”I’m often asked for my opinion on modern F1, in which Im still deeply involved. The greatest drivers question is a popular one, too. So here, for the record, are my verdicts on the stars on 2011 and my biggest heroes of the past.”
TOP FIVE OF F1 2011
are currently in a golden era of Formula 1 with five World Champions on the grid. Sebastian Vettel might have run away with this year’s title, but the level of competition throughout the field has been excellent. A list of the top drivers for the current season is always a personal one. However, this year five drivers have stood out from the rest for me. Here they are.
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL
I think Vettel is the most mature 24-yearold driver that’s ever been in Formula 1. To have achieved what he did last year and this, at 23 and 24 years of age, is incredible.
Last year he made that big mistake in Turkey when he tried to get past [Red Bull team-mate] Mark Webber. His head jumped out of gear in that race. The overtake was going to be achievable, but it didn’t have to be there and then. He made quite a few mistakes in 2010, but to have suddenly matured as he has in one year and driven with such mind management is impressive.
This year his pace has been amazing, but I wouldn’t have allowed anybody to get that close to me in Canada or Singapore — like Jenson Button did. Especially when he had such a commanding lead a few laps before.
I mentioned it to [Red Bull team principal] Christian Homer at the airport when we were leaving Singapore, and he gave me the impression that there was more to it than that. Apparently there were a couple of issues with the car that stopped him from keeping the gap to 10 seconds.
Vettel’s my number one this season because of the maturity he’s shown, the manner in which he has dealt with it all, and his dignity and style.
I do think he needs to broaden his vision, though. He’s got a wonderful opportunity as a brand ambassador for Infiniti — he could do a Jackie Stewart with them and be there for 40 years. When we were at Stewart Grand Prix every driver was sent to a tailor so that they would look the part. He needs to start dressing the part, even if that may be in conflict with the casual feel of Red Bull. Fangio did it better than anyone else. I made a living out of doing that.
However, that aside, Vettel has done one hell of a job as a driver.
2 FERNANDO ALONSO
Alonso has got the best tool kit on the grid with regards to his knowledge and being able to do what he’s done at Ferrari. Ferrari is not as competitive as they should be this year, and therefore he’s had to hold them up.
Felipe Massa’s done well from time to time, but that’s because he’s had to try and keep up with Alonso. Fernando has brought that speed on. I have a high respect for his driving skills.
3 JENSON BUTTON
Jenson is the neatest of drivers. He’s got less steering angle going into and out of corners than any other driver. His driving style is also very smooth. When you watch the on-board footage you’re seeing a man driving well within the capacity of the car and not stretching the elastic. He’s much like Prost or Fangio in that respect. To be a really great driver, you’ve got to do that.
Button has a great many other skills, too. Sometimes I’ve questioned whether he’s got the absolute speed, and you need that to get the job done, to complete the overall package. But the skills that he does have are so good that when they work, like they did in Australia last year and in Montreal in June… Well, races like that were really beautifully driven. Jenson won them both brilliantly.
I put Lewis in fourth before I went to Singapore, but it could have been Webber here.
Hamilton came into F1 with the best team and car in the world, and he very nearly won the championship. Nobody’s ever done that; you don’t usually get into the best team like that. Alonso went to Minardi and Ayrton Senna went to Toleman, for example. Lewis was hugely privileged and the next year he did win the championship. I don’t think he drove as well then as in 2007, incidentally.
Since then I don’t know what’s happened to his driving. He’s still got the speed, but I cannot understand why he makes mistakes so often. None of the great drivers had collisions. The only two people now who have been doing that regularly are Michael Schumacher and Lewis. You can’t have that many collisions and be right.
Lewis nearly had an accident going out to qualify in Singapore! I could not believe that. There’s no manager, no coach, nobody saying ‘what are you doing?’ And nobody on the horn saying ‘for God’s sake get your head together’.
Making a decision like that in qualifying is beyond my comprehension as a racing driver. Even as a young driver I wouldn’t have done that. I would’ve been frightened to damage the car! It would have been against my reputation, and for him to say ‘if I’ve got to change my way of driving I’m going to retire’, well, it’s ridiculous. Everybody has to learn, to develop, to finesse and polish their skill. At the moment there are too many occasions when that’s not happening.
I’ve put Hamilton in fourth because of his speed and there was a time when I admired his skills of overtaking. But the attempted pass he made in last year’s Italian Grand Prix, going into the second chicane with Massa… Even a blind man wouldn’t have gone there.
How can somebody that good make such blatant errors of judgement or believe that everybody is going to move out of their way? Michael thought that on a regular basis and he had a belief that he could bully somebody into moving over, but it’s just not true.
5 MARK WEBBER
As I said, I could have put Mark in Lewis’s fourth place this season. I think Webber is actually a cleaner driver. Whatever’s happening at the starts, I do not know. I don’t know whether it’s him or if it’s a systems problem. It happens every time. He gets the revs right and then you hear them dip. I thought it sounded like a systems failure to me, but I can’t believe that happens every time.
TOP FIVE OF ALL TIME
n my top five drivers of all time I don’t have Ayrton Senna and I don’t have Michael Schumacher. I’m sure everyone will ask ‘how can you not have a man with 91 Grand Prix victories in your top five?’
Well, I don’t think he was ever a great driver. He was very good at putting together the right people to find a winning combination. And that combination was a product that was almost unbeatable. But sheer driving skill? He’s not up there with the likes of Fangio for me.
With my dyslexia I can’t remember huge amounts of history, but I do when it comes to motor racing. I get disappointed when I hear about modern racing drivers not having any interest in the past. The one thing about history, and the one thing about knowing a bit of it, is that you learn from it.
I think if you’re going to be a racing driver, there should be something in the contract that has you go back and see what other people have done in the same window of time as you are expected to deliver in. You’ll see how Ascari won all those races in one year, how Fangio coped with coming to Europe at 39 years of age, and then having the savvy to step from one car to another.
Things like that are lost by a lot of people and it’s a shame because it’s their sport now. It would be nice for them to have some knowledge about what has gone before. Picking your top five drivers of all time is never going to be easy, but with my knowledge of the history of the sport, here’s who I have chosen. They are listed in no particular order because I don’t believe there’s any point in rating drivers of different eras against each other.
He only won 13 Grands Prix, but then he only competed in 32, and when you consider that he won every Grand Prix from the Belgian GP on June 22 1952 to the same race the following year on June 21, that’s pretty impressive!
He looked the part as well, even if his crash helmet was somewhat unattractive! Jenks used to say that Ascari was actually quicker than Fangio. I mean, put him where you want, but he did all those races without losing a Grand Prix. He had complete command.
Jimmy was the best example of how you should drive a race car. If I was any good it was because I understood Jimmy on and off the track.
We shared a flat in Balfour Place, London, owned by John Whitmore. We called it the Scottish Embassy. We had a bedroom each, but Jimmy had the bigger room because he was busier than I was! Helen and I stayed there a lot with Jimmy and a variety of young ladies…
He was such a clean driver. He never went off the road and when you raced against him — and I did race against him in F2 — you always knew where he was going to be. He was never where he shouldn’t be and he never tried to block you. Nobody did in those days really — it was only the guys who didn’t look in their mirrors.
Jimmy was the cleanest, tidiest, most gentlemanly driver. He had the same kind of dignity as Fangio, but Fangio had more charm to the outsider. Jimmy had charm, but he was so shy and almost introverted.
For me, Jim Clark is still a legend.
Prost was one of the best drivers I never raced against. When he was in F1 it was the beginning of the on-board camera, and he was so good to watch, he was just such a clean driver. He really was the Professor.
At that time he was the best, better than Senna I think. He used the car less than Senna, he never over-drove and he made unbelievably few mistakes. That was the way to do it.
JUAN MANUEL FANG TO
Fangio usually had a one-year contract, but he knew his prowess, he had confidence and he drove in a manner that was full of style. There’s that wonderful video of him driving the Maserati 250F around Modena and he just looked so in command.
When I was a wee boy and went to Silverstone in 1954 he looked in total control all the time, even if he was hitting the corner-marker barrels with his streamlined Mercedes! He was my hero of all the drivers. The manner and style in which he drove and the speed were all so good. He had what it took.
If Fangio went to Maserati it was because Maserati had a good car. I understand Enzo Ferrari didn’t like him because he left Ferrari. He couldn’t accept it — I mean, who would leave Ferrari? Who would have the balls to leave Ferrari? Well, he had because he knew Maserati had a better car, and he was right.
When the Mercedes came along he saw the logic in that move, too. He stayed with the team and became president of Mercedes Argentina. For me, he was the greatest driver of all time.
Stirling was my hero. I’ve said it before, but Stirling walked like a racing driver should, talked like a racing driver should and looked like a racing driver should. He was boisterous, he liked the girls and he wasn’t shy about it. Most importantly, he drove effortlessly.
If he lost adhesion it was in unison, he was so neat and tidy. There’s that video of him at Monaco going through the Station Hairpin, as it was then, and the thing would get out of shape but only for a short period, because he knew he couldn’t keep it out before he changed direction. He knew what he had to do in a completely natural way.
I think Stirling’s only fault was that he should have driven better cars for better teams. It’s a weakness he never overcame. I understand he used to get a kick out of beating the factory teams when he was driving Coopers and Lotus 18s. That’s fine, you can do that. He should have known he was good enough to drive for the top teams, though.
When Stirling went to Mercedes he did the right thing, but he should have driven a works Ferrari or Maserati properly long before 1955. Then again, those drives weren’t offered, which is why the family bought a 250F for him for ’54.
To be running around in HWMs, Connaughts, Cooper-Altas… It’s very British, but he was such an important driver that he should have won more Grands Prix. Sixteen wins is not that many. It was at the time because there were only so many Grands Prix. But it wasn’t that — it was the fact that he would’ve had access to any team he wanted to drive for, and would have brought even more prestige to the nation, if you like.
The phrase ‘Who do you think you are? Stirling Moss?’ is still here, and I like that. He’s still the same old Stirling!