The Greatest drivers of the century - a personal view

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These now are drivers of outstanding ability or true genius. Some may be surprised to see such as Surtees, Hakkinen, Brooks and Rindt here instead of in next month’s top twenty but remember that Mark Hughes’ list draws drivers equally from a century of racing, not just the last 50 years.

Part 4 (40-21)

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
79 – John Watson
78 – Vincenzo Lancia
77 – Phil Hill
76 – Tony Brise
75 – Carlos Pace
74 – Louis Wagner
73 – Peter Revson
72 – Graham Hill
71 – Fernand Charron
70 – Jules Goux
69 – Robert Benoist
68 – Guilio Masetti
67 – Peter Collins
66 – Damon Hill
65 – Hermann Lang
64 – Tom Pryce
63 – Rene Arnoux
62 – Jack Brabham
61 – Henry Segrave
60 – Francios Cevert
59 – Giuseppe Farina
58 – Mike Hawthorn
57 – Andre Boullot
56 – Louis Chiron
55 – Richard Seaman
54 – Jody Scheckter
53 – Arthur Duray
52 – Emerson Fittipaldi
51 – Victor Hemery
50 – Mario Andretti
49 – Luigi Fagioli
48 – Jacky Ickx
47 – Tommy Milton
46 – Nelson Piquet
45 – Jacques Villeneuve
44 – Keke Rosberg
43 – Ralph de Palma
42 – James Hunt
41 – Alan Jones

40 – John Surtees

Big John took the hard road. He refused to accept something couldn’t be done, whether it was making the transfer from two wheels to four, beating Jim Clark on equal terms or making a team see things his way. He took on everybody and everything. Some said he had a chip on his shoulder but, if so, it was their snobbery that created it as he made his way without privilege. That will made for a giant of a driver; brave yet circumspect, sensitive but tenacious. But he left Lotus and Ferrari and the glory days passed too soon.

39 – Fernand Gabriel

This ‘brooding, dark little man’ drew from unfathomed depths to produce drives which left him blank-eyed and trance-like, none more so than in the 1903 Paris-Madrid. He had dragged his monster Mors up from a starting position of 82nd through the dust and carnage to lead by the time it was halted at Bordeaux. It should not have been possible. Nor should it have been that in the 1913 GP de France a Thomas-Schneider driven by an ageing Gabriel lapped as quickly as the Delages, then the fastest GP cars of all.

38 – Carlos Reutemann

The abstract man. The track was his canvas. On it he executed some of the most breathtaking work ever seen through steering wheel and pedals. There may have been others who matched his balance; but no more than half a dozen this century. Trouble was, his rivals were extras, not really to do with him. Which was fine when he was dominated, but if they strayed into his foreground, his perspective would be ruined. Better to wait for another blank canvas…

37 – Mika Hakkinen

As he dances his McLaren to the edge, Mika relaxes into the huge talent that cradles his being. The style – over committed then living off the reflexes – is Rosberg, Peterson or Rindt. The origin is God; it’s not something Mika’s had to work on. Then there’s the self belief; he can be momentarily fazed, but even a near-fatality left his confidence unbruised. But does he possess the on-track desire in adversity, the ache that drives the very greatest to strive regardless of circumstance? That’s questionable.

36 – Didier Pironi

He sold his soul to ambition. He so far transcended his natural limits he believes he could do anything, that the rules no longer apply to him. The apparent check on this ascent – a team-mate called Villeneuve – was dealt with ruthlessly, even by F1 standards. Once Gilles was gone it seemed that Pironi would stop at nothing short of total domination. His commitment, always big, now became scary. That he came shuddering to earth in the most violent way possible confirmed those universal laws still applied, even to him.

35 – Stefan Bellof

At Monaco in ’84, only his sixth Grand Prix, he bore the mark of someone different. When he then took his outclassed Tyrrell from last to the podium, it was easy to see why. Senna caught most eyes that day, his Toleman about to relieve Prost of the lead when the race was halted, but Bellof was catching them both. If his speed was Senna-like, his fearlessness came easier and he indulged in it for its own sake. A lethal game that ended at Eau Rouge in ’85.

34 – Dan Gurney

He should be remembered as the man in the ’59 Ferrari fighting for victory in only his second Grand Prix. As the cutting edge who brought success to the otherwise blunt Porsche F1 effort in ’62. As the man in the Brabham making Jimmy Clark wonder how in hell is that thing so big in his mirrors. He’d been downwind of the pollen of genius at some point, a gift he meshed with a wonderful tenacity in battle. Yet it was as if he never quite believed just how good he was, forever tinkering in chase of a lap time he could have left to his talent.

33 – Marcel Renault

The man on a mission. Impassioned to bring glory to his brother’s cars he cornered the turn-of-the-century market in flat-out attack and added his own silken flow. It led to giant-killing performances in Louis’ little cars, none more so than when his 5-litre Renault led home a train of 14-litre Panhards in the 1902 Paris-Vienna. He was mounting his customary charge in the 1903 Paris-Madrid when a fatal combination of circumstances brought the mission to its end

32 – Tony Brooks

His rapport with a car was almost telepathic and with minimal but exquisite efforts he would invariably be the class of the field whenever a track placed a premium on high-speed precision. Which in the late ’50s, was much of the time. At such places as Spa and Monza it came so easy it didn’t seem natural and at the Nurburgring poor Peter Collins fatally over-reached himself trying to operate at Tony’s level. But he was more artist than fighter and his desire to fight at all costs never quite matched one of the most supreme talents of all.

31 – Ronnie Peterson

An automotive acrobat, Ronnie could drive in the red zone indefinitely, make those big slicks dance to his own crazy tune without ever falling from the wire. As such, he could transcend an ordinary car’s abilities – the Lotus 72 had no business winning three times in ’74 – and when tuned into a good one he was devastating. He had a taste for combat too and was unflappable – Scandinavian ice. Couldn’t set up a car for toffee, though, and in bad situations he’d be easy on himself, giveaways that he lacked ultimate application.

30 – Froilan Gonzalez

Almost unseen behind the blinding light of Fangio stalked a giant. With his huge frame Gonzalez could dominate a car, bend it to his will backed by a resolve, in pursuit or defence, that was unwavering. From the early to mid ’50s he alone could consistently live with Fangio and Ascari, and on a good day – Silverstone ’51 springs to mind – his performance was worthy of comparison with the best days of his two vaunted peers. They just didn’t happen quite so often.

29 – Chris Amon

His was a career that demonstrated how greatness and record sheet can remain strangers. His best drives were heady blends of artistry, grit and even science, for engineers rated him as one of the greatest analysts of dynamics – but they invariably went unrewarded through no fault of his own. Only Stewart produced as many virtuoso performances in the period from ’67 to ’72. It is often said Amon went some way to meet his bad luck, but that came later, after Clermont ’72, after he surrendered himself to fate.

28 – Jimmy Murphy

He was already Indy racing’s brightest ascending star when he appeared for Duesenberg in the ’21 French GP. His style was impeccable and devastatingly fast. Because his talent gifted victories in the States rather than make him fight for them, some doubted the will beneath the ability. That was answered in France where he won despite being carried to the car, his body strapped to ease the ribs broken in practice when his brakes had failed.

27 – Archie Scott Brown

The man did only one championship GP so his place is based on deeds outside the championship. Like the day at Goodwood in ’56 when he took a Connaught to an outrageous lead over Moss’ 250F. Or how in the same car, he lapped Aintree faster than Stirling had taken a Merc W196 to pole months earlier. The Connaught was no W196. Fangio was astounded by his car control and he was invariably faster than Lewis-Evans whenever they were paired. Distilled with his sportscar exploits and the conclusion is inevitable.

26 – David Bruce-Brown

The winning machine, he had every base covered. Making his international debut in the 1910 American Grand Prize – the convergence of the elite of Europe and American – he rattled off a seamless victory. When he did it again the following year for Fiat, it sparked a European career in which even seasoned team-mates de Palma and Wagner were taken aback by his instant polished class. Highly intelligent, his blistering speed was unleashed only when needed and the achievements were just starting when he crashed to his death.

25 – Pedro Rodriquez

It was only in the last year that Pedro began properly to fulfil his potential. The pity is his F1 machinery only afforded a glimpse of the ability seen routinely in his Porsche 917. He’d always been gutsy but in the latter days he’d go beyond the margin that defined the limit
for others, and stay there for as long as there was petrol in the tank. He was operating in a territory later chartered by Senna when God called his number at the Norisring in ’71.

24 – Raymond Sommer

Raymond believed so long as you’d reached for the stars the end result was immaterial. He disliked the notion of being under anyone’s control and rarely drove for works teams. Those factors meant wins were fewer than you’d expect No matter, his was a magical career that amply fulfilled his criterion of greatness. And at Miramas in ’32 and Spa in ’50 – he beggared belief in outclassed cars, and left Alfa Romeo floundering and dazed. He’d truly touched the stars.

23 – Guy Moll

Ferrari called him the new Nuvolari. Certainly, his gladiatorial attitude was similar, but he swung to no-one’s beat but his own. Rebellious, proud and brave, his foot lifted for no-one. As a new-boy he seemed anything but as he traded blows with the greats. It wasn’t ambition for achievement he felt, more that it was his due. The phase between this and universal stature is brief but hazardous. It was tragic that a minor error at this point was punished so totally.

22 – Antonio Ascari

Speed. That’s what Antonio had and of a rare order. Pure and unforced, there seemed no limit to it; what was required was produced. He didn’t win races, they surrendered; there has been no other whose Grand Prix career was so dominant. We don’t know how he handled pressure because he almost never had any. If there was a flaw, it was that he unnecessarily used his reserves; he had no need to be extending his lead in the ’25 French GP when he fatally overdid it.

21 – Jochen Rindt

Among the most deeply competitive souls of all, his will went places from which only miraculous car control could rescue him. It was often an anguished, angry soul too, and this played its part in creating a driver that demanded a level of performance from his car and those around him, that went beyond the ordinary. It was the mindset of a champion. Yet, on the verge of reaping the rewards, he lived in fear of where ambition might lead hirn. Tragically, the fear was justified.

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