The one characteristic shared by every great F1 driver


Frank Dernie says that every great driver he has worked with has only shared two characteristics in common — and one is intelligence.

Michael Schumacher sits on a barrier

Schumacher wasn't arrogant, just nervous around strangers, says Dernie

Grand Prix Photo

Every great Formula 1 driver has two things in common — and nothing else, according to Frank Dernie, the F1 engineer, who has worked with multiple world champions in his career.

Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet, Michael Schumacher and many more were linked by their intelligence, says the former Benetton chief engineer, in the latest Motor Sport podcast.

There is just one other common indicator that you’re in the presence of a driving great, he claims. And if you’re in their presence, there’s a fair chance that they haven’t got it.

Dernie says that every great driver he’s ever worked with has been introverted, and the characteristic has probably contributed to their success.

“Michael Schumacher, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost all shied away from publicity, “says Dernie. “They all hate it, in my experience,” he says.

Alain Prost being interviewed.

Prost was “practically biting his fingers off with every interview”

Getty Images

A veteran of Williams in the 1980s and Benetton during the team’s championship-winning Schumacher era, Dernie’s F1 career spans more than three decades.

In the latest of our Engineering the Greats podcast series, he says: “Having worked with some great drivers, is the only two things that I’ve found that are really common in ones that win lots are that they are clever and are introvert.

“I think the reason why the most successful drivers are introvert is because they can concentrate harder and they make fewer mistakes.

“Someone like Michael Schumacher gave the impression of being a bit arrogant but he wasn’t arrogant at all. He was just nervous pf people he didn’t know and that sort of thing.  He was a warm and friendly guy when you got to know him.

“Nelson Piquet is very introvert and yet he comes up with some wicked bits of sense of humour to make people laugh and all that sort of stuff, often maybe a little bit close to the bone but that’s Nelson.

“Alain Prost, there’s a guy there who was sitting there practically biting the end of his fingers off with every interview.”

Michael Schumacher stands next to a TV camera

On the other side of the camera: Schumacher was warm and friendly

Andreas Rentz/Bongarts/Getty Image

Dernie says that a reserved character is likely to have more success on a race track, as they are more likely on the job at hand.

“Extroverts tend to be a bit gung-ho and therefore they crash more often and they probably aren’t quite as good at putting together a complete Grand Prix without being distracted,” he says.

“I would say quite a few, almost all the great drivers, multiple world champions, are obviously introvert and they have found some way of dealing with being in the public eye themselves because they all hate it in my experience and yet they will have found some way of dealing with it because they have to, because they are paid to.”

There’s nothing else that top drivers have in common, he adds: “In other ways they are completely different . There are some drivers who want to sit with you for hours and hours and hours trying to understand what’s going on.

“And another drivers, particularly in the early days who would just basically say, ‘It understeers at a hairpin, I’m off for a steak, you’re in the shit’.

“And those are both drivers who have won world championships.”

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