Formula One

The rich history of British drivers in Formula 1

Photo by Icon Sport

The United Kingdom boasts a rich history of Formula 1 drivers, as the nation holds a number of records in the sport. It ranks second among all countries in the list of drivers it has produced, with 145 British drivers making the Formula 1 grid at some point in the 74-year history of the championship, with only the United States ahead of it, with 153 (although that number is skewed because of the Indianapolis 500 being part of the F1 calendar from 1950 to 1960). Great Britain is dominant in all other major categories, with twenty World Championships, 308 victories and 738 podiums, a long way ahead of other countries.

In this article we will look at the drivers that contributed to these record-setting statistics for Great Britain and those that are hoping to add to them.

The legendary past

Stirling Moss

Despite never winning a championship in his F1 career, Stirling Moss is considered one of the best drivers in the sport’s long history and left his mark with 16 victories in his 66 starts.

Born in 1929, the start of his racing career came soon after the conclusion of the second World War. In 1951, he made his F1 debut and his move to Mercedes-Benz in 1955 soon took him to his maiden victory, in his home race. That was the first of four consecutive seasons in which Moss finished second in the championship. In the last of those, he had the opportunity to become champion, but his choice to defend his title rival and compatriot, Mike Hawthorn, when stewards threatened to penalize him, cost him the chance.

He finished third in the next three seasons but was forced to retire following a serious accident in 1962, at just 32 years old. He remained one of the most likeable figures in the sport, until his death in 2020.

Jim Clark

Jim Clark is regarded as one of the best Formula 1 drivers of all time, with some even ranking him at the very top of the list. The Scottish driver was born in 1936, in a farming family. At the age of 20, he started his racing career in local events, but his talent became apparent before very long. In 1958, he raced against Colin Chapman in a GT race at Brands Hatch. Although the founder of Lotus won the race, he was very impressed by his performance and an all-conquering partnership was born.

Chapman gave him a shot at junior series for the next season and one year later he made his F1 debut for the team and he was dominant for the better part of the 1960s, with 25 wins in 72 starts and two championships in 1963 and 1965, with lots of close shots and opportunities missed mainly due to the unreliable nature of the Lotus cars. In between Grands Prix, Clark raced in various other championships and races, enjoying similar success, with his biggest achievement outside F1 being his Indianapolis 500 victory in 1965.

His career came to a sudden end, when he was killed in a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim in 1968, at the age of 32. He was admired by his peers, both for his achievements on the racetrack and his calm and controlled driving style, but also for his shy character, which he tried to keep away from the spotlight.

Jackie Stewart

Another Scot achieving a legend status in the sport is Jackie Stewart. The son of an amateur motorcycle racer was born in 1939 and was quick to catch the racing bug. After making his name in sportscars and a short spell in junior single-seater categories, Stewart made his F1 debut by 1965, with BRM.

In his rookie season he impressed, with five podiums and a win among them. However, it was a crash in the 1966 Belgian GP that became a catalyst for his career, as led him to develop a more composed driving style and sparked his desire to improve safety. The following years brought him success, with three championships in 1969, 1971 and 1973 with Matra and Tyrrell. The last one came in his final season as a driver, in a career that spanned nine seasons, with 99 starts and 27 wins. To this day, he is one of the most respected figures in the paddock, as one of the sport’s top drivers and a stalwart in driver safety.

Nigel Mansell

Nigel Mansell was Britain’s top driver for a big part of his F1 career, which spanned from 1980 to 1995. The start of his F1 journey came relatively late, as he made his F1 debut at the age of 27, driving for Lotus, following a few seasons in junior single-seater categories. It was a rough beginning, as he proved to be mistake-prone, leaving his boss, Peter Warr, to proclaim that “He’ll never win a Grand Prix, as long as I have a hole in my arse”, when Mansell -still winless- left for Williams in 1985.

However, he was soon proven wrong, as Mansell won in his fifth race for the team, his first of 31 Grand Prix victories. The next step was a World Championship, but after two close calls in 1986 and 1987 and a disappointing stint at Ferrari, he was left frustrated and announced his retirement in 1990. However, Frank Williams lured him back and he was rewarded for it with a championship in 1992, in the all-conquering FW14B.

The promising current crop

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Photo by Icon Sport

Lewis Hamilton

Another one of the greatest drivers of all-time is Lewis Hamilton, who links the past and the present. The Englishman was born in 1985 and, despite his humble beginnings, was very quick to come up through the ranks in karting and junior formulas. Thanks to support from McLaren, which supported him from the age of 13, he reached the F1 team by 2007 and nearly became the championship’s first rookie champion.

He achieved his dream in the following season and there was yet more to come. Despite five seasons with no championship, his move to Mercedes created a dominant partnership that dominated F1 for the next years. This year, the 38-year-old has embarked on his 17th season, with seven championships, 103 wins and 192 podiums to his name, and possibly more to come until his retirement, whenever that might come. Hamilton also is a strong voice for human rights, a cause that has affected him personally, as the first black driver in the championship.

George Russell

Currently Hamilton’s teammate, George Russell is another driver who can add to Britain’s stats in Formula 1. The 25-year-old had a stellar path through the feeder series of F1 and earned a drive at Williams. His three-year stint in the team impressed many and among them was Toto Wolff, who gave him the opportunity at Mercedes, where he earned his maiden victory in Brazil last year.

Lando Norris

Another up-and-coming talent from Britain is Lando Norris. His rise through the various junior championships was equally impressive to that of Russell, and his promotion to a race seat at McLaren in 2019 was proof of that. Although he is yet to achieve his maiden victory in the championship, he is viewed as a huge talent, capable of achieving the feat in coming years and his six podiums so far are just an indication of what is to come.

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