Who are F1’s 10 youngest world champions?

F1

Through the years records have tumbled and world titles have been claimed by increasingly youthful drivers – but who makes the top ten of F1's youngest ever champions?

Sebatian Vettel Red Bull Abu Dhabi 2010

Who is F1's youngest world champion?

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Be it for the controversy, drama or incredible feats of racing skill show by both Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, 2021 was a Formula 1 season which will forever be ranked as one of the all-time greats. A compelling championship tale which left the protagonists equal on points heading into the final race ultimately saw the Dutchman crowned in contentious circumstances. Nonetheless, his maiden title was deserved, and in securing it he became one of the youngest to ever do so. Now seems like an appropriate time then to look back on the ten youngest drivers to win the world championship, and see where Verstappen is ranked in that list.

 

10. Kimi Räikkönen – Ferrari – 2007 (28 years, 4 days)

Kimi Raikkonen leads Felipe Massa in the 2007 Brazilian grand prix

Räikkönen overturned a 17-point deficit to win the ’07 title

Darren Heath/Getty Images

After several years of coming oh-so-close to the title at McLaren, Räikkönen finally won the championship in his debut season at Ferrari. The Finn spent the year engaged in a three-way battle with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, and as the season approached its end, his title chances looked unlikely at best. The Scuderia man had a 17-point deficit to Hamilton coming into the penultimate round in China, and the Briton could have clinched the championship that weekend. However, the racing gods – and some poor pit strategy on Macca’s side – meant Hamilton was hung out to dry as his Bridgestone tyres were worn down to the canvas. The Brit was left with no grip, meaning as he headed into the pits the McLaren went wide and got stuck in the gravel trap. Räikkönen duly took his chance and won meaning that everything was now on the final race at Interlagos, now seven points between the leading McLaren and Ferrari, with Alonso in between.

However, mysterious mechanical gremlins at the start left Hamilton at the back. He rallied and finished seventh with with Alonso third, whilst Räikkönen was handed the win by Felipe Massa, consecutive victories meaning he dramatically won the championship– by a single point.

 

9. Jim Clark – Lotus – 1963 (27 years, 174 days)

Jim Clark, 1963 Silverstone

Jim Clark in his Lotus at Silverstone in 1963 – the Scot won 70% of championship races that year

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

Lotus’ most iconic driver and the standard-bearer of his generation, Jim Clark won the first of his first of two titles in dominant style. Despite retiring in the opening round that year, the Scot would go on to win four of the next five races to create an almost unassailable 20-point gap over John Surtees with just four grands prix remaining. Heading into Monza, Clark knew another race win would be enough to clinch the championship. He did so in style, winning with a 1min 35sec margin to runner-up Richie Ginther. In his fourth season in F1, Clark had given Lotus its first championship victory and won 70% of the races that year, highlighting his and his car’s sheer superiority. Imperious – and the youngest-ever to win a title at that point.

 

8. Jacques Villeneuve – Williams – 1997 (26 years, 200 days)

Jacques Villeneuve 1997

Villeneuve clinches 1997 title

Villeneuve started his career in the US and was touted for a move to F1 for several years. He finally made the switch in 1996 after he became IndyCar champion the previous year. In his debut grand prix season, he finished runner-up to Damon Hill. The following year the Canadian clinched the title on the final day following a dramatic battle with Michael Schumacher. Separated by one point, the pair engaged in a title-deciding collision. On lap 48, Villeneuve attempted to overtake Schumacher at the sharp, right-hand Dry Sac corner. Braking later than his rival, Villeneuve held the inside line and was ahead before Schumacher turned into him, causing terminal damage for the German. Villeneuve, driving a now-wounded Williams, cautiously ran to third, ceding the lead to the McLarens of Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard but doing enough to secure his maiden F1 title. Two weeks later, Schumacher was disqualified from the 1997 championship for his part in the incident.

 

7. Niki Lauda – Ferrari – 1975 (26 years, 197 days)

Niki Lauda 1975 Dutch GP

Lauda came into F1 on a wing, a prayer and a bank loan – and was champion by ’75

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It is well known that Lauda bought his way into Formula 1 with a bank loan in 1971, however four years later he was world champion. Following a poor start to ‘75, the Austrian won his first race in the fifth round and from then on, nobody could really match the Ferrari driver. He won three of the next four races to open up his championship lead to 22 points over Carlos Reutemann, meaning it was simply a matter of time before he clinched his maiden title at the age of 26. He did so with a third in Monza, before finishing the season with a win at Watkins Glen and a 19-point gap to eventual runner-up Emerson Fittipaldi.

 

6. Michael Schumacher – Benetton – 1994 (25 years, 314 days)

Damon-Hill-and-Michael-Schumacher-in-1994

The title contenders: Hill (left) and Schumacher

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1994 was a traumatic year for F1, as Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna both suffered fatal crashes. It was also Schumacher’s third year in the sport and at first, it looked a forgone conclusion that he would become champion. He won six of the opening seven races but was then disqualified from the British Grand Prix for overtaking Damon Hill on the formation lap with a two-race ban to follow.

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Hill capitalised on the Benetton driver’s absence, meaning he was just one point behind his rival heading into the final round at the Australian GP. Whilst in the lead at Adelaide, Schumacher went off at Turn 5 to present Hill with a big opportunity. Not realising the German’s car was terminally damaged and thinking this might be his only chance, Hill attempted to pass on the inside, only for the two to collide when Schumacher turned in. This caused Schumacher to retire instantly, with Hill following suit shortly afterwards. As neither driver scored points that day, Schumacher was crowned champion for the first time.

 

5. Emerson Fittipaldi – Lotus – 1972 (25 years, 273 days)

Emerson Fittipaldi in the black and gold Lotus 72 at the Nurburgring for the 1972 German Grand Prix

Fittipaldi en route to his first title – seen here at the Nürburgring

Hoch Zwei/Ronco via Getty Images

Alongside winning his first world championship, Fittipaldi became the youngest driver to ever do so in the process. It was a record that wouldn’t be beaten for another 33 years. It was a fairly straightforward title win for the Brazilian who won almost half of the races and clinched the title with two races to spare ahead of his nearest rivals, Denny Hulme and Jackie Stewart. In only his third season in the sport, Fittipaldi hadn’t previously come close to winning the championship, with just one race win to his name before 1972. However, following five victories and a podium in all but four races, there’s no doubt who set the bar that year.

 

4. Max Verstappen – Red Bull – 2021 (24 years, 73 days)

Lewis Hamilton Max Verstappen Abu Dhabi podium

Verstappen: champion in his seventh season of F1

Florent Gooden/DPPI

It’s easy to forget due to him still being so young, but Verstappen’s title has come in his seventh season in Formula 1. He made his debut aged 17 for Toro Rosso before winning his first race at just 18 for Red Bull. However, it wasn’t until 2021 that he had a car which could challenge Hamilton for the championship. Following an intense battle, which included the two colliding at several points during the year, they were equal on points for the final race at Abu Dhabi. That said, until the final stages of the grand prix, it looked like it’d be quite a routine victory for Hamilton, who was chasing an eighth world title.

It all changed though when the race was turned on its head by Nicholas Latifi crashing with five laps to go, causing a safety car. Verstappen was able to change for a fresh set of tyres, but Hamilton – who was forced to maintain track position – couldn’t, proving crucial. Following a controversial decision to allow just the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves, the race got going again for one final lap showdown with the two title protagonists going wheel-to-wheel. Hamilton, on old tyres was a sitting duck for Verstappen, who duly took the lead and won his first world championship.

 

3. Fernando Alonso – Renault – 2005 (24 years, 58 days)

Fernando Alonso, 2005 Brazilian GP

Alonso in parc ferme after winning the 2005 F1 title

Clive Rose/Getty Images

Becoming the youngest driver to win the championship since Fittipaldi in 1972, Fernando Alonso’s first title was hugely significant moment for the sport. For F1, the start of the 21st century featured Schumacher winning five straight titles with Ferrari until the young Spaniard put an end to that in his fourth season. Despite driving for grid-propping Minardi team in 2001, Alonso impressed, being hired as a Renault test driver for the next season before being promoted to the race team for ‘03. He repaid the faith, winning his first race that year in Hungary. Despite no wins the following season, he steadily improved before taking F1 by storm in 2005: 4 race wins from the opening 7 races with just 1 non-podium finish, before a further three victories secured the title. Räikkönen and McLaren might have had the pace that season, but reliability stymied their challenge. ’05 was the year of Alonso.

 

2. Lewis Hamilton – McLaren – 2008 (23 years, 300 days)

Lewis Hamilton in 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix

Infamous pass on Glock at the final corner earned Hamilton the 2008 championship at Interlagos

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Whilst 2007 saw Hamilton lose the title in agonising circumstances, he dealt out similar heartbreak to Felipe Massa the next year. Following an intense season, the Briton entered the finale in Interlagos seven points ahead of title rival Felipe Massa. If Massa won that weekend, Hamilton needed to finish fifth or higher to clinch the title. The McLaren driver managed it, but didn’t make it easy for himself.

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Starting in fourth, the majority of Hamilton’s race was spent battling Sebastian Vettel. Then the rain began to fall on lap 63, and the pair pitted three laps later.

However, Timo Glock didn’t, which allowed him to go up to P4 whilst Hamilton ran wide on lap 69 to give fifth to Vettel. However, not switching to wet tyres proved costly for Glock who struggled for grip, allowing Vettel and Hamilton to dramatically pass at the penultimate Junção corner on the very last lap, with Massa passing the finish line in first, his team thinking for a moment he may have won the title. Hamilton now had the position he needed though, meaning he became the youngest driver to ever win the championship at the.

 

1. Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull – 2010 (23 years, 134 days)

Sebastian Vettel cries as he stands on the top of the podium after the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where he won his first F1 World Championship

Vettel lets it sink in after winning the 2010 title in Abu Dhabi

Frederic Le Floch/DPPI

Becoming the youngest champion in the history of the sport in 2010, Vettel was also the first driver since James Hunt in 1976 to only lead the championship after the very final race. Despite being in the fight most of the season, an engine failure in Korea left him 25 points behind leader Alonso with two races to go, but a win in Brazil followed by a stroke of good luck in Abu Dhabi brought him a deserved title.

Starting the race with a 15-point deficit to Alonso and seven points to team-mate Mark Webber, a Ferrari pit strategy error left the Spaniard stuck behind Vitaly Petrov from lap 18 until the end. Alonso finished the race in 7th with Webber in 8th, allowing Vettel to clinch his first title at just 23 years of age.