Formula One

German F1 drivers – Draught until Michael Schumacher, dominance thereafter

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Photo by Hoch Zwei / Icon Sport

Germany may be near the top in many lists of accumulative stats in Formula 1 history, but surprisingly, its history is not as large as some may believe. The nation has produced a total of 48 drivers, including drivers from West and East Germany, from the years it was divided, however that number is quite inflated, because a lot those drivers only competed at the German GP on a couple of occasions over their careers.

The nation is second on the list of wins, with 179, but those have come by just seven drivers, with its three World Champions combining for a huge percentage of that. Success didn’t arrive until the past three decades, but let’s revisit some of the most prominent figures in Germany’s history in Formula 1.

Rare success in early years

For the first four decades of Formula 1, success did not come often for German drivers on the grid. The first notable ones were Karl Kling and Hans Herrmann, who raced thanks to the factory effort of Mercedes. While the history marque was dominant in 1954 and 1955, mainly with Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, the two Germans combined for three podium finishes between them. The first championship contender arrived soon after, when Mercedes was gone thanks to the Le Mans disaster.

Wolfgang von Trips

The German was signed by Ferrari in 1956 and split his time with the team between sportscars and F1 for the first four seasons. Remarkably he grabbed two podium finishes in his part-time F1 efforts, and his overall performances earned him a full-time spot for 1960. The outdated Ferrari though was not competitive and von Trips was limited to points finishes. For the following season, things changed with the 156 ‘Sharknose’ being the class of the field. With two victories and two runner-up finishes, von Trips led the championship heading to the penultimate race in Monza. However, a crash in the race tragically cut his life short at the age of 33 and, his teammate, Phil Hill capitalised to take the crown.

The dominance since the 1990s

The next years were bleak to say the least. Other than Jochen Mass, who grabbed one win and eight podiums, no other driver made a large impact and for much of the 1980s were left with no F1 drivers. That changed though in the following decade with the three drivers that debuted in that decade: Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Ralf Schumacher and the man who changed Formula 1 for Germany and inspired a new wave of German drivers.

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Photo by Hoch Zwei / Icon Sport

Michael Schumacher

For the famous legend, his passion stemmed from his parents, who were running the local kart track and his path through the karting ranks was successful, earning him a place in junior single-seater racing by the age of 19. Following success in German F3, Schumacher was signed by Mercedes for its sportscar team and he shined, attracting interest by F1 teams.

The arrest of Bertrand Gachot ahead of the 1991 Belgian GP left Jordan looking for a replacement and Schumi stepped in. In his debut, he stunned everyone by qualifying seventh, matching Jordan’s best starting spot. However clutch issues left him stranded in the first lap. Immediately moving to Benetton, Schumacher had a fantastic 1992 season, with eight podiums, his maiden victory and 3rd place in the standings, with similar results in the following campaign.

With a shake-up in the 1994 regulations, Benetton launched a championship-contending car  and Schumacher dominated early on, before disqualifications and bans held him back. Eventually, the crown was his, after a controversial collision with fellow contender, Damon Hill. In 1995, the German was dominant throughout the season and doubled his titles.

He then -shockingly- left for the struggling Ferrari squad. Four difficult years followed, including close calls in 1997 and 1998 -the former marred in controversy- and a broken leg in 1999. However, for the next five seasons Schumacher was the King of F1, as he marched to equal championships. There was another close call in 2006, before retirement, but Fernando Alonso prevailed and Schumacher left with seven championships and 91 wins. A three-season comeback with Mercedes commenced in 2010, but it was tougher than expected and it only yielded one podium.

Sebastian Vettel

The greatest among the wave of drivers inspired by Schumacher is undoubtedly Sebastian Vettel. The youngster started karting at the age of eight and was an instant hit, as he earned backing from Red Bull only three years later, in 1998. After various titles, his move -and subsequent success- in single-seaters gave him additional support by BMW, testing for its F1 team.

When Robert Kubica got injured in an accident in the 2007 Canadian GP, the opportunity arose for Vettel to race in F1 and he rose to the occasion, scoring his first point. The Pole returned to his seat after one race, but Vettel had done enough to earn a drive at Toro Rosso for the second half of the season. In 2008, he produced one of the biggest upsets in F1 history, winning the 2008 Italian GP, in a season full of impressive performances that earned him a promotion to Red Bull.

With the up-and-coming team, the German won four times and was the runner-up in the standings. The next four years brought him an impressive number of wins and four championships, two dominant -in 2011 and 2013- and two closely fought -in 2010 and 2012. After a downturn in in performance in 2014, he moved to Ferrari, where he won a few races but was unable to capture the elusive title. In 2021, he signed for Aston Martin and retired after two seasons in the team, after a remarkable career, with 53 wins and four titles.

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Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

Nico Rosberg

Although he was born in Monaco and his father, Keke Rosberg, was Finnish, Nico Rosberg raced under the German flag, thanks to the nationality of his mother. After a great karting career and the 2005 GP2 title, Rosberg debuted in Formula 1 with Williams, the team that helped his father to the World Championship.

Following four seasons there and a couple of podiums, Rosberg left for Mercedes in 2010. He partnered Michael Schumacher and outperformed him over their three seasons together, grabbing his maiden victory in his 111th start. He was then joined by Lewis Hamilton, with the pair battling for the top when Mercedes became dominant in 2014. After a close call in 2014, Rosberg finally came on top in 2016 after a thrilling finale and was crowned, like his father, as a World Champion, before shockingly retiring a few days later.

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