of his chosen sport and his increasing conviction that it was going to snatch him from this world. He was like a dog angry at itself for being stupid enough to chase its tail, while all the time doing just that. He drove always with impeccably contained fury, but unsurprisingly burnt himself out early. Ironically his world title for Ferrari in 1961 came to him just as the sport was beginning to relinquish its hold on him.

76 – Tony Brise

Monza 1975, and car 23’s limits were transcended more completely than any in a sublime demonstration of car control. The driver, also 23, had yet to complete his first F1 season but virtually every time he sat in the car he did something extraordinary. Even before F1, he’d outpaced Andretti in a one-off F5000 race. Tony was the Schumacher prototype: speed, aggression, intelligence and towering self-belief. Time would have smoothed the few rough edges had it not ended in the shattered wreckage of Graham Hill’s plane.

75 – Carlos Pace

Did be have the steel of a champion? He had flair and tenacity, the ability to break the Nurburgring lap record in a Surtees, and back-to-the-wall determination. But steel? That which lets a driver make the right move under pressure, which directs energy to push everything in the right direction. The former looked suspect when pressed by Lauda at Anderstorp, the latter masked by Ecclestone’s patronage. The verdict was still out when he took his fateful plane ride in ’77.

74 – Louis Wagner

The thing with Louis Wagner was that he was always around: not only could this be a fitting epitaph of a frontline career that stretched from 1905 to 1927, but it captures accurately his biggest asset in a race. When all the dust had settled and the showcase heroics of others had all been played out, Wagner tended to be there when the most significant fight was to be fought the one at the end. He didn’t always win it, but if he couldn’t, he always made sure that whoever did at least had to work for it.

73 – Peter Revson

Born into the Revlon cosmetics dynasty, he could have spent a life ‘floating on a sea of Intimate’. That would have been poison to this feisty, intelligent and fiercely independent man. His driving was imbued with a grit and bravery a million miles removed from the east-coast society pages in which he was such a name. The longer he did it, the better and faster he became, and at the time of his fatal accident in 1974 he was among the elite.

72 – Graham Hill

He was the perpetual bogey man of his rivals’ nightmares; the double world champion who just kept coming back at them, who would never stay down. There was an invisible spring connecting him to the back of whoever the pacesetter was, one which didn’t go soft until after his Watkins Glen accident in 1969. Whatever level someone else set, he could, given time, usually match it. Sheer will rather than pure talent. Sometimes, and five times at Monte Carlo, he’d use his spring to catapult ahead and stay there.

71 – Fernand Charron

Motor racing’s very first ‘man to beat’. At the turn of the century, former cycle champion Charron was indeed hot property. No-one combined better than the hair-trigger Fernand a racer’s instinct with the bravery bordering on foolhardiness necessary for success in the insanely hazardous city-to-city races at the turn of the last century. And it was his efforts that helped make Panhard the dominant marque of the time. But four years of this burnt him out, and by 1902 he was also perhaps motor-racing’s first ‘has-been’.

70 – Jules Goux

His deft touch took little out of his cars, his mind was quick to adapt to any race and his mental strength saw him through unscathed even when paired with the mercurial Georges Boillot Had it been bound together by steely ambition, his could have been a mighty career. As it was, he sporadically won Grands Prix from his debut in 1912 to his Indian Summer of ’26. He may not have left a trail of sparks, hut when the race was run many a rival pondered, “who was that man?’

69 – Robert Benoist

No-one else won a major Grand Prix in 1927. Benoist’s Delage took them all. Alright, it wasn’t the most hotly contested of seasons and he never approached such success again, but those victories came from a silken style and multiple layers of determination within his small, wiry frame. His reserves of fight and courage really did have no end, as he demonstrated so ably throughout the war until he paid the ultimate price – he was executed by the Gestapo in 1944 as a member of the French Resistance.

68 – Guilio Masetti

The M218 of 1924 was a danger from Mercedes with twitchy handling and peaky power. But Count Masetti alone double winner of the Targa Florio – kept in sight Antonio Ascaxi’s superb Alfa P2 during the Italian GP; the rest floundered behind this magically fast driver. Next year in France his was the only Sunbeam to figure near the front. Had he driven an All he would have enjoyed a glittering career rather than just a tantalisingly promising one.

67 – Peter Collins

The sunny disposition told of a driver at ease with himself; he accepted he wasn’t the fastest which is why giving up his car and a title to Fangio in ’56 was the act of a moment – but he knew too that he was plenty good. It translated into a man who was easy on cars, who could stalk a race, know when to strike and who, as a consequence, regularly won. When Enzo Ferrari disturbed that equilibrium, he uncaged a tiger: in his win at Silverstone ’58 he transcended his previous skill – but ultimately it was to prove fatal.

66 – Damon Hill

The affable Damon is the one who struggles to lift his head above mere competence. But there’s another Damon in there, one tortured with unresolved questions. But when these demons surface he faces them off, digs deep into his soul, and leaves that ordinary man far behind. In these times his inner strength, like his speed, is awesome and he can reach places with ease that seemed beyond him before. And he can even sustain this level until the questions are seemingly answered. Formula One will miss him.

65 – Hermann Lang

“Champagne,” said von Brauchitsch, “oh, and a beer for Lang.” This mechanic-made-good never did hit it off with that particular team-mate. But he lorded it over him on the track. Improving like a level-headed apprentice, he gained confidence through experience rather than intuition. But when finally he was ready to pull together all he’d learned, he was fast, focused and, in ’39, close to invincible. The war took his best years but he returned to win Le Mans in ’52.

64 – Tom Pryce

He had the greatness of the innocent and a talent as deep as the mines of his native Wales. He could make a toy of any car, a playground of any track and had the ability to oversteer his mediocre machine fast enough to fight for pole in only his third F1 drive and think nothing of it, because it was as easy as punting a tractor round the fields. Gentleness and loyalty meant he never tried cars better than the mid-70s Shadows before he was killed, but, boy, if he had…

63 – Rene Arnoux

Rene had a special place he would visit sometimes, when boost was sky-high and one-lap-qualifiers fitted. Then he would stare into the abyss, and dance with fate. Eighteen times this gave him a pole lap that was scary to behold. The way he bullied his Ferrari from the back up to second at Dallas ’84 – a 180mph bronco flailing between the concrete walls – was awesome. And only Amoux could conceivably have fought that legendary fight with Villeneuve at Dijon.

62 – Jack Brabham

Black Jack probably didn’t even know there was only meant to be one line through a corner – he had loads, and they all worked. Not that he was about to discuss it he lived in his own world, occupied by welding torches and suspension geometries. His very lack of a consistent approach made him all the tougher to race against, and while he lacked the natural speed of some, his cunning, guts and head-down charge more than made up the difference

61 – Henry Segrave

He dipped into racing in the early ’20s, won at the highest level, then left as suddenly as he’d appeared. Yet there was nothing of the dilettante about Segrave; the concepts of fear and failure seemed alien to him as did the learning curve he was outstanding from the out and won Britain its first international Grand Prix just a couple of years later. His performances displayed unflinching confidence, determination and judgement, though only sometimes inspiration.